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by Jacob Ninan

We spoke a couple of weeks ago about the need to make sure we are children of God. If you were not here you can get this audio CD from the church office because it is a very important subject for us. We should not just assume or take it for granted.

Now we want to look at what comes after we are born again. What is the first thing we should do after we are born again? Let’s look at the Acts of the Apostles and see what those early Christians did after they came to the Lord. Acts 2:41,42. “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

What we see here is that immediately after they became children of God they wanted to start growing as children of God. All are born as babies, but they need to grow up. Like that, when we are born into the family of God we are still, spiritually speaking, babies, and we need to grow spiritually. So what did these people do? They got baptised and they continually devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. We have here a short list of things we need to do after we are born again—baptism, devoting ourselves to the teaching and to fellowship with one another, breaking of bread (that is communion) and to prayer. This is what the first Christians did.

But what was the first thing that they did after they became children of God? They got baptised. What was the thing that they had heard from the apostles? Peter said to them, “Repent and each of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v.38). The word that they heard from the apostle was to repent, believe and be baptised. So they repented, they believed and the next thing they did was that they got baptised.

Last time I spoke about believing in Jesus, being born again, and becoming children of God. Those who responded honestly and sincerely at that time and believed were actually born again on that day. If we prayed from our heart and if we prayed that sincerely God has heard that prayer. God has responded by making us children of God. That is what happens when we repent from our sins and we believe in Jesus. But then the first thing we need to do after we become children of God is to get baptised in water.

Many people are of the opinion that baptism is after all only an external ritual. They ask why we should go through all such rituals. We may have left some other churches which were ritualistic or formal and without meaning. Now we have come to a church where our relationship with God is meaningful. They ask why we should go back to rituals, external activities and things like that. There are many people who have this kind of a doubt in their mind. What they are saying as an explanation to themselves and to other people is that faith is what is important. It is by faith in Jesus that we are born again. If we are already born again by faith why do we have to go through this thing called water baptism? They say it is a ritual and meaningless.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it’s not how Jesus thought about it. Jesus gave a lot of attention and importance to this water baptism. Just before He was taken up to heaven Jesus told His apostles, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matt.28:19,20). So what we see very clearly at this point is that Jesus wants the gospel to be preached all over the world, people should first repent, they should believe in Jesus, and the next thing is they should do is to get baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is something that Jesus Himself paid a great attention to.

One more thing is what Jesus said in Matthew 5:19. Jesus said, “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” So whenever Jesus gives a commandment, whether we think it’s a small commandment or a big commandment, Jesus wants us to obey every single commandment that He gives us. He is God, He is the one who died for us, He is the one who saved us from sin and placed us in heaven, He gave us life when we were dead in sin. He is the one who is telling us go and preach the gospel, make disciples of all the nations teaching them to obey every commandment that He has given us. And one of them is to baptise in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And the special thing is that He didn’t just stop there by saying all these things. He did it Himself. You know that story about how Jesus got baptised in water. Look at Jesus, the Son of God, born of a virgin, blameless, sinless, who had never done a single sin in all His life—not even in His thought—He got baptised. Then I too want to get baptised. Now John the baptiser (I am saying ‘baptiser’ to avoid confusion with the Baptist Church!). John the baptiser said, “How can You ask me to baptise You? You need to baptise me because I am the needy person; You are the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” But Jesus said, “Permit it this time, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt.3:15).

He was sinless, He had nothing to repent of, He Himself was the way, the truth and the life, He didn’t have to believe in somebody else in order to get saved. But He came as an example for us. He came not only to die for us in our place but He also wanted to give us an example to follow—how a godly person should live on this earth. He gave us a godly example, and at each step of our life He identified with us. So He said, “It is important for you people to be obedient to Me in baptism, and so I Myself am taking your place, identifying Myself with you. Even though, in a logical sense, there is no need for Me to get baptised I am doing it as an example to you. Permit it at this time because you need to fulfil all righteousness—you need to do everything in the right way.”

So Jesus gave so much importance to what some people would call as a mere external ritual. He gave so much of importance to it. Once we understand the meaning of what we do in baptism then we will also understand that it is an important thing. If Jesus thought that it was important for Him to do it, can any one of us say, “No, it’s not important for me. My faith is sufficient for me. I am saved by grace and therefore I don’t need to do anything like that?” We can argue, but once we stand before God and God shows us the example of Jesus Himself we have nothing to argue about and no excuse to give. Jesus Himself went this way and He asked us to follow, and so there is no excuse for us.

