Baptism:
Lesson 3

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Baptism The Biblical Doctrine Of
Believers’ Baptism

by
Dr. Ari Levitt-Sawyer

ywl !B yra

ThM, ThD, DMin, MA, MBA, CNHP

Introduction and Contents • Lesson 1 • Lesson 2 • Lesson 3 • Lesson 4 • Glossary • Appendix

Lesson 3:
The Efficacy of Baptism; or
The “Baptismal Regeneration” Debate

It must be clearly understood (as it will be demonstrated in this lesson) that the Bible inescapably teaches that the act of baptism is in no way a condition of salvation, nor any part of the salvation process. It is rather an act of obedience and an outward demonstration of the inner change that has already taken place in the life and heart of the Believer. The Bible makes it absolutely clear that we are saved by grace through faith, and not as a result of works.

… even when we were dead because of our acts of disobedience, he brought us to life along with the Messiah — it is by grace that you have been delivered. … (Eph. 2:5)

For you have been delivered by grace through trusting, and even this [this trusting or faith] is not your accomplishment but God’s gift. You were not delivered by your own actions; therefore no one should boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

… since He delivered us and called us to a life of holiness as His people. It was not because of our deeds, but because of His own purpose and the grace which He gave to us who are united with the Messiah Yeshua. He did this before the beginning of time, (2 Tim. 1:9)

Any form of theology which requires any human activity as a condition of salvation (including Torah observance) unavoidably becomes a theology of salvation by works and not a theology of salvation by grace through faith, in direct contradiction to the clear teaching of Scripture.

Water baptism (tevilah, self-immersion in “living water”) is a reenactment of our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection, and is a drama that portrays the believer’s identification with Him. It represents a death to self and sin, a burial (or placing) of the new believer into the Body of Yeshua by the Ruach HaKodesh, and a rising to walk in newness of life. And, it is properly a new believer’s first act of obedience to his or her newly-encountered Sovereign Lord.

Just as the rite of circumcision does not justify, but rather identifies each male Jew as a partaker of the Abrahamic Covenant, so the rite of immersion in water does not justify the believer in Yeshua, but rather identifies him or her as a partaker of the New Covenant, a full member of the Commonwealth of Israel.[1]

In spite of the Apostolic Writings’ clear teaching on the subject of salvation, there are within Christianity many who simultaneously teach two mutually-exclusive positions:

• that salvation is a free gift of God through grace by faith, but

• water baptism is necessary to obtain forgiveness of sin.

They simply cannot have it both ways. If all Scripture is the literal, written word of God (and it most certainly is; if it is not, then we all are simply playing silly religious games and we should all just pack it in and eat, drink, and be merry, for our faith is all in vain), and if God cannot contradict Himself (and He cannot), then any time that Scripture appears to contradict itself it is obvious that the interpreter has not yet arrived at the correct interpretation.

Salvation, with its accompanying forgiveness of sin, is either (a) the free gift of grace, or it is (b) the “reward” for meritorious works; it cannot be both! If salvation is obtained through immersion, or circumcision, or Torah-keeping, or obedience to the “Church Covenant,” any other meritorious act or observance, then it is no longer a free gift of grace through faith, but rather it becomes that which God “owes” to man as earnings, wages, or a reward for correct performance.

What [they fail] to note, however, is what the Reformation was fought over, namely, that the Scripture teaches, and Protestants affirm, that we are saved by grace through faith alone (sola fide) … this was the heart cry of the Reformation.
… they overlook the fact that Scripture teaches that grace and meritorious works are mutually exclusive (e.g. Rom. 11:6).
The New Testament clearly speaks against obtaining salvation (whether justification or sanctification) as a “reward” (i.e., wage) for work done. For the Scriptures insist that gifts cannot be worked for; only wages can (Rom. 4:4-5). Grace means unmerited favor, and reward based on works is merited. Hence, grace and works are no more coherent than is an unmerited merit![2]

What then must we do with the verses that appear to link believer’s baptism with the requirements of salvation?

