Only Jesus Christ – no if’s, no but’s (1)

Series title:  Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ

Scripture Readings

  • Ephesians 4:1-13
  • Colossians 2:9-15


Dear friends in the Lord,

Our series from Colossians goes under the heading “Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.”  We find terms like fulness, wisdom, understanding, every way, all power, all things, everything, glorious riches, all wisdom, perfect in Christ, all energy, full riches, complete understanding, all treasures, etc. are terms driving the message of this letter.  And these things point to Jesus Christ, the One perfect Saviour between God and us.  To know Him is life-changing; eternity depends on it.

Last week we looked at the necessity to grow in the knowledge of our Saviour.  This week we continue and examine the effect of a poor knowledge of Jesus Christ

The effect of a poor knowledge of who Christ is

Verse 8 spells out the devastation of a poor understanding of the Gospel.  It spells out the result of a church where people are in no position to defend the Gospel.  Let’s read:

 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

The language of this verse is very openly that of a struggle or battle.  This side is the truth, the other side is false gospel.  One is about Christ, the other is about the devil.  One is about light, the other is about darkness.  On one side the forces of the Gospel are gathered; on the other side the forces of darkness.  The fight is between two kingdoms:  the Kingdom of the Son of God’s love, the Crown Prince of the living God, against the kingdom of darkness, rules by the destroyer of souls.

Those gathered under the banner of Jesus Christ look at the cross where He defeated the powers of darkness.  His victory there is their victory.  Under his banner they march forth.  He is the head of every power and authority.  When they were baptised, they were baptised in Him; through faith they received all that belongs to Him sealed and signified in the sacrament.  Spiritually they rose with Christ from the dead by the power of God. They believe Him who raised Christ from the dead.

False doctrines 


Under those who joined the church in Colossae were people with Jewish background.  Judaism still dictated their theological thinking.  To become part of the people of God they taught that men had to be circumcised.  This was only one aspect of their teaching which became a problem in that church.  Next week we will look at other aspects of their teaching.

For these people the act of circumcision was the thing, and not as much as what it signified.  Right through the Old Testament God held the charge against Israel that they were uncircumcised in heart.  Moses warned the people:

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16, NIV)

The prophet Jeremiah delivered the Word of the Lord to the people:

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it. (Jeremiah 4:4, NIV)

Outwardly (ceremonially) they held to the practice but inwardly there was no sign of trust in God.  Paul writes about this:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. (Romans 2:28, NIV)

This is what Paul refers to in verse 8:  “these things depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.

When Paul addressed this problem in Colossae he pointed them to Christ:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9–10, NIV)

Now, we need to understand the following two verses very carefully.  Paul argues that the sign and ceremony which visibly made man part of the Old Testament people of God, circumcision, is replaced by something else, while what was spiritually required to become part of the covenant people still remains:  what remains is the act of God’s grace

which took away one’s sinful nature…  Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ (Colossians 2:11, NIV)

How did that happen?  God’s saving grace is seen only in Jesus Christ:

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NIV)

Listen carefully to this text.  What does it say?  Let’s take it apart, step by step.

  • We need a circumcision of the heart to become part of God’s family.
  • The circumcision we get is through the saving grace of God in Christ.  He circumcise us spiritually.
  • The salvation we need is in Him and is our gift because of his death and resurrection.  He was buried and He was raised from the dead.
  • Through our union with Him we are not buried or brought to life through the sacrament of baptism; we plainly receive what He accomplished for us.
  • What makes salvation a reality in our life is a living faith and trust in Him who was buried and was made alive.
  • Baptism therefore does not require of us to ceremonially be buried in the water to be spiritually made alive.  This is to add to the verse.
  • Baptism is nothing less and nothing more than a sign and symbol that what Christ has done by dying and being raised from the dead in our place.
  • By faith what He has done, is now mine.  Baptism means therefore nothing more and nothing less than the sign circumcision in the old Testament.
  • Nothing changed as far as the substance of our salvation is concerned (it God’s work of grace!), but what has changed is the sign

That’s exactly what Paul states in the next verse:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, (Colossians 2:13, NIV)

We find the same idea in Romans 6:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3–5, NIV)

When were we buried with Him?  When He died.  When were we raised to life?  When He rose to life.  Did it happen when we were baptised?  No.  Baptism was the sign that it surely did happen, but it was grace which united us with Him.

The claim of the ceremonialists in the time of Colossae that circumcision was still necessary was to deny the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  In fact, it was to deny the fruit of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Little wonder then that they wanted to add all sorts of legalistic requirements as we shall see next week.

