A Baptism that is Pleasing to God
April 23rd, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
A BAPTISM THAT IS PLEASING TO GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-23-67 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled A Baptism That is Pleasing to God. The message arises out of the experience I have had in working with people in these last several weeks, especially in revival meetings. So, may we listen most attentively to God’s Word, God’s way, God’s will for our lives. There is not much that we can do for God. He is so infinitely above us. and we are so humbly beneath Him. There is not much we can do for God. But what we can do, we ought to do. And this is one thing we all can do: Baptism That Is Pleasing to God. May I reread the last part of what we all read together in our Scripture lesson? The concluding part of the third chapter of Matthew:
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John the Baptist, to be baptized of him.
But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?
And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now, let it be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered Him, then he let Him.
And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him:
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
It is a strange thing, a strange thing, that in connection with baptism the three expressions of the Godhead are so plainly seen. And you will not find it anywhere else delineated so precisely as in connection with this holy ordinance, in the baptism of the Lord Jesus; God the Father speaking, and God the Son submitting, and God the Holy Spirit lighting upon Him in the likeness of a dove. All three expressions of the Godhead are here manifest. Now the other time that you will plainly see those three expressions of the Godhead is in the Great Commission:
And Jesus came and spake unto them saying,
All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and evangelize, make disciples of all the peoples, baptizing them in the name – singular –
That’s why I have never liked the word "person," the "persons" in the Godhead. When you use that word "person," you think of three different people. You will not find that word "person" in the Bible, it came out of the Christological controversies of the first centuries. I don’t know what to tell you to use, but I am just plainly explaining to you that when you have the conception of three different people as God, you have fallen into a polytheism that is not found in the Word of God anywhere, nowhere. We know God, singular; we know God monotheistically. We know God as our Father, our Savior, and as the Spirit living and quickening within us, but there are not three gods. And when you get to heaven, do not persuade yourself that you’re going to see three Gods in heaven; here is God the Father, and there is God the Son, and here is God the Holy Spirit. There is one God and His name, singular. Oh! seize upon this for it is basic to our faith. And so much of the new theology is a ranting and a caustic attack against a system that does not exist among us. God’s name, singular: God’s name is "Father, Son, Holy Spirit, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." And this expression of God is seen most clearly in connection with the holy ordinance of baptism.
When we seek to delineate the ordinance as it is observed by the churches, it is my sad, sad observation that our Baptist people are so disunited over these beautiful expressions that God has given us of the basic tenants of the Christian religion. In fact, Baptists don’t agree on anything. If you have ten Baptists together, you’ll have twenty different opinions. I heard somebody say, "The only thing two Baptists can agree on is what a third ought to give." It is bedlam among us!
For example, there will be Baptists that are "close communionists." That is, they think no one ought to take the Lord’s Supper except those that are in that Baptist church. I may be a Baptist, and surely I am, but these people believe that if I visited another Baptist church across the town or in another city, I ought not to take the Lord’s Supper with the people in that church. There are many, many Baptist people who believe that way.
Then of course, there are Baptist people who are called "open communionists." They place no restrictions on it whatsoever. They would invite the Hindu and the Buddhist and the infidel and the agnostic, just as much as they would make any requirement of a fellow member in the church. And they are Baptist people. That same thing obtains about the ordinance of baptism. There are Baptist churches that make no requirement whatsoever. Anybody can belong to the Baptist church – that Baptist church; that kind of Baptist churches – and whether you’ve been baptized or not makes no difference. And there are those that are very, very strict; and in order to become a member of the church you must be baptized into the fellowship.
Now, as we face what God would have us do, what is a baptism pleasing to God? There is no equivocation in God’s Word concerning this. The equivocation lies in us. There are many people who refuse the plain appeal and invitation of God. Then there are those who to me, as I read God’s Word, pervert the ordinance into an altogether different purpose. Now, in our perversion we do not please God. In our neglect we do not please God. And in our refusal to respond to God’s invitation for us, His mandate in the Great Commission, we are not pleasing. So let us speak for these moments of a baptism that is pleasing to God.
