Is Baptism Necessary?

I know there are many believers that will answer “yes” to this question. I also know there are many who would answer “no.” I’m sure if I asked them why, I could see possible merit in both of their explanations. I’m also sure there are scriptural references they could use (and we would hope so) to back up their assertions or convictions. But, they can’t both be right. I have recently heard on the radio and elsewhere questions about different biblical topics and, many times, what I hear in response begins with “I think that…” or “I believe that…” Though the use of these verbs doesn’t necessarily invalidate their positions, it is indicative that these answers, or even opinions, aren’t authoritative. The Word of G-d IS authoritative; what I think, believe or reason isn’t. There is weight, power, jurisdiction, sovereignty, supremacy, finality and infallibility in that true authority. So without any preconceived mindsets (and possibly even strongholds) belying our examination, let’s see what the Bible has to say about this. And let’s at least allow the Spirit of G-d to teach us, if we are willing, to put our held beliefs behind us and to accept what He speaks to us—and that includes me!

When the Lord put this on my heart and mind, the actual scripture He gave me was our Lord Jesus’ response to John the Baptist’s comment in Matthew 3: 13-15, “Then Jesus came to Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Him saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.”

Now, what jumped off the page at me when I read this, that the Father was drawing my attention to were the words, “…fitting…to fulfill all righteousness.” Since I want to be and to remain unbiased and transparent, my mind substituted the word “necessary” for “fitting” which many word-for-word translations use. Fitting is used by my ESV, the NASB, the Berean Bible and others. The Greek word here is PREPO, and it means “proper or suitable.” So for me to presumptuously insert or substitute the word necessary may be incorrect. However, since the original language uses proper, suitable and right—then “must” is really a better, implied English rendering. Since it is proper and suitable and right, it doesn’t actually leave the matter to choice. As part of our natural learning process, then, it is quite apt to ask, “Why is it proper? Why is it suitable? Why did our Lord, ultimately, come to His cousin to be baptized? Why was it done “to fulfill all righteousness”? To begin with, many preachers and teachers often over-simplify the act of baptism by calling it “an outward sign or expression, and public declaration” of the cleansing that takes place in our hearts when we confess our sins and turn to the Lord (see Matthew 3: 6). While this is certainly true in a very basic sense, it doesn’t do doctrine or the new believer justice to stop there. There is actually a lot more going on here that a seeker must be aware of before giving their committedness to the Lord Jesus Christ. When we look at the book of Colossians, chapter two and verse twelve, it emphasizes, “HAVING BEEN BURIED with Him IN BAPTISM…” And Romans 6: 3-4 says, “…Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH? We were BURIED therefore with Him BY BAPTISM UNTO DEATH?” So you see that baptism, in its truest sense, involves death and burial. It is no wonder that these two acts go hand-in-hand in the natural realm since they do primarily in the spiritual realm as well. We need to take our decisions for, and our commitments and devotion to, Christ the Lord, and our choices to get baptized seriously. An important exclamation point is Luke 3: 3 punctuating that John “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE for the forgiveness of sins.” So the Word of G-d tells us that in order to become born-again, forgiven, saved and transformed believers, and submitted and obedient disciples of the Messiah, we must confess our sins (acknowledge and take ownership of them), repent of them (have a conscious, personal and intentional change of heart and mind over our lives), die to ourselves and our ways (make Him- not us- Lord and Master) and be buried (nail the coffin shut and roll the stone over the tomb of our sinful nature) in order to be alive in Him and made new (2 Corinthians 5: 17). Please let all of this scriptural gold sink in.