But what is also true is that those who demand that all babies should by baptised as soon as possible after their birth less they die outside Christ has no Biblical warrant.  The Roman Church teaches that the sacrament acts as a funnel through which grace is poured out on the soul.  It is therefore not uncommon to attend a funeral in that church and then to hear over and over again that the deceased person was baptised, and therefore saved.

It is equally unbiblical to teach that if one was not immersed into water through baptism one will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  What saves us is not the water and the quantity of it;  what saves is God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  Baptism is a sign of grace and receiving that sign is setting one apart from the world as being owned by God.

The theology of Jesus Christ

On the other hand Paul gives a few remarkable statements:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9–10, NIV)

  • Christ is God, the second Person of the Trinity, who came to dwell with us in all his fulness.
  • When in Him we lack nothing , we were brought to fulness.  To his work we add nothing, but we cannot take from it, or diminish the work of his salvation.
  • In Him we were circumcised not with a circumcision done by hands (Colossians 2:11)  Not like the Jews believed!
  • We are saved by God’s act of grace, not be ceremonies (Colossians 2:12) Not like the Jews believed!
  • Our sins are forgiven and by faith we are united with Him who is our Saviour (Colossians 2:13)


We will have to continue next week and find out more about Christ alone, no if’s, no but’s.  Let’s thank God for the fulness of his Son who has become our Saviour.


Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 January 2015



Covenant Baptism

Broadly speaking, there are two main views on baptism:

  • Covenant Baptism (some may call it paedobaptism, because it implies that infants of together with their covenant parents should be baptised).  The mode of baptism is sprinkling of water.
  • Believers Baptism (some call it credo-baptism, because only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour are baptised, usually adults.  The mode of baptism is immersion into water.

This paper explores the Presbyterian understanding of Covenant Baptism.

Covenant Theology represents an understanding that there is unity between the Old and the New Testaments.  What is promised on unfulfilled in the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New Testament – one is not possible without the other.  The New Testament thus does not replace the Old testament; neither does it exist as a separate part of the Bible alongside the Old Testament.

All the prophets testify about Him [Jesus Christ] that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

“Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:45–47)

The church of the New Testament is not a separate entity from the church of the Old Testament, but a continuation of it, albeit in more glorious form.  The ceremonial signs of the rituals of the Old Testament found their fulfilment in the Person of Jesus Christ and have ceased after the cross and resurrection of our Lord.  However, what they signalled still stand, but now understood in and through the Head of the new covenant and his perfect work as Priest, Prophet and King.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household. (Ephesians 2:11-12, 19)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17, NIV)

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:11–14, NIV)

Jesus did not come to rip up the Old Testament, He came to fulfil it.  As a matter of fact, during his ministry He very often used the Scriptures of the Old Testament as his authority.

The church of the both the Old and the New Testament (Israel) has Abraham as father.  God made a covenant with him after He called him out of the slavery of sin.

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1–3)

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28–29)

God’s promise to Abraham states clearly that through Abraham the nations and peoples of the earth will be blessed.  This was made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ and by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

So then, he [Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:11–12)

About the covenant God further said that it will be for the generations of Abraham as an everlasting covenant.

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7)

“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” (Romans 4:16) (The the “promise” in this verse is reference to the covenant – see also Acts 2:39, Eph 2:12)

The Bible is clear about the fact that this covenant is not one of works, but one of grace.

“Under what circumstances was it [his righteousness] credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!” (Romans 4:10)

The sign of the covenant in the Old Testament was circumcision.

This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:10–11)

Abraham had not be circumcised when God gave him the sign, so not Ishmael and other men in his household.  They were all circumcised after God commanded it:  Abraham being 99 years of age, Ishmael 13 and later Isaac on the eight day.

On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.” (Genesis 17:23–27)

First then, those who had not been circumcised before God instituted the sign were circumcised, irrespective of their age; later, all males born into a family were circumcised on the eight day – which means that the circumcision was later almost exclusively administered to babies boys, apart from cases where new convert families were added.

To not keep this ritual meant breaking the covenant.

“Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:14)

Even when Moses neglected this ordinance God became angry with him and wanted to kill him.

At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,’ she said. So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said ‘bridegroom of blood,’ referring to circumcision.)” (Exodus 4:24–26)

The other sacrament the Lord gave his people, was the sign of blood of the Passover lamb.  Both the sign of circumcision and Passover were signs accompanied by blood and pointed forward to the blood of Christ, God’s Passover Lamb.

Exodus 12.  Numerous other parts of the Old Testament.  This was a perpetual sacrament which was later replaced by the Lord’s Supper.

