Appendix A, Section 1 of our By-Laws states the following:
1. In a broad sense, ordinances may be defined as “institutions of divine authority relating to the worship of God”. In that sense, the institutions of preaching and hearing the Word, praying, singing, fasting, and giving of thanks may be considered ordinances. In a narrower and more distinctive sense, two Christian ordinances have been committed to the church for perpetual observance, namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There is no efficacy in these two ordinances since they do not work grace or produce spiritual operations in the participant. They are, rather, the symbols of the new covenant and are outward signs of inward grace and spiritual operations. They were established by Christ and it is He who commanded their observance. New Testament teaching is clear by instruction and example that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are to be administered only to those who have exercised and professed a saving faith in Christ.
Section 2 goes on to say:
1. Baptism is an act of obedience on the part of a believer. This is in keeping with New Testament instruction that belief or repentance should be followed by baptism (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38,41; Acts 8:13; Acts 22:16; Ephesians 4:5). Further, it is a visible sign of union with Christ or “badge of discipleship” and, as such, may not be administered in private.
2. The person requesting baptism shall be examined by the elders to determine whether proper grounds for such a baptism exists. A credible profession of faith, evidence of conversion and godly living, and an understanding of the significance of the baptism ordinance should be present in the candidate.
A. the institution
One of Jesus’ final acts before returning to his Father in glory was to commission his disciples on the basis of the authority granted to him by his Father, charging them with the task of continuing his work as his ambassadors to the world. It was at this time that Jesus established the ordinance of baptism:
Baptism is an Ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party Baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death, and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ to live and walk in newness of Life. Philadelphia Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 30, Paragraph 1
It was Jesus’ intent as shown by their example, that this “sign of fellowship with him” should be given to all who have that relationship, not only during the apostles’ lifetime but even until the return of Christ. As is clear from the words of the institution, disciples are the intended recipient of the ordinance as an outward sign of an inward reality.
As members of the New Covenant Jer_31:31-34 – those who have new hearts of flesh responsive to God and his truth Eze_36:26, whose minds and hearts are governed by God’s law, whose sins have been forgiven by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ himself – we all ought out of obedience to his command to go through the waters of baptism as a believer, a disciple of the Lord Jesus.
B. the sign of a disciple
Webster – disciple: A follower; an adherent to the doctrines of another. Hence the constant attendants of Christ were called his disciples; and hence all Christians are called his disciples, as they profess to learn and receive his doctrines and precepts.
How did Christ himself describe those who are true followers of him? See Luk_9:23-27
1. deny self
The first call is to say “No” to self, to become a slave of Christ and under his command. Jesus himself said that no one can serve more than one master; just as no one can honestly and faithfully serve both God and stuff, so no one cam honestly and faithfully serve both Christ and self. The number one priority for a follower of Christ must be to obey and please the King, loving God with heart and soul and mind.
2. take up the cross daily
He calls us to identify with him and graciously endure whatever hardship, trials, or affliction God may put in our path. The motif here is a daily occurrence, not a simple act of signing on to a cause, but an ongoing conscious willingness to endure shame, pain and persecution even to death for the sake of Christ. By taking up the cross daily we are reminded of the fact that we as God’s children have been crucified with Christ, that self has died and it is Christ who lives in us. It is by what He accomplished on the cross and his ongoing ministry from heaven that we are enabled to live the life of faith that is pleasing to God. Gal_2:19-20
3. follow Christ
Luke and Matthew both (Mat_16:24-30) record Jesus’ emphasis on following Christ, following in his footsteps (7 times in Matthew alone). John in his first epistle declares that those who say they abide in Christ are to “walk just as he walked”. (1Jn_2:6) Jesus makes the point explicit; after he washed the disciples’ feet he told them, ” I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.” Joh_13:15 Peter tells us that Christ has left us “an example, that we should walk in his steps”. 1Pe_2:21 Peter also declared to Cornelius that Jesus “went about doing good and curing all who were under the tyranny of the Devil” Act_10:38. Following his example, obeying his commands, loving God and neighbor is what it means to follow Christ.
C. the things symbolized
1. death to sin
To die to sin is to renounce allegiance to our sinful selves, to no longer be allured by sinful activities; it is conscious refusal to encourage or engage in sinful behavior. In our identification with the death of Christ – by being baptized into his death – we acknowledge that it is through Christ’s death that the guilt of our sin is removed; it is through his death that we receive the power to overcome the pollution of sin. “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1Jn_1:9
2. burial with Christ
One commentator has said: Baptism doth not only represent our mortification and death to sin, but our progress and perseverance therein. Burial implies a continuing under death; so is mortification a continual dying unto sin. Poole That we have been buried with Christ is evident in our ongoing labor to sin less, to not continue practicing the sinful habits of our former life. For the child of God, the one who has been truly converted, it is impossible to continue living a sinful lifestyle; he will find it abhorrent and will do all in his power to avoid that which displeases his master. Our burial with Christ into death sets the stage for the third aspect of our salvation pictured in baptism.
3. raised to newness of life
The believer in Christ has been born again by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, has repented of his sin, turning away from sin and sinfulness to Christ and godliness, and spends the rest of his life really living. Eternal life begins at the moment of conversion; yes, we experience only some of its benefits this side of glory, but we do experience them in this life.
Just as Christ was raised from the dead, so the believer is resurrected from deadness in sin to newness of life, that is, a new kind of life. This radically new and different way of living is to be characteristic of our daily conduct as we daily take up our cross, having denied self, and follow Christ, no longer slaves to sin but slaves to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I trust all of us and particularly our two candidates this morning can pray as an old Puritan prayed:
“I long to fill all my time for thee,
whether at home or in the way;
to place all my concerns in thy hands;
to be entirely at thy disposal,
having no will or interest of my own.
Help me to live to thee forever,
to make thee my last and only end,
so that I may never more in one instance
love my sinful self.” Valley of Vision, Devotion