“The Holy Spirit will lead you into all righteousness” are truthful words that should not be ignored. The subject of “baptism,” of which I have given very little thought over the years, has all of a sudden risen up in my spirit as something that needs attention. I decided to pursue this leading and see where it goes. I’m beginning to recognize that God is trying to make me see something deeper and wider in “baptism.”
Baptism is generally looked at as a New Testament doctrine. Can we find baptism in the Old Testament as a general principle? Yes, and it is only right that we start there. Most of what is observable from the churches of today is that they start with the New Testament scriptures on baptism then try and contort the Old Testament to conform. The O.T. came first, and the characters in that former Book were no less familiar with baptism than are the characters of the latter Book. When we look for baptism in the O.T. we do not overtly recognize spiritual truth, but rather we look for the concrete and material display of that spiritual truth. New Testament baptism cannot be properly understood without also understanding Old Testament types and principles.
What are the deeper spiritual implications of baptism that are consistent with God’s character that flow throughout the entire Old and new Testaments? Is baptism just a N.T. ordinance to be practiced and obeyed like another “law”? If the O.T. and the N.T. are to be understood as a whole, or total complete thought of God, shouldn’t we desire to know how that thought of baptism plays out in the O.T.? Isn’t God’s counsel to us that we should see and understand the “whole” truth of Scripture as revealed in both Testaments? Some would say that “the devil is in the details,” but a better understanding would be that the Holy Spirit is revealing to us the details and leading us through deep waters.
Do we dare call those godly characters of the Old Testament “saints” unless we know for sure that they comprehended the principle of the “cross,” even though they could not define it in New Testament language, and if they did understand the principle of the “cross” will we deny that they must also have understood the principle of baptism, which is inseparably linked to the cross? To understand God’s mind in the spiritual application of the cross, in the O.T., is to understand the spiritual application of baptism also, because they are linked throughout the whole Bible. There is no cross without baptism. There is no baptism without the cross. There is no death without burial, and there is no burial without death. Both of these ingredients are necessary to produce the final product, which is “life.” The spiritual understanding of either the cross or baptism proceeds from the understanding of one or the other of these components.
If we say that we understand the principle of the cross, and are then simply baptized as a formality, rule, or church ordinance, then we do not yet understand properly, and have not fully understood the cross. To compact this knowledge into the Old Testament and New Testament statement that “the just shall live by faith” is to deliver the principle of the cross and baptism in capsulized form, or in seed form, and that seed is the seed that must “fall to the ground and die…” and being buried, produces much fruit.
So baptism is not just another discipline to be achieved as the correct practice of a Christian life, it is life itself; it is redemption; it is salvation, and it was understood as such by all the “saints” of old.
Now we need to look for this principle. There are several New Testament passages which point to specific Old Testament events, and explicitly call them “baptisms”. So even if we try to start with the New Testament to study baptism, it just proceeds to point us back to the Old Testament. The apostle Peter said that Noah’s flood was a type of baptism. The apostle Paul said that the Israelites were actually baptized during the exodus from Egypt. The apostle John and the author of Hebrews each recognized that the ceremonial purifications of the Old Testament were baptisms. The idea of “baptism” was not remotely new to the New Testament church. There had already been many baptisms in Israel’s history and practice, and so we must seek to understand these baptisms first, if we truly wish to understand the significance of baptism in the New Testament. Although Abraham is not mentioned explicitly with the term “baptism” he nonetheless understood the principle as well as any other.
Most people will use words such as :sprinkle, pouring, immersion, dipping, cleansing, christening, etc., when searching for related term for baptism. Terms that are more appropriate, and deal more with the meaning, rather than the sacrament, are: separation, through, in, death, cutting off, putting off, and, in Abraham’s case, circumcision “the cutting off of the foreskin” as the sign of the covenant in the flesh.
Genesis 17:1-2, 7, 9-11
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’” “ I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” “Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.’”
The command “Walk before me and be blameless” has a definite ethical emphasis. “Walk in front of” expresses the service or devotion of a faithful servant to his king. “Be blameless” or “be perfect” is the Hebrew adverb tānīm, “complete.” It refers to animals which are without blemish, and is also translated as such related adjectives as “full, whole, upright, perfect. It represents the divine standard for man’s attainment. In other words, God expects Abraham to live a righteous life before him, but how was Abraham to do this? Wasn’t this the same as demanding perfection? Isn’t this the same request of God that draws so many chuckles from Christians today, with the echoed response of “Nobody can be perfect”?
If we can learn to see the type or shadow of baptism in one of the ancient saints then we should be able to discover the element in the others also.
Looking at Abraham, where do we see his baptism? Was his baptism the circumcision of himself and company, no, that was only the sign of something Abraham already understood? The cutting away of the flesh symbolized his disassociation from everything called the “world.” His baptism was the actual separation and putting off of the flesh (not just circumcision) that was required by a life of “faith.” His baptism was the response of a clean conscience in his obedience and trust of God’s ability to perform and keep His promises. His baptism was all the trials that are incorporated into a walk of faith, including the separation from certain family members, and the offering up to God the very thing that he devoted to and loved the most. His baptism was to die daily to all of his own desires, and to go, and “be” an instrument and vessel of the will of God. His baptism was “death” to self, no different than that required of Christians today, no different.
That symbol of baptism, whether circumcision or water, means death. For all those who were circumcised in Abraham’s day and lived for the “good life now” their circumcision is counted as un-circumcision, just like those who are water baptized today as a mere sacrament are treated as un-baptized.
The principle of baptism and the principle of circumcision are identical, one is the putting away of the flesh, and the other is the putting away of the old man. The cutting away of the flesh of the heart (which circumcision represented), and the putting away of the old man (which baptism represents) produce the same result, DEATH and BURIAL. God’s promise includes a new heart beating in One new man, the Church, the Body of Christ.
Life in the Good Land is a promise of the here and now, but can only be had by a spiritual understanding of the principle of the cross and baptism. Only resurrected saints, who have died, cross over Jordan, and only a continual life of “faith” guarantees passage into Eternal Life.
Again, I will say that baptism does save us, but it is the understanding of baptism that is our salvation, not the water. The water is but the seal of the covenant between God and man, just like circumcision was in Abraham’s case. There is very little that modern christians understand “spiritually,” and “church” only makes the matter worse, in nearly all cases. Paul’s words should alarm us here; “your meetings do more harm than good.” We are living in the days of which Joel and Amos speak, and men search from shore to shore for food, but find only corn husks. This is also the day in which God says He “will pour out His Spirit on all flesh.” The life of faith is still required by God. We must not be tricked back into the flesh for the sake of “doctrine” or rules, or counsels, or man’s sake. We must follow the example of our Lord Jesus, and the example of our father Abraham.