Those who converted to the God of Israel from other religions, together with the males in their household, including infant boys, had to be circumcised before they were allowed to partake in the Passover.

A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it.” (Exodus 12:48, NIV)

As with many things during the time of the Old Testament which were incomplete, and about all sacrifices were accompanied by blood, or alternatively, by water – water being the sign of ritual cleansing.  Circumcision was sign of initiation into the Old Covenant and was a sign of blood (Genesis 17:10)  It was done once.  The New Testament replacement of this sing was baptism, a bloodless sign.  The sign was replaced, while the covenant remained.:

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NIV)

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38–39, NIV)

The Passover Lamb was the perpetual sign, done repeatedly, and was a sign of blood (Exodus 12:22).  The New Testament replacement is The Lord’s Supper, a bloodless sign:

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27–28, NIV)

The Greek work used in some verses of the Old Testament does not indicate immersion, but sprinkling.

“Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew (bapto) of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” (Daniel 4:33)

Purification acts in the Old Testament were done by sprinkling or washing, and is some cases “bapto” is used.  This washing did not include washing with soap and water to physically clean hands or feet or body, but signalled purification.

Then the anointed priest is to take some of the bull’s blood into the tent of meeting. He shall dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it before the Lord seven times in front of the curtain.” (Leviticus 4:16–17)

A priest in the Old Testament took blood of an animal and “sprinkled” it on the altar to ceremonially cleanse it.

Then the anointed priest shall take some of the bull’s blood and carry it into the tent of meeting. He is to dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle some of it seven times before the Lord, in front of the curtain of the sanctuary.” (Leviticus 4:5–6) [This act of the priest happened consistently with all offerings.]

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.” (Hebrews 9:13).

Any person who touched a corpse had to cleanse himself.  For the Israelite this happened in the courtyard of the Tabernacle where there was a big bronze holding basin (Exodus 30:17-21).  The ritual was done by sprinkling, not immersion – and yet the word used is “bapto

When one of them dies and falls on something, that article, whatever its use, will be unclean, whether it is made of wood, cloth, hide or sackcloth. Put it in water; it will be unclean till evening, and then it will be clean.” (Leviticus 11:32)

When Naaman of Aram came to see Elisha he had to purify himself by washing himself in the Jordan.  This is exactly what God commanded in Leviticus 14:7

“Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields.” (Leviticus 14:7)

In the New Testament “bapto/baptitso” is interchangeably used for another Greek word “nipto”, meaning “cleanse”.  For those who were still Jews this washing had ceremonial meaning:  unbaptised hands were unclean hands.

The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.” (Mark 7:3, NIV)

But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. (Luke 11:38, NIV) (His hands were “unbaptised!)

Not all instances of the word “baptise” or “baptism” in the New Testament mean to immerse.  In fact, more often than not the word has a spiritual meaning.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. (1 Corinthians 10:1, NIV)

… long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:20–21, NIV)

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:37–38, NIV)

Charles Hodge, renowned theologian comments:  “But the Egyptians who were immersed were not baptised; and the Israelites who were baptised were not immersed.”

When believers in the New Testament were baptised by the Holy Spirit they were not immersed but filled.  Even the tongues of fire which sat on them pointed to the purifying “sprinkling” of the promised Spirit of Ezekiel 36:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)

The baptism of John was not the baptism which Jesus commanded. John did not baptise in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  John was the last Old Testament prophet, preparing the people for the arrival of the New Testament period.  John called the people of God to repent; he did not baptise them to become part of the people of God.

“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’ (Acts 13:23–25, NIV)

Those who were baptised with the baptism of John were re-baptised, because they were not baptised in the Name of the Holy Spirit.

[Paul] asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:2–5, NIV)

As commanded by Jesus after He completed his mission (death and resurrection, and gave the disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit, for whom they had to wait before they started their mission to the world, the apostles introduced the New Testament baptism as a sign of Covenant at Pentecost when people were baptised.  On Pentecost Day and after Jews who had been circumcised previously were baptised.  To understand New Testament baptism, we should not start with John, but with the command of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

God in the Old Testament made promises of a new era to come, when the Sprit of God would be poured out and the sins of the people would be forgiven.  The work of the Holy Sprit is connected with purification and rebirth.  He is “poured out” on the people, “put in” the hearts, like oil on the head of the anointed prophets and kings.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)  See also Ezek 37:14, 39:29, Isaiah 44:3, Jeremiah 33:8, Joel 2:28-29.

