Thursday, March 5, 2009

Baptism, this is not a picture, it is a reality

Col. 2:8-15 (ESV)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. [9] For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, [10] and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. [11] 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, [12] 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. [13] 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, [14] by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. [15] He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

“In him you were circumcised… having been buried with him in baptism.” There are a couple things about this passage that need further attention. 1. Circumcision and baptism are all but equated here. This is a strong argument in favor of infant baptism. 2. Everything here is communicated as having happened to you in baptism. There is no symbolical language used here, no metaphor or simile.
A word about circumcision, It was an Old Testament sacrament imposed on 8 day old babies. No one questioned whether the babies believed or not, they were incorporated into God’s family. From there on out the father was expected to train the child up in the faith. If baptism is the circumcision of Christ, it makes sense that we would also baptize infants with the same understanding. We as parents have a duty to our children, a responsibility given to us from God. We are to baptize our children and bring them up in the faith.
I often hear parents say that they want it to be their child’s choice. Well for one thing your children are going to do what they are going to do when they get older anyway. But God does not tell you wait until your children can make a choice. He tells parents to bring their children up in the faith. So you baptize them, and teach them. You teach them the faith, first and foremost by going to church every Sunday. If the children don’t see it mattering to you, it won’t matter to them. You teach them by having family devotions. And you train them by sending them off to confirmation when they are old enough. This is the pattern in the Old Testament, and it is the pattern in the New Testament. The only thing that has changed is the means. No longer is it circumcision, but baptism.
A word about baptism, it is not symbolic. Christ does something to you when He baptizes you as John the Baptizer says: “with the Holy Spirit.” He gives you a circumcision without hands, a circumcision of the heart that puts off the flesh. In baptism you are buried with him, and this happens whether you are sprinkled or immersed. Baptism isn’t a picture, it is a reality. I am reminded of RenĂ© Magritte’s painting “The treason of Images” or “This is not a Pipe.” People are always saying baptism is supposed to be a picture. Well if it is a picture then it is not a reality. Baptism is much more than a picture, it is reality. Paul doesn’t say it symbolizes anything, he says it happens. In baptism you are circumcised, you are buried, and you are raised. You who were dead in your trespasses were made alive in Christ. So live!


Steve Martin said...


I am going to save this and use it on my blog.

If I could get away with it, I would post it, unchanged, every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Thanks, Bror!

Anonymous said...


That is so crucial, GREAT GREAT GREAT stuff. People, Baptist, use this verse, like John Piper, to bifurcate the physical circumcision/baptism on one side from spiritual circumcision/baptism on the other side. Then, they conclude, neither physical circumcision/baptism is anything but it is the spiritual circumcision/baptism that counts. But they miss what Paul is saying, he’s basically doing what Luther did to “ex opere operato” baptism and defining it per Scripture. It’s not “doing the work” that is anything but that baptism is the WORK of God. Baptist especially so bifurcate physical circumcision/baptism from spiritual circumcision/baptism that the former is nothing and you go off hunting in the darkness above high and ascended for that “spiritual” baptism. Of course that “spiritual” never really touches your earthly body so you have to figure out and formulate what that is, almost like trying to hear a “voice in your head”.

The GREAT irony of all this is when they unhinge the physical circumcision/baptism from the spiritual circumcision/baptism, they then re-hinge the spiritual circumcision/baptism to some other earthly tangible. Because we need a tangible to know it is for me, God that is. So it will be re-hinged to an experience, a small still voice, a sign, I even saw one family member go be rebaptized because they saw a sign, a tangible physical thing when a book they were reading fell open and on the page in the text somewhere was the word “baptism”. But there’s no Word from God on all these other lofty airy things nor physical things. I have no promise from God when my heart flutters, or I happen to see a falling star when I’m asking the question should I be rebaptized or not, or if I ‘flip a coin’ on the matter.

That’s the sad irony, they think they have a more spiritual understanding but they cannot escape anymore than we can the need for our physical weakness to have a real “touch” as it where from God in the earthly realm. My wife can say she loves me and I believe her, but nothing replaces that warm hand on my shoulder, a kiss or a huge. The warmth of God’s love for us is NEVER more dear than in baptism on me, and eating and drinking the bread and wine which is His body and blood where he said, “I love you”. In a cold world of sin and death, my own death and ours that is near as our bodies age and die, the sacraments are treasures beyond measure and they are free but you can hardly give them away.