The Baptism of Repentance

John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (Mark 1:4)

As I write this it is Easter weekend, the time that Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.  There is a strong correlation between baptism and the death and resurrection; therefore, understanding baptism will bring more meaning to the Easter events.

The words baptize, baptized and baptism are only used in the New Testament Scriptures and all come from the Greek root word bapto, which means to whelm, i.e. to cover wholly with a fluid, or to submerge or immerse.

It is interesting that there is a Jewish ritual called tevilah that is a complete immersion in water.  It is prescribed in the Torah as a cleansing from various impurities such as touching a dead carcass.  Apparently, after the Babylonian captivity, this ritual was also added to the Jewish conversion requirements, meaning that a new convert to Judaism would not only need to be circumcised but would also need to be immersed in water. An ancient rabbinical teacher named Maimonides noted his view of the symbolical significance in tevilah as follows: “The person who directs his heart to purify his soul from spiritual impurities, such as iniquitous thoughts and evil notions, becomes clean as soon as he determines in his heart to keep apart from these courses, and bathes his soul in the water of pure knowledge.”

I’m certain that John the Baptist was influenced by the Jewish tevilah.  Clearly, the external immersion in water was symbolic of an internal happening.  It was called a “baptism of repentance”, implying that it was an internal change in thinking.  Remember that the real meaning of repentance is “to change the way that you think”.  It is interesting also that John the Baptist also stated that he “baptized….with water, but He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:9)  The inference here is that the Holy Spirit will bring about the real internal change that the water baptism is symbolizing and that it will be done by Jesus.  John the Baptist was a forerunner of Jesus, the Messiah; therefore, John’s baptism was a forerunner of the better baptism that would be a part of the Christian conversion.

In Romans chapter 6, Paul explains the Christian baptism clearly: (verses 3-4) “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Here Paul teaches that the internal change that occurs within the minds of Christians is initiated by identifying ourselves with the death of Christ.  We are to die with Him, or consider ourselves as dead to this world and to the sin that is in this world.  Additionally, we are to identify ourselves with His resurrection, considering ourselves as already resurrected with Christ, with death no longer having power over us.  This is a very powerful change in our thinking as Christians! We should have no more fear of death!  We should no longer live for this world, for the things that this world offers, and for the sin that comes from this world, but we should live for the promise of heaven, of eternal life, and to please God.  We should consider ourselves to be citizens of heaven right now, and as aliens and strangers passing through this world.  Paul goes on to explain this: (verses 5-11) “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more.  Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that he lives, he lives to God.  Likewise you also, reckon (consider) yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is not a onetime exercise of “identifying” ourselves with the death and resurrection of Jesus at our conversion and then it’s over. No, this signifies the end of the old way of thinking and the start of the new way of thinking where we now identify or consider ourselves as dead with Christ to this world and to sin, and consider ourselves as alive to God and a part of the new life that is spiritual and eternal in heaven with Him. This is how we now walk and how we now think, everyday and in all of our circumstances.  This is the key to victory over our flesh and over sin in our lives.  This is the real power of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

This change that is symbolized by the Christian baptism is a major and fundamental truth that is a critical part of the Christian’s walk and victorious life.  Paul refers to this principle in many of his letters to the churches as he argues against false teaching and false thinking.  In Colossians, he questions their desire to go back to keeping the rituals of the Jewish regulations as a means for becoming a “true child of God”.  In Colossians 2:20 he uses this principle of considering yourself dead to the this world and alive to Christ, “Therefore if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations..”  And later in Chapter 3, verses 1-5: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.  Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” 

In Galatians, Paul is also dealing with Jews who are trying to bring back Jewish rituals to Christians, saying that Gentile Christians need to be circumcised to be truly righteous before God. Part of Paul’s rebuttal is to remind them that they have died to the law and have been crucified with Christ: “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

This change in the way that we think will not only give us the power to overcome our flesh, but it will also protect us from the lies and deceitfulness that false teachers and religious people will attempt to bring into our lives.  We know that the devil wants to change the way that we think.  He will always be attempting to undermine this powerful truth.  We must keep the truth of our dying with Christ and living and walking in the Spirit as an important part of our thinking.  This is the true meaning of Easter.  I am thankful to the Lord for opening my eyes to this and I pray that He will help me to know it deeper and make it a reality in my life.

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