A proper discussion of the doctrine of salvation is beyond the scope of this brief study. However, in order to adequately answer the question of “baptismal regeneration” — the error which teaches either that it is water baptism which produces salvation, or that water baptism is somehow a necessary part of the salvation process — it should only be necessary to summarize the great teaching of the Shaliachim (Apostles), that doctrine which was more than any other directly responsible for the Reformation, that salvation is wrought through faith in Yeshua HaMashiach, plus nothing else! (Gen. 15:6; Psalm 51:17; Joel 2:32; John 3:16; 20:31; Luke 18:13,14a; Rom. 3:20-28; 4:1-14; 5:6-21; 9:30-33; 10:9-13; 11:6; Gal. 2:16; 3:2-11,24-26; Jas. 2:23; Eph. 2:5-9; Acts 2:21; 10:44,45; 16:30,31; 1 Cor. 1:18,21; 2 Thess. 2:10; 2 Tim. 1:8,9; Titus 3:5; Heb. 6:1-2; 9:14; 1 Pet. 1:3-9; et al.)

A correct understanding of the above Scriptures demonstrates beyond any shadow of doubt that salvation is clearly the free gift of God by grace through faith, plus nothing else. To require baptism or any other human act as essential for salvation forces the Scriptures to contradict themselves.

The Argument for Baptismal Regeneration

Unfortunately, the proponents of baptismal regeneration insist on clinging desperately to their error, which is based solely on one single “problem passage” which appears to contradict what all the rest of Scripture has to say on the subject:

Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;…”

Their entire argument is based on the translation of the single Greek word eiß (eis), which in Acts 2:38 is translated “for,” which they insist must be interpreted as meaning that baptism is necessary “in order that sins might be forgiven.” Thus, they would prefer a translation which reads, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for [in order to obtain] the forgiveness of your sins; …”

Some Rules of Interpretation

There are two rules that must be carefully observed in the resolution of “problem” passages:

 1. All Scripture is inspired by God; that is, authored by God through human instruments. Since God cannot contradict Himself, then His written Word may never contradict itself. Where there is an apparent contradiction, we have failed to properly interpret the text.

 2. Our doctrine must be based on what the preponderance of Scripture actually says, not on what we want it to say. We must permit the Scriptures to determine our doctrine, not use our doctrine to force unintended meaning from the Scriptures.

Accurate Biblical interpretation relies on carefully studying what all of Scripture has to say on a given subject, interpreting Scripture with Scripture in its normal, historical, cultural, grammatical sense, [how would the original recipient of the letter understood the meaning?] bearing in mind that Scripture cannot contradict itself, and then summarizing what Scripture has to say into a concise doctrinal statement; that is, extracting an appropriate doctrinal position out of the sacred text (not reading our desired interpretation into the text).

Scripture is inerrant and cannot contradict itself in any way. The whole counsel of Scripture, only part of which has been cited in the long list of references above, clearly teaches that salvation is by the grace of God through faith alone, “and not of works, lest any man should boast.”

We are forced, therefore, to conclude (even if on the basis of this one argument alone) that, since water baptism is “something else” beyond saving faith and grace, then water baptism cannot be essential for salvation without forcing this one isolated passage to contradict the rest of the entire body of Scripture.

Stated conversely, if the work of water baptism at the hands of man, or of circumcision, or of any other form of works or Torah-keeping, is necessary for salvation, then salvation is obtained by the works and merit of man and not by the grace of God. The whole counsel of Scripture simply does not support this position.

Those scriptures that seem to say that both belief and baptism are necessary for salvation fall into one of two categories: either

a. the answer lies in our misunderstanding of the translation of the passage; or

b. the passage is referring to the true baptism, that is “Spirit baptism” (1 Cor. 12:13), of which water baptism is only a reenactment.

For example, the favorite “proof text” used to teach baptismal regeneration is Acts 2:38, compared with Matt. 3:11:

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins…” (Acts 2:38)

As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matt. 3:11)

The regeneration teachers argue that the word for in Acts 2:38 expresses a “purposive” relationship in which baptism is the cause that produces the forgiveness of sins, as: “Be baptized in order to obtain forgiveness of your sins.”

