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You Can Be Baptized Till You Drown - But It Won’t Save You

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A. Another Pleasant Little Story

1. I have never completely understood how those who organized the church year jump from the birth story to the baptism of Christ in just one week, but nonetheless that is exactly what happens.

a. Perhaps it is because, the gospels have almost nothing to say about the childhood and early adulthood of Jesus.

b. Whatever the reason, here we are, going from the beginning of Jesus’ life to the beginning of his ministry - but, it is not by accident that the beginning of his ministry is heralded by a prophetic and visible sign of the divine.

B. Controversy and Misunderstanding about Baptism

1. How to do it, what it is, what it means, etc.

2. A Presbyterian and a Baptist minister were discussing baptism. After a beautiful dissertation on the subject by the Baptist minister, the Presbyterian minister asked if the Baptist considered a person baptized if he was immersed in water up to his chin. “No,” said the Baptist.

“Is he considered baptized if he is immersed up to his nose?” asked the Presbyterian. Again the Baptist’s answer was “No.”

“Well, if you immerse him up to his eyebrows do you consider him baptized?” queried the Presbyterian.

“You don’t seem to understand,” said the Baptist. “He must be immersed completely in water—until his head is covered.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along,” said the Presbyterian, “it’s only a little water on the top of the head that counts.”

3. Today, in the story of the baptism of Jesus we learn two things that are very important for our witness to others, and for our own salvation.


A. It is Not a Means of Grace.

1. Several years ago the news media reported on a wealthy lady from the east who made many trips to Salt Lake City to be baptized for the dead. Over the years she was baptized 30,000 times! She did it for relatives and friends and former people like Alexander the Great, Nebuchadnezzar, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, and Cleopatra. A Mormon elder commented: “I believe that this lady, in the day of judgment, through being baptized for the dead, has saved more souls than Jesus.”

a. This lady, as do many other people - perhaps most - apparently believed that baptism is what saves you.

(1) This is, by the way, what most people who want their babies baptized believe.

(a) We must baptize them, so that if they die they will go to heaven.

(2) To believe that is a grave error - and horrible misunderstanding of who God is.

b. Yes there are a couple of verses in scripture that seem to say that. For instance, one verse that is cited frequently to support this presumption is

John 3:5 (NIV) Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

(a) But to make that link you must take the verse out of context. The very next verse talks about flesh giving birth to flesh and spirit giving birth to spirit.

(b) The water Jesus is referring to here is not the water of baptism - it is rather, the waters of birth.

2. For years the Roman Catholic church has taught that the sacraments (including baptism) are a “means of grace.” In other words we are saved through our participation in them.

a. This has been one of the chief differences between RC theology and Protestant theology.

b. But recently even the RC church has had second thoughts about this position that you are saved by baptism.

c. I want to share with you a news release from the Catholic News Service, that Pat Zimmerman gave me recently.

Read Catholic Online Report here *

B. While baptism is not the way we receive salvation, it is not just some empty ritual, nor right of passage, either. The second thing we learn from this story, is what baptism is.


A. Mark didn’t state why Jesus submitted himself to John’s baptism; however, three reasons may be suggested: And from those three reasons we can gain a good perspective of what baptism is.

1. (1) It was an act of obedience, showing that Jesus was in full agreement with God’s plan and the role of John’s baptism in it. When John the Baptized protested Jesus’ request for baptism, Jesus said:

Matthew 3:15 (ESV) 15 . . . , “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

a. So too for us - the sacraments in general, but baptism in particular is an act of obedience, showing that we are in agreement and acceptance of God’s overall plan for salvation.

(1) By any measure, Billy Graham has been remarkably and profoundly used by the Holy Spirit to change the lives of literally thousands of people around the world.

(a) Yet, this was made possible only because Billy Graham faced of a crises of faith In the very earliest days of his career which forever changed his relationship with God.

(b) You see, some of his friends, peers, and even scholars he had built relations with, were telling Billy that some of the bible didn’t make sense. Particularly troubling, they said, were the passages about the miracles and other claims of historicity that seemed to be false.

i) Some were even calling into question the very nature of Jesus.

(c) So one day, while on a solitary walk, Billy knelt down in prayer and wrestled with the rebellious spirit that was welling up inside him. It was indeed, a spiritual battle, but when it was over, Billy Graham was able to make a decision - “From now on,” he pledged to God, “I am going to believe this Bible is your word and I’m going to live by it and submit myself to it. I’m going to the best of my ability, be obedient to you”

(2) That is the crises of faith every Christian must face sooner or later.

(a) Jesus calls us to that same crises of faith over and again - typified by Mk 8:35

Mark 8:35 (ESV) For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

b. When we partake the sacraments, we are making a public act of obedience even as Christ himself did, showing that we choose to deny ourselves in order to be obedient to the will of God.

2. (2) Jesus baptism was an act of self-identification with the nation of Israel whose heritage and sinful predicament He shared. The prophet Isaiah pointed to this identification.

Isaiah 53:12 (NLT) I will give him [meaning the messiah] the honors of one who is mighty and great, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among those who were sinners. He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners.

a. When we take communion and when we are baptized, we are, at least in part, identifying ourselves with the faith community as a whole, and with the local church in particular, declaring our need for and acceptance of God’s grace, along with all others who are truly born again.

(1) In other words, baptism is a sign that membership has its privileges.

Romans 3:21-24 (The Message) What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us.

3. (3) It was an act of self-dedication to His messianic mission, signifying His official acceptance and entrance into it.

a. When we are baptized and every time we take communion, we are dedicating ourselves to that very same messianic mission.

b. What does that mean?

(1) The mission of Christ was to save people from their sins. To bring them from death to life. To give them the gift of eternal blessings in God.

(2) When we are baptized (and or confirmed) we take upon ourselves that same mission.

(a) No, we do not - as did Christ - save people. But what we do, is bring people to the Savior.

(b) It is no accident that the gospels end with the “great commission” and that in that charge to carry on the messianic mission, Jesus links baptism with that work.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV) 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. . . .”

B. A Sacrament

1. Early Christians called baptism a “sacramentum,” which is the Latin word for the Roman soldier’s oath of absolute devotion and obedience to his general.


A. Here is the bottom line - You can be baptized until you drown - but it won’t save you, any more than it saved the 30,000 people that woman was baptized for.

B. What saves you is God’s grace alone made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus for your sake.

1. God loves you so much that he exchanged the life of his own son for your life.

2. Baptism is an outward sign of the invisible grace that God pours into our lives through Jesus Christ.

C. If you’ve been relying on the fact that you were baptized, perhaps its time to lay down those false assumptions and take up instead the Gospel.

John 3:16 (NCV) “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.

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