The Significance of Baptism.
In the past we have done some detailed studies on the Biblical at of “mikvah.” In our first article, Mikvah – Part 1 – Spiritual cleansing, we had a look at the spiritual aspects of the washing process. We also looked at the reasons for doing a mikvah, including the mikvah of transition. The second article, Mikvah – Part 2 – How to, we got a bit deeper into the practical aspects of performing an immersion. This included the definition of living water, how to immerse yourself and the frequency for a mikvah. In this study we saw that a mikvah was not a once off, but was rather an on-going activity in our lives.
In both these articles, we touched on the idea of performing an immersion when we come to faith and how this is a mikvah of transition. In this article, we want to focus on this specific instance of a mikvah and what is called in the church “baptism.” In this study, we will also investigate the spiritual significance of the baptism that we do when we come to faith in Y’Shua our Messiah.
In the Apostolic Writings we see the word “baptize” – Greek βαπτίζω – baptizo describing the act of a person being immersed in water as a sign of their faith. The practice of baptizing people in the Apostolic Writings, starts before the ministry of Y’Shua starts. We find John the Baptist in the wilderness teaching repentance and baptizing people.
4 John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
At the start of His active ministry, Y’Shua also went to John and was baptized in the Jordan river.
13 Then Y’Shua arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Y’Shua answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Y’Shua came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
During Y’Shua’s ministry on earth, the disciples also baptized the followers of Y’Shua.
After these things Y’Shua and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing.
1 Therefore when the Master knew that the Pharisees had heard that Y’Shua was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Y’Shua Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were),
After His resurrection, Y’Shua gave the instructions to take the good news to the nations and to baptize them.
18 And Y’Shua came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
The disciples executed these instructions, and in the book of Acts, we find a number of references to new believers in Y’Shua being baptized in water.
But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of YHVH and the name of Y’Shua the Messiah, they were being baptized, men and women alike.
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Y’Shua to him. 36 As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Y’Shua the Messiah is the Son of YHVH.” 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.
Even Paul was baptized after his personal encounter with Y’Shua
17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Master Y’Shua, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized;
In the Didache1, one of the oldest recorded rulebooks of the believers in Y’Shua, we also see how this baptism was continued in the believing community. The Didache describes two ways of life: The way of Life and The way of Death. The document describes what is to be done as part of the Way of Life (rules) and then also describes what the people who choose the Way of Death do (sin). New believers were taught these rules and once they had heard and accepted all these rules, they were to be baptized. Here is how it was to be done:
With regard to baptism, here is the teaching:
1You are to baptize in this way.
Once you have gone back over all that is in the Two Ways, you baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water.
2However, if you do not have access to living water, then baptize in some other water; and if you do not have any cold water, then you can use warm water.
3And if you cannot get access to either [running or still water], then pour water three times on the head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
4Moreover, before the baptism takes place, let both the person baptizing and the person who is going to be baptized fast—along with as many others as are able to do so. Indeed, you must instruct the person who is going to be baptized to fast for one or two days before the baptism.
We also see later, that this act of baptism was a prerequisite for anybody to share in the meals that the community had.
Only let those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord eat and drink at your Eucharists. And remember what the Lord has said about this: do not give to dogs what is holy.
From this we see that a link existed in the Apostolic Scriptures between coming to faith in Y’Shua and being baptized. In a number of the cases listed above, the people were baptized once they had come to realize that Y’Shua was the Messiah. However, somewhere between the book of Acts and today, things started to go wrong.
What is wrong with the church doctrine.
If today, we asked a person from the Christian church to explain to us the doctrine of baptism, you will find many different answers, depending on the denomination. Huge debates on this doctrine has shattered the churches into pieces. Debates like, infant vs. adult baptism and sprinkling vs. immersion, to name but two of the major diving points. However, these two are really small points if you realize what doctrine the church is really teaching about baptism.
One of the biggest problems with the church doctrine of baptism is the fact that a number of denominations connect baptism to salvation. None of them will acknowledge it, but if you read their creeds and confessions, you will notice a lot of contradictions. At one point they will clearly state that they believe in salvation by faith alone – Heidelberg Catechism 2 – Question 60. Great! If we turn towards the topic of the sacraments we see some very confusing statements.
What are the sacraments?
The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, he may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, viz., that he grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross.