They then they use Matt. 3:11 as a “grammatically parallel passage” to confirm that interpretation: “I baptize with water for repentance …”

In order to be grammatically parallel with their eisegesis[3] of Acts 2:38, the interpretation of Matt. 3:11 would have to be: “I baptize you with water in order to obtain your repentance.”

A Rebuttal of the Argument

The consensus of opinion among most evangelical Christian expositors is that the word “for” in Acts 2:38 (as well as in Matt. 3:11) is to be understood as “because of” — the believer is commanded to be baptized “because of” the forgiveness of sin, not “in order to obtain” forgiveness. This relationship is quite clear in Kenneth Wuest’s expanded translation of the verse:

And Peter said to them, Have a change of mind, that change of mind being accompanied by abhorrence of and sorrow for your deed, and let each one of you be baptized upon the ground of your confession of belief in the sum total of all that Jesus Christ is in His glorious Person, this baptismal testimony being in relation to the fact that your sins have been put away, and you shall receive the gratuitous gift of the Holy Spirit …[4]

Several years after he had received God’s covenant concerning Eretz Yisrael (the “Promised Land”), Abraham was circumcised to demonstrate the fact that he had already received the covenant through faith. Likewise, the newly-saved Believers who responded to Kefa’s Pentecost message were to be baptized because (or as a testimony that) their sins had already been forgiven through their belief in the completed work of Yeshua HaMashiach, not in order to obtain that forgiveness. The fact that their sins had already been put away was a completed act prior to, and the reason for, their testimony of immersion in water.

This dual use of the word “for” is common to both Biblical and Classical Greek, as well as to English. For example, a carpenter uses a saw for cutting lumber (in order to cut lumber); but a criminal is sentenced to prison for (because of, not in order to commit) his crimes.

In Matt. 3:11 Yochanan is quoted as saying, “I baptize you with water for repentance …” However, those whom he was baptizing had already expressed their repentance and had already confessed their sins (v. 6) and were being baptized, not in order to secure their repentance, but rather as an outward testimony to, or because of, the completed fact of their repentance.

Thus, Wuest’s translation of Matt. 3:11:

As for myself, I indeed immerse you in water because of [your] repentance.

To force a causative relationship out of the word “for” in Matt. 3:11 is to force Yochanan to say, “I immerse you in water in order to cause you to repent.” The idea that the act of immersion in water can produce repentance is simply grammatical nonsense. Repentance is an act of the will and of the mind in which one makes an intelligent, rational decision to change one’s mind [in this case, to agree with God about the nature of one’s sin and one’s need for a Savior]. The Jews who submitted to Yochanan’s immersion had already repented (changed their minds) about Messiah and His kingdom and were being baptized to give witness to that repentance (change of mind).

That it was their repentance, and not their baptism, that resulted in their forgiveness (and thus their salvation) is confirmed in Mark 1:4:

“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Grammatically, the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” modifies the word repentance, not the word baptism. Thus:

a grammatic diagram of Mark 1:14a

It is clearly the repentance that is for the forgiveness of sins, not the baptism. Thus the baptism that Yochanan was preaching was a baptism (a tevilah, mikvah, testimony) of repentance; the repentance was for the forgiveness of sins. As Wuest renders this phrase, “this baptism being in view of the fact that sins are put away.” Thus the baptism of Yochanan was an immersion to give witness to the repentance which had already occurred, and which repentance had resulted in their sins having already been forgiven prior to and as a prerequisite for, not as a result of, their baptism in the water.

We have already clearly seen that in Matt. 3:11 Yochanan says that the baptism that he was performing was because of the repentance of those being baptized. Without doing significant, even fatal, damage to the accepted rules of Bible interpretation and the accepted rules of grammar, we simply cannot force Yochanan’s statement in Mark 1:4 to mean the exact opposite of his nearly identical statement in Matt. 3:11!

All that having been said, we must finally remember that Yochanan’s baptism has nothing whatsoever to do with Yeshua’s baptism.

