The Baptismal Waters are Against You :: Jesus is For You

In baptism, water is NOT for you, it is against you

In the serenity of a quiet chapel, the baptismal pool looks like a cleansing pond for the religious seeker.  However, such a sanguine sentiment is deceiving, because as the Bible paints the scenery, baptismal waters run blood red.  Unsure?  Compare the historical account of the Red Sea (esp. Exod 14:30-31) with Paul’s description, the baptism of Moses (1 Cor 10:2). 

In other words, the imagery of baptism is not simply a cleansing ablution for sins, it is a violent picture of death and resurrection.  Thus, in baptism, water is not the instrument of salvation and cleansing, it is the instrument of judgment.  Water is not what saves us.  Instead, Jesus saves us from water.  Baptism is the testimony to God for what he has already effected in our lives.  As 1 Peter 3: 20 says, it is ‘an appeal to God for a good conscience.’ 

Now, with that said, it must be admitted that baptism has been portrayed in divergent ways and is explained alternatively by many different traditions, but it seems that to understand baptism rightly, we must start with the first baptism—Noah’s ‘baptism’ (Gen 6-9), for our baptism ‘corresponds’ to his (1 Pet 3:20).  Moving from Genesis 6 onward, there is a common stream.  From Noah until now, God’s people have been brought safely through water. 

Noah and his family are the prototypical example, where Noah is a type of the greater savior, Jesus Christ, and his family picture all those who find safe passage through the judgment waters.  Likewise, Moses was put into an ark, sent adrift in the bloody waters of the Nile which devoured many of his kinsman, and yet rescued from the waters when an Egyptian princess took pity on him (Exod 2).  Later Moses led Israel through the Red Sea, waters that destroyed Pharaoh’s army and yet saved the people of YHWH.  

The story of God parting the waters of judgment for his people is reduplicated as Joshua leads Israel into the promised land (Josh 3-4), while the Psalms recount the way God hears his people in the flood. Psalm 69:1-3 begins:

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. 
I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

Psalm 93:3-4 echoes:

The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!

 Against the backdrop of the ancient Near East where water was perceived as chaotic, unsettled, and evil, the home of the Leviathan and the sea monsters, God’s word shows that YHWH sits above the floods and promises to bring his people through the pernicious waves.  In fact, as the Bible moves from Exodus to Exile, Isaiah recounts the way in which YHWH leads his people through the waters:

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Still in the OT, Jonah is saved from the suffocating waters through his personal demise and resurrection, namely by being swallowed by a great fish and being spit out on dry ground again (1:17-2:10).  Though it is easy to make Jonah’s demise dependent on the fish, it is really the waters that threaten his life (2:1-9).  The fish is God’s means of protection for Jonah and the people of Nineveh.  From the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed to the Lord of salvation (2:9) to save him from the waters of destruction (2:3, 5). 

And finally, in the NT, Jesus’ death and resurrection are explained by Jonah’s watery ordeal (Matt 12:38-41).  Jesus himself undergoes a baptism in the wilderness to identify himself with his people (Matt 3:13-17), and describes his own death as a baptism he must undergo (Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50).  Finally, the command to make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a command for disciples to identify themselves with Jesus as the one who can make safe passage for them through the waters of baptism.

So, in looking across the pages of the Bible, we learn that the waters of baptism do not save us, rather God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ save us from the waters that threaten to suffocate us.  In this way, Peter can write, “Eight persons, were brought safely through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3:20-21). 

Therefore, baptism is defined not by postapostolic practices, liturgical traditions, or misgivings about the meaning of baptism—though I do think it means, immerse—baptism is instead the singular experience of all people saved by God.  It is our ‘one baptism’ (Eph 4:5).  And it shows us that in baptism, the waters of God’s judgment rage against us, just like they did in the Flood, but that like Noah, we have a captain of our salvation who through blood, not water, made a way for us to find safe passage through judgment (cf Heb 10:19-25).

In the end, God’s word tells us that at the end of the age, the sea will give up there dead and that the sea will be no more, meaning that the chaotic, life-taking waters of this age will be no more.  Only the waters of life will flow.  This is our future hope, one that we anticipate with eagerness.  

