John 4:1 NLT - Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John [the Baptist]…
Colossians 2:9-14 NLT - For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. 10 So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. 13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.
For thousands of years, the Circumcision Covenant (Brit Milah, or “bris”) has been among the most important events in Jewish life. In the words of Jewish Rabbi and Mohel (official circumcision professional), Yehoshua Fromowitz, “More than any other Jewish ritual, the Bris Milah (Covenant of Circumcision) represents Jewish identity. The circumcision, a permanent mark in the male organ of procreation, is performed as a symbol of our commitment to transmit our values to the next generation.”
However, as non-Jewish believers in the Messiah (The Lord Jesus) came flooding into the church, there was controversy over whether surgical circumcision was essential to be saved. While the apostles (culminating at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15) ruled that physical circumcision was NOT required for New Testament salvation, they also realized that the Circumcision Covenant truly symbolized a New Testament reality. In Colossians 2, water baptism into the name of Jesus Christ is indicated to be “The Circumcision of Christ” - a sign of covenant relationship with God that is open to both males and females. Given that the apostles were all VERY Jewish, the importance of the Circumcision Covenant can be missed by those of us who are modern Gentile Christians. Remember, the Circumcision Covenant was given by God to Abraham before the Law of Moses, so it predated the Old Covenant Law that was replaced by the New Covenant of Grace. So water baptism to the apostles was not simply some religious ritual. I believe it was more than simply “going public” with one’s faith in Christ. I honor all who respond to calls of “I have decided” on “Baptism Sundays” (I’m not against these at all), but in the early church’s heavily-Jewish culture, the idea of circumcision carried a deep spiritual reality of God welcoming a believer into receiving the physical sign of a new covenant relationship. As authors Frank Viola and George Barna rightly noted, baptism WAS the early church version of “the sinner’s prayer! In Scripture, when someone became a Christian, they were baptized. Period. No delay. There is no such thing in the Bible as an unbaptized Christian. The roots of circumcision go back to the first book of the Bible:
Genesis 17:9-11 NLT - Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. 10 This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. 11 You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you.”
God commanded a physical sign of His covenant with His people by way of male circumcision. Since this symbolized the Circumcision of Christ, how seriously should we take the importance of water baptism for all who truly believe the Gospel and turn to God in life-changing repentance? Yet consider this:
Genesis 15:6 NLT - And Abram [later called “Abraham”] believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.
Abraham received the sign of circumcision in Genesis 17, but God had already counted Him righteous (justification by faith) in Genesis 15. More than likely, this statement simply reaffirmed what was true of Abraham in Genesis 12 when he obediently believed God and left his father’s household and homeland to go to the Promised Land of Canaan.
Is water baptism a normative Christian practice? Absolutely. Yet, if we are to apply the symbolism of Abraham and circumcision consistently - we must agree that Abraham was justified and cleansed from his sin before he was ever circumcised. If that be the case, then it stands to reason that believers in Christ are similarly justified by faith and cleansed of their sins prior to entering into the waters of baptism. Yet baptism in the New Testament was so closely associated with faith and repentance as to be inseparable!
It wasn’t as though you could believe the Gospel then get around one day to repenting of your sins, and then one day - maybe around Easter or Christmas, you’d choose to get baptized. No. Faith-repentance-baptism were closely interconnected (See Acts 2:37-28). To become a true believer and not get baptized into Christ would be as nonsensical and unthinkable in the New Testament Church era as it would be for a true Jew to refuse the Brit Milah. Yet because faith is the only thing that validates New Testament baptism (according to Jesus Himself), the Circumcision of Christ is for believers not babies. There is no New Testament record of baptizing babies, only believers. But does the New Testament indicate forgiveness of sin before entering the circumcision covenant or are sins forgiven by the act of baptism? 1 Peter 3, Acts 2, and Acts 22 all seem to indicate Christian baptism itself washes away sin. Is that because of the act of water baptism does it or because of God’s response to genuine faith that immediately leads true believers to get baptized? Consider the possible implications about baptism in Romans 4:
Romans 4:7-11a NLT - “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. 8 Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.” 9 Now, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it also for uncircumcised Gentiles? Well, we have been saying that Abraham was counted as righteous by God because of his faith. 10 But how did this happen? Was he counted as righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised! 11 Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised…
If the Abrahamic Circumcision Covenant is a type of New Testament water baptism (which Colossians indicates), then we may deduce that people are accepted by God, cleansed of sin, and justified by true faith prior to their baptism. However, just as refusal to accept circumcision in Abraham’s day would have been a fatal indicator of unbelief and a breaking of the holy covenant, so also would a willful refusal to be baptized by one who claimed to be a true follower of Christ. Setting aside for the moment the difficult instances of deathbed-ICU conversions, infant mortality, or the status of the mentally impaired, the New Testament teaching (see 1 Peter 3:20-21, Acts 2:38, etc.) intimately ties baptism to one’s salvation BECAUSE it is how we receive the covenant sign from God and identify with Jesus Christ as the Lord. To refuse circumcision was to refuse God’s covenant. So how would one justify a willful refusal of New Testament baptism and expect to have saving faith in Christ? In Exodus 4, God was in the process of killing Moses for refusing to baptize his sons! Even after sending Moses to Pharaoh! Even after giving Moses miracles to perform! Moses’s life was spared because his wife quickly circumcised his sons. Apparently the sign of God’s covenant is NOT unimportant. And because baptism is not simply a ritual or a way to count new church members on a roll, Scripture clearly indicates that basic repentance - a change of heart, mind, direction, way of life - will occur before someone is water baptized. It’s pointless to turn to the waters of baptism if one has not turned away from sin and self-will, turning toward God and the Gospel with a life commitment. Yet there are Christians today who think baptism is optional, unimportant, or at least not that big a deal in terms of one’s spiritual state, often quoting the Apostle Paul:
1 Corinthians 1:17 ESV - For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
In the words of apologist Greg Koukl, never read a Bible verse…alone, apart from its context. What is the context of 1 Corinthians 1:17 communicating about water baptism? Consider:
1 Corinthians 1:12-17 ESV - What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
In other words, Paul’s main purpose was not to be the proverbial “Mohel” who simply “circumcises” (baptizes) every new believer entering into the New Covenant, but to establish the truth of the New Covenant by his apostolic preaching and authoritative Bible teaching over the church at Corinth. Q: What does 1 Corinthians 1:13 assume as a given fact? A: That every believer in the Corinthian church had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ! Rather than verse 17 downplaying the importance of Christian baptism, the context establishes that water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is the New Testament norm for all believers.
Colossians 2:9-12 NLT - For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. 10 So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
Interestingly, when the Jewish baby boy is brought into the bris ceremony for circumcision, the blessing is uttered, “Baruch Ha-Ba!” Blessed is he who has arrived! So likewise, when one turns to the Lord Jesus in genuine faith, the church welcomes him into the covenant community of Christ through the waters of baptism. Blessed is he who has arrived! Have you arrived at the Circumcision of Christ yet? Will you likewise enter the covenant and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus? Baruch Ha-Ba!
Acts 10:48a ESV - And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.