HOW CAN WE PARTICIPATE IN THE MASTER PLAN?
The objective of this section is to explain the vital importance of baptism and how God offers salvation to us through sincere belief, repentance and baptism. Once you have decided you would like to be part of God's plan, important changes need to be made.
Firstly we will consider belief and repentance, the first two steps in our journey to baptism. Next, we look at what the Bible teaches about baptism and what it means for you.
3.1 What is Belief?
Just before ascending into heaven, Jesus spoke these life-changing words to his disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved" (Mark 16v15-16). Before we can be baptised it is essential that we believe the "good news" or gospel of the Kingdom of God. In this series of studies we have been unfolding the message of God's Master Plan, the good news as Jesus called it. Why is belief so important? Once again, it's all related to God's Master Plan which is to fill the earth with his glory. Belief helps us to understand that we have fallen short of this ideal, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3v23).
We realise that we are related to the laws of sin and death because of our descent from Adam, and that we need a change of relationship - to be related to Jesus Christ - to be saved from sin and death. Baptism is the way that we change our old relationship to Adam and begin a new relationship of everlasting life with Jesus, our Saviour. In the Acts of the Apostles we discover many examples of belief preceding baptism, for example, "When they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women" (Acts 8v12. See also 8v26-38, 16v31-33). It is clear then that belief is essential before those who understand the gospel, its significance and the responsibilities that it brings into our lives, can be baptised.
3.2 What is Repentance?
Belief is a good start on the road to salvation, but a little careful study reveals that there is a second step before baptism. It's a word that we don't hear much of today and some of us may even find it a little old fashioned. The word is "repentance". The Bible uses this word to signify a total change, a new way of life, a new relationship - out of Adam into Christ. Repentance means turning our backs and closing the door on our old way of life and beginning a new life following the teachings and way of life of Jesus Christ. Repentance is an acknowledgement that we are sorry for our old way of life, that we will try harder in the future to follow Jesus faithfully with all our life's strength. "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (2 Corinthians 7v10).
3.3 What is Baptism?
If we could read Greek, we would discover that the English word "baptism" is derived from the Greek word "baptizo". A few thousand years ago, "baptizo" was an everyday, household word - a man immersing a garment in a bath of dye was baptising it; a ship that was sunk in a storm was baptised, totally covered with water. Not surprisingly then, all of the baptisms we read of in the New Testament refer to a full immersion in water. In Acts chapter 8 we read of the apostle Philip preaching to an Ethiopian eunuch while they were both riding in a chariot. Once the man understood Philip's preaching about Jesus Christ, he gave a testimony of his faith, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" and then was baptised by full immersion in water: "Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him" (Acts8v38).
Full immersion is important because baptism is likened to a burial. Just as we would not bury someone by sprinkling a few clods of earth over their body, so baptism requires a full immersion in water not just a few drops of water on our heads. "Don't you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Romans 6v3-4). Jesus died a physical death and was literally buried; in baptism, we die a symbolic death, we bury ourselves in water. After his death though, Jesus was raised to a new life, an unending life, so we as believers rise out of the water with a promise of everlasting life, dead to sin and alive to a new life of righteousness in God's sight.
3.4 Why be Baptised?
Firstly, it is a commandment of Jesus, "Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16v16). Jesus teaches that if we want to share in the Master Plan and hope to enter God's Kingdom, we must be baptised: "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3v3). So important is this teaching that Jesus left us with his own personal example that we should follow. Jesus himself was baptised, even though he was without any sins that needed to be washed away (Matthew 3v13-17).
Secondly, as mentioned above, baptism is the symbolic start of a new life, a new saving relationship with God and Christ. When we are baptised, we are said to be "in Christ" or to have "put on" Christ. "For all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ" (Galatians 3v27). Being clothed with the righteousness of Christ means that we are now in a position to share in the promises and strive for everlasting life. Remember that in the garden of Eden, God clothed Adam and Eve with coats of skin to cover their nakedness after they sinned. "The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" (Genesis 3v21). An animal died to give them a covering but God has given us his Son, who died for us and shed his blood, to give us forgiveness of sins. Under the Old Testament law, the person sacrificing an animal had to associate himself with the offering by laying his hand on its head and confessing his sin. Baptism is the way we associate ourselves with Jesus.
