Buried With Christ
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 12:40PM
Jeff Smith in Conversion

The Acts of the Apostles – really “some of the acts of some of the apostles” – is a riveting multi-decade history of the development of the infant church of Christ.

From the ascension of Christ back into Heaven and the thrilling arrival of the Holy Spirit through the ministries of Peter and Paul, the writer weaves a narrative that is both doctrinal and inspirational. The early Christians were men and women of great faith and courage, and their evangelistic efforts throughout the world were tireless and effective. The great commission to take the good news beyond Jerusalem was accomplished in astonishingly short order, allowing “the word of the truth, the gospel” to bear fruit and increase “in the whole world” (Colossians 1:5-6) before the seventh decade had concluded.

The Acts of the Apostles records stories of conversion, sometimes numbering thousands at once, but on other occasions focusing upon a single person. At least ten of these conversion records explicitly mention the punctuating act of water baptism, described by the inspired apostolic writer as “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (First Peter 3:21). It is the one baptism identified by the Holy Spirit as an obedient response to the gospel invitation, an act of faith by which the penitent believer is added to the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:5, Galatians 3:27, Acts 2:47).

These ten conversion records include:

In each of these examples, baptism is a climactic act in the conversion of people to Christ. Baptism was not a substitute for faith, but an expression of trust and confidence in Christ, “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). It is implicit that each of these individuals was willing to admit his faith in Christ, for “with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10). Each, likewise, was repentant that their sins might have been blotted out (Romans 3:19). Finally, each was baptized in water, not in a misguided attempt to merit undeserved grace, but to express newfound submission to the lordship of Christ. Thus they declared God just while any who would resist water baptism would reject the purpose of God (Luke 7:29-30).

There remain further allusions to conversion in the Acts of the Apostles where baptism is only implied, however, often through metonymy and the actions of believing or turning. (Metonymy is “a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)).

Submitting to water baptism is the believer’s response to the gospel invitation, following overwhelming evidence from the New Testament in examples, commands, and implications. The great commission itself mandated that the apostles make disciples in all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Water baptism, with its imitation of a burial and resurrection as one descends into and arises from the water, is essential in the union with Christ: 

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4-5)

 Submitting to water baptism – or insisting upon its significance and essentiality – is not a denial of reliance upon grace, but a demonstration of trust in the power and authority of God (Colossians 2:12). There is nothing particularly meritorious about it – no cause to boast in being baptized when one’s sins required the son of God to die to begin with (Romans 3:27-28). 

At the same time, however, there is nothing very faithful about reading the New Testament and its voluminous discussions of baptism and then rejecting it as an offensive work or meaningless ritual. Jesus asked such an audience, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you” (Luke 6:46)? He likened the disobedient to those who build their houses upon the sand then suffer destruction when storms inevitably arise, but compared obedience to building upon the rock and weathering every tribulation. 

Whether water baptism is commanded, implied, or exemplified, the humble believer will hasten to comply, not in a quixotic attempt to put God in his debt, but to throw himself before the mercy seat of the Almighty, where undeserved favor is dispensed to the penitent and converted.

Article originally appeared on ElectronicGospel (http://electronicgospel.com/).
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