Yochanan immersed his talmidim in water to show their identification with Mashiach’s earthly Kingdom, which will not be fully established until after the completion of the Great Tribulation.

Yeshua’s baptism is of His Elect with (not into) Ruach HaKodesh for power.

Ruach HaKodesh’s baptism is of Yeshua’s Elect into Mashiach, that is, into His Body. The local assembly of believers then immerses Yeshua’s Elect in water to symbolize that they have already been baptized by Ruach HaKodesh into His Body.

First Peter 3:21 provides an excellent example of Scripture verses which fall into the second category, those which refer not to water baptism, but to Spirit baptism:

And corresponding to that [those who were saved on the ark with Noah], baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ …

The baptism referred to here is the Spirit baptism through which the believer is placed positionally in Messiah.

Those with an understanding of the “types” of Messiah in the Tenakh will immediately recognize that the ark is a type of Messiah, and that the flood, though it was an actual historical event, is a type, or picture, of the wrath of God. Just as God brought judgment upon the entire earth through the instrumentality of the flood, so He will bring judgment upon the unbelieving world through the plagues of the Great Tribulation, and ultimately upon the unrighteous dead through the Great White Throne Judgment and the eternal consignment of the unrighteous to the Lake of Fire.

Just as the only ones who escaped the wrath of the flood were those who were positionally in the ark with Noah, so only those who will survive God’s judgment[5] will be those who are positionally in Mashiach, those who have been immersed into Him by Ruach HaKodesh at the moment of their salvation. Having a proper understanding of their salvation, new believers will eagerly submit to immersion in water as a first act of obedience to Yeshua, as a reenactment of their Spirit baptism which has just occurred, and as a testimony to the resurrection of Yeshua HaMashiach (1 Pet. 3:21).

Another verse which causes confusion because of its translation is Acts 22:16.

“Now why do you delay ? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”

While this English translation appears to suggest that baptism would wash away Paul’s sins, Wuest’s more literal translation of the passage reads: “Having arisen, be baptized; and wash away your sins [by] having previously called upon His name.” It is not baptism which washes away sins, but rather the act of calling upon the Name of the Lord.

And so David Stern translates this verse in the Complete Jewish Bible:

So now, what are you waiting for? Get up, immerse yourself and have your sins washed away as you call on his name.

In fact, in every single instance of believer’s water baptism recorded in the Apostolic Scriptures, repentance and/or belief, and its accompanying salvation, were a prerequisite to the ritual of water baptism. That is, water baptism was permitted only to those who had given evidence of their already-completed salvation by faith alone. Those who would attempt to make water baptism as a condition of (or a requirement for) salvation are only attempting to replace the Jewish ceremony of circumcision with the “Christian” ceremony of baptism, and they forget that baptism can nor more save a Gentile then circumcision can save a Jew:

Romans 4 1What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. 5But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: 7“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. 8Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” 9Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” 10How then was it reckoned? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them, 12and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. 13For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; … (NASB)

Just as Father Avraham received circumcision as a witness that God had already declared him righteous, so the newly-saved Messianic Believer receives water baptism as a witness that God has already declared him or her righteous because of his or her positional relationship to Yeshua HaMashiach which has already occurred through the instrumentality of Ruach HaKodesh’s baptism.

There is one other point that needs to be considered here, however, concerning the relationship between circumcision and water baptism. Circumcision is to the Jew an outward symbol of his participation in the Covenant of God. To the Jewish mind, there is no such thing as an uncircumcised Jew. To the Messianic mind, from the day of Pentecost until only very recent years, there was no such thing as an un-baptized Messianic Believer.

The Final Argument

Finally, there can be no more than three possibilities concerning the nature of our salvation. Either:

a. our salvation comes by good works alone, or

b. our salvation comes by faith plus good works, or

c. our salvation comes by faith alone.

What is the clear teaching of the Scriptures concerning the nature of our salvation? [Phrases that relate to works are highlighted in yellow; phrases that relate to faith are highlighted in green.]