What exactly do they mean when they say that baptism, one of the sacraments, seal to us the promise of remission of sin and eternal life? Does this imply that a person that has been baptized always has eternal life? Is baptism alone enough to have your sins forgiven? You can see all the questions and confusion that arise out of a statement like this. The same type of statement is included in the Nicene Creed:
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
An even more confusing doctrine is found in the Belgic Confession – Article 34:
Article XXXIV Belgic Confession Article XXXIV
We believe, therefore, that every man who is earnestly studious of obtaining life eternal ought to be baptized but once with this only baptism, without ever repeating the same, since we cannot be born twice. Neither does this baptism avail us only at the time when the water is poured upon us and received by us, but also through the whole course of our life.
Here we see the correlation between eternal life and being baptized. It is not a direct connection, but enough to create some confusion.
This becomes even more confusing when they connect baptism to selection. Let us stay in the Heidelberg Catechism to see how this develops.
Are infants also to be baptized?
Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.
Now we see a number of Biblical concepts being fused together to support the concept of infant baptism. What this answer teaches is that a baptized infant has become part of the covenant and that because they are part of the covenant, they have redemption of sin. They use circumcision, the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, as the model for this assumption. Thus, circumcision is now replaced by infant baptism. However, there is a huge problem with the reasoning. Where in the Scripture do we see that circumcision has resulted in the redemption of sin? Nowhere. If being circumcised, and thus becoming a member of Israel, provided redemption from sin, why were so many kings of Israel and Judah punished for their sins?
With these examples, we see that the church has stepped away from the original purpose of baptism, as used by John, Y’Shua and the apostles. The church has made baptism a symbol of the blood of Messiah, that covers those who believe in Him. But what was the initial purpose of baptism?
Preparing to be baptized
If we look at the Apostolic Scriptures, and we place baptism back into the Apostolic period, we see that the purpose was not to grant forgiveness of sin. It was a part of the process of accepting Y’Shua as your personal Savior and Redeemer. It was not a stand-alone event, but was part of a more comprehensive process of turning away from the old life and turning towards Y’Shua. This step in the process has both a physical and spiritual impact.
The actual baptismal event needs to be preceded by a time of preparation. We saw in the Didache that they required the people involved in the baptism to fast at least two days prior. But what is the type of preparation that needs to be done today? As this step indicates that the person has turned his/her back on the old way of life, the person has to acknowledge that he/she has accepted Y’Shua as Messiah and acknowledge Him as your Saviour. We see that the baptisms that the apostles performed, came after they had explained to the believers exactly who Y’Shua was. In some cases it was done by showing that the Torah and the prophets had predicted it, and in other cases it was done via personal testimony of the life of Y’Shua.
As part of understanding who Y’Shua is, the person will need to understand why there is a need for a Messiah. This raises the topic of sin and repentance.
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Y’Shua the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As discussed in the article Teshuvah…Sin takes us away from YHVH, repentance brings us closer , we explain the Hebrew meaning and understanding of the word “teshuvah“, that we see translated as “repentance” in our English Bibles. From its root, the word indicates a turning away from one thing and turning towards another. Thus, the person being baptized not only needs to ask forgiveness from YHVH, but also needs to turn his back on the way of the nations and choose for the kingdom of YHVH. This is not a once-off choice, but will remain a daily task as we face this choice every day.
In His instructions, Y’Shua also raised the point that a person must believe and be baptized.
15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
Here, Y’Shua makes the point that it is the faith that provides either salvation or condemnation. What is it that the person needs to believe? The answer to this question is merely an extension of the first point. Knowing that Y’Shua is our Messiah is the first step, but then this needs to be followed by the faith in what He has done for us. The person being baptized must understand what it is that Y’Shua has accomplished for us. If you want to live the “new” life, you need to understand what it is that you are now entitled to. Have a look at our article The Significance of the Blood of Y’shua to again appreciate exactly what it is that He accomplished for us. Once the person understands this, he/she needs to realize the impact, not only on the everlasting life, but also in our lives on earth. We have been given authority in His Name, and we have been adopted into the promise that YHVH had made to Abraham. This is a new way of thinking that needs to lead to a new way of living. The new way of thinking also requires that the person breaks from the old ways. This is no easy process, and in most cases requires time.
All of this preparation should bring the person to a state where he/she can enter into the baptism with a good conscience towards YHVH.