My eyes were further opened as the Lord Jesus began revealing to me about the exchange that takes place between Him and me (as well as Him and each of you) during all of this. And this, to me, really gets to the heart of why He said that it is a must “…to fulfill all righteousness.” And FULFILL is another key word that plays a central role here. What does “fulfill” mean in this paramount passage? This time we look to the Greek word “PLEROO” which means “to make full, complete, amply supplied.” This certainly is purposefully used to imply that to not be baptized is to somehow be less than full, less than complete, insufficiently supplied.” To me, it speaks in a parallel manner to the disciples in Luke 24: 49, “And, behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” The Lord is telling His followers that everything is not yet complete. A lot of preparation and instruction have been made and given, but had they gone in knowledge only—without power—it was still lacking. And when Jesus says to John, “it is fitting [for us] to fulfill all righteousness,” He is communicating that without the baptism (their metanoia and death and burial) their salvation was not yet perfect or complete.

Now, having read that, many of you may deem it almost scandalous or heretical. You may quickly retort with a ready reference to the thief on the cross. Let me take you on a brief, but relevant, sidebar. Probably close to two years ago as I was in a close-by neighborhood handing out some door-hangers about sin and grace, I met a man who seemed to be a believer, and we got to talking. He told me that he and his wife had been leading a cell church in their home and that it had recently grown to the point that they needed to, and were, meeting elsewhere. He even graciously and unexpectedly offered me the opportunity to join him in ministry there; he and I leading the church. I prayed and sought the Lord’s guidance and agreed to at least attend a service there. After that, I had my doubts but decided to meet him a couple of more times to study the Word together. During those two meetings– and no more– we found ourselves in polite yet firm disagreement over this very issue; more specifically, over water baptism. We agreed on the need for baptism, on the need for water baptism, but disagreed on the methodology and doctrine. It was a matter of conviction and our personal understanding of the scriptures. I had told him that on one occasion in prison ministry, G-d had spoken to and moved on an inmate’s heart and that this young man had surrendered his life to the Lordship of Jesus. Knowing that he should be baptized but that there was no baptistry there, nor was there any possibility of being immersed as Jesus had submitted to, I secured a cup of water and prayed as I gently poured its contents over his head. My new pastor friend – rather insistently, but kindly—asked me to produce the “chapter and verse” in the Bible which would authenticate my action. (I applaud his wanting to be scripturally accurate, and I share it.) Of course, I couldn’t in the way he all but demanded; yet I did ask him in return, “Would it have been better for me not to have baptized him at all?”

In another example, I told him of a more recent time where my wife and I had traveled to a newly-congregating group of seekers and believers in a small church a couple of hours south of us. That church was planted by some friends of ours, and they had blessed us by asking us to fill in for them that evening. We were excited! On this particular occasion, after the service and as we were getting ready to leave, a young man came up to us in the hallway and wanted to surrender his life to the prompting the Holy Spirit had given him (we had little, if not nothing, to do with it). We decided and explained to him that we were totally behind him and would pray for him, with him, and guide him (with his own words and in his own understanding), but that we would like our friends to have the honor of baptizing him. My aforementioned and new friend disagreed again. I explained to him that it was nearly nine at night, dark outside and that neither we nor the young man lived close-by or were familiar with that area. His serious but insisted response was that we should have driven around until we found a pond, a lake or other aptly-sized body of water in which to baptize this new brother-in-the-Lord. While I applaud his enthusiasm and tenacity, and don’t take the circumstances lightly at all, I don’t think that was the way to go then and there.

That brings me to a point that needs to be raised and addressed. We spoke of baptism being “fitting” and that it is needed to “fulfill all righteousness.” Yet we haven’t discussed righteousness and its part in this equation. First of all, what is meant by this all-important term? This time we’ll go to the Hebrew just to balance our understanding of the Bible’s two original languages. In the Old Testament, the word righteousness– which is used by G-d when He credited it to Abraham’s amazing faith—is the word TSEDAQAH. It signifies fairness, justice, what is right, acquittal, vindication and justification. These all speak to a change in a man’s or a woman’s standing before our holy and perfect Judge and G-d. It indicates one’s guilt being taken away and that he or she is now clean and free. The death sentence our sins had incurred have been paid for, satisfied by and suffered by another. Why is baptism necessary—or, rather, a must? Because if the righteousness belonging to Jesus Christ alone is to be imputed to us (which is necessary for our entry into the eternal kingdom of G-d), we must die to ourselves. Once again, we emphasize that baptism, at its core, involves both death and burial of the individual seeking true repentance and forgiveness. Two great and compelling truths of the Christian life are Galatians 2: 20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of G-d, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” And that verse is inextricably linked with Luke 9:23 which says, “And He said to all, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself’ (die) ‘and take up his cross’ (instrument of death) ‘daily and follow Me.’” In baptism we die; to ourselves, to our former ways of thinking, speaking and living. It is not symbolic. It is a purposeful, intentional decision and act. If Jesus did not take our sin (which we give Him when we die and make Him Lord of every area of our lives), we cannot receive His righteousness, our keys into G-d’s holy dwelling place. We must die in baptism in order to receive His fulfilled righteousness. It is fitting and suitable.

