God's Voice and Ours in Baptism

Pastor Ostella



As you know, we are having a baptism today. Elysia King is going to receive Christian baptism; she is going to be baptized. So, I would like to speak on the NT doctrine of baptism.

Now we cannot cover all the passages that deal with baptism and the ones that we do deal with need to be ordered in some way. We need a central passage that gives us some hooks on which to hang the other passages. The central passage I have in mind this morning is Acts 2:38-39. This is a good place to hang different aspects of Christian baptism under the title: "God's Voice and Ours in Baptism" (God's voice and our voice in baptism).

Our passage is part of Peter's the first sermon of the Christian era that was given on the day of Pentecost. Jesus had been crucified, raised from the dead, and taken up before their very eyes into the clouds. The disciples waited in Jerusalem according to the command of Christ and His promise of the baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). Then when the day of Pentecost came, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in various languages to the people gathered for the feast from many countries including visitors from Rome. They declared "the wonders of God" (2:11). That is when Peter stood up and addressed the crowd and preached the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (2:22-24). He concluded with a contrast between their sin and the exaltation of Christ (2:36). And the people were devastated (2:37, cut to the heart they asked, "what shall we do?").

And what does Peter tell them to do? He tells them to be baptized: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you" (2:38).

1A. God's voice in baptism (be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, Acts 2:38)

To speak or act in the name of someone is to speak or act under the umbrella of his authority. It is in terms of the authority of Christ that Peter gives this imperative. It is because of the authority of Christ that baptism is an obligation.

It is not an obligation to Peter or the church but to Jesus Christ. This suggests some implications that give a radical importance to this simple ritual.

1) One implication is that behind Peter's command is the command of Christ

How did Peter know that water baptism is to be practiced in the life of the NT church? This is a relevant question because there were many rituals and baptisms in the OT some that used blood, some that used oil, and some that used water. And most of these rituals and baptisms were OT shadows that have passed away in the coming of Christ. As the song puts it, "Finished all the types and shadows of the ceremonial law; finished all that God had promised; death and hell no more shall awe; it is finished, it is finished; saints from hence your comfort draw, saints from hence your comfort draw." Given that the types and shadows have been done away, how did Peter know that this one abides into the NT church?

Peter knew that water baptism is to be practiced because of the Great Commission in which Jesus gave this command to baptize: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). I think it is fair to say that baptism, as we know it, began with John the Baptist and was carried forward into the life of the church by our Lord's command in the Great Commission.

Therefore, we have to conclude that this water ritual has a radical importance. It is as if there were a great net spanning a river and blocking all the fish swimming beyond that point into the ocean. But one fish (or two if you count the Passover) swims right through the net from promise into the sea of fulfillment. All the other ceremonies are cut off but baptism continues. And it does so because of the authority of Jesus Christ. Behind Peter's imperative is the command of Christ. It is His command that makes baptism with its simplicity so important.

2) Another implication is that behind Peter's action is the action of Christ

To see how radical this is, consider this question: Who does the baptizing? I am asking an "obvious" question that has much more to it than first meets the eye.

How would you answer? a) You might say that Peter and the apostles baptized and that would be correct. But we can be more precise. b) Because of the number of people baptized that day (Acts 2:41, about 3,000), some of you might say that there were others who helped (servants of the Lord, unnamed and unknown). Okay so far. c) But you might carry this forward in time to our day and say the church baptizes through duly appointed ministers. Very good! We are almost to the point that I am looking for but we are not quiet there yet. d) It is not only apostles through their helpers and the church through the ministers who baptize. It is God who baptizes through His servants. It is an act of God. In other words, God is active through human instruments.

In this light look at John 4:1-2. Jesus baptized more disciples than John (v. 1) but He did not actually baptize anyone (v. 2). He baptized by means of the apostles. Baptism is His institution. So when the church through a minister baptizes a disciple, Jesus is baptizing through His servant.