Both the work of Christ, who gave his blood to wash away our sins, and the work of the Holy Spirit comes together in this verse:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–22, NIV)

When on Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out the promises of a new era came into being.  What was symbolised by ritual washings of purification, and what was promised about a new heart and a new spirit was fulfilled on that day. The Spirit was promised:  “I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11, NIV)

Peter explained to the people that Joel 2:28-32 was fulfilled. The pouring out of the Spirit took place.  This pouring out had to do with cleansing and rebirth.  In Acts 1:8 it was called “receive”; in other places it is referred to as being “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 9:17)  They were baptised with the Holy Spirit which symbolically sat like flames on their heads, symbolising the cleansing of the Spirit in the same way as the sprinkling of the water in the Old Testament signified.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26–29, NIV)

  • In Peter’s sermon on Pentecost day things are connected:
  • All the promises regarding the Messiah were fulfilled in Christ
  • Forgiveness of sins is possible because Jesus Christ died and was raised from the dead
  • Rebirth is possible because the Holy Spirit was poured out (or put in the hearts of the people/the people received the Him
  • Repentance of sin is necessary (Acts 2:38)
  • Baptism as a sign of inclusion into the Covenant family of God was necessary (Acts 2:39
  • As with the Old Testament Covenant, children were included into the covenant by the sign and seal of baptism (Acts 2:39
  • Now more than just the Jewish people are included (Acts 2:39)
  • God anointed all his people to be priests, prophets and kings by giving them his Holy Spirit.

Three thousand people were baptised on Pentecost Day.  In keeping with what is taught in the Old Testament about “cleansing” and receiving the Holy Spirit, it is reasonable to assume the following:

  • The three thousand were not immersed in water.  The sign of being received in the family of God was by sprinkling of water.
  • The place where the people gathered when they received the Spirit was most probably not too far from the temple courts (Acts 2:46; 3:2,8; 5:20-21,25,42; 24:18; 26:21).  Jerusalem was a city with very scarce water supplies which depended upon rainwater stored in tanks and cisterns.  To assume that they were immersed is to read back into the text.

As in the time of the institution of the circumcision as the sign of the Covenant in the Old Testament, when those who had not been circumcised were circumcised, irrespective of their age, so those baptised in the New Testament were mainly adults.  Whole families were baptised in the New Testament.  Every Covenant God ever made with his people included children:  Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses.

  • Of the EthiopianAs they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?” (Acts 8:36, NIV)  The text states that it was a desert road.  The water referred to in this text could not have been a lot.  It stretches the text to assume that the Ethiopian was immersed.  It is fair to note that the expression “with” in Greek could in certain contexts be translated as “in”.
  • Of PaulImmediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised (Acts 9:18, NIV).  As Paul was baptised in the house of Judas in Straight Street in Damascus at a time when there were no other water supply than from wells or cisterns, it seems logic to assume that Paul was not immersed.
  • Of Cornelius“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Acts 10:47–48, NIV)  Cornelius, his relatives and close friends were all were gathered in the house. Could they have been immersed when they were baptised.  In what?  Who were the relatives?  Only adults, but it might have included whole families of his relatives.
  • Of the jailer:  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptised. (Acts 16:31–33, NIV) The context leads us to believe that every person in the family of the jailer were baptised – this is in keeping with what happened with covenant families in the Old Testament.  Further, they were still in the building of the prison when they were baptised; immersion could hardly take place there.
  • Of LydiaWhen she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:15, NIV).  In all fairness, they were near a river and could have been immersed.  This however would be out of step with the rest. Besides, it included the members of her household, which could have included children.

In the old Jewish Church every proselyte from the heathen brought his children into the Church with him.  If only one of the parents is a Christian, the children are said to be “holy,” or “saints,” which is a common designation of church members in the New Testament.

For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14, NIV)

Baptism in the early church, as we have seen, happened in the most unusual places and circumstances. As the Gospel spread and congregations developed and they gathered under the leadership of elders and ministers, whether in house churches or dedicated buildings, it become custom to administer the sacraments when the covenant people of God, the congregation was gathered.  Administering the sacraments was never meant to be something private; it would destroy the covenantal character of the family of God.

It is therefore proper that baptisms should be administered within the worship service, where the whole covenant family of the Lord can witness it, rejoice in it and vow to accept and to set a Christian example to those who are baptised.

Practise in the Reformed Churches all over the world, which also do not subscribe to paedo communion, is that children of believing parents are baptised, but are not given the right to sit at the Table of the Lord.  They are baptised members, but not communicant members.  Only after they have made profession of their faith in the Lord in the gathered community of the Lord, do they become communicant members, giving them access to the Table of the Lord.