3.5 How does Baptism save us?
It saves us by washing away our sins. It is God's appointed way for washing away sin, His divine instruction for complete forgiveness and rebirth. "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name" (Acts 22v16. See also Acts 2v37-38, 1 Peter 3v21). Baptism is not meant to be an inconvenience or simply a ritual, it is a blessing from God to be able to close a chapter of our lives and begin again. It is a means whereby we can associate ourselves with the victory that Jesus has won over sin. "If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection" (Romans 6v5).
We must realise that we need faith that God will do all that He has promised us, and that eternal life is a gift from Him, (Romans 6v23) not an obligation on His part simply because we have been fully immersed in water!
It is interesting to note that the idea of ‘being saved by water' is in fact established in the Old Testament. There are two very good accounts in the Old Testament where believers were saved by water. Both of these examples are picked up by New Testament writers and related to baptism.
The first concerns the children of Israel and their crossing of the Red Sea. You will remember that the water of the sea actually saved them from impending doom. Paul picks up on this story in 1 Corinthians 10v1-2.
The second story is that of Noah and the flood. Noah and his family were saved by the very same water that destroyed all the other people. The water lifted up the ark which was carrying Noah and his family. Peter uses this story, in 1 Peter 3v20-21, to illustrate how in similar fashion we are saved by water through baptism.
3.6 How does Baptism fit into the Master Plan?
God's strategy to achieve His Master Plan has been revealed through the centuries of time in promises made to faithful men. In an earlier lesson, we learnt of the promises that God made to His friend Abraham. The exciting thing for us is that by being baptised into Jesus Christ, we are able to share in the wonderful promises that were made to Abraham. Do you know that Abraham never received the promises that God made to him? "He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground. But God promised him that he and his descendants after him would possess the land, even though at that time Abraham had no child" (Acts 7v5). Why the delay? Because you may be the last jewel that God is waiting for: "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect" (Hebrews 11v39-40).This better plan is the Master Plan! God wants us also to have a share in the promises and the Master Plan.
The key to understanding how we can share in the promises is found in Galatians chapter 3. It's worthwhile reading the entire chapter. The promises were made to Abraham and to his descendant, Jesus. "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds" , meaning many people, but "and to your seed", meaning one person, who is Christ" (Galatians 3v16). In fact, the promises are soon to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ - he is going to be the King of the world. But most of us are not Jewish and not related to Abraham, so how does this help us? Those of us who have been baptised into Christ belong to Christ and have therefore become joint heirs to the promises. "For all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3v27-29).
3.7 What happens after Baptism?
Baptism is only the beginning of a new way of life in Christ in which we try to follow the example he has set us. He said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14v15) and "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it" (Matthew 16v24-25).
We have learnt that:
Belief is the understanding of God's Master Plan.
Repentance is being sorry for our sins, and turning away from our old way of life.
Baptism is full immersion in water.
We are baptised to
- associate ourselves with the death and resurrection of Christ,
- wash away our sins,
- become part of the family of Christ, and so heirs of the promises
made to Abraham.
HOW CAN WE PARTICIPATE IN THE MASTER PLAN ?
We must believe God' Master Plan, repent of our old life, and start a new life by being baptised.
- Case study - Cornelius
- Read Acts chapter 10.
- Cornelius was devout, feared God, generous to the poor, prayed to God always (v2) and had a vision from an angel of God (v3). Was this enough, or did he need to do more?
- In Acts 10 v45 Cornelius and his family were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. What was Peter's reaction? (v47,48)
- Can a very young child be baptised? Why?
- List at least two things which baptism symbolises.
- How does baptism link us to the promises made to Abraham?
6. Additional references
The following references provide additional support for the issues raised above: Acts 2v37-42, Acts 8v26-40, Acts 9v18, Romans 6, Colossians 2v12-13.