He is baptizing through the instrumentality of His servant. This is what is meant when it is said that water baptism in the life of the church is an act of God. This fact gives water baptism an importance that we may not always appreciate. We have to say that baptism with water is not only something that God commands but it is something that He does. I trust that this conveys the idea of radical importance of baptism.

3) A third implication is that behind Peter's sign is God's speech

Baptism like communion is a sign. It is a ritual rich in symbolism. It is at the very point of God's action in a sign that we are confronted with the voice of God.

This act of God is a form of speech. It is God's word in an illustration that He has chosen. Think about a speed limit sign on the highway. Who is speaking through this sign? Is it the worker who is putting the sign in place? No, it is the state or the governor that is speaking. Likewise, it is not the worker, the church or minister that is saying something by baptism. Indeed, it is God that is speaking.

Isn't this remarkable? Baptism is His command, His act, and His word! I am stressing this side of baptism because it is easy for us to see baptism as a human act but in the larger picture we need to ponder the fact that baptism involves God's action and speech.

4) Behind Peter's ritual is God's promise

Before leaving this point we need to ponder some of what God is saying. Christ speaks in both word and deed. In this act of baptizing He gives us a gospel word in visual aid. It is a gospel sign like communion is a gospel sign. He is reiterating the gospel.

Thus the church signs are theological and express a message from God. Each ordinance focuses the gospel in a distinct way through distinct elements: water in the one and bread and wine in the other. At the heart of it, we are directed to the gospel as a cleansing and as a nourishing word from God.

In our text, Peter ties two things together that are promised in baptism: the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). In sum, God promises cleansing all the way to glory because the Spirit is the gift of Christ's redemptive work. All the blessings of salvation are summarized in the gift of the Spirit. This is the good that Jesus spoke of when He said: "It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (Jn. 16:7).

Jesus baptizes the church in more than one way. He is active in the ritual of water baptism; as we have already stated, baptizing with water is something He does through His servants. But He also baptizes the church with the Holy Spirit. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "I will pour out my Spirit on all people" (Acts 2:16-17).

Therefore one of the things symbolized by the pouring out of water in baptism is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit as the gift of Christ's accomplished work of humiliation and exaltation. Thus in effect the Lord is saying, "I cleanse sinners, I put their sins as far away as the east is from the west. I give sinners the work of the Holy Spirit who applies all of the saving mercies secured by Christ in His death and resurrection."

So why do we bother with baptism? Why do we bother with this mundane ritual since it seems so earthy, so physical, and so simple? We bother because our King commands it. We bother because by means of this ritual as an act of God we are comforted. In this visual aid we are assured that though we deserve God's wrath for our sin He abounds with forgiving love.

He has said "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" so that we may confidently say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid" (Heb. 13:5-6). He tells us by this visual aid of baptism that He cleanses us to such an extent that no one can lay any charge at our feet that will stick. We know that we have sinned. But He washes away our sin by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit who effectually applies the saving work of Christ. "My sin O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul."

This is the theology of baptism. It is sometimes called the objective side of the sacrament because in baptism we hear the voice of God. It is as if God added an oath to a promise. We already have the promise of the gospel. But God adds this additional word in symbol. It is not because His word is weak but it is because our faith is weak and needs this encouragement and reassurance.

So in the words of Hebrews 6, "because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged" (vs. 17-18).

2A. Our Voice in Baptism

The subjective side of baptism relates to what we say. It is truly a response. Baptism is a new covenant sign. By it God makes covenant with us and by it we make covenant with God.

1) We raise our voice in repentance.

Repent and be baptized. Baptism is the first fruit of repentance. We come to baptism confessing our sins and saying that we need to be cleansed by the work of Christ (cf. Matt. 3:6).

2) We raise our voice for obedience.

Peter tells us that it is a pledge we make of a good conscience (1 Pet. 3:21), which is a pledge of good behavior (3:16) guided by His law (cf. 2:12 with Matt. 5:16-19).

Baptism is into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19-20). It is therefore a commitment of discipleship under the authority of the triune God. We covenant to learn and obey all that He commands (Matt. 28:20). Did you know that instruction in commandment keeping is part of the Great Teaching Commission?