It is therefore the task of the whole congregation, but more specifically the parents to train their children up in the understanding of the Bible.  They need to understand the call of the Gospel based on God’s promises to them once made when they were baptised.

Baptism does not saved anyone, but provides the basis for the promises of God as seal and sign of his grace to be accepted when baptised members reach a stage when they can understand, and indeed, give public testimony that they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and that they commit their lives to service in his church.

Sessions are also tasked with the responsibility to see that training take place, and that other activities are put in place to nurture their baptised members into communicant members.

Only those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives, who repented of their sin, whose desire it is to walk in accordance of the Word of God, led by the Holy Spirit, may be baptised.  Their children should be baptised too, as we saw above.  No baptism should take place before the Session is satisfied that these requirements are met.

The Presbyterian Church of Australia has as confessional document The Westminster Confession of Faith.  It states:

Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptised

Ministers of the Presbyterian Church, when they are licensed or ordained and inducted to a charge make certain vows. One of them is:

Do you own and accept the Westminster Confession of Faith, as amended by the General Assembly, and read in the light of the Declaratory Statement contained in the Basis of Union adopted by this Church on the 24th day of July, 1901, as an exhibition of the sense in which you understand the Holy Scriptures, and as a confession of your faith; and do you engage firmly and constantly to adhere thereto, and to the utmost of your power to assert maintain and defend the same?

At the last General Assembly (2013) of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, at which all congregations are represented through their presbyteries, the Assembly reaffirmed the following:

Motion 83:  “That the Assembly:  Declare that the understanding and practice of infant baptism is so integral to the history, the purity of worship and the structure of covenant theology in the westminster confession of Faith that no potential office bearer should sign the formula if the Church’s stance on infant baptism is not accepted.  Furthermore, those who have signed it but hold exclusively to credobaptistic views should remain silent on their views or resign.”

As minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, I signed the declaration which states that I understand the Westminster Confession of Faith as an exhibition of the sense in which I understand the Holy Scriptures, and as a confession of my faith.  I vowed to engage firmly and constantly to adhere thereto, and to the utmost of my power to assert maintain and defend it.  I am bound, not only by my conscience and understanding of the Scriptures, but also to the vows I made before God when I became minister of this Church, and once again when I was inducted into this charge.

It would be dishonest of me to do otherwise.  I therefore would find it impossible to administer the Sacrament of Baptism in a different manner, or by a different mode.

Doing Good (2)

Doing good can destroy the purpose of grace

Scripture Readings

  • Micah 6:6-8
  • Galatians 3:1-23


My dear brothers and sisters,

A dear friend of ours told me about a neighbour, and old man, sick and preparing himself for his last days.  He asked my friend to visit him because he wanted to discuss things thing with.  The two of them sat on the back verandah enjoying a coffee.  Pointing with his walking stick to a clump of hard African torn bushes, right in the midst of an outcrop of rocks, the old man said to my friend, “That’s where I want to be buried.”

Trying to be diplomatic and gentle, my friend replied, “It’s going to be hard to dig a grave there seeing that it is rocky.”

The old fella turned towards him and calmly said, “I know.  I worked it all out.  If you look carefully, you will notice they will not get the hearse even close to it, too.  They will have to carry me for a good hundred yards.”

“Yes, that was something else I thought I’d point out,” my friend observed.

“That’s the whole point.  I have only two sons.  They are going to inherit the farm and everything else I have.  I hardly see them since they went to university, so I figured they are not going to get everything for nothing; they are going to work for it!”

Surely, they were going to work hard for their gift.

When Paul, the good man who did everything right, discovered that his self-righteousness was an offense to the cross of Christ, God showed him mercy.  God did so not because he led a good life; God did so because his justice is just.

God’s justice is just, because it is met by the righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  He paid the complete price to save sinner.  He came into this world to save sinners.  That was his mission; and that mission He accomplished.  Not one sinner, predestined from all eternity in Him, will be lost on the day of the return of Christ when He will bring to the Father all who was ordained to be saved.

We learn from the Scriptures that we are saved by grace, not by good works. Our righteousness before God is not what we achieved by good works in order to be saved, but what Christ purchased for us.

Galatians – fall from grace

Not long after Paul planted the church in Galatia, false preachers, mainly those with a Jewish background, introduced a different Gospel to the congregation.  Yes, they probably preached a Gospel of salvation by grace, but they added the ceremonial law to it, and more specifically, the circumcision.  In other words, they preached in order to be a good Christian you must be a good Jew first.