The problem is that we need to understand what the meaning of this external act is, in order to understand its importance in the sight of God. Now when we have another external act in the church, the communion or the breaking of bread, we know it’s not merely an external act. It’s not a ritual. It’s not meaningless because whenever we do it we think about what Jesus has done for us—how He had to die in our place, how His body was broken for us, how He shed His blood for us. We remember the meaning, and so then we part take of that Communion (or the Breaking of Bread or the Lord’s Supper as different people call it), we participate in it meaningfully with a sincere heart. So, in a similar way, once we understand the meaning of water baptism we can take part in it meaningfully.

One thing we must remember about the three thousand people I was mentioning from the Acts of the Apostles. Peter was preaching and three thousand people believed, and were baptised immediately after they believed. Probably, I think, very possibly, they had no idea about the meaning of water baptism. They had no idea because Peter didn’t teach enough to this people to say what it meant or what it symbolised. No, they had no idea. But they had a simple faith. Peter told them to repent, believe and to be baptised, and so they did that. It was such a very simple faith. That itself is sufficient. I was a sinner, God saved me, and now when He tells me to get baptised I will get baptised. No question, and no need for any explanation! Jesus told us to do this, and I will do this even if I can’t understand. That’s a very good way of life especially when we begin our spiritual life. These people were the first converts to faith. They did not understand the meaning of baptism or anything, but they just made it a matter of obedience.

In order for us to understand the meaning of this act called water baptism let’s look at two passages in the New Testament. One of them is a rather lengthy passage. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus have been baptised into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Rom.6:1 -7). In simple words, what water baptism represents is what happened to us spiritually when we were born again. So, whenever we think about water baptism this is the meaning—it represents, it demonstrates or it signifies what happened to us when we were born again.

Most of us know that when Jesus died on the cross He died in our place. He died for us. He did not die for His sin because He has no sin. He died because our sins were placed on Him. That’s how we get forgiveness of sins—not because we can earn it; we can’t earn it—we can receive it as a gift because the punishment has already been given out to Jesus in our place. We know that, but there is one other thing we need to know about what happened when Jesus was hanging there on the cross. That is to realise that when Jesus was crucified we were crucified with Him. In other words, when Jesus was crucified, it was as if it was not He but we who lay there on the cross and died. In a sense that’s what happened. When He died He was dying in our place. In that sense we can understand that when Jesus died on the cross we were dying on the cross for our sins. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and it’s no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.”

In a very simple way this describes the meaning of water baptism or what we are signifying when we go through water baptism. On the cross we died because we were placed in Jesus. No just we but the whole world. He died for the sins of the whole world—for all people who have ever lived, who are living now, and who may be living later. What does this dying mean to us in spiritual terms? It means that at the point when we choose Jesus to be our Saviour, we are bidding farewell to our old life. That life is dead and gone, and we are coming into a new life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We not only died on the cross but when Jesus rose from the dead we also rose up to a new life. So basically it’s a simple truth. When we are baptised we are demonstrating that our old life is gone and is now being buried. When we are put under the water it signifies that our old life is buried, and when we come out of the water we are saying that now we have come into a resurrection life—a new life given to us by Jesus Christ. It’s very, very simple.

Once we understand this meaning it is no longer a ritual or a meaningless external thing which we should do. All those thoughts disappear when we understand that this is the significance and the meaning.

The word ‘baptism’ itself was not originally in English till the King James Bible was translated. It was not a word in English but it was taken from a Greek word called baptisma in the New Testament. Those people at that time didn’t want to translate that word baptisma into plain English for some reasons I won’t get into now. So, instead of translating it they transliterated it. They took that word and made it into a new English word ‘baptism’. So the original meaning of the word baptism was ‘lost’ in this process of translation or transliteration. What it originally meant was ‘immersion’. So, actually, instead of saying this words baptise or baptism in the Bible they should had been translated as immerse or immersion. That should have been the simplest thing to do, but unfortunately they didn’t do it that way and it has caused a lot of confusion among people.

And now people are trying to argue about what the right way is to get baptised: should it be by sprinkling, should it be by marking a cross on the head with water, or should it be ducking under the water? All these arguments and discussions are going on simply because of those people who, for their own reasons, did not translate that word baptisma into immersion.

But once we know it means immersion it is easy to see that when we are immersed into water that is saying that our old life is dead and we are burying it. Of course, this water represents the ground in which we get buried, and now here is a demonstration of the fact that we have buried our old life into this water. And then we come out of the water representing the newness of life—that new life that God gives us when we believe in Jesus.

