Last night’s question seemed simple enough, but led to a wonderful series of questions and answers (and timelines and diagrams!) The question: How much water is required for Baptism?
As often the case, there are questions behind the question. And there are unspoken presuppositions as well. We began our study by asking those other questions. In Greek, the word is baptize (βαπτιζω), which can be translated as wash, apply water, immerse. The word itself does not indicate how much water is used or how it is applied.
So now the first question is: who is doing the action in Baptism? A common presupposition is that the person is the active one in Baptism.
Let’s take a look at some Scripture passages:
Acts 2:38-39 NAS
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
Note that the verb “be baptized” is a passive imperative, which means it is done to the person, not something the person does. Also, note what accompanies this baptizing:
In the name of Jesus Christ
For the forgiveness of sins
Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit
This diagram lays out the issues in Acts 2:38-39:
To see who is the active one, we looked at Ephesians 2:1-10.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, (2:1)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (2:4-5)
Note that Paul describes the reality: humans are spiritually dead, unable to do anything, spiritually. On the other hand, God “makes us alive.” Back to our diagram, we can determine to the direction of activity:
In other words, these are all gifts from God. When we look at 1 Peter 3:21, this understanding is confirmed. 1 Peter 3:18-21
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
Peter uses the saving through water of the eight people (Flood and Ark) as a type (forerunner) for the saving through the waters of baptism which is the antitype (greater thing). So, we can add another element to the diagram: saving.
Now that we see that God gives and the person is passive, receiving only. Thus, the amount of water is really not an issue. God is bringing his gifts to his people through the means of baptism.
When we look at Matthew 28:18-20, we see that baptism is one of two means (Baptism and Word) by which disciples are made:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of call the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The real significance of Baptism then is one of assurance and God’s continuing presence with the believer. Paul writes in Romans 6:1-4
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was braised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Thus, in Baptism we become united with Christ, both in his death and his resurrection. As Paul points out, this has practical implications, not just for the one time event of the baptism itself, but for daily living, dying to self, and rising to life.
May we live in the reality of what Baptism is, who acts in Baptism, and the ongoing significance of Baptism in our daily lives.