Baptism shows the obedience of faith (Rom. 6:3,4, 17). Hence the sign of discipleship is baptism which is properly administered to whose who come confessing their sins, clinging to Christ as their priest, learning from Him as their prophet, and obeying Him as their King (Matt. 11:28-30).

It is therefore necessary that we balance two things carefully. 1) Baptism does not save and people may be saved without being baptized, as was the thief on the cross. There is no power in the water; nor is there grace dispensed by the church using the water. 2) Yet we have to say something to those who live longer than the thief on the cross did. If you claim faith in Christ and know much about the Bible, but you have not been baptized, then a huge question mark has to be placed over your profession of faith.

Romans 6:1-4, 17; and 1:5 show us that when grace frees us from bondage to sin it frees for baptism; baptism is the way the work of grace is realized (6:1-4). Hence, baptism is a symbolic act that begins the new life by expressing it. True obedience to God is a work of grace in the heart. It is to a new life of obedience that we are freed as shown in this chapter (6:14-17). And this is the important point of the obedience of faith as definitional of faith in the entire book of Romans (1:5; 16:26).

There is a living faith versus a dead faith. A dead faith may say much and have much knowledge: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26). James goes on to say, "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder" (James 2:18b-19).

I am simply tying James with Paul and Peter when I say that faith without baptism is dead. Paul tells us that the new life of obedience is realized by baptism (Rom 6:4, 17); Peter says, repent and be baptized.

You may say you believe in Christ in a way that is different than the knowledge demons have or a faith that is more than mere talk. But how can it be more than the knowledge demons have or how can it be more than mere talk if Jesus gives you this simple, clear, and straightforward command, "let each of you be baptized" and you do not obey Him?

If you claim faith but are unwilling to receive baptism, your faith must stand under a huge question mark. How can it be anything else than mere profession, even self-deception, if you are unwilling to obey Christ in this simple command?

We come in baptism to confess our sins and to commit ourselves to the obedience of faith that we may live under the authority of Christ as our prophet, priest and king. In baptism we hear the voice of God expressing covenant love and in baptism we raise our voices in gratitude and for covenant obedience.


A Word to the Church family

Listen to this as a word from your Father who condescends to make this point emphatically clear; I love you my lambs, I have washed you and I will wash you all the way to glory!

Witnessing baptism calls for a response, for covenant renewal. As you observe and listen to God's voice in sign and seal, look to God and say, "I renew my baptismal vow and pledge; I will serve you O lord; I will plunder the store house of the kingdom for righteousness!

I look to Jesus Christ as my prophet, priest, and king. I cling to Him. I determine to learn from Him, and I submit myself to His law. Baptism stands over us all our days giving the gospel message in sign and seal.

It calls for a response of gratitude put to action. We are called to re-iterate our pledge of a good conscience before God (1 Pet. 3:21). We are called to live a clean life by the grace of God and to ground ourselves continually in the Word of God as our food for life.

In baptism we have both God's voice and ours:

He by Himself hath sworn,

this is His sacrament

By grace set free for liberty

by His cov'n ant

In baptism now I turn

my life in sovereign hands

to serve my king forevermore

by His commands


Baptismal questions

1.________, do you acknowledge that you have done wrong, that you have sinned and that you need God's forgiveness?

2. Do you understand that baptism does not save you but that it is a gospel sign, an act of God, a word from God testifying to you that by faith in Christ, you are cleansed of your sins?

3. Do you believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and are you committed to the Risen Lord Jesus, to learn from Him as your prophet, priest, and king?

4. Do you believe that the Bible is the word of God, the word of Jesus your king?

5. Based on God's word in this sign and seal, do you pledge, by the grace of God, to live all your days on this earth under the authority and commandments of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?

, based on your confession of faith in Christ and because of the command of God I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Receiving baptism by faith, you manifest the fact that you were buried with Christ in His death and that you were raised with Him in His resurrection in order that you may walk in newness of life by the power of God.