Pay attention to verb tenses; they literally spell the difference between life and death. Consider the following passage: “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6.17-18). Paul was not thanking God that the Roman believers had been sinners; he was thanking God that they had become believers in spite of their past!
Obedience to the first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is essential if one is to put off the old man of sin and become a new creature. The obedience that saves is not merely a form, but it certainly involves a form. The form which must be obeyed in order to out off the old man and to put on the new is identified right in the immediate context of the passage just quoted. Looking back a few verses, we quote, “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. 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.” (Romans 6.3-6).
The form of doctrine which the Romans had obeyed was depicted in their baptism (immersion). Baptism itself is similar to at least three salient facts of the gospel. Jesus died; when the believer repents, he dies to the practice of sin. Jesus was buried; when the believer is buried in the watery grave of baptism, he emulates that self-same burial. Jesus arose; the believer arises from the waters of baptism to the new life that is his as a result of his obedience to the gospel. This form did not originate with man; it originated in the very throne room of God and was subsequently handed down for us to obey from the heart. When we emulate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, we accept the terms of the gospel and enter into covenant relationship with Him and His Father.
It is unfortunate that many have maligned the practice of baptism to the extent that it no longer occupies its God-given place in the scheme of redemption. Some have even gone so far as to belittle the fact that God requires obedience from the heart and have referred to this beautiful act as “water salvation.” However, the question comes now, “Is man saved by water?” The answer is both yes and no. He is saved by water IF he is baptized in humble obedience to God’s command to do so, and if he does so “for the remission of sins” (see Acts 2.38). If a man is immersed for the wrong reasons, it is not obedience from the heart and it has no efficacy to it at all. Peter clearly affirmed that we are saved by baptism when he wrote, “There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3.21).
Obedience from the heart to the delivered form of doctrine is the point in time at which man is saved from his past sins; however, it is the work of God and not the works of men that saves. Baptism is a passive act done to or performed upon the person of the submissive believer. It is there that the blood of Jesus comes into contact with our sin-stained souls and those sins are washed away. That form is the same form of doctrine that Paul obeyed and which he admonishes everyone else to obey! While in a penitent believing state, Saul was told to “arise and be baptized and wash away…” his sins (Acts 22.16). That is what the Roman believers did; that is what Paul desires of us – Obedience from the Heart!
1. Does baptism save (see 1 Peter 3.21)? Must one obey from the heart in order to be saved?
2. What is the “form” to which the Romans had been obedient (see Romans 6.3-4)?”
3. When a penitent believer submits to baptism, is he passive or active? Whose work is done in being baptized, man’s or God’s?
4. Why was Paul told to arise and be baptized (Acts 22.16)?
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