So, this is the very simple meaning of baptism. Now immediately it becomes clear that this baptism becomes meaningful only for people who are born again. Of course, it’s not for babies! Babies have absolutely no idea what they are going through. They could very well have been in a temple doing some pooja or in a mosque doing something else! They have no control and they have no choice in what their parents are forcing them to do. So, of course, that is meaningless, a meaningless ritual which people are doing because of tradition. But to really get baptised in water is meaningful only for people who have actually experienced this re-birth in their life. Now they are testifying to it in front of the whole world—I was a sinner, Jesus died for me, I died, my old life is gone, Jesus has given me a new life. That is what somebody does when he or she is going through baptism. It is very clear that genuine water baptism is only for people who have already being born again.

It also becomes clear that it is not infant baptism versus adult baptism, because adults also may not be born again, and then it is a meaningless thing even for them. It’s not just about whether they do it deliberately or by choice, because there are so many people who assume that if they get baptised God will be very happy with them and take them to heaven! They think that by getting baptised or belonging to a church they will become qualified for heaven.

Some people get baptised in order to be saved, but that’s the wrong way around. Baptism is for people who have already been saved in order to show what God has done in their life; it’s a testimony before God and before people. Now to get baptised in order to be saved is putting the cart before the horse; that’s totally upside down. It’s also meaningless for an adult to say, “Everybody at my age in my church gets baptised, therefore, I also should get baptised.” That’s also meaningless, because we are just doing it in the sight of people to impress people or to join the club or whatever it is. It is the same as taking part in the communion because everybody does it. They think, “What will people think if I don’t do it?” and then it is also meaningless.

Jesus especially warns about the communion, not to take part meaninglessly, because it is a serious thing and not a game, it is not a social thing in the church. It has significance. If you can’t do it meaningfully, please don’t do it, God warns us in 1 Corinthians 11.

When it comes to baptism also we must remember that it is a meaningful thing that God wants us to do, just to demonstrate to the people and to God what God has done in our life. “I was a sinner just like anybody else. God had mercy on me, I have trusted in Him now, I have been forgiven all my sins, now I am a new creature, a new creation in Christ Jesus, now I am a baby, spiritually speaking, I need to grow into the likeness of Jesus or in other words, I want to become more and more like Jesus.” That is what we show when we go into the water to get baptised. So, this is something that we consciously decide to do after we are born again.

You know in the mainline churches they have this tradition of ‘baptising’ babies. It’s not really a baptism; it’s not immersion at all, first of all. Secondly, most importantly, these babies are not believers in Jesus Christ. But in these churches they themselves seem to know that what they are doing is meaningless, because they feel is not adequate. So they started another ceremony called the ‘confirmation’ which is not there in the Bible. Why would there be any need for confirmation if the original so-called baptism was good enough? It isn’t good enough, and they themselves know it isn’t good enough, and so they add this extra thing to make up for the mistake they did earlier. But everybody knows you can’t correct one mistake by doing another mistake. Confirmation is not enough to balance out this mistake that we may have done in our childhood (we didn’t do it, our parents did it when we were babies) and that doesn’t make up for true baptism.

So baptism is neither for babies nor for adults. Baptism is for believers or, in a proper sense, baptism is for disciples of Jesus Christ—those who have had their sins forgiven, those who have set their heart to following Jesus wherever He takes them. For those people water baptism becomes meaningful.

Now we must be very clear in our mind that baptism is not required to get saved. Baptism is something we do after we are saved, baptism is not required for us to get saved. If you read Ephesians 2:8,9 it says very clearly that we are saved by grace through faith. There is no mention about baptism or any other thing that we have to do. It says it’s not by works, which means it is not by anything that we do like getting baptised, joining a church or doing anything like that. Salvation is simply by faith—by grace, through faith. There is no need for getting baptised in order to be saved. In other words, we can say, even people who are not baptised can be in heaven. I am not making any excuse for not getting baptised. What I am saying is, this is not a part of salvation. It is something that we do after salvation. After we are saved we are showing we are saved by God’s grace. God has given us salvation, and therefore we will get baptised. It is not something we do to join a club or to join a church or become a part of a doctrine or any such thing. It is because of something real that God has done in our lives.