1 Peter 3:21
Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to YHVH for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Y’Shua the Messiah,
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to YHVH, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living YHVH?
let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
We see from these Scriptures that as the water of baptism cleans the outward body, so the blood of Messiah will clean our hearts and minds. If the believer truly believes in Y’Shua as his/her Messiah, has a good understanding of the significance of what His death, resurrection and ascension had accomplished for us, and has repented of the sins of the past, then the person should be able to enter into the baptism as a new person with a good conscience. This clear conscience is also what will be the starting block for the steps that follow after the baptism.
What happens in the heavens
The act of baptism is a physical sign of the person’s acceptance of Y’Shua in his/her life. This choice is not only a physical action, but also a spiritual act. It indicates to the spiritual realm that you have chosen to step out of the “kosmos” and join the kingdom of YHVH. This is a vow that you make to show which side you are on. You indicate that you no longer choose the way of the nations, but step out of this world into the kingdom of YHVH. This is what Peter explains to us in this Scripture:
1 Peter 3:21
Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to YHVH for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Y’Shua the Messiah,
Once again, we need to take a closer look at the source text to get to the true intent of this verse. The Greek word “eperōtēma” can be translated two different ways. This is described in the Louw-Nida Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament:
ἐπερώτημα, τος n: (derivative of ἐπερωτάωb ‘to ask for,’ 33.161) that which is asked for—‘request, appeal.’ βάπτισμα … ἀλλὰ συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν ‘but baptism … is a request to God for a good conscience’ 1 Pe 3:21. It is also possible to interpret ἐπερώτημα in 1 Pe 3:21 as meaning ‘pledge’ or ‘promise,’ in which case it may be classified under 33.288. Accordingly, the phrase συνειδήσεως ἀγαθῆς ἐπερώτημα εἰς θεόν may be rendered as ‘a promise made to God from a good conscience.’3
The same holds true for the Greek word for conscience – “suneidēsis.” The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature4 (DBAG) gives us three possible meanings for this word.
- awareness of information about something, consciousness
- the inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong, moral consciousness, conscience
- attentiveness to obligation, conscientiousness
When reading this verse, most of us tend to assume it is referring to the second interpretation, that indicates our psychological faculty, which can distinguish between right and wrong. However, if the word “appeal” indicates a pledge, vow or promise that the believer makes, then the better interpretation of the Greek word would indicate the attentiveness to the vow being made, option 3. This view would also better explain the start of the verse that states “baptism now saves you“, as we know it is not the act of being baptized that ensures our salvation. The verse is rather indicating that it is our choice for the Messiah and the Kingdom of YHVH, expressed by the act of baptism, that ensures our salvation. If we make the choice and actively live according to this choice, we have salvation. Baptism is the external sign that we have made this choice and that we are committed to living this new life. It is our pledge to His Kingdom and a new way of living.
In the spiritual realm, this is a clear sign of your allegiance. It shows that you have now made a choice to change sides and come out of the world “kosmos” to the kingdom of YHVH. It is an act of spiritual warfare to show that another person has switched sides. Of course, the enemy will not like this! It is also interesting to note that early baptismal formulas included a renunciation of satan and his angels5. Thus, not only emphasizing what you have chosen, but also cutting the ties with the past. This is what it means to bury the old nature and to absorb Y’Shua into your life. Paul teaches us this in the Epistle to the Romans. We again need to look at the possible English translations for the words that Paul uses. In this specific verse, I believe that Paul is playing a bit with the original meaning of the Greek word baptizô. Outside the context of the Apostolic Scriptures the word is used to indicate the process of immersion or soaking. In this process, the object will absorb some of the material that it is being soaked in, like a piece of cloth in water.
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized (immersed/soaked) into Messiah Y’Shua have been baptized (immersed/soaked) into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Messiah was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Thus, Paul may be hinting in the direction that the baptism process allows us to absorb some of Y’Shua into our lives. Through this process, we become a new person as some good ingredients have now been added to the mixture. This is the new person that comes out of the baptism.
As a result of the acceptance of Y’Shua, as Messiah, and then performing the public act of baptism, you leave behind the old person and the new person is born out of the water. This is a major step in the process of coming out of the domain of darkness (this world or kosmos) to the Kingdom of YHVH. In this new Kingdom, is where we find our salvation and redemption.