Heb. 6 1Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2of instruction about washings [baptisms], and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3And this we shall do, if God permits.

Here the writer clearly views the subject of baptism as so elementary to the Hebrew Messianic Believer that it does not even need to be addressed.

Rom. 3 19Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. 21But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Rom. 4 1What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it [his belief] was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. 5But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: 7“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. 8Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” 9Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.

Rom. 9 10And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”

Rom. 9 30What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32\Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

Rom. 11 6But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. 7What then? That which Israel is seeking for, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened;

Gal. 2 15We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.

Gal. 3 1You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.” 9So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” 11Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” 12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.”

Eph. 2 8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that [faith itself is] not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, that no one should boast.

2 Tim. 1 8Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,

Does the Scripture teach that salvation is by works? Does the Scripture teach that salvation is by faith plus works? Or does the Scripture teach that salvation is by faith alone in the completed work of Yeshua HaMashiach, plus nothing, minus nothing?

“Oh,” you may argue, “you forgot to mention all of the verses in which James teaches that faith without works is dead? Doesn’t that mean that faith without water baptism won’t save?”

Not one single time does Ya'akov (James’ real Hebrew name) speak of baptism. Nor does he, if the letter is to be read carefully, ever claim that “works” or “actions” will provide salvation. His entire argument is that if one indeed experiences saving faith in Yeshua HaMashiach, the result and evidence of that saving faith will be demonstrated by obedience to the whole of Torah and other righteous works. That is, obedience to Torah will be the external evidence of that saving faith.

If the Scriptures clearly teach that salvation is by faith alone in the completed work of Yeshua HaMashiach, plus nothing, minus nothing, then we simply cannot say with any measure of credibility that “salvation is by faith alone in the completed work of Yeshua HaMashiach, plus nothing except water baptism, minus nothing.”

When we try to force the Scriptures to say that water baptism in addition to saving faith is a requirement for salvation, then our salvation is no longer a free gift based on God’s grace. It rather becomes nothing more than the wages that God owes us based on our performance of a covenant ritual.

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. (Rom. 4:4)

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. (Rom. 11:6)

Two Challenges

The Challenge for the Local Assembly

Herein lies the challenge for the local assembly of believers:

 a. We have defined the local assembly as (ideally) a regional assembly of members of the Universal Miqra, the Body of Yeshua.

 b. We have demonstrated that the Holy Scriptures clearly teach that water baptism can in no way possibly be a condition of salvation (membership in the Universal Miqra), since salvation is by grace through faith in the completed work of the HaMelech Yeshua HaMashiach, plus nothing else.

 c. We have seen that throughout the Apostolic Scriptures, new believers participated in tevilah (self-immersion in water) as soon as possible following their salvation. We can infer from that practice that water baptism by immersion should always precede membership in the local assembly.

 d. However, since Yeshua HaMashiach does not require water baptism for membership in His Body, how then can we mere humans demand that any person submit to water baptism before they may be included in the local assembly of members of His Body?

We must consider this: The local assembly has a responsibility to maintain doctrinal purity, and to admit only truly born-again believers into its membership. If a person professes to be a “Christian,” or a “Messianic,” or a “Believer,” or by whatever other term claims to be a follower of HaMelech Yeshua HaMashiach (the LORD Jesus Christ), and claims that Yeshua is her/her Lord (Master), can that person be speaking the truth if he/she refuses to submit in obedience to the very act which publicly demonstrates his/her relationship to and identification with Yeshua?