Sometimes people get confused with this particular verse in Mark 16:16, “He who has believed and has been baptised shall be saved.” It looks as if baptism is required for salvation. This is where we have to know how to interpret the Bible in the right way. Every time when we have a passage which seems a difficult to understand, we need to see what other passages in the Bible talk about it. Then there will be clarity about such difficult passages. Actually we didn’t read the full verse. The rest of the verse goes on to say, “But he who has disbelief shall be condemned.” Who is the one who is going to be condemned? The one who did not believe, not the one who is not baptised. Baptism is doesn’t save as it is faith—grace which we receive through faith—that saves us.

You remember the story of the thief on the cross at his dyeing moment who went into Paradise? Of course, he had no chance to get baptised even if he wanted to, but it tells us that one can get to heaven even without baptism. That’s not the only story! You remember Cornelius, the first Gentile convert to Christianity? When Peter was preaching there in Cornelius’ house, we assume Cornelius believed as he heard the preaching. Cornelius and many others who were listening believed and they were born again in their heart. God bore witness to that, by baptising them with the Holy Spirit. After that they got baptised in water. You look at that sequence: first they believed, God filled them with the Holy Spirit, and then they got baptised in water. So baptism was not necessary to be saved. It came afterwards in Cornelius’ case.

I am saying this again and again to remove the idea that some people have thinking that baptism is necessary for us to get saved. I know one particular church which specialises in water baptism. They think that by somehow getting people baptised they can be saved. So they are willing to give gifts to people who will get baptised. So there are lines of men and women waiting to get baptised so that they can receive the gifts. It’s a ritual, it’s meaningless. Baptism is not necessary to get saved, baptism is meaningful only for people who are already saved.

Now the question is what we can do if we have already been ‘baptised as babies’? Is it necessary to get baptised again? It is a question that comes up in many people’s minds. But if we understand this in the right way, there is no real doubt at all. What our parents did to us when we were babies was meaningless, we didn’t have a choice, we didn’t obey God in any way, even if we got a little older and we said, “Yes, I agree,” to what our parents told us to do in the form of confirmation. Even then the fact remains that we haven’t obeyed Jesus in baptism. Jesus said, “Go and preach the gospel, make disciples and baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We never obeyed those commandments personally after we were born again. When our parents did something when we were babies, we could as well have been in a pooja in a temple. In that case we would say, “No, I was not responsible for that pooja. I didn’t do anything, my parents did it.” In the same way, we are not responsible for what our parents did in terms of infant baptism or things like that.

So we see that baptism is for people who have already born again and they are the only ones who are eligible to obey God in baptism. Once we are born again this is the first thing we need to do in our life which will become a series of obedience to God. The more we understand from God from His word we obey Him more, and that’s how we grow spiritually. This is the first thing that God has asked us to do after we are born again, to get baptised in water. And it is not a very difficult thing to do, if we decide to do it.

Now there is a problem for some people that when they want to get baptised, there is a lot of opposition from traditional families. Especially parents who grew up in the traditional way say, “No, no. You have already got baptised. We baptised you, we christened you,” and all such things. But what they are trying to do is to protect their tradition. I remember what happened to me. When I was born, my parents were in the CSI. They baptised me (so-called baptism) as a baby. When I came to the Lord while I was a student, somebody gave me a challenge. He asked me, “Have you been baptised in water?” I said, “Of course, I have been baptised as a baby.” Then he said, “No, no. Did you decide to get baptised as a baby?” I said, “No, it doesn’t matter. Baptism is, after all, only a ritual. I have been saved by faith, by grace. That’s all that matters.” But then this man challenged me. He said, “Can you do one thing? You give up all your biases and prejudices and go to the Bible. Read it from one end to the other and see whatever the Bible tells you about baptism. See if you can justify your infant baptism. But can you promise me before you do this that if you find that God is asking you to get baptised you will do it?” Of course, I said whatever God wanted me to do I was willing to do. But I didn’t think God would ask me to get baptised. So I went, sat and read the Bible and checked it from this way and that. I finally became convinced about the meaning of baptism. I was a young man at that time, and I decided to get baptised.

Now the opposition began. My father was a top shot in the CSI at that time. And you can imagine the kind of implication it would have for him, if his son got baptised as a believer, as an adult. So he asked me not to do it. He sent me a book written by a Church of England preacher to show me why infant baptism was ok. When I was reading it what I found was what Bishop So and So said or what Canon So and So said about it. I said I was not interested in what this person or that person said, but I only wanted to see what God said in His word. (I was young and zealous and I said all that!). They had no answer. Now the next thing was that I was told through somebody that my father had sent a message, “You know your mother has a BP problem. Don’t do anything now, or you will be responsible for what happens to her.” At that time somehow God gave me confidence and I said, “No, if I am going to honour God by obeying Him, God won’t let any such thing happen.” Nothing happened and I got baptised.

