THE UNIQUENESS OF BAPTISM
T. PIERCE BROWN
It is true that when the Apostles preached to sinners, we never find a sermon that could be properly entitled “Baptism.” That has led some to conclude, “We should preach Christ and forget about baptism.” That conclusion is unwarranted for the simple reason that no one ever preached Christ without emphasizing baptism. We need to understand the uniqueness of baptism.
First, it is unique in that it is mentioned in every case of conversion recorded in the New Testament. As important as faith and repentance are, they are not mentioned in every case, but baptism is.
Second, it is unique in the prominence given it in other ways. All four gospel records mention that Jesus was baptized. Its prominence is indicated in the fact that Jesus had just finished saying, “All authority is given me” when He commanded it. That command is among His last recorded words. If you were at the bedside of your father when he died, his last words to you would probably be prominent in your memory. Its prominence is shown by the contrast between those who accepted and those who rejected it. Luke 7:29-30 shows that the Scribes and Pharisees thus rejected the counsel of God against themselves, as did Felix, Agrippa and all wicked men who rebelled against the authority of God. In contrast, Acts2:41shows that those who gladly received his word were baptized. That number eventually included Paul, Cornelius, the Philippian jailer and all others who wanted to do the will of Christ.
It is unique in the fact that it needs to be done only once, if it is scriptural in the first place. Not every baptism is by the right authority, for the right purpose (Acts 19:1-6). Contributions are to be done regularly. The Lord’s Supper is to be taken each week. Good works are to be repeated regularly. All other Christian responsibilities of which we can think are to be done often. Baptism is to be done only once.
It is unique in that there are no degrees of it. There are degrees of faith (Mt. 8:8, Mt.14:31). There are degrees of ability (Mt 25:14ff). There are therefore degrees of responsibility (Mt.10:15). There are even degrees of sin (John19:11). There are no degrees of baptism.
It is unique in the extent to which it is based on faith instead of human reasoning. One can, by human logic and reasoning, see why Hebrews 11:6 is true. “Without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.” One can logically conclude that a person must repent of his sins before he could get rid of them. One could even logically conclude that if a person were unwilling to confess his faith in Christ, Christ would not confess him (Mt.10:32). However, baptism is almost entirely an act of faith, for one could scarcely understand merely by human wisdom why it is required. It is not hard to understand when one thoughtfully reads Romans 6 and sees how it demonstrates faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Furthermore, it indicates, as nothing else could, the willingness to submit to the Lordship of Christ and be identified and united with Him. It is for remission of sins, for at that moment it symbolically brings us into contact with His blood, which was shed in His death. However, human reasoning could not tell us that, but it must be based on faith in His revealed word.
It is unique in that it is the only way stated that one can get into Christ where salvation is found. (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-27). Faith, repentance and confession are things that bring us unto Christ and God, as Hebrews 11:6 suggests, “He that cometh to God must believe that he is.” Baptism is the act that transfers us into Christ.
It is unique in that all the other steps are something that the individual does. They are active. Baptism is something that is done to the penitent believer. He is passive. Those who claim we are saved by faith only and nothing we can do that has anything to do with our salvation are mistaken in at least three ways. First, faith is something one does. Second, even those who teach salvation by faith only usually admit that repentance is necessary. One cannot be saved by faith only, if one also has to repent. Third, baptism is not a work you do, but an act of submission in which something is done to you and for you. Baptism is indeed unique in many ways. If this helps you to see the value in obeying the Lord in baptism, we shall be grateful.