The Galatian church was swept away from grace.  Paul begins his letter with these words:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7)

The Gospel message of the Bile is grace and grace alone. GracePlus, Paul says, is a different Gospel – and a different Gospel is no Gospel at all: it is a perversion of the Gospel.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6–7, NIV)  

The true Gospel of grace

For the truth of this gospel of grace and grace alone, which is not a righteousness through works of the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, Paul also opposed Peter when Peter for a moment was timid in living out this gospel of grace alone. 

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (Galatians 2:14, NIV)

The argument which follows in chapter three is exactly to demonstrate that Jesus Christ was an end to the ceremonial law.  Further, Christ’s obedience to death was also the righteousness which we can never achieve, but which is ours by faith in Christ.  When He became the accursed who hanged on the tree, He not only took our transgressions upon Him to deal with our sins once and for all, but He also fulfilled the law to the finest of detail to became our righteousness before God.

By faith in Him we become children of the promise, children of grace, children of the covenant.  Because in Christ the promises to Abraham the he would be a blessing to all nations was fulfilled.  Paul writes:

The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (Galatians 3:8-9)

Paul then goes out of his way to demonstrate the fact that salvation is by faith and not by works.  The promise made to Abraham was made long before the law was given.  Abraham received the promises and believed it, and it was accredited to him as righteousness because he trusted and believed God.

For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. (Galatians 3:18)

The point in the Gospel of grace is this:  God gives it freely; one does not deserve it.  One cannot work it out by being good, and one cannot miss out on it because one is sinful.  The purpose of the Law was to not help us along in being good and working out our righteousness.  The purpose of the Law was:

… to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:24-25)

And if we don’t understand this clearly and try do still work out our own righteousness we are like that those boys digging between the rocks and carrying the coffin of their father all the way there to get their inheritance.  The Good News is this:

God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons… Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

The good works of the slave

The Galatians fell for what seemed so good sounding.  It looked so good on the surface.  Do these things, and be good and you will be saved.

O, this is the Gospel so many people hear and want to hear.  But Paul is clear about such a Gospel.  He says:

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. (Galatians 4:9-10)

Yes, there are those who live in fear of God’s judgement because they just want to comply with the law – and what will happen if the return of Christ catches the on the wrong moment!  Such people are slaves.  They are children of the first principles of this world as we see it in Israel before the cross of Christ.  It remains a DIY religion to gain a self-righteousness before God.  For such there is no peace, for even the best of these may need to spend some time in purgatory to gain the perfect righteousness.  What pitiful Gospel!

Good works of the son

But there is the Gospel speaking of sons.  Paul uses an allegory in speaking of the two women, Hagar and Sarah.  Hagar produces an offspring of slaves who by own effort want to attain their own righteousness.  But, he says:

Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman. So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:30-31)

Children born of the free woman live lives driven and controlled by the Spirit.  He says:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

What does it mean to walk by the Spirit?  Of course, Jesus Himself said that the Spirit will come to teach us all things concerning Christ.  Christ set us free from sin, but this freedom is not a freedom to do as we wish, because there is a war raging in our minds.  What is this war about?

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:17)

The fruit of the Spirit is:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Now the good works of the son, as opposed to the good works of the slave (or the good works of the person who is not saved by grace), and who is still trying to achieve an own righteousness, as opposed by the person who found salvation in Christ is defined.  And my dear brother and sister, listen carefully here, because this is extremely important:  the good works of the sons is what follows faith in Christ Jesus.  Listen to this verse:

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24-25)

When did they crucify the flesh?  Important!  When by faith they believed that Christ died for them.  By faith they are united with Him.  His death became their death;  His resurrection became their resurrection; His new life by faith became their new life.  That’s why they were given the Spirit of God.  Paul writes about this reality when he says:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Good works

Now, this crucifying of the flesh is an ongoing process too – sanctification:

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

It has expression in the way we live to fulfil the law of love. Paul writes:

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

The good deeds of the law, as we who are free in Christ, should live it out is to love God and our neighbour.  Galatians 6 spells it out.

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

It talks about humility:

For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. (Galatians 6:3-5)

We cannot see good works as an option; it is the essence of our Christian life.

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. (Galatians 6:9)

It should be seen in our actions towards one another as Christians, but also towards those who still not believe:

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:10)


Did the old fellow really love his sons to make them work for their inheritance? No!  Did the sons really love their father to dig his grave and carry him to his last resting place?  No!  If the father loved the sons, he would have given them the inheritance as a gift; if the sons loved their father, they would buried him regardless if there was an inheritance or not.  Fact is, true fathers and true sons love one another long before any one needs to be buried!