Getting back to the argument about the thief on the cross. Was he baptized? Yes or No? He was not water-baptized, but let’s let Scripture talk once again. Look at the passage in question (Luke 23: 39-43), “One of the criminals who was hanged railed at Him saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ ‘But…’ (signifying a contradictory heart or attitude) ‘…the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And indeed justly…’ (acknowledging his sin) ‘…for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds’ (confession of sin). ‘But this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom’ (belief in his heart). And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” So, this man next to our Lord confessed his sin by taking responsibility for it openly and signaled his belief in Jesus’ divinity when he asked to be admitted into the kingdom of G-d. He was a sinner before he was nailed to the cross alongside Jesus. He was a forgiven man not long after. What changed? Let’s refer to the key found in the Gospel of Mark (1: 4), concerning the ministry of John the Baptist. The answer is contained here. It reveals, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE for the forgiveness of sins.” Our baptism is one of repentance—turning away from sin and turning to G-d Almighty. That’s what the thief did! So, was he baptized with water? No, not according to the few details in Scripture. Certainly not by immersion. But was he baptized? Yes, he was. He acknowledged, confessed and took responsibility for his transgressions against the Father, and he signified his need for forgiveness by asking to be allowed entrance into the kingdom. And Jesus cleansed him and implied his salvation by telling him he would, later that same day, be with Him in Heaven. The thief repented (he had a change of heart and mind, and acted on it), a death and burial to self ensued, and he was spiritually, internally baptized. Had this taken place just a day before (his metanoia), he most certainly would have been in the Jordan with the rest, being immersed—not only in water—but in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind! So, as our Master was baptized, so must we be. He is holy. We are sinful. But He had a human side He had to contend with. Hebrews 5: 8-9 says, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect” (in the flesh) “He became the Source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” He submitted to baptism. So should we. Praise His holy name and Him for His Word!

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The False Cannot Predate the True

The old riddle asks, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” This may seem irrelevant to many. After all, we don’t concern ourselves with the answer because it doesn’t have any real significance in our daily lives, we have both at our disposal, it appears childish, and there are people on both sides of the aisle. But it is actually very important for two reasons: One, because the Bible gives us a plain, clear, concise answer in its very opening book. Genesis 1: 21-23 tells us, “So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and morning, the fifth day.” This is but one example to show us that the Bible is true and that it can be trusted. And two, because it establishes an order and a subsequent, all-important precedent for truth; specifically, that given the apparent buffet or plethora of choices among many so-called “truths,” there can only be one and THAT ALL OTHER LIES, DECEPTIONS, COMPETING VIEWS AND MISREPRESENTATIONS CAN ONLY COME AFTER THE TRUTH. What does that mean? It signifies that anything false, a copy or an alternative can only come after the original and that there cannot be two or more truths; otherwise they cease to be true. For truth has the unique characteristics of being individual and quintessential. A lie must first hear the truth so that it can offer a misleading substitute which is opposed to it and become admixture (to attempt to gain authenticity).

