We now come to the subject of baptism and its role, if any, in God’s redemptive plan for mankind. For us to journey through this, we need to be honest about this idea of “unmerited grace.” Unmerited simply means not deserved or merited (i.e., deserved or be worthy of). The idea is that the grace of God, culminated in the work of Christ His Son on the cross, which opened the doorway to salvation for all who believe, can NEVER be earned by anything one does. Thus, as some reason, the act of baptism, because it is something one does, cannot be necessary for salvation because salvation “is a gift of God, not of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9). I understand the struggle, I truly do. But for those who refute the faith driven act of baptism, what about the sinner’s prayer? As Franklin Graham asks viewers to invite Jesus into their hearts in his recent television spot, he says, “Just pray this prayer…”. Isn’t that something you are doing? Logically, if we take this idea of unmerited grace to its fullest conclusion, all would be saved, for no one would need to do anything, including believe. But as we saw last week, Jesus Himself revealed that believing, the very cornerstone of man’s involvement in God’s redemptive plan, is a work; that is, an act on man’s part. With this in mind, let’s consider the subject of baptism and its role in salvation.
“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the
name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…’” (Acts 2:38)
Moved by the gospel, wanting to know what to do next, if anything, Peter answers their question, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” The answer is simple and life changing. Now that you believe, repent, and be baptized. We covered this idea of repentance last week. Now we look at the act of baptism. One of the first things we need to do is determine whether this is water baptism or the baptism of what some call “the Holy Spirit.” There are many avenues we could take and somewhere down the road we will consider journeying down them. For today though, I want to bring us to one text that I believe reveals with clarity that the command to be baptized here given by the Holy Spirit through the apostle Peter is referring to water baptism. Our text is Acts 8, a familiar text of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. You may remember that Philip, directed to the eunuch by the angel of the Lord (Acts 8:26), reveals to him who the prophet Isaiah was talking about by preaching “Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35). Philip, one of seven men chosen in Acts 6:5 who were “full of faith and the Holy Spirit”, the same Holy Spirit that had guided the apostles into all truth in Acts 2, reveals God’s redemptive plan to the eunuch. This would be Philip’s only time teaching this man, a one-time bible study if you will. What did he teach him? We know he taught him about Christ, but what else though? Listen to what the eunuch asked, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Who taught him about water baptism? Better yet, why would he be taught about it? Then, we read, “And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38). This is what the Holy Spirit guided Philip to teach and do. Thus, it would make sense then to conclude that the Holy Spirit would also have Peter, along with the other apostles, teaching and doing the same thing.
Let’s consider an illustration I have used before to help us grasp how the act of baptism need not be viewed as a work of merit; but instead, a step of submissive faith. Man’s Situation: If I was standing in a third story window of a building engulfed in flames, facing certain death by the flames that surround me. I could leap, but that too would only bring death. I am in need of being saved! I call for help on my cell phone and soon the firemen show up. They access things and determine the only way to save me is to use an airbag. They deploy it and beacon me to jump. I yell to the fireman who is urging me to jump, “I am afraid!” The fireman says, “Trust me and you will be okay! The airbag will catch you!” My fear is replaced with trust, and I leap, escaping certain death and finding the joy of life anew. I roll off the airbag and say, “Wow, look how I saved myself!” NO, that would be absurd. I turn to the airbag and begin to praise it. Of course not! What I do first, is thank and praise the firemen for saving me. Yes, I did need to act. But most important, I had to put faith in the fireman and what he has done to save me. That confidence in him is what moved me to leap into the airbag. The airbag, although necessary to save my life, does not get any of the glory, only the fireman. Why? Because without him, salvation would be possible.
The act of faith driven water baptism is no different. It is someone who has come to realize their need for Christ’s saving grace, for they are aware of sin and the death that it brings (Romans 6:23). They realize that salvation is impossible within themselves, they need a Savior, and His name is Jesus Christ. They also see the need to repent, to turn away from sin and the deception of this world and all the false promises it offers. By faith, they submit to the act of water baptism, not to in some way meriting or earning salvation. On the contrary, this newfound faith puts its trust in no one other than He who hung on the cross in their place, knowing that when they are baptized in water, it is “in the name of Jesus Christ” that they do so. Peter spoke of this very thing, “And that water is like baptism, which now saves you. Baptism is not the washing of dirt from the body. It is asking God for a clear conscience. It saves you BECAUSE Jesus Christ was raised from death” (1st Peter 3:21).
We return to Acts 2:38 and end with this idea of baptism’s role in salvation. When faith in who Christ is and what He has done for sinful man is grasped, the natural question is, “What shall we do?” The answer, Peter says, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” As the ETRV reads, “Then God will forgive your sins…”. Thus, baptism has nothing to do with trying to earn salvation. It is an act of faith of one helplessly in need of salvation and who trusts fully in the One who has provided all that is needed to be saved. Thank You Lord for being so gracious towards sinful man.