But our heavenly Father loved us by giving us his only Son.  The good news is we don’t need to dig his grave – He doesn’t need one:  He conquered death in our place, to give us salvation as a gift.

What really counts?

For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)

And this new creation, my brother and sister, is what we receive by the grace of God by faith in Christ alone.  And it calls us to good works in His Name.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 March 2014



Baptism: Sign and seal of God’s grace in Jesus Christ

Declared mercy

Scripture Readings

  • Acts 8:26-40
  • Colossians 2:8-15


My dear brothers and sisters, when it comes to grace and salvation, there is sometimes this sinful appreciation of the self.

Captain George Von Trapp in the Sound of Music, finds in Maria, the governess, his new love.  The two of them sing a song, Something Good.

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood
Perhaps I had a miserable youth
But somwhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth

For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could, I must have done something good.  This is quite a telling expression of a theology of works.

The message of the Gospel stands diametrically opposed:  something comes of nothing in the hands of God.

In Ephesians 2 Paul writes about what God does with nothing to bring about something.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1–3, NIV)

That’s the nothing part.  But God wants something.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:4–6, NIV)

What is the end result?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8–10, NIV)

So, to this saving action of God we add nothing; we only accept the grace given to us.  What God has done is to unify us with Christ. The significance here is that we get and become what Christ is and what belongs to Him.  We need nothing more.  Christ is our justification.  By faith we are justified, not by works. As such God adopts us as his children and take us in under his roof to live in his household.

What follows now is sanctification – this means that we now we start living as God’s people.  His house is holy, He is holy, and He demands of us to be holy.  Not only do we repent once, but our whole live becomes a life of repentance – daily do we take up our cross to follow Him.

When God takes us in under his roof to live as his children in his household, he gives us a sign and a seal of his grace.  And this is where what we started to look at last week comes in.

The Ethiopian and Jesus Christ

Turn to Acts 8 in the Bible.  The context here is the speed of the Gospel after the persecution that broke out in Jerusalem.  Some Christians were scattered to the north, and now, the Gospel is spreading into Africa.  The instrument in the hands of God is Philip. This high Government Official who had been in Jerusalem to worship got hold of a copy of the book of Isaiah and, sitting on his chariot, he was studying it. He did not understand what he was reading.  God used Philip to open the Scriptures to him.

It is an amazing expression of the Gospel right there in the Old Testament.  The fulfilment was in Jesus Christ.

This Ethiopian was a eunuch, which means he was emasculated.  There was a prohibition in Deuteronomy to exclude these folk from the people of God.  He was a nothing; that was his first disqualification.

No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 23:1, NIV)

His second disqualification was the fact that he was, like all of us, a sinner in need of grace.  Reading this chapter, Philip, as the Bible puts it, “told him the good new about Jesus”. (Acts 8:35)

Jesus is the Servant of God in Isaiah 53:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. (Isaiah 53:3, 5, 7–8, NIV)

This is the good news about Jesus:  He took our punishment upon Him and became our righteousness.  He was rejected, so we will not be rejected by God.  God afflicted Him in our place by having Him die on the cross of shame, so we can go free.  Our transgressions caused Him to be punished.  He was the Lamb before the shearers, and yet He did not open his mouth.

My dear friend, this is good news.  God took us who were nothing and dead in our trespasses, with no place in the congregation of the Lord, and made us his masterpiece, enabled for good work in his Kingdom.

We did nothing to deserve it – and we can’t.  It therefore doesn’t matter how bad we are before the grace of God was revealed to us; it does not matter how good we were before we learned about grace; all that matters it that we understand that God calls us to be his children through Jesus Christ, and that without Him we are dead, destined to eternal destruction of hell.

Leave everything behind, stop trying to be good, and see that something can indeed come from nothing.  That’s grace.  No one is too good be be lost; no one is too bad to be saved.

I trust that this message of grace will now, at this moment, be printed in your heart and that, if you have not done so yet, you now come and bow before Jesus Christ, your only hope of salvation.  He is the only one who make it right for us before God.

This is what the the Ethiopian heard.  This is what he believed.  He, by grace, has become one of the household of God.  God’s grace in Christ became alive in his heart.

The Ethiopian received God’s sign of grace

No doubt he had heard what had happened in Jerusalem during the time of Pentecost.  Like him people from all nations and tongues were saved.  In Christ God became their Father.  When they understood that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah, the Son of God, the King in the line of David, the Lamb who took away the sins of the world, they asked Peter what they should do; Peter answered:

“Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38–39, NIV)

Yes, they repented – and so did the Ethiopian upon hearing the message.  And because the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, with his body and blood being the beginning of the New Covenant, introducing a complete new era for God’s Kingdom in history, although most of them had been circumcised, they were then baptised.  That was the sign that God gave them forgiveness and that He gave them his Holy Spirit.