First and above all, there must not be in our conception and in our persuasion, there must not be the idea that in baptism, in something a man can do, in something I can do for you, I can baptize you, there must never be in the conception, in the idea, in the delineation, the description, the definition, there must never, ever be the idea that in something a man can do we are saved, our sins are washed away. And yet, how much of Christendom has believed, and does today, in baptismal regeneration: that in the act of baptism our souls are saved and our sins are washed away?
When I pick up the Bible, that indeed would be a strange conception, that in baptism we are saved, that in baptism our sins are washed away. It would be a strange conception when I read words like this. In the letter of Paul to the church at Corinth chapter 1, Paul says, "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius." Then in verse 17 he says, "For Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel." Now these are amazing words. If we are saved by the submission to immersion, it is an astonishing thing that a man would write like that if baptism saves us, if baptism washes our sins away.
Well, where does the idea come from that baptism might save us that it might wash our sins away? Out of the thousands and thousands of verses in the Bible, you stumble into these doctrinal errors by taking a verse out of its context and out of its meaning and building a whole system of theology on just one verse, and many times a misinterpretation of that one verse.
Now may I give you an example? At Pentecost, when Peter preached his sermon, he said in Acts 2:38, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." So many people, reading this in the King James Version, "be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins." Now, in the strange grammatical constructions of languages, that word "for" in Greek has the same double meaning that "for" does in English. It can mean "because of," or "in order to," either way. And when you use that word "for," "in order to," why you make the verse read like this: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ in order to the remission of your sins; be baptized in order to washing your sins away." But the word "for", eis in Greek, "for" in English, is also used in the sense of "because of" in which event the verse would read, "Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because of the remission of your sins in Jesus," in the cross of Christ. He forgives our sins, and in His atoning death we’re saved, and because of that atoning death, repent, trust in the Lord and be baptized.
"Now is that true, preacher? Are you sure of that? That that word ‘for’ is used in the sense of ‘because of’?" Why, certainly! I haven’t time to cite you the places in Greek where it can be used in no other sense, but I’ll cite it to you in English. Suppose a man is electrocuted for murder. How is that word "for" used there? He’s electrocuted in Huntsville "for" murder: "in order to," that he be a murder, or "because" he is a murderer? Why "because of," he was electrocuted for murder "because of" murder. Or take another instance that I read. Out in West Texas in the 1880’s an old cowpoke sauntered into town and he saw a big placard on the wall of the sheriff’s office. And it read, "Man wanted for robbery." And he applied for the job. Don’t you see what I’m talking about? That word "for" can be "in order to," man wanted "for" robbery. "I got two six guns a’blazin’, I’ll take the job." Why, no! Man wanted "for" robbery: man wanted "because of" robbery.
That’s this passage here; and the word is used, "because of the remission of your sins come and trust in Jesus and receive Him as your Savior and be baptized in His name." That’s what Peter was preaching at Pentecost.
Now, there is one other passage like that. When Paul describes his conversion to that great throng of Jewish people in the temple area, he describes how Ananias was sent to him by the same Lord. And when Ananias spoke to him that God had sent him that Saul might receive his sight, and that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit, then Paul says:
Ananias said, And now, why tarriest thou?
arise and be baptized and wash thy sins away,
calling on the name of the Lord.
Now you can do two things there. The Bible so many times will speak picturesquely, so many times. The symbol is sometimes spoken of as the thing itself. You have an instance in it, "This is My body, take, eat in remembrance of me. This is My blood, drink ye all of it in remembrance of Me." [Luke 22:19-20] And of course most of the Christendom will look upon that in the miraculous transformation of bread into the actual body of Jesus and that cup into the actual blood of the Lord Jesus. And that’s why I teach these little children in that little book, why do we know it is not the actual blood, it is not the actual body of Jesus? And the answer is, because when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and said those words, He was standing before them. His body was there where they could see it, and the blood of Christ was still unspilled; it was still coursing through His veins. When He said, "This is my body," it must represent His body. "This is my blood," it must represent His blood because His body and His blood were standing there, alive, quickened before the disciples when He said it!