13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Paul so clearly summarizes it in the following verse:
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
The separation from YHVH and His kingdom will be restored by the complete process, including repentance. This restoration process will also cause the spiritual man inside you to be awakened. When we are in the domain of darkness, our spiritual man is silenced. When we go through the transformation of accepting Y’Shua as Messiah and choosing to live the life He wants from us, we are brought into a repaired relationship with YHVH. This allows us to hear His voice. This is also what David Stern tries to communicate in his Jewish New Testament Commentary6 when discussing Romans 5:12.
Spiritual death means lack of communion with God, separation from him—as Isaiah 59:2 puts it, “Your sins have made a separation between you and your God.”
Here is the verse that David Stern is referring to:
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your Elohim, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
Thus, you have now accepted the yoke of Y’Shua the Messiah in your life and as a result have been transformed into the Kingdom of YHVH, where you are no longer separated from Him.
Contrary to popular teaching, this is not the end of the road, but the start of your journey to recover what is rightfully yours. You have some more to do.
Most evangelists or preachers do not teach that there is a difference between salvation and sanctification. Acceptance of Y’Shua into your life is what leads to salvation, but this is only the start of the journey. Once you have chosen for the Kingdom of YHVH, you have to come out of the old world. This means you need to stop living according to the flesh, and start living according to the spirit. As the Majority Text translations put it:
Romans 8:1 (New King James version)
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Messiah Y’Shua, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Once we have chosen Messiah Y’Shua we also need to walk according to His ways. This implies that you need to remove sin from your life. This is not a once off event that happens as part of your conversion. This is a process that takes time and needs focus and attention to reach the best results.
This process is all about becoming more like Him. It is about removing the impact of past sins, yours and your forefather’s, from your life. As the original baptismal formulas, that contained the renunciation of the enemy and his angels, you have to find the things in the spiritual world that keep on tying you to the old world. There may be several things that still have an impact on you:
- habits that need to be broken or changed – see our article Using habits to set yourself apart
- vows you have made – see the article Making Vows
- unrighteous ties – see the article Entangled by unrighteous ties
- Wrong thinking or perceptions – see the article Who am I
Once you have found any of these things in your life, you need to break from it. This is not done by simply thinking about it. Remember, the enemy is not all knowing, he cannot read your mind. You need to speak out! Verbally break from these things, and if possible, have a witness (or two or three) with you when you renounce these things and set yourself free. It is important to revoke any right that has been given to the enemy by any of these activities. By breaking from the past, you will slowly but surely start to break down the strongholds in your life.
One important note on all of this – you cannot do it on your own! You need to ask Y’Shua to help you come free from your past. Paul makes it clear in Romans 7, that you must rely on Y’Shua to help you with this house cleaning process. You are not able to do it on our own, you must bring these sinful habits and temptations to Him.
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to YHVH through Y’Shua the Messiah our Master! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of YHVH, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
The last comment on this, you also need to take responsibility for your choices and actions. What happened in the past, is no excuse for what you do today. You cannot blame anybody else for your choices. David Stern very elegantly explains this in his commentary on Romans 7:17.
But if I am serious about my transgression I cannot blame the Devil or the sin housed inside me or my old nature (literally, “my flesh”); I must take the responsibility myself: I did it. Sha’ul’s purpose in drawing the distinction between “the real me” and “the sin housed inside me” is not to excuse me but to point up the fact that salvation brings one a new nature attuned to the Holy Spirit.7
We have seen that, even though the church has gotten their doctrine confused over time, the instruction to be baptized is well documented in Scripture. This baptism is the act that you perform to show the world (physical and spiritual) that you have chosen to accept Y’Shua as your Messiah. You have chosen the Kingdom of YHVH over the ruler of this world. Baptism is however only one step in the process. Before you can be baptized you need to ensure that you have truly accepted Y’Shua and is willing to take on His yoke, as light as it may be! You also need to ensure that you restore your relationship with the Father by repenting of your sin, and turn your back on your old way of life.
Once you have gone through the baptismal process, it is not the end. It is the beginning of your process of moving from sinner to saint. You need to take all the actions necessary to move sin out of your life. By looking at the things that bring sin into your life, and removing them one by one, you can turn sin from a co-lodger to a frequent visitor and ultimately to a stranger in your life. The only way you can do all of this is by asking Y’Shua to help you come free and start a new journey with Him.
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