Search Engine

Provide a keyword or phrase below to find blog entries relevant to your search:

Results For

No Results


< Return to List

The gospel is the power of God for salvation, and I believe we grow in our faith through the study of His word and in gathering with our brothers and sisters in Christ to receive Him in word and sacrament. We are also instructed to be able to defend our faith and have been given a faith that is grounded in history and logic. Beyond the daily study of scripture, I'll occasionally post to this page with personal thoughts related to faith and reason.


What does Baptism mean?

Posted on April 03, 2024  - By Chris LaBelle  

For many years, I wrestled with the significance of baptism and interpreted it through the lens of Luke’s account to Theophilus on the Acts of the Apostles. In some ways, Acts confused me because there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the way baptism was used or explained. The Jews were told to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins at Pentecost and promised that they would receive the Holy Spirit and that this promise was for them and their children. This must have been quite a relief to those who had shouted, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25) to Pilate before having Christ crucified. The Samaritans believed the deacon, Philip, and were baptized but did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Apostles, Peter and John, laid hands on them several days (or even weeks) later. A god-fearing Eunuch from Ethiopia received baptism immediately from Philip upon confession of faith, and there was no mention of the Holy Spirit other than Philip was carried away by Him to Azotus. 

The murderous Saul of Tarsus was blinded by Christ on the road to Damascus. While Saul fasted for three days, Christ spoke to a prophet named Ananias who laid hands on Saul, healed his blindness, and Saul received the Holy Spirit and was baptized. The Gentiles at Cornelius’ house heard the Gospel and received the Holy Spirit at its proclamation instead of the laying on of hands, and they started speaking in tongues. It was only then that Peter considered that they should be baptized as well since he had received a vision where God compared the Gentiles with unclean animals that had now been made clean.

Later, during the ministry of Paul, a Philippian jailer came to faith, and when he asked what he must do to be saved, Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Upon proclaiming the gospel to the rest of the jailer’s household, everyone believed and was baptized. There was no mention of the Holy Spirit in this account.

Even though these accounts are descriptive and not prescriptive (providing a rule to follow), I still looked for patterns in these accounts to help with my understanding of baptism today. I also filtered it through Jesus’ words to Nicodemus that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5), and His words to the disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Since Peter tied it to the forgiveness of sins, and both he and Jesus tied it to the promise of the Holy Spirit, I understood baptism to be an integral part of becoming a disciple of Christ. Since all of the people baptized in the New Testament appeared to have heard the gospel and responded in faith, I was officially on board with credobaptism— baptism upon profession of faith. There are those who teach that baptism is a strictly symbolic ritual which is a believer’s first act of obedience to publicly profess their faith. Unfortunately, there aren’t any biblical texts which describe baptism in this way. In fact, since forgiveness and the giving of the Holy Spirit are only works that can be accomplished by God, I would argue that baptism is not our work at all but a work that God does for us.

When I started studying the New Testament epistles, I became acutely aware that I did not have a good understanding of the covenant of Moses, and I began digging into the books of Moses and the prophets. In this attempt, I began understanding the New Testament epistles as apostolic commentary on these books and not just the rules for Christian living. One which had a profound impact was Paul’s letter to the Colossians in which he wrote, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:11-14)

Circumcision may have been given to Abraham, but it became the sign which marked someone as a member of the covenant of Moses and thus beholden to the Law. Christ fulfilled the entirety of the Law (including circumcision). Paul was saying that in our baptism, we were buried and then raised in Christ and forgiven of our sins. Christ’s circumcision and righteousness was applied to us, and in turn our sin debt was nailed to the cross. This makes baptism the sign which marks us as being under the everlasting covenant of Christ, and it makes sense because the blessings of this new covenant are equally meant for men and women from every nation and tribe. Through this means, women would have Christ’s circumcision applied to them whereas they had no means of being circumcised in the covenant of Moses. If we also apply this idea to the Ethiopian Eunuch, we can see why he was eager to get baptized as soon as they found a lake. Under the covenant of Moses, he had no promises and could not be a part of the assembly. However, in Christ, the promise from Isaiah was, “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:4-5)

The book of Hebrews proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the covenant of Christ is superior to the covenant of Moses, and yet there is an obvious difference if we only hold to credobaptism: the covenant of Moses included infants. People will say that there is nothing in the New Testament writings that say we should baptize babies. However, I would argue that when Paul tied baptism to circumcision, he was writing to a generation which was intimately familiar with circumcision and its promises for infants. If salvation is indeed a gift of God, and if God works through baptism to forgive our sins and fill us with the Holy Spirit, then it is most excellent for a family of covenant believers to bring their babies to God in faith to receive this gift (what we call pedobaptism). Someone who is baptized as an infant would have to agree with Paul when he wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)