Today, however, the waters still churn and swallow up all those who clutch there own sinking boats.   Life jackets and insurance packages won’t stand against the the tide of God’s coming judgment.  Material things cannot keep us afloat; and faulty works-based religion won’t keep us safe.   But there is a way.  Jesus Christ, like Noah, has made an ark–not out of wood, but out of his one flesh– to save all those who look to him.  And all those who look to him and make appeal to him for a good conscience will find salvation and safe passage through the water and the fire of God’s judgment. The water of baptism is not for us, but that’s okay, the Living Water is, if you will come to him.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Mystery of Marriage: A Quasi-Ordinance

[This is a follow-up post from The Mystery of Marriage: A Parable of Christ and Church  which reflected on George Knight’s article on Ephesians 5 in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991], 175-76)].

From the foundation of the world, marriage was always designed to picture a greater reality.  Generation after generation of God’s covenant people knew of his marital designs and creation, but only in the fullness of time, as Jesus Christ came in the flesh and the Spirit of Christ inspired the apostles to elucidate the gospel of Jesus Christ, did the mystery of husband and wife become known.  Consider Knight’s concluding remarks:

But if this is so, then the order Paul is speaking of here (submission and love [in Ephesians 5:22-33]) is not accidental or temporary or culturally determined: it is part of the essence of marriage, part of God’s original plan for perfect, sinless, harmonious marriage.  This is a powerful argument for the fact that Christlike, loving headship and church-like, willing submission are rooted in creation and in God’s eternal purposes, not just in the passing trends of culture (176).

In our foolish and anti-Christ(ian) world, there are countless marriages that exist in rebellion against the very purpose for which they were designed.  God made marriage for his glory and the expression his covenant love with his bride, redeemed humanity.  Consequently, the establishment of marriage in Genesis 2 was intended to tesify to this reality. 

Today, unbelievers experience the mystery of marriage, but without knowing how to understand it.  They are blind to its salvific and cosmic significance.  Too non-Christian marriages are drenched in bitterness and guile, because unmitigated sin gnaws at their covenantal bond.  But unbelievers are not alone.  Christian marriages war against God’s design for marriage whenever they cast aside God’s intended order for husbands and wives (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7; Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).  This can be done by deliberate egalitarianism or by immature believers in need of marital sanctification.  Either way, in failing to recognize God’s wise design for husbands to lead and wives to follow, for men to love like Christ and women to submit like the church, they are dishonoring the Word of God, disobeying the Lord who bought them, and distorting God’s picture of salvation captured in the parable of marriage. 

God’s illustrative purposes for marriage is what makes it a mystery.  Just as the heavens testify to the glory of God, so marriage captures something of his grandeur–something that is seen in the best of marriages, to be sure.  Likewise, as baptism and the Lord’s supper resemble the salvation of Christ’s disciples, so marriage images something about Christ and the church.  In this way, marriage is a kind of quasi-ordinance.  It is not restricted to the church; it is rather for all people.  Yet, in its global enjoyment it testifies to heavenly realities and God’s cosmic plan of redemption in Christ.  In this way, marriage is perhaps one of the largest and potentially broadest means of sharing the gospel, as marriage itself can be called upon to witness to Christ and the church.  The impact of marriage biblically arranged and gloriously incarnated has great evangelistic potential.  Soberly, couples that disregard God’s word concerning marriage, cannot have such effect. 

God’s designs are not new, they are from before the foundation of the world.  Neither is Satan’s attack on marriage.  He attacked Eve in the Garden and he is still advancing towards marriages today.  May we who love the gospel and the biblical vision for marriage, fight to protect our homes from the corrosive effects of an anti-marriage culture, and may we by the power of the Spirit embrace and embody God’s glorious designs for marriage.  So that perhaps, the world around us might come to know Christ by the testimony of our marriages which point to the message we proclaim–Jesus Christ is Lord!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Complementarian Task: Marriage, Gender Roles, and the Great Commission (pt. 2)

Yesterday, we considered the biblical theological continuity and discontinuity of the creational imperatives of ruling and bearing children and how they are picked up in Jesus’ Great Commission.  I concluded by asking how gender roles in marriage impact the presentation and the proclamation of the gospel.  In other words, I wanted to get at how gender roles in marriage interact with the Great Commission.   Are they necessary for the discipling of the nations in such a way that if abandoned the message of salvation would be distorted or denied?  Or are they merely inconsequential components that actually impede the progress of the gospel?   Would it be better to “get over” issues of gender so that we can reach the plethora of egalitarian socities that are resistant to the gospel?  Which is it? Surely Scripture which in its opening chapter distinguishes male and female has something to say about the matter. 

