Remember those SAT questions that ask, “Dog is to Puppy, as Cat is to ____________?” Well I have one for you. “Old Testament is to Circumcision, as New Testament is to ______________?” Know the answer? It’s found in Colossians 2:11-12. Go read it. I’ll wait here. Go on. Wow, you’re not going to do it are you? Fine, I’ll do all the work and copy and paste it for you. “And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” So the New Testament equivalent of circumcision is baptism. But, how come? I’m glad you asked. Think about what the point of circumcision was. It was an outward display of God’s Covenant with Abraham. God made an unconditional promise to Abram years and years ago. He told him that no matter what, Abram would birth a great nation (lots of people, lots of land, the works), God would bless those that blessed him and curse those that cursed them (really useful in battle), and one day his Great28 Grandson would be the Savior of the World. But once Abram got into his 80’s he thought that God might need his help a bit with the whole having children thing. His wife Sarai couldn’t seem to have children, so she suggested to Abram that he sleep with her servant Hagar (in the words of Admiral Ackbar, “IT’S A TRAP!!!”) For some reason, Abram didn’t think this was a terrible idea. Well, once Hagar has Abram’s love-child Ishmael, God reveals to Sarai and Abram that they are going to finally have a little boy. As a reminder of the covenant promise that God made to Abram, He changed his name to Abraham, and announced that all males in his household would be circumcised. So I ask myself, “Self, why, of all the symbols that God could have used, did He pick circumcision?” I think God did it because he knew what would derail so many of the leaders of the nation of Israel. Whether Jacob or Sampson or David, so many let what was circumcised to lead their decision-making (if you catch my drift.) I can almost picture it (but I’m not). Your average Israelite boy is running away from the teachings and beliefs of his forefathers. He’s not going to wait for his bride, but is instead going to head over to Midian or Philistia or Assyria and “sow his wild oats.” His chosen lady of the evening would certainly ask what is going on down there. It’s different from what she’s seen before. In that moment, our young Israelite friend would be reminded of the unconditional covenant that God had made with him. He could either tell the truth or lie, but there is no way he didn’t know what he was about to do was wrong. He had a physical and literal reminder that he was a child of God. Was he going to blatantly ignore God?
So how the heck does baptism correlate to that? Glad you asked. Baptism serves the exact same reminder, although for a totally different covenant. Jesus’ covenant with Believers is that He will absolutely forgive their sin, give them a new nature, and bring them to the Father in Heaven one day. Baptism serves as a reminder of that covenant. We were buried and raised again with Him. Not literally yet, but spiritually. It is an outward profession of one’s inward confession. Just because an Israelite was circumcised didn’t automatically mean they were being obedient to God. It didn’t mean they were faithful followers of Yahweh. It just meant they had a reminder of God’s promise, covenant, and blessings in their life. Baptism works as the same reminder. It can be hard to figure out the moment you truly trusted Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. As a kid, I raised my hands a couple times in children’s church. Even if you have a more dramatic conversion later in life, figuring out the exact moment of salvation can be difficult. Baptism is a definitive moment that has a time and date to it. You can look back and remember that you publically professed your faith. Ideally, your friends and family will witness this baptismal event so that they can witness the transformation that occurs from your old self to this new, redeemed self. I think baptism actually has a lot of reflective attributes. We see:
1) The cleansing of sin
2) A symbol of repentance
3) Representative of the Death, Burial, and Resurrection
4) Publically identifying ourselves with Christ
5) Starting of one’s ministry
But despite the agreement in most Christian circles on the concept of baptism, there actually is great disagreement in Christianity on how, when, and why to baptize. I’m usually super-agreeable with everyone, but these questions are kind of big deals. I get along with everyone, so why am I being weird about baptism? Well, I think we would all agree that you want to do circumcision right the first time, and so I hope you will agree to do baptism right the first time as well.
Of the 3 issues of how, when, and why, this first one is of the least importance. However, I think biblically it’s pretty clear. When it comes to baptism, Scripture describes immersion as opposed to sprinkling. First of all, it is the clearest representation of Christ’s total forgiveness and being buried with Him when we actually dunk people. The word baptism itself best means to dunk or to dip. In the Old Testament when the Greek translators of the Septuagint wrote the story of Noah, it described the earth as being baptized. The flood wasn’t a light sprinkle. It was a deluge. It completely submerged the earth. The flood literally cleansed the earth of its sin in the same manner that Jesus spiritually and legally cleansed our hearts of sin.
I personally have never heard of a baby dunking. When it comes to babies, churches have usually gone the sprinkling route. Those that sprinkle babies are taking the symbol of circumcision one step too far. They say, since the Israelites were circumcised as babies, why not put children under Christ’s New Covenant as a baby as well. Well, my response is that it’s a different covenant. An Israelite born physically under the Old Covenant should get the sign of that covenant – circumcision. A Christian born-again spiritually under the New Covenant should get the sign of that covenant – baptism. I don’t think baptizing babies is bad or evil or dangerous or anything like that. I just don’t see a biblical example. Every discussion of baptism is always in the context of someone coming to trust Jesus as their Savior. Some assume in Acts 10 that when Cornelius and his whole household got baptized following his belief in Christ is an example of baptizing babies and young children. Well, first of all, we don’t know if he had any young kids. For all we know, all his children were older. Second, I would assume that his household all believed in Jesus for Peter to go and baptize them all. But I guess both sides are assuming something. I believe there needs to be one definitive instance in Scripture of baby baptism for me to practice such a thing. That seems like a really simple verse for Paul to throw into Galatians somewhere. Perhaps just stick it at the end – Galatians 7:1-3 “Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. This is kind of a big deal so listen up Galatians and future churches reading this. Sprinkle your kids with water so that they fall under the Covenant of Christ. This is Paul, over and out.”
Peter, especially, was very big on baptism. After you accept Jesus as your Savior, go get baptized. He’s so quick with that response that some Believers have gotten confused and thought you had to get baptized in order to be saved. Although there are 3 or 4 verses that sound like you might need to get baptized in order to truly be saved, there are dozens and dozens that explicitly state that it is by faith alone and grace alone that you are saved. The thief on the cross was able to see Jesus in paradise that day despite him not being baptized. The danger of believing that baptism is a part of salvation is that suddenly we have injected a piece of our selves into the salvation process. Jesus did all the saving. It’s 100% him, and 0% of us. I figure that whatever percentage we have to participate in to be saved will be the exact percentage we screw-up. Baptism is symbolic. It’s an important symbol, but it is just a symbol. I would be really confused by a Believer who didn’t want to get baptized. It seems clear throughout Scripture that Jesus wants us to. The very first thing Jesus asks us to do, we’re going to say no? That seems weird to me.
Please, feel free to ask me in the comments about any specific verse that might confuse you about baptism and I’ll be happy to respond with what I believe it’s truly saying. Most of the time, you just need to look a couple verses away for clarity.