The local assembly has a right to expect its members to demonstrate their position in Messiah: “If you have really turned from your sins to God, produce fruit that will prove it!” (Matt 3:8). Additionally, Ya'akov says that the local assembly has the right to expect that true saving faith will be demonstrated by faithful obedience to Torah and other good works:

James 2 17Thus, faith by itself, unaccompanied by actions, is dead. 18But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Show me this faith of yours without the actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions! 19You believe that “God is one”?[6] Good for you! The demons believe it too — the thought makes them shudder with fear! 20But, foolish fellow, do you want to be shown that such “faith” apart from actions is barren? 21Wasn't Avraham avinu [our father] declared righteous because of actions when he offered up his son Yitz'chak [Isaac] on the altar? 22You see that his faith worked with his actions; by the actions the faith was made complete; 23and the passage of the Tanakh [the Hebrew Bible] was fulfilled which says, “Avraham had faith in God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness.” He was even called God’s friend. 24You see that a person is declared righteous because of actions and not because of faith alone. 25Likewise, wasn’t Rachav [Rahab] the prostitute also declared righteous because of actions when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another route? 26Indeed, just as the body without a spirit is dead, so too faith without actions is dead.

Can the Elders of the local assembly then, with a clear conscience, accept into its membership anyone who claims to be a Believer in Yeshua but who refuses to be identified with Him and His Miqra through the rite of tevilah (water baptism)?

The Challenge for the Unbaptized Believer

On the other hand, if you are a born-again, blood-bought child of God, saved by grace through faith in the completed work of HaMelech Yeshua HaMashiach, and you pridefully refuse to submit to the ordinance of tevilah (baptism by immersion in water) as the public testimony of your completed position in Yeshua, because you understand that tevilah is not essential for your salvation, I would submit for your consideration the following questions:

• What is the real reason that you are refusing to obey Yeshua’s mandate to be immersed in water?

• Are you afraid of what people will think?

• Are you afraid of what you might look like standing dripping wet in front of an assembly of your brothers and sisters in Yeshua?

• Will your pride not allow you let others see you at less than your very best outward appearance?

• Or does your pride run deeper than that?

• Do you look at tevilah as some form of humiliation to which you are not willing to subject?

• Or is it simply that you feel that tevilah might not be convenient for you?

Then I would ask you to carefully consider the following ideas:

Every picture you have ever seen of the crucifixion of our Adonai Yeshua shows him modestly wrapped in a loin cloth, with a handful of Roman soldiers and a few of his closest friends in attendance.

May I assure you that Yeshua’s crucifixion was nothing like that at all! In the first place, Roman crucifixion was designed as a drastic deterrent against any who would dare break the pax Romana, the Roman peace. Crucifixion was unimaginably cruel and violent, and was designed as a means of prolonged torture, not as a means of execution! And it was very, very public! Roman executions were always performed at the busiest intersection in the city so that it would serve as an example to the greatest number of people.

Imagine for a moment that Yeshua was crucified not in some back alley of Jerusalem, but that He was crucified on the busiest corner of the busiest street in the biggest city near where you live. Also consider that He was not quietly crucified at night, but at the height of rush-hour traffic. Not only was he crucified publicly, but on the way to His crucifixion (after having received a scourging that removed most of the skin from his body, and from which a very large percentage of the recipients died) He was forced to carry the cross-beam of His own execution device through the center of the three largest and busiest shopping malls in Jerusalem. Now also understand that He was crucified not modestly wrapped in a towel or a loin cloth, but He was totally naked, stripped of all modesty, exposed in the most cruel, humiliating way it was possible to expose a man!

Now, my dear brother or sister, understand that He did it for YOU! There was only one force in either heaven,  earth, or hell that could have compelled Him to submit to that kind of torture and humiliation, and that was His unfathomable love for you!

And you don’t love Him enough to let someone see you with your hair wet? If you really love Him that little, would you please prayerfully consider whether or not you are truly one of His?

Conclusion

Water baptism (tevilah) is a symbol or ritual through which the believer acts out or demonstrates in the presence of witnesses that which has already happened to him or her in private — that is, having been taken out of the world by Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) and placed into the Body of Yeshua (Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27), which is the true, universal, and invisible Miqra (the “Called Out,” “Elect,” or “Holy Community”) (Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2,9). It is an identification with Yeshua in His death, burial, and bodily resurrection — a testimony that the Believer has already died to self and sin, has already been buried in and with Yeshua, and has already been raised to walk in a newness of life (Rom. 6:3-11). It is also a testimony to the Believer’s faith in his or her own resurrection, as well as in the bodily resurrection of both the just and the unjust.

