Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, But Godliness Comes First

In the Introduction, I mentioned what Jesus said in John 8:32, which is that if one knows (experientially) the truth, it will set him free. The obvious converse to that succinct truth is that if one believes and practices error, it puts him in some degree of bondage. Scripture makes it clear that each human being lives in a war zone. There is a war in progress between God and Satan, and the chief weapon used by both sides is words. God gives us His Word, and Satan counterfeits and distorts it.

God wants people to know the truth and be free, and Satan wants to obscure the truth from people and keep them in bondage. His goal is always to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). One way he does this is by blinding people’s minds to “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). If it is true that water baptism is irrelevant to Christians and not prescribed in Scripture for us, then any teaching to the contrary must have its roots in error. Relevant questions to ask might be: “Why would the Enemy want Christians to think that water baptism is either required or pertinent?” “What is he trying to steal from us?”

I think part of the answer to those questions lies in the fact that a chief element of the “gospel of the glory of Christ” is that because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, each Christian stands righteous before God by faith alone. There is no particular merit in our faith; there is merit on the part of Jesus Christ in what he accomplished for us. His work made it possible for us to simply trust in him and receive salvation as a free gift, and that goes against the grain of our fallen nature that craves inordinate recognition from God, and from other people, for our good works. Our sin nature also craves ritual as an avenue to feeling good about ourselves before God and others. By emphasizing the ritual of baptism in water, Satan tries to steal our focus from the fact that salvation and the holy spirit are free gifts acquired by faith.

In light of what we have seen from the Word of God as to the holy spirit baptism that each person in the Church Administration receives in the gift of salvation, where does that leave water baptism? Biblically, the logical conclusion is that water baptism is at best superfluous and at worst a fleshly work by which one hopes to stand approved before God and people. Is it a sin? No, but it is a sin to teach that water baptism is a requirement for salvation and membership in the Church, which is the Body of Christ. And because God’s Word does not say that it is at all pertinent to or necessary for a Christian, then it must be somehow detrimental to the quality of one’s life to teach him that it is a “symbolic public act” or a “proclamation of faith” prescribed by Scripture.

Another thing that Satan steals from the Church by the ritual of water baptism is our Christian unity. One needs only to read the history books to see the disunity, dissension, and even wars that have been fought about water baptism. Why so much variation in denominational doctrines about baptism? Because the Church Epistles have no instruction about it. So denominations must make up their own rules and regulations, and then they eventually argue about whose rules are correct. The reason there is no instruction about it in Scripture is that water baptism is “out” and holy spirit baptism is “in,” and the instructions for being baptized into holy spirit are the same as for getting saved, that is, “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Rom. 10:9).

In the Law of Moses, there were many regulations about washing and cleansing, but with the baptism in holy spirit it does not matter how you get saved, when you get saved, who got you to the point of salvation (priest or commoner, saint or sinner) or what age you are when you get saved. There is nothing to fight about, everyone is blessed that someone got saved and is now fully immersed in the gift of holy spirit.

Still another thing that gets stolen from the Church by the distracting focus on water baptism is the witness to the world of a unified Church. This relates to the point above, but it is separate and valid. Jesus said that people would know who his disciples are by their love for one another. Yet, the Protestant Reformation was characterized by the Roman Catholic Church torturing and murdering many people because they did not baptize in the “right way.” For centuries, the Church had propounded infant baptism, and, in the early years of the Reformation, baptism of adults at the time of their conversion to Christ was considered an extreme heresy, even though it is completely accepted today. Those who had the audacity to baptize an adult at the time of his conversion were occasionally punished by death, and sometimes that sentence was carried out by drowning. Alan Eyre writes on the history of the Reformation:

His Gruningen [a town in Switzerland] brethren and sisters suffered grievously a few months later and many of them were drowned. This method of execution was intended as a mockery of their Baptist practices: Zwingli laconically called it “their third baptism.” [1]

It is horrifying to modern Christians that good and decent people were drowned simply because they immersed themselves in water when they were adults rather than had water sprinkled on them when they were babies, but that is what happened. Unfortunately, modern Christians are not the only ones horrified. Non-Christians are hardly drawn to Christ by such displays, and even though we are not killing one another over the when’s, why’s, and how’s of baptism today, division in the Church about it has an unfavorable impact. The way to stop the influence of error in the field of baptism is to get back to what the Bible actually says. We must discover what the proper doctrine is, then believe it and practice it. In the case of baptism, that means we leave water baptism behind and focus on the full immersion we have in the gift of holy spirit, with all its inherent potential to empower.

Let us close this study with a fabulous passage of Scripture that embodies many of the truths we have seen so far. Allow these words of life to wash over your heart as you read.

Titus 3:3-8
(3) At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.
(4) But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,
(5) he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit [holy spirit],
(6) whom [which] he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,
(7) so that, having become justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life [life in the coming age].
(8) This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Please allow me to offer a perhaps grossly literal rendering of the above verses that I think colloquially captures the truth therein:

Once upon a time we were out to lunch in the wrong restaurant with no menu. Our street address was “Nowhere.” Unable to find anyone among us to do the job of saving us, God took pity on us and had a Son whom He asked to do it. Being dead in sin, we were unemployed, producing nothing and needing God’s welfare. He picked us up out of the gutter, scrubbed us with His guaranteed-to-whiten cleanser, and rinsed us “throughly” with the living water of His holy spirit that bubbled up through Jesus Christ. He is the fountain through whom God did all this, and now we can always drink all we want. Now we have a clean slate, and we are looking forward to cashing in on our inheritance when Jesus shows up for us. Until the big day, we had best get busy doing all we can to show our gratitude by using what God has given us so that everyone around us can benefit.

Yes, water is essential for physical life, but not for spiritual life. What is really essential is the living water of God’s gift of holy spirit that the Lord Jesus Christ once received from his Father and now lavishly pours out upon each person who chooses to believe in him. That living water not only gives each Christian life once and for all, but it can also quench our thirst each day as we walk with him through a dry and parched world where countless people are dying of thirst. As the one and only spring of living water, Jesus has poured into our hearts the very life of God.

Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus can experience the absolute proof that this spring is within him and that it will never dry up. Not only is it a spring that guarantees us life in the coming age, it is also a fountain of blessing on a daily basis: a spring of love, joy, peace, guidance, understanding, revelation, wisdom, and healing. As we drink of this living water, we are energized to go forth and lead others to this fountain of life. With the spirit of God in our hearts and the Word of God in our minds and on our lips, we can go to those wasting away in spiritual deserts and guide them to the living water that will truly quench their thirst—the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


[1] Alan Eyre, The Protestors (Billing and Sons Limited, Worchester, Great Britain, 1985, p. 49).

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