It was a major turning point in my spiritual life where I was choosing to obey God rather than people, I was choosing to go against traditions in order to obey God. It became a big turning point in my life. And thankfully my mother also got baptised at the age of ninety, many, many years later.

So there may be opposition, there may be all kinds of arguments. But this becomes a test of whether we want to obey God above everybody else, above everything else, and we want to stand with God. That becomes a major point of decision in our life. Jesus said, “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father and with the holy angels” (Matt.8:38).

Another practical thing I want to make clear is this. Maybe we became believers, we were born again and we were baptised, but at that time we had no understanding of what it meant. Now that we have more understanding it doesn’t meant that now we have to get baptised with meaning again. No. These three thousand people who got baptised had no understanding of what it meant, but they obeyed in simple terms. So, if we have obeyed as believers, as children of God, we don’t have to get baptised every time we get some more understanding, some greater revelation or any such things. It’s not necessary. But the fact is that we should have obeyed God by our own choice and deliberately.

Now let’s look at the second passage which talks about baptism. 1 Peter 3:18-21. This is a difficult passage to understand. It says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I read it fully because I wanted to establish the context. We shouldn’t pick verses out of context. But at the same time we have to say that there are certain aspects in this passage which are difficult to understand. They can be explained, but let’s not get into that because we will get side-tracked. But let’s take this last thing that we were reading there, “Baptism now saves you, not the removal of dirt from the flesh but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Now again, this verse is not saying that baptism is needed for us to be saved. This word ‘saved’ has many different meanings. There are three basic parts in salvation, justification, sanctification and glorification. These are different aspects, different phases, of salvation. So whenever we hear the word ‘saved’ we should not assume that it is talking about the initial born again experience. No. This is talking about something else. Here when the word saved is used it means, not the removal of the dirt from the flesh or the forgiveness of sins, but an appeal to God for a good conscience. What Peter is saying here is that when we get baptised that means we are publicly taking a stand for Christ. When we go into the water and come out of the water what we are saying is: on one side we are making a testimony before people that this is what God has done for me—I was a sinner, my old life is now buried, I have received a new life; on the other side, this passage is talking about our response in relationship to God.

We are making an appeal to God for a good conscience. What we are saying is, “Lord, You have done all these things for me. By taking this obedient step of baptism what I am saying is that I want to live the rest of my life for You with a good conscience. I want to be obedient to You, I want to love You above everyone else and everything else, I want to give You the first place in my life, and I want to be a faithful person for the rest of my life.” So we are making an appeal to God for a good conscience as we are taking this first step of obedience in baptism in water. So, this is the thing we do in relationship with God. The other thing we do is in relationship to people who are watching us. People hear what we are doing to testify to what God has done for us. Then we are testifying to God, “Lord, now that I am doing this, what I mean is that from my heart I want to love You, I want to walk with You, I want to obey You in everything. Please help me, Lord.”

This is the second aspect of what baptism means. So now we can understand what it means. It’s not meaningless at all. It is meaningless if we do it in a meaningless way. But we don’t have to do it in a meaningless way now that we know its meaning.

So let me just conclude like this. Some of us here have not been baptised. So certainly I am making an appeal to you that you should obey God. The first thing you should have done after you became a believer was to get baptised. If you haven’t done it, it’s not too late to do it now. Consider it as a very serious thing to do, as the first thing that you can do as your testimony before people and as your testimony before God.

I also understand practical limitations. There could be even life or death situations when it comes to baptism in terms of certain religions. You know what I am talking about. We have to do this wisely. What God wants us to do in an ideal situation is as a public testimony of our relationship with God and our desire to live with Him.

Those of us who are already baptised, what shall we do, now that we understand the meaning of it? We can rededicate our life, saying to God, “Lord, I remember the day when I got baptised. I want to live for You, I want You to be the most important Person in my life, I want to love You more than everyone else, more than everything else, I want to obey every single thing that You tell me whether it’s a small commandment or a big commandment, I want to obey You, Lord, I want to be faithful to You, I want to be accountable to You. Please help me, Lord.” We can do that right now.

Edited transcript of a message spoken at Hope Chapel, Bangalore

Why get baptised? - The message in audio

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