Baptism did not save them, but baptism was the sign and seal, like circumcision in the old Testament, that God placed his mark of grace upon them and that they now belonged to the family of God.

This Ethiopian did the same.  He was no Jew to begin with, and was probably never circumcised.  He in no way completed his salvation be being baptised.  Baptism was his sign and seal that he now, as a saved child of God who received the righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ, indeed belonged to the people of God.  The God of the Covenant, the God of the Promise who revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, now put his seal on him and said, “You are mine!”  Baptism says, “You are united to Christ – what He already did for you, is yours by faith; He gives you his Holy Spirit to live in you to make the promise of the Gospel new every day.  And when the tough times come, remember, God has promised to be your God in Christ Jesus.

Baptism is God’s sign, not mine

The problem many people have with baptism lies in the fact that they want to do something to complete their salvation, as if the water of baptism will complete their salvation.  Instead of seeing the sign as a sign from God that He took them on as children in his household with the promise that He will be their God, they understand baptism as their sign to God and other people that they now believe in Jesus Christ.  It is almost as if some understand it as the rounding off of salvation.

Sacraments were never designed to more than signs and seals – and that then, God’s signs and seals, not the sign of my faith.  The perfect place to proclaim that you belong to God, is to partake of Communion.  When you take that wine and bread your proclaim that you believe that Jesus Christ died for you.  Any other reason to partake of the Communion would bring judgement on the partaker.   And Communion, my dear brother and sister, is something we can do over and over again.  This is your place to proclaim your faith – baptism happens once, we are not baptised over and over again, because by faith we are admitted once into the household of God.

The rings wedding couples give to one another on their wedding day, are exchanged after they made their vows.  In effect they are already married when they exchange rings.  But they indeed give rings as a sign of their pledge to be faithful to one another. If someone would want to know if they are married, the rings would surely be a good give-away sign; but if they have to proof that they are married, rings are not good enough; they would require a certificate of marriage, issued by the authorities after the marriage celebrant produced paperwork which was signed in the presence of witnesses.

What makes one a Christian is not the fact that he/she is/was baptised (Catholics and some other believe in baptismal regeneration).  One cannot say I was baptised and that makes me a Christian.  What makes us Christians is the fact that, by grace we are saved and sealed in the blood of Christ.  Baptism is the ground for appeal to live as Christians.  The Sacraments reinforce this appeal.  As the ring of the married man reminds him of his wife and their vows to be faithful to one another, so baptism reminds us that God made a vow to be faithful to us in Christ, and Communion reminds us that God indeed was faithful.  Both sacraments appeal to us to live as those who have been included into the Covenant of Grace.

So, it speaks for itself that if you indeed and truly believe in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and God, and you are not baptised, that you would want to receive the sign and seal of God’s grace – it is not to complete your salvation; it is a sign that God already accounted the righteousness of Christ as your righteousness; by being baptised you accept humbly what God has done in Christ.  Please consider this very carefully.

Circumcision and Baptism

Paul’s letter to Colossians, Chapter 2, tells of how the members of Colossae, who were not all Jews to begin with, were included into the family of God.  In verse 11 he argues that they, like the people of the Old Covenant, were circumcised too.  They would in response argue that they were never circumcised, and Paul would continue his argument.  When they were baptised they were circumcised.  Their baptism was the new sign of the same Covenant of grace of the Old Testament. As Abraham and all who believed like him was saved by grace, so the Colossians received by grace what God in Christ had done for them.  Their “circumcision”, baptism, unified them with Christ.

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, (Colossians 2:11, NIV)

The reference in the next verse to being buried with Him in baptism, is no reference to adult baptism as if one goes into the grave of sin and rises as a new person in Christ.  The reference to the grave and being raised is a reference to what happened to Christ:  he died and was buried; Him God raised from the dead.  By faith his death and resurrection has become mine, and baptism is the sign that what was already accomplished in Christ, has now become mine.

The pattern then in the New Testament is that those who were not baptised when they heard about the good news in Jesus Christ, were baptised.  The majority of them were adults.  But Peter said the Promise is for them and their children, because right from the start God included children of believing parents into his Covenant of grace.  There are references in the New Testament that whole families were baptised when there was faith in the Christ by the parents.  As a matter of fact, Paul argues that if only one of the parents was a believer, it would make the child holy.

For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14, NIV)

From the Old to the New – the same Covenant different signs

Let’s draw the lines from the