Baptism and an Illustration from Marriage
By Kyle Pope
In the debate that has gone on for years with the religious world over
baptism a common stumbling-block for many has been the matter of salvation by
grace versus salvation by merit. Here is the issue: “If baptism is
necessary for salvation, how is it that God saves us
and not our own “work” of salvation?” While doing some
study on the subject of marriage I thought of the following illustration which
I believe addresses this.
From what the Bible teaches marriage is
something that occurs on two levels: what man does and what God does. The book
of Malachi speaks of a man’s wife as his “wife by
covenant” (Malachi 2:14). This part of the marriage union depends
upon man. It is he who chooses a mate, then chooses to —“leave
his father and mother and be joined to his wife” (Genesis 2:24). This
“joining” refers to whatever the recognized custom is for
identifying those who are and who are not married. In our culture it involves a
marriage license, the exchange of vows and witnesses. In other cultures it may
involve the giving of a dowry, jumping over a broom or simply declaring to the
village elders the intention to be husband and wife.
On the other hand, the Bible also tells us
that there is something in marriage that God alone does. Malachi 2:14 tells us “the
Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth.” In the
next verse, the text goes on to declare what God does when such a
covenant is made is to “make them one” (2:15). This Divine
part of the relationship is such that the adulterous wife is one “who
forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God” (Proverbs
2:17). Jesus echoes this truth when he commands “what God has joined
together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). While man cannot
“make” God join him to a wife, when two people who have the right
to marry enter into a civil covenant with one another, God witnesses it and
joins them together Himself.
How does all this relate to baptism? Baptism, is much like the civil covenant that pronounces a
marriage between a man and a woman. It is our choice to be baptized or not, but
when we are the Bible tells us that we are “baptized into Christ
Jesus” (Romans 6:3). Is this a deed that merits salvation? No. No
more than a marriage ceremony makes God join a man and a wife.
To extend the illustration a bit further, are
there ever times when two people join themselves yet God does not join them?
Absolutely! Such is the case with homosexual unions, polygamous unions,
incestuous unions or adulterous unions. In the same way, baptism doesn’t
make God save anyone! If a person is dunked in the water without true faith and
repentance they are engaged in a meaningless ritual. By the same token, if two
people simply commit themselves to one another without the authority of a civil
union (however simple or complex this may be) are they joined by God? No No more than a person who simply
makes a mental commitment to accept Jesus as Lord is saved!
Baptism is not a magical, mystical experience.
Its power rests in what God has accomplished in Christ. Yet, baptism is
something that God has commanded for any who would come to Him. Unlike a
marriage ceremony, whose procedures can be dictated by law and social custom,
God has proscribed the specific manner and purpose of baptism. Baptism is to be
“for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38) by which you may “wash
away your sins” (Acts 22:16) be “buried with Him” (implying
immersion) in baptism” (Colossians 2:12) and “put on
Christ” (Galatians 3:27). It is presumptuous indeed to imagine that
one can teach that it is not necessary and not face judgment for such
To all who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son
of God I say to you it is your duty to act upon your faith by submitting to
Scriptural baptism. Just as God views those who live together without the
sanction of legal marriage as fornicators (Hebrews 13:4 & John 4:18) will
He not view those who believe in His Son yet refuse baptism for the remission
of sins as alien sinners (Matthew 7:21-23)? In love we implore you to think
about these things.