From the desk of Pastor Dave, Big Sioux Baptist, Flandreau, SD
When a person makes a symbolic gesture, there should be an understanding of the intent of the gesture as it relates to reality. Without that understanding, there is no personal ownership of the intent or the reality. The gesture, therefore, is empty except to those watching who approve of the gesture.
No one can know another’s mind or heart. To a certain extent, we rely on actions. It is true, “Actions speak louder than words.” Many times in the Old Testament prophets stated that people worshipped with actions and words, but their hearts were far from the Lord. The call was for repentance in an effort for hearts to be close to the Lord.
Some today would say the outward actions and words are sufficient, believing the symbolic gestures are of themselves adequate. As mentioned in previous posts, the presence of a wedding ring might or might not mean anything. There must be a reality, whether the symbol exists or not.
Suppose a generation would grow up performing a particular gesture without ever being taught the significance of the gesture. Suppose a group of people were unable to explain either the meaning or their mind (heart) attitude about the gesture. Would their actions not be meaningless? Suppose at some point in history the entire reason was lost. Then suppose a teaching developed that tried to explain the gesture, but the teaching was entirely wrong.
Within religious circles, this happens very often. Plain, honest understanding of God’s Word will correct many false teachings.
The simplest of examples would be baptism. The Bible is very clear that being immersed in water, then coming up out of the water is a symbolic gesture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and we identify with Him in that gesture. The gesture is to represent something that has already happened to us. We have already repented of our sins and trusted Christ for salvation. This is plain in the Scriptures.
Yet, through the years, men have taught deviations from the plain teaching of the Bible. As the years progressed, people began to accept as truth the teachings of men. Eventually, today, some believe water has some mystical property that delivers from eternal punishment. Many are the twisted doctrines of men that have deceived millions. Because the deception has been included in classes for children, many have come to maturity with this false security in a symbolic gesture. Unless a person is willing to examine the Bible and let the Bible be considered on face value to explain itself, then that person will continue believing the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration. To place the teachings and doctrines of fallible humans on equal authority with the Word of God is sad at the least and dangerous at the worst. To attach significance to a gesture without any authority from the Scripture is surely ill advised.
There are certainly many other examples of actions involving symbolic gestures that could be mentioned. You may have time to consider whether or not you have a clear understanding of each and if you are acting in the reality behind the gesture. Never allow the reality to become minimized by symbolism.
To clarify the understanding of baptism, we look at Acts 19. In that passage, there was a group of people that had been baptized and were obediently studying God’s Word. Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit. Professing their ignorance of the Holy Spirit, he asked these disciples of what significance had they been baptized. They replied of their obeying the teaching of John the Baptist. Paul then explained fully the teachings of John that repentance toward God was proper but trusting the Lord Jesus Christ was more important than that baptism acknowledging repentance. Faith in Christ was shown as essential to receiving the Holy Spirit. Repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the essence of the new birth. It has nothing to do with water. It is entirely spiritual. Jesus explained this to Nicodemus in John, chapter 3. The water spoken of in that passage was clearly understood by Nicodemus to refer to physical birth.
In every instance of baptism in the New Testament, after the Resurrection, people first repented and trusted Christ and afterwards were baptized in water to show identification and obedience. Not once can it be proven that baptism was given to one whom had NOT repented and trusted Christ. That repenting and trusting happened in Acts 2, at Pentecost; in Acts 8, with Saul (later named Paul), as well as the Ethiopian eunuch; Acts 10, with Cornelius; Acts 16, with the Philippian jailer; and Acts 19, which we have just described.
In every instance of baptism in the New Testament, it is unmistakable that full immersion was practiced. Some would explain the meaning of the Greek word to mean “dunk.” Without going into the history of why “baptize” was transliterated into English, we have clear understanding as to the Biblical mode of this symbolic gesture.
The reality of the new birth places a person, by repentance and faith, into Christ. This placement includes the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer. This is a time in which a person KNOWS his sins are forgiven. There is a peace that passes all understanding. The security of being IN Christ dispels doubt and fear.
Now it is time to evaluate reality as it relates to symbolic gestures. “Not everyone talking about Heaven is going there,” a pastor used to say. Lip service is not enough. Solomon pleaded, “Give me thine heart.” The Lord of the Bible desires true fellowship with you. That can only happen, according to His Word, through repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. If you do that, it is a small point of obedience to follow the Lord in believer’s baptism. That demonstrates to all that know about it you have identified with Christ. Whether or not water baptism happens, you can know from God’s word that your sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit will bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.
What is your reality?