As it is the public testimony to an already completed experience, it is therefore to be performed subsequent to and independent from the salvation experience.

Water baptism is reserved for only those who are already positionally in Yeshua, and thus must be administered only to those who have publicly testified to their faith in Yeshua HaMashiach, plus nothing else (not even water baptism), for their salvation. It is a conscious act of obedience to Yeshua’s command, and is therefore not for infants or others who are incapable of the level of awareness necessary for that conscious obedience.

By extrapolation, water baptism should therefore be denied to those who claim that the ritual is necessary for their salvation, thereby denying the completed work of salvation that has already been accomplished by Yeshua. Their testimony gives proof that their faith is in the ritual, not in Yeshua, and they are therefore not part of the Miqra or “Elect.”

Since the word “baptize” literally means “to dip” or “to immerse,” and since it is symbolic of death, burial, and resurrection, immersion is obviously the only form which accurately demonstrates its meaning.

Although public confession of faith in the risen Lord and subsequent water baptism is a prerequisite for membership in the local assembly (Acts 2:38,41; 8:12,38; 9:18; 10:47,48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5), a Believer’s baptism is never to be performed into or in the name of any teacher, leader, or human organization (1 Cor. 1:10-15), but rather only into Yeshua HaMashiach (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 12:13) in the Name [singular] of the Father (Abba), and of the Son (Yeshua), and of the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) [Matt. 28:18-20].

In concluding this discussion of ritual baptism it may be stated that all who claim the right of private judgment in the matter of the mode of their baptism should accord the same right to others. There should be latitude enough in any assembly of believers for these variations. The sin — if such there be — of administering this ordinance in an unscriptural way could never compare with the greater sin of exclusion, separation, and the breaking of the outward manifestations of the unity of the Spirit. That believers remain in the unbroken bonds of fellowship and affection is, according to the New Testament, far more important that is the mode of ritual baptism. The world is to be impressed with the love of the Elect one for the other (cf. John 13:34-35; 17:21-23). It is needless to point out that separations and contentions over a mode of baptism have little value in the eyes of the unsaved.[7]

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 1. It needs to be pointed out that, contrary to what Christianity teaches, the “New Covenant” [or more accurately “Renewed Covenant”] is a unilateral covenant that HaShem makes with Israel, and it has nothing at all to do with anything called “the Church.”

“Here, the days are coming,” says ADONAI, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Isra'el and with the house of Y'hudah [Judah]. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day I took them by their hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt; because they, for their part, violated my covenant, even though I, for My part, was a husband to them,” says ADONAI. “For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Isra'el after those days,” says ADONAI: “I will put My Torah within them [Israel] and write it on their [Israel’s] hearts; I will be their [Israel’s] God, and they [Israel] will be My people. (Jer. 31:31-33) [RETURN]

 2. Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie with Elliot Miller. “What Think Ye of Rome? Part Five: The Catholic-Protestant Debate on Justification.” Christian Research Journal, Winter 1995, p. 31. [RETURN]

 3. Eisegesis is a “reading into” the Scriptures, an erroneous process of biblical interpretation that begins with a presupposition (whether correct or incorrect) and then seeks to use the Scriptures to prove that opinion. Exactly the opposite of exegesis, or the “reading out” of the Scriptures, the correct method of biblical interpretation in which the student reads all that the Sacred Text teaches on a particular subject and then summarizes that teaching into a valid conclusion based on the whole counsel of God. [RETURN]

 4.  Wuest, op. cit. [RETURN]

 5. This verse does not confirm the doctrine of a pre-Tribulation rapture. It does, however, confirm that the salvation of the Elect will be sure through the Tribuilation. [RETURN]

 6. The cornerstone of all Jewish faith is the Sh'ma: Sh'ma, Yisra'el! ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad [Hear, Isra'el! ADONAI our God, ADONAI is one]. (Deut. 6:4) [RETURN]

 7. I have unfortunately lost the source of this quotation. It is probably from Geisler and MacKenzie, above. [RETURN]

 

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