Now, the same thing is used here of baptism. Baptism is a picture of our cleansing, what Christ has done for us. So instead of connecting your verse like this, "Arise, be baptized, wash thy sins away, calling on the name of the Lord," let’s say it as it ought to be, "Why tarriest thou? arise and be baptized, and wash thy sins away calling on the name of the Lord." It is God that washes our sins away, "calling on the name of the Lord" that washes our sins away. "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." [Romans 10:13] And let’s not connect the washing of our sins away with baptism, but let us connect it with God. "Arise, be baptized; wash thy sins away calling on the name of the Lord." It is God that washes our sins away, and our baptism is a picture of that cleansing.
"Now how do you know that, preacher, so definitely? How are you so persuaded of that?" By ten thousand things in the Bible. The Scriptures never vary from this theme, listen to it. "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin." [1 John 1:7] There is no exception to that refrain in the Word of God.
One time I stood in this very pulpit and preached from 7:30 o’clock in the evening till after midnight; and the title of that sermon was The Scarlet Thread through the Bible. And that theme never varies. "And the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin." [1 John 1:7]
He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: The chastisement of our peace is upon Him; And with His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned every one to his own way; And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
"Behold," said John the Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." [John 1:29] "He was delivered for our offenses and raised for our justification." [Romans 4:25] "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." [Romans 5:6].
My brother, we would be here all day long following that great message of the Bible. Not what man can do for us are we ever saved; it is what God hath done for us. And our forgiveness of sins, the washing, the cleansing of our souls is a spiritual reality; it is something in our hearts with us and God. And no man can contribute or take away from it. It is not something prerogative in man; it is something inherent in God.
Well, having spoken briefly of the purpose of baptism, it is not regenerating our souls; it is not actually washing away of our sins. It is a picture; it is a symbol of a great spiritual reality that in Christ, in the atoning blood and death and sacrifice of Jesus the Lamb of God, our sins are taken away.
Now, having said that, why – and we’re called Baptists because we baptize – why did God give us that ordinance, and why does the mandate in the very heart of the Great Commission still obtain in the New Testament churches of Jesus in the earth? Well we can speak of that, oh, for what length of time, but may I just say one or two things about it?
First, as I ponder that, why did God place that mandate that we be baptized in the very heart of the Great Commission? Here’s one reason, and I know I am correct in this as I read Christian history, as I look at the Bible I hold in my hand, and as I minister as a pastor among our people. One: baptism is a sure fire and certain sign of a man’s commitment of his life to Jesus, and about one of the best ones that I know.
Now, may I illustrate that first from the Word of God? The gospel of Mark ends at the sixteenth chapter and the eighth verse; and the rest that you have here in the King James Version – and if you have other versions of the New Testament you will not have that at all. When Matthew wrote his gospel he had Mark before him. When Luke wrote his gospel he had Mark before him. You can find practically the entire Gospel of Mark in Matthew and Luke. But when Matthew wrote his gospel, and when Luke wrote his gospel, the end of Mark had been lost. The copy of Mark that Luke had and that Matthew had did not possess, did not contain the conclusion of the Gospel of Mark. It was lost from the beginning. There has never been a time known to us when Mark’s gospel was not, the end of it was not lost.
Now somebody somewhere, sometime, picked up a pen – a human being, a man not inspired – he picked up a pen and he tried to write an ending to the unfinished gospel of Mark. Now, he put some things in there that are surely peculiar. He says that "We who follow the Lord shall take up serpents," and I’m just not about to do that one way or another. But when I was preaching in Kentucky, they had got churches and they have cults up there in Kentucky of snake handlers. And they have great convocations and handle snakes. And they base it on that passage there, which is not a part of the Word of God at all. "And if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them." Nor am I just about to take a dose of strychnine either. You’re getting into the shades of superstition when you follow whoever it was that wrote this.
Now, in this passage – by which some unknown, unnamed, anonymous author tried to write a conclusion to the Gospel of Mark – he wrote this, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." [Mark 16:16] Why did that man write that? It’s not a part of the Bible, it’s not the inspired Word of God; it was just an attempt on the part of somebody to try to write a conclusion to Mark’s unfinished gospel. Why did he write that? Well it is very plain when you read Christian history. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." For it came to pass, it came to pass, – and I shall illustrate it to you in this present day and in this present hour, and in this very church – it came to pass that men everywhere were saying,
I’ll accept the Lord, yes sir! I’ll believe in Jesus, yes sir. And I’ll trust in the Lord, yes sir. But I don’t want to be baptized, I don’t want to be baptized.