As Christians, we know the truth because God is the Creator and Originator. He gives us His Word to openly reveal Himself and the beginnings of life and the universe to us. HE COMES FIRST. We, as Christ-followers, also know that the way to spot a lie (from the enemy of our souls or anyone else) is to know the truth. When the devil speaks words and ideas into our hearts and minds, since they are contrary to the truth (Jesus warned us correctly that Satan is the father of lies and can only speak lies), we can identify them as such and ignore them. Better yet, we can counteract them by reminding ourselves– with the power of the Helper, the Holy Spirit— of what the Scriptures say, and speak the truth instead. This has the added benefit of offensively preventing a stronghold to be erected. Since God Almighty is Truth and in Him there is no darkness at all, and He has existed from everlasting past and exists into everlasting future (the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end), He has always been and CAME FIRST. What He says and does is foundational and is established. Therefore, whatever or whoever comes after is false and a poor “copy.” A copy (facsimile, clone, imitation), as we know, is like the original, but not the same. It appears to be the original but, upon inspection and examination and testing, shows itself to be flawed. For example, we’ll use the familiar analogy of a copy machine. We lay our document on the glass, close the cover and press “start” or “copy.” When the reproduction comes out—even the first of many, or the only copy—after having been scanned, is less precise, less well-defined. Further, quite often we have all experienced that any smudges, fingerprints, dust or dirt on the seemingly clear glass, get transferred onto the “duplicate” and show up as black spots and unwanted blemishes. Once again, what comes after is always imperfect. The original—what comes first—is true. What comes after, though in similar form to the eye or ear (seeing, reading or hearing) is a copy, a fabrication, a deceit, a lie.

Having thoroughly and truthfully set forth this precept, let us apply it to our everyday lives and to what we see and face every day (whether we realize it or not). Let’s put these other ideas, notions, beliefs, religions, doctrines and sects to the hypothetical litmus test. Let’s put to rest any belief in, and allegiance to, once and for all, anyone other than the One True God, our Lord and Messiah Jesus Christ! I have said many times, written about, and testified to the fact that, in my studies concerning other beliefs, religions, world systems, etc. the one thing the Holy Spirit has opened my eyes to as a common denominator is twofold: first, there is always a false prophet and second, he or she always has what they claim are “new revelations” joined with extrabiblical writings, books, sources, teachings and doctrines. So, again, we have a man—not God—and human and/or demonic words; not the Lord and not the truth.

Do you understand? I hope I am articulating this clearly. A lie cannot come first. If you are going to tell someone something you know is untrue or have convinced yourself is true (while it is not), you must first at least be familiar with it in order to change the information which the truth contains. For instance, in the Bible it tells us that Jesus rose from the dead after being buried in the tomb for three days. In Matthew 28: 11-15, it recounts that the chief priests and the elders gave money to the soldiers who were guarding our Lord’s tomb and who had witnessed His resurrection. The authorities did this to help spread and perpetuate the lie that the resurrection never took place, and to tamp down on any growing credibility in the Gospel. Atheists and other dissenters of biblical truth still use this same fabrication today as a main strategy to discredit the truth. Indeed, look at the latter part of verse 15. It testifies to this when it says and prophesies,”…And this story has been spread among the Jews” (and others) “to this day.” If the truth which was observed firsthand by the guards and verified by them to the chief priests never happened—as they attest—there would have been no need to create a ruse or rumor to contradict it. Further, if the truth of the resurrection didn’t happen first, there would’ve been no details known of the miracle. The facts of the instance or circumstance must be known in order for someone to offer up another story where their version has false “facts” which they use and incorporate to lead people astray, or to keep them from knowing the value of the truth. The devil and anyone used by him must know of the truth of Christ’s life, death and resurrection (which all came first) before he or she can attempt to sway others away from eternal life and salvation.

Let’s first examine Islam and its claims. From a brief and cursory understanding, along with some research, it meets both criteria listed earlier; namely a man (false prophet) and an unbiblical source of revelation or supposed truth (the Koran, or Quran). Jesus, as God pre-incarnate, has always existed and, even when He was born of a woman and found in human form, His earthly existence predates Islam’s prophet. Muhammed lived, by one account, from 570-632 AD (six centuries AFTER Christ). They admit Jesus is a revered prophet and that He was born of the virgin Mary, but deny His divinity and His death on the Cross. If theirs is the truth, how can it make claims against what the Lord Jesus historically makes about Himself half a millennium earlier? So, since the words of their book are much different and come after the Word of the Lord, they are counterfeit. Do not trust them. The lie comes after the truth.

