The Old Testament and believer’s baptism

Baptism is not this arbitrary practice that Christians just decided to start doing. 

During the ministry of Christ, John the Baptist had a ministry where he was the forerunner to Jesus and he baptized with a baptism of repentance. 

But John the Baptist didn’t invent baptism. Before he was born, baptism was being practiced. When a non-Jewish person – a gentile – converted to Judaism, they made him or her get baptized. 

And if you go back further, while you don’t have baptism in the Old Testament, you do have various washing rituals both for ordinary people and for the priests which were meant to show purity and to prepare a person for various religious activities. 

Especially in a book like Leviticus, there’s this strong emphasis on cleanliness and purity and avoiding that which is unclean. All of that was meant to show the purity which a holy God requires. 

In Exodus 19, before the giving of the Ten Commandments as part of the covenant with Moses, the Israelites were told to wash their garments. 

There are also Old Testament passages which seek a deeper cleansing from God. 

In Psalm 51, as David reflected back on his terrible sin of having an affair with a married woman, he prayed to God for cleansing. 

1 Have mercy on me, O God, 

according to your steadfast love; 

according to your abundant mercy 

blot out my transgressions. 

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, 

and cleanse me from my sin! (Psalm 51:1-2)

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; 

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7). 

David sought that cleansing. Baptism is a symbol of sin being washed away. 

Jesus died for our sins and when we believe in him, we are washed clean but not only that, we are united with Christ. We are dead and raised in Christ. 

Baptism is a symbol of that. 

Romans 6:4-5: 

4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 

Baptism points us to that. It points us to the gospel. It points us to the death and resurrection of Christ. 

Baptism also points us to the Church. That’s another reason why I teach believer’s baptism. Because of the theology of the church itself. 

What is the Church?

I’m not talking about a building. I’m not even talking about this church. 

What is THE Church? 

The Church is comprised of all who are part of the body of Christ. The true church are those who have faith in Christ.  

Colossians 1:18-23 talks of the imminence of Christ over his church when it says:

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast

The true church is a church comprised of faithful believers in the gospel. 

It is true that in the Old Testament, you had an ethnic Israel. 

But the Old Testament also talked of a future time when God would usher in a new covenant where the people of God would be set apart based on faith, not ethnicity. 

Jeremiah 31:31-33: 

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 

So in that passage, it is pointing back to the Old Covenant and how the Israelites repeatedly broke it.  The passage is also pointing forward to a future time of a new covenant that will be different from what came before. A distinguishing mark of this covenant is that God will put his law in his people in their hearts. 

That is pointing to people who are true believers. 

And then in the same passage, the very striking verse is verse 34: 

34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” 

What the passage is saying is that in this time of a new covenant, God’s people will know him. It is clear from the Old Testament, that you had many in Israel who were not walking with God, who didn’t love or honor God. 

But that is not the case with his new covenant community. They shall all know me. 

You’re not in the new covenant if you don’t know the Lord. In a few minutes, we’re going to take communion. That’s the other sign of the new covenant. Everything in communion revolves around remembering. Remembering the blood of Jesus shed for sins, his body broken for our sins. It’s for people who know and believe in the gospel. 

There are churches that have hundreds of members on their rolls and a tiny fraction of those people come or have anything to do with that church, but they were baptized one time.

I do appreciate arguments for infant baptism. But a danger in some churches is that for churches who teach things like salvation through baptism or baptism literally washing away sin or baptismal regeneration, it can give a false since of eternal security to a person who is faithless and cares nothing for the things of God. 

And again, there are different positions for infant baptism. Not everyone who believes in infant baptism believes that the baptism itself saves. But there are those who do. And when we believe that a baptism can save a person apart from faith, we are resorting to works.

We also run the risk of turning baptism into a superstition. 

Ezekiel 36 

Another key Old Testament passage which looked forward to a new covenant people of God who would have the Spirit of God and live lives for God is Ezekiel 36. 

What metaphor does Ezekiel use to describe this new spiritual life? Water

Ezekiel 36:25-27: 

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

The Spirit is talked about as a cleansing in water. It is the Spirit of God in the people of God who have been given a new heart by God and who are enabled by the Spirit to live lives in obedience to God. 

And this cleansing with water which is compared to the Holy Spirit is for believers. 

We saw the beginning of that in Acts 2.

Believers in the gospel have the Spirit of God. The new covenant is people who are united in faith, not united along ethnic or familial lines. 

Baptism is a response to faith, not a precursor to the hope of future faith. 

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