I’m perfectly willing to accept Jesus as my Savior. I’m perfectly willing to accept Venus as my Savior, and Adonis as my Savior, and Isis and Osiris, and Jupiter, and Juno, and Jove, and Janis, and I’ll accept Jesus, too!
That was all through the Roman Empire, when the gospel was first preached. "I’m perfectly willing to accept Jesus as my Savior, I want to be saved." And we all are like that. And we know we need to be saved. And they said, "I’ll accept Jesus as I have Jupiter and Juno and Neptune and all of the rest of them. I’ll accept Jesus. But this thing of being baptized and being a distinct separated member of the body of Christ now that is something else." Does that obtain today?
Down that aisle walked a young man from another religion. And his parents are very, very prominent merchandisers in the city of Dallas. And when the parents learned that that young man had come down this aisle and given his heart to Jesus and was going to be baptized, you cannot imagine what went on in that home. And they finally persuaded that young man this: "Now you go down there to that church all you please, and you believe in Jesus all you please; if you are baptized, we shall disinherit you. But you go down there as much as you like, and believe in the Lord Jesus as much as you like, and as long as you are not baptized everything’s all right, it’s just fine." Well I told the young fellow, and you’re going to see that in another instance, what I thought about that. And he said, "But I want to delay, I want to wait, I don’t want to be baptized. I believe, I trust; but I don’t want to be baptized."
And so I watched him through the months and the years that followed. You’ll never see that young fellow in the congregation of the Lord anymore. Less and less and less did he come; less and less and less did he accept and believe; and finally he fell away and out altogether. Now, I shall take a young man of the same race and of the same religion, who came down that same aisle – that aisle right there, and gave me his hand. And he said, "Pastor, I’ve been saved, and I trust Jesus as my Savior."
And I said, "Wonderful, I shall present you to the church for baptism."
"Oh," he said, "but I am afraid, I am afraid. I don’t want to be baptized. I want to go back to my seat." I replied to him, "I cannot coerce you, I cannot hold you, I know. But I tell you this, if you go back to your seat, I don’t know whether you are saved or not." For a sign of our commitment is, "I want to be baptized." "See here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?" The first thing a regenerated heart wants to do, "I want to be baptized." Phillip answered and said, "If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest. And the eunuch answered, "I believe." And they went down to the water, both Phillip and the eunuch, and he baptized him." [Acts 8:36-38]
I said to the young man, "You go back to your seat, but I don’t know whether you’re really saved or not. But I can tell you this: if you have been saved, you’re going to be the most miserable Christian in this world, going back to your seat."
Well, I’d see him as the days passed. "How you doing?"
"Oh," he said, "I’m having a wretched time."
"Didn’t I tell you that?" I said. "For God who saved you commanded you to be baptized."
Well upon a day, down that aisle he came again and he said, "I can bear it no longer. Whatever the cost," and it did cost, "whatever the price," and there was a price to pay, "and whatever shall become of me in the circle of my family, I turn it all over to Jesus. I am coming to be accepted for baptism and to be a member of the church of Christ." And I baptized him right there. And he became a great tower of strength for Jesus.
I must stop; I have barely begun.
That’s one, and only one of the reasons that I can see, in the mind of God – and after all God made us to think God’s thoughts after Him – I can see that one of the reasons why God placed that mandate of baptism in the very heart of the church was this: it is a sign, public, open, of our commitment to Christ. "I’ve been saved, I want to be baptized. And here I come, and here I stand."
I must close, our time is gone. While we sing this hymn of appeal, somebody you, give himself to Jesus, a family you, coming into the fellowship of the church. Somebody you, "I want to be baptized like Jesus was baptized, and just as it is written large in the Book, I want to follow the Lord, and here I come." As the Spirit of the Savior shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. In the balcony round, on this lower floor, as God shall lead, come, do it now. Into the aisle and down to the front, "Here I am, preacher, here I come." While we stand and while we sing.