Next, let’s search out some basic tenets of Mormonism. Although they make the assertion they are Christian and call themselves “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” they, too, meet our two requirements for false teaching/ doctrine. The first, being the man and false prophet Joseph Smith. And the second, being their non-canonical books: the “Book of Mormon,” “Doctrine and Covenants,” the “Pearl of Great Price” as well as the claims of post-biblical (see the Book of Revelation in the Bible and what it says about anyone adding to or taking away from the words it contains) gold plates from Moroni and given to Joseph Smith. This is their version—an imitation—of the Ten Commandments written upon tablets of stone which the One True God gave to Moses. If theirs is true, they would have come first (Smith lived from 1805-1844, eighteen centuries AFTER the Lord Jesus Christ) and they would have been original, not making eerily-false and deceptively-imitative declarations regarding what appears to be a strikingly similar rendition of our own Decalogue. Again, one must have first heard and been aware of the truth to a degree or in full before being able to attempt to mimic it with a lie. If true, it would be first, original or both; not a later, comparable but false variant of it.

Though this elucidation is by no means whatsoever exhaustive, we will end our comparison (for the sake of time and space) with Buddhism, which also follows the cookie-cutter pattern consisting of Satan’s tried and untrue lure of a man (false teacher) and ungodly writings that serve to distract and ensnare. The man, Siddhartha Gautama, reportedly lived on earth from about 560-480 BC. He is credited with discovering the wrongly-named “Four Noble truths” (actually lies) and henceforth becoming the “Buddha” which, when translated, carries the deceitful meaning of “the Enlightened one.” The other qualification which earns it, along with the two we’ve mentioned and many, many others, the distinction of being a very poor and widely-distributed copy are his writings and teachings such as the “Three Jewels” (Buddha, Sangha and Dharma, if you care to look these up on your own), the previously-mentioned and inappropriately-named “Four Noble truths,” the “Eightfold Path” and the unoriginal, Mormon-like “Ten Precepts.”

You may have noticed the recognized birth and death dates of Gautama listed earlier, and that they were listed as BC (commonly known as “Before Christ”). However, we must reiterate that Jesus Christ—the True and only Messiah or “Anointed One”—is one with Almighty God (John 10: 30), has always coexisted with Him because “they” are One and He made all things (John 1: 1-4), He holds all things together (Colossians 1: 17), He is preeminent (Hebrews 1: 1-4, Colossians 1: 18), He has been given ALL authority in Heaven and on earth (Matthew 28: 18), and is the One who “was and is and is to come (Revelation 1: 8).” He is fully God and fully man (Colossians 1: 19, 2: 9). He has no beginning and no end (Hebrews 7: 3). He is from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90: 2). He made Himself known as “I AM”; not I was or I will be (Exodus 3: 14), letting us know there was never a time when He did not exist, nor will there come a time when He won’t exist. It is only our focus on His humanity and brief 33-year period on this earth which may cause us to think that He did not live before this self-proclaimed and self-appointed “buddha.”

The end of all this is that JESUS CHRIST existed first. All men (and women, like Mary Baker Eddy) who claim to be prophets, and to have had previously-unknown revelations are bad copies, clones, facsimiles and liars. And that anyone or anything that comes after the original, the One and only, serves to discredit himself or herself as being a truth-bearer since anything he does or says misaligns itself with the Word of God, the Holy Bible. The false cannot be exposed or recognized as such unless or until its assertions—which supposedly model themselves after the truth—are found in their attempted comparisons to be contrary, in part or in whole. The Lord is the Alpha. His Word and His Law are perfect. All else are forgeries.

God bless you, give you grace, and impart to you light and wisdom.