What is Baptism?

From the Desk of Pastor Chuck Hochmuth

The question occasionally arises, “does the Lowell Church of Christ (LCOC) teach that baptism is essential to salvation?” Sometimes the question is posed this way: “Does a person have to be baptized in order to be saved?”

Let me start out by simply saying that we at LCOC try our level best to present the message of the gospel in the most accurate way possible as presented to us in Scripture. We believe that the Word of God must be the beginning place for all discussions regarding doctrinal issues.

The Bible tells us that our only hope of salvation comes through the grace of God. Paul reminds us that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…” So, ultimately, we cannot take credit for our salvation at any point including faith.

God’s grace was demonstrated for us through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Paul said it this way, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you… by this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” Paul then goes on to describe that what he personally received from God he passed on as of “first importance”; specifically the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

This is the “essence” of God’s message of salvation. So, when we speak of something being “essential” we have to go back to what Jesus accomplished through His death, burial and resurrection. The essential act of “regeneration” takes place at Calvary. This is the place where the demands of justice and righteousness are met.

The question that we must deal with is this: what is the appropriate response to what God has done for us? What has God asked us to do in response to his gift of salvation? The obvious starting place is faith. According to Paul faith is the vehicle through which God imparts his salvation. (Galatians 3:22) Jesus made it clear to us that those who “believe in him (Jesus) shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

But, what does this faith look like? Is it simply an intellectual ascent to a specific truth or is it more? James tells us that even the demons believe and they shudder. Both Mark and Luke record an interesting encounter Jesus had with a demon possessed man. As Jesus approached the man the demon spoke from within the man, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” Certainly we would not conclude that demons experience eternal life simply because they believed certain truths about Jesus.

Faith, as we understand it, has to do with a complete trust in, and an undivided loyalty to Christ. Or as Jesus said to his disciples, faith is pictured in the one who denies himself, takes up his cross and follows him. (Matthew 16:24) This is a hard statement as it demands more of us than simply saying, “I believe.” (easy believeism?)

Faith is a conviction of the gospel that compels us to faithfulness to Jesus as our King. It is seen and heard in one’s personal confession of who Jesus is. Paul said it this way in Romans 10. “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) This kind of faith results in an appropriate confessional response. “I BELIEVE!”

Faith is also what leads a person to reject or turn away from a kingdom where “self” is enthroned as king. It was the message of John the Baptist and Jesus as well as the apostles who took the message of salvation into the world. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Peter wrote that God is not “wanting that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Paul said it this way, “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret…” (2 Corinthians 7:10)

All of these verses have strong “salvational” undertones to them. Yet, we still believe that salvation ultimately comes from God! We do not teach “faith regeneration”, “confession regeneration”, or “repentance regeneration” because none of these things in and of themselves ultimately regenerate. It is Christ who saves us and who does the work of regeneration.

Now, regarding baptism. I love baptism, not because of anything we do, but because of what we see God doing through this beautiful expression. I find it fascinating how the writers of scripture tie baptism to what Jesus did at Calvary. Romans 6 is a classic example.

In Acts 2 we see Peter connecting his hard hitting message about the crucifixion of Jesus with his invitation to those who had been “cut to the heart” (a faith statement if I ever heard one!). “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Here is where we must be careful of with this passage. The authority to forgive ultimately comes through the powerful name of Jesus Christ and not the waters of baptism. We are not saved merely by getting wet; we are saved through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, of which baptism is given to us by GOD as a beautiful yet powerful image. (Baptism is never spoken of in scripture as a “work” but in terms of a response.)

I think it is worth noting that baptism is always described in passive terms. It is what is done to us, both as a physical action but also what God does to us internally. We don’t “do” baptism, we “are” baptized. There is a sense in which we see a strong salvational theme in the baptism passages as it relates to what Christ accomplished for us at Calvary. This does not take away anything that occurs at the cross nor does it add to it. Baptism is seen in scripture as the place where we identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. (Romans 6:3-10) In our baptism we are clothed with Christ. (Galatians 3:27) In our baptism we are “cleansed” by the blood of Christ. (Acts 22:16) In our baptism we are “saved” by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21)

At LCOC we teach that when a person comes to a place in time when having heard the gospel message, they will respond with faith in Jesus Christ. By faith, they confess their belief that Jesus is who he claims to be. By faith, they repent of their sins and are baptized as described in the New Testament. Our goal is not to argue the precise nanosecond when God saves us, but that we simply respond in obedience to God’s offer of grace in the way set forth in scripture. Ultimately, it is God who saves us and we are forgiven as a result of the work of Christ on the cross.

Bottom line is this: we are saved by grace through faith. God initiates the invitation to us and gives us the freedom to respond. If a person refuses to respond to God’s grace by uniting with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection through baptism what does this say about their faith? What does this say about their commitment to follow Jesus when he says, “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

I hope this helps you better understand where we stand on this issue. Our goal is to be faithful to what Scripture teaches. To God be the Glory!

Chuck Hochmuth – Senior Minister