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman” (1 Cor. 11:2).  Just as Peter says, “wives, be submissive to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1ff), commending them to be daughters of Sarah who showed her husband respect and deference by calling him “lord.”  “Likewise, husbands, live with your wifes in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).  Even if the world lives to turn the Bible on its head and rejects these teachings in passionate unbelief, the Scriptural portrait is undeniable.  Men and women are equal, yet distinct.  Both made in the image of God, they are co-heirs; nevertheless in their roles and natural relations they are different.  Husbands are to lead and wives are to help.   This is the original pattern, and this is the restored relationship in the plan of redemption.  The man’s good works are uniquely masculine, while the woman also displays a particular feminine conformity into the image of Christ.  And in the Great Commission, these roles are not to be undermined.  Rather as mutually distinctive partners, husbands and wives, can, should, and must complement one another in the work, not compete for one another’s place of service.  Douglas Wilson writes about this in his book, Reforming Marriage:

A husband and wife are not to be shoulder-to-shoulder, marching off to work at the task together. Nor are they both to be home all the time, face-to-face, eternally and perpetually ‘in love.’ Rather, with both man and woman understanding their respective roles, he faces his future and calling under God, and she, by his side, faces him (Doug Wilson, 66).

The point is, Jesus’ Great Commision is not a sex-less enterprise. Rising from the dust of the original imperative to be fruitful and multiply, it is not to be accomplished by androgynous disciples; rather, it is to be fulfilled by redeemed men and women who are shaped by the Spirit into distinctly masculine and feminine representives of the kingdom. Paul commends this in Titus 2 when he instructs older women to teach younger women and older men to model the faith before younger men (cf. 2:1-10).  Though cross-gender evangelism is frequent and fruitful, this is not the same thing as biblical discipleship.  Men need godly men to whom they can pattern their lives, and women need mature females to train them in domestic holiness.

Likewise, we who claim the name of Christ must realize that the evangelistic task is not simply about winning disconnected individuals to the Lord, though many will come on their own (Matt. 10:34-36), but to see the families of the nations (Ps. 22:27)–men, women, and children–saved and adopted into the family of faith.   When this happens, relationships are built, roles are revived, the household of God flourishes, and the glory of the gospel is seen.  The gospel then does more than give eternal life to the transexual male who flees from their former lifestyle, it completes its task by “restor[ing] the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:6).  Likewise, the gospel’s witness and effect is not only seen in that it redeems the soul of a pro-choice prostitute, it also dignifies that woman’s choice to become a mother, so that she may be saved through child-bearing as she “continue[s] in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint” (1 Tim. 2:15).  Here we are not talking about the rudiments of the gospel–what must be believed–but the effects.  The gospel is seen in the transformed lives of men and women (cf. James 2:14ff, not coincidentally James includes a man and a woman in his illustration–Abraham and Rahab).

This kind of specific gospel transformation can only take place when gender roles are upheld.  Moreover, the Great Commission can only have its true effect when the nations obey all Scripture has to say about men and women’s roles.  This can take place in the jungle tribe that forsakes polygamy to conform their marriages into unions that resemble Christ and the church, or it can take place in the urban jungle where a young married couple decides against the pill and to pursue a family in a culture that normalizes two-person incomes.  In his wisdom, God designed his Spirit-indwelt children to find gender-specifc niches in his family–as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters–and in doing this the Great Commission is advanced.  To neglect this is to reject the whole counself of Scripture and the need to rightly reflect in our marriages and homes the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is not optional, but absolutely essential.

Focusing on the need for marital conformity to the Great Commission is instructive because it calls Christian husbands and wives to consider their marital orientation and to ask, “How are we fulfilling the Great Commission?” For those who are married, this must be the central aim of their marriages. It must become the one thing that sets the agenda for everything else. Truly, this is a high and holy calling and one impossible without the Spirit, but then again, why should we settle for anything less?  Jesus promised to all those who believe in him, that he would come and live within them, until the end of the age, and that by his Spirit we would be bold witnesses (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).  This is the promise that accompanies the command to be worldwide witnesses. This reality is true personally and in marriage.

May the Spirit of Christ be pleased to grant us grace and wisdom to fulfill the task of winning the nations, through husbands who lead their families to love the kingdom of Christ and wives who come alongside their men to help accomplish the task.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss