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The Good News – March 1979
The Good News – March 1979
What The Bible Says About Water Baptism

“And this Gospel shall be preached…..” Matthew 24:14

by Herbert W. Armstrong

Sermon Summaries from Ministers of the Worldwide Church of God

This sermon was given by Herbert W. Armstrong, pastor general of the Worldwide Church of God.

Have we had any instruction lately in the Church on water baptism? I’m sure I haven’t spoken or written on the subject for a long time. And what I’m going to tell you will be a little different than anybody else would give it to you.

Is water baptism essential to salvation? Why do we need it? Millions in traditional Christianity have been absolutely deceived. And I’ll tell you, brethren, we have been assuming more of the sort of things that are false doctrines generally believed in professing Christian churches than we realize.

Notice what Jesus said in Mark 7:7, “Howbeit in vain do they worship me … ” Now, most people will tell you that you can’t worship Christ in vain. If you worship Him, it can’t be in vain. But He said that many are worshiping Him in vain. How? ”…Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men.”

I am accused quite often of not going along with traditional Christianity. Well, I want to tell you I don’t want to go along with traditional Christianity, holding to the traditions of men, because that’s what they do, and they do not hold to the commandments of God.

Notice this, Jesus said (verse 9), “And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” Do we do that? I hope not.

Now here is what the Bible – not traditions of men – says about salvation and water baptism.

How to be saved

God has put two conditions to salvation. And you will find them in Acts 2:38. The inspired Peter had just received God’s Holy Spirit, and in just a matter of a short time, on the same day, he was preaching an inspired sermon. We read in verse 37: They that ”… heard this … were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them; Repent and be baptized …” First “Repent,” second ”… be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit].

Now, there are two conditions. First is repent, second is be baptized. Repentance is toward God. There’s one LAWGIVER – GOD. Then being baptized is an outward profession of your faith. Faith is in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His shed blood and in what He has done for us to reconcile us to God. Faith is toward the LIVING JESUS CHRIST. But we must also believe God – what God says – He’s the fountain source of knowledge – instead of rejecting His word like Adam and Eve did.

What is it to repent?

Now first, what is it to repent? Well, I wonder if you’ve heard the story (I may have mentioned it, but it’s been some years ago, I think) of the Methodist bishop who had come to a town and was preaching.

It was quite a big thing for the bishop to come to this particular local church. And he preached a whole long sermon on repentance. But somehow his congregation there didn’t get it. And some of them were asking him questions but still couldn’t seem to understand. Then one humble old brother, near the back, raised his hand and said, “If you please, sir, I think I can explain this so the people will understand.”

“Well,” the bishop said, “all right. Go ahead and explain it.”

So he started marching down the aisle. As he did, he says, “I’m going to hell, I’m going to hell, I’m going to hell, I’m going to hell, I’m going to hell, I’m going to hell.” He got down by the pulpit, and he turned around and started back. And now he says, “I’m going to heaven, I’m going to heaven, I’m going to heaven, I’m going to heaven.” He said, “What you mean, sir, Mr. Bishop, is to turn around and go the other way.”

Now that’s about the best explanation of what it is to repent that I think I’ve ever heard. And the bishop had it explained to him.

It means to turn from what you’ve allowed to come into you. Turn from the kind of life you’ve lived, the kind of thoughts you’ve been thinking, what you have let yourself become – until you want to become something else, and instead of Satan’s spirit getting to you, you now want the Spirit of God.

When we say, “Repent of what you are, not only of what you did,” people say, “Uh, can I repent of what God made me?” Well, God did not make sinning humans what they are – sinners. We drink that in from Satan.

Now, there are two phases of human nature or what we call human nature. The first is a physical phase, the desires of the flesh, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the inordinate – that is, lawless and uncontrolled desire. Adam had physical desires. He had a nervous system when he was created, of course. But not Satan’s attitude that causes most of the yielding to lust of the flesh.

What God is correcting is the self-centered attitude of the heart. It’s the heart of man that is so wicked and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) – not the nervous system.

The Ten Commandments are a spiritual law. Though concerned with physical actions, their principle is spiritual. Committing adultery may be a physical act, but it violates a spiritual principle. It is defrauding; it is unfaithfulness to a mate, and that’s a spiritual principle. And it’s the same with coveting what is not yours, etc. It’s the attitude of Satan that really gets into you and makes you want to do it.

So repentance means an about-face, a turn to a new and a different life, and that’s toward God.

The sign of repentance and belief

We saw that when Peter was asked, “What shall we do?” he replied, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.” These are the same two conditions Jesus gave at the beginning of His preaching of the Gospel; ”… Repent … and believe … ” (Mark 1:15). He ”… came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying … repent ye, and believe the gospel [the good news of the Kingdom of God].”

Now we can see the same thing again in Acts 8. Philip had been sent by the Holy Spirit by a divine miracle to meet the caravan of a eunuch. Verse 35, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.

They tell you today, a lot of them, that you can’t preach Jesus out of the Old Testament. But Philip did.

“And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest … ” (verses 36-37). He had already repented, but he had to believe now, and believe not only in Christ, but believe what Christ said.

“And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water … ” They didn’t stand and tip over and get sprinkled a little bit. They went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch. ”… And he [meaning Philip] baptized him.

“And when they were come up out of the water” – now that shows again they went into the water – “the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.”

Baptism is an ordinance symbolizing and proclaiming faith in the death (going down under the water), the burial (being covered over by the water) and the resurrection (coming up again out of the water) of Christ. And also it’s symbolic of the death of your old self and burial of it and symbolizes coming up to live a NEW LIFE.

Once these conditions are complied with, God stands bound to put within the repentant believer His Spirit which means His love, His faith, His understanding, gentleness and goodness, power, His attitude of mind instead of this hostile attitude of Satan’s, the spirit of a sound mind and actually the very LIFE OF GOD – divine life – the impregnation and begetting of eternal life and the very character of God. The Holy Spirit in one changes one.

“For the promise,” Peter said, “is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). Water baptism then, is a required part of the way of salvation.

What Jesus showed by example

Now Jesus in all things set us an example that should follow His steps. He was the example for Christian living for the individual and also the living example for His called ministers. Jesus, though He had committed no sins to be remitted, was baptized setting the example for us, and you’ll read of it in Matthew 3:13-17.

And being baptized, Jesus was immersed into water, not sprinkled or poured over, because ”… when was baptized, [He] went up straightway out of water … ” (verse 16). So He had been down in it. Immediately the Spirit of God descended upon Him (in this case visibly) and a voice from heaven said, “This my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”(verse 17).

Jesus also set the example for His ministers. Did you know that Jesus baptized more disciples than John Baptist? In John 3:22 and John 4:1, 2, you read: “After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judea; and there he tarried [lingered] with them, and baptized. When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not but his disciples).”

In Jesus’ name

Here is a most important truth. His disciples did the baptizing in His name, that is, in His stead. They did it for Him by His authority. And this was considered as if Jesus had actually done it Himself. In fact, the Holy Spirit actually inspired the direct statement that Jesus baptized more disciples than John.

To ask anything in prayer or to do or to perform anything in the name of Jesus Christ is to ask or do it by Jesus’ authority. You are acting for Him as His agent when you do it that way, and the responsibility is His. To do it for Him in His stead is acting as if by power of attorney. “In His name” implies that He has delegated that authority to the one who takes His name and uses it And indeed He has, for we are commanded to do all things in the name of Jesus Christ.

Baptism is for the Church

Now keep in mind the clear picture of the true Gospel. The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is the message that God sent to the world. Christ was the divine Messenger who brought and proclaimed it. After His resurrection, Jesus gave the disciples the final Gospel commission for this age, and in it He commanded baptism as an obligatory ordinance for this Gospel dispensation.

In Mark 16, beginning with verse 15: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel [that’s the message God sent and Christ proclaimed] to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

Notice Matthew’s version of the great commission. Matthew 28:19-20: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name [and it should really be translated into the name] of the Father and the Son and the Holy [Spirit]: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you … ”

And here again, in the final great commission for preaching the Gospel, Christ commanded baptism. And here He specifically stated “into the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus said, ” … All power [that included all authority] is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). And we – whoever is baptized into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – are symbolically put into the name, the authority and power of the God Family and are beginning toward becoming entitled to the power and possessions of God.

The first inspired sermon after the Holy Spirit came to convert Peter and the apostles was mentioned above (Acts 2:41). About 10 years later God sent Peter also to preach the Gospel to gentiles. It was in the house of the very devout gentile Cornelius. Devout though he was, Cornelius did not yet have complete knowledge, so Peter preached to Cornelius’ family, “The word which God sent [that is, the. message God sent and brought by Jesus as a messenger] unto the children of Israel … ” And “While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy [Spirit] fell on all them which heard [believed] the word” (Acts 10:36, 44).

“Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy [Spirit] as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord … ” (verses 46-48).

There is a COMMAND to be baptized with water.

How water baptism is accomplished

Now is it immersion, sprinkling or pouring? As in all other points of doctrine, the churches today are in utmost confusion. Some practice pouring, some sprinkling, some immersing. Some say it makes no difference. And those who sprinkle usually apply it to children.

The word baptize is not an English word at all. It’s a Greek word and the New Testament was written in Greek. In translating it into English, the translators left this Greek word untranslated. Literally in the Greek the word is baptizo and the definition of the word is immerse.

If they had translated it, they would have said, “be immersed.” To baptize means “to plunge into, to put into, to dip.” The Greek word for sprinkle is rantizo and to pour is cheo. The Holy Spirit did not inspire the use of those words, but baptizo, meaning immerse or put into. Therefore sprinkling and pouring are not baptizing.

Neither sprinkling nor pouring is a burial. “Buried with him in baptism . ” says Colossians 2:12. And one rises up out of neither sprinkling nor pouring. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Now that’s quoted right from the Bible.

When one is plunged into the water, he is in a watery grave. He would not live 10 minutes unless brought up out of the water, unless risen from this watery grave. Therefore, a person immersed under water is in a literal grave.

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5).

It pictures the death, the burial, the resurrection of Christ. But it’s a dual picture, as all things in God’s plan are dual in operation. It also pictures the crucifixion of the old self (verses 6 and 7), the sinning life and the burial of this sinning self. The coming up out of the watery grave is symbolic of a changed person resurrected to a new righteous spiritual life in Christ Jesus.

Water baptism is the ordinance ordained of Christ by which we express our faith in Christ as Savior, our acceptance of His death, burial and resurrection, and our repentance of the old life and burial of it, rising up to a new higher life henceforth. It is a beautiful ordinance full of meaning.