The Meaning Of Baptism

The heart of the issue is whether baptism has a crucial role in the reception of salvation. More specifically, is baptism something a sinner does in order to receive salvation and become a Christian, or is it simply a good work (an act of obedience) done for some other purpose by someone who is already a Christian?

The Bible is very clear about this. In every New Testament passage that says anything at all about the meaning of baptism, the only purpose with which it is connected is the salvation of sinners. The various aspects of salvation are described as being bestowed upon the believing, repentant sinner in and through the act of baptism. This is the consistent and exclusive New Testament witness; no other purpose for baptism is mentioned or even hinted at.

Salvation As A Double Cure

To see the connection of baptism with salvation, we must first of all understand the nature of the sinful predicament from which we need saving and also the nature of the salvation that delivers us from it. We may speak of these as the “double trouble” and the “double cure.”

The idea of double trouble means that sin has two distinct effects on a person. First, it makes him guilty. Guilt is a legal problem; it comes from the fact that sin is the transgression of God’s laws (1 John 3:4). To be guilty means that the sinner is required to pay the penalty attached to the law, which in this case is eternity in hell. Second, sin makes a person sinful. That is, it affects the person’s very nature; it makes him depraved, spiritually sick (Jeremiah 17:9), even spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1,5). These two problems are quite different. Whereas guilt is external to the individual, the spiritual sickness corrupts the sinner’s inner being, saps his spiritual strength and traps him in the grip of sin.

God’s gracious salvation addresses both sides of this predicament. As a familiar hymn says, “Be of sin the double cure; cleanse me from its guilt and power.” God’s solution to guilt is the redeeming blood of Christ, by which he paid the penalty deserved by those who have broken God’s divine law. When the blood of Christ is applied to the penitent sinner, his guilt and condemnation are washed completely away. In Biblical terminology this is called justification; it is also called the forgiveness or remission of sins.

On the other side, God’s cure for the sinner’s depraved nature is the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose life-giving presence renews and regenerates the sin-sick heart and breaks the death-grip of sin upon the soul. Biblical terms for this work of the Holy Spirit include new birth, new creation, being made alive, resurrection, regeneration, renewal, and circumcision without hands. Following this initial act of spiritual resurrection, the Holy Spirit dwells within the saved person as a source of spiritual strength and continuing sanctification.

In summary, in the “double cure” of salvation God takes away the sinner’s guilt through the blood of Christ and renews his heart through the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.

Next week we will take about Baptism & The Double Cure.