by Barry Newton
Yesterday the vivacious daughter of a Baptist pastor sat across from me. A friendly discussion ensued as we exchanged differing viewpoints on the necessity of baptism.
She claimed, “all the saved get baptized.” However, to reassert that baptism could not be necessary for salvation, she referenced the thief on the cross and pointed out we cannot do anything to be saved.
To an observer, my subsequent moment of silence might have suggested I had nothing more to say. Actually, a winnowing search was seeking a response avoiding the typical mired down conversation.
In the end, rabbit runs and even significant details were set aside to focus upon an explanatory big picture. We did not broach the topic of the thief nor the case for biblical definitions of faith and works to replace the common misconceptions of “just believe” and “doing something.” Neither did we discuss the irrelevancy of our claims about when people accept Jesus to identify that what matters is when God recognizes a new beginning.
Instead, a question appeared. “Would you consider looking at why I believe baptism is necessary for salvation?” She agreed.
Boiled down to its minimal essence, we traced the following story through the Bible. God offered Abram a covenant promising to be God to him and to his descendants (Genesis 17:7-8).
Later at Mount Sinai, God offered Abraham’s descendants, Israel, the opportunity to become God’s treasured nation (Exodus 19:5-6). When the people agreed to the stipulations, the relationship was enacted with sacrifice and the blood of the covenant being sprinkled on the people (Exodus 24:3-8). The covenant identified who belonged to God (Ezekiel 16:8; Deuteronomy 29:1,12-15).
Later, God announced the basis for a new relationship with himself. A new covenant would come whereby God would promise to claim people for himself and to forgive their sins (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Jesus understood the blood of his death as creating this new covenant whereby God would promise to forgive sins (Luke 22:20; Matthew 26:28).
Surveying Hebrews 8 to 10 quickly, we saw Jesus’ ministry involved bringing this better covenant. Rising above the sprinkled blood of animals, Jesus’ covenantal blood made possible a clean conscience (Hebrews 9:13-15).
What was the author’s understanding of salvation? Because of Jesus’ blood we are able to draw near to God’s presence (Hebrews 10:19). But when was Jesus’ blood applied to our lives? When did we enter this new covenant and obtain a clean conscience?
“Let us draw near with a sincere heart in the full assurance that faith brings, because we have had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).
Her eyes turned red and tears flowed as the words tumbled forth, “I’ve never seen baptism in that light before.” She is now studying scripture with fresh eyes and is contemplating her next step.
With baptism, we receive the promises of the new covenant. God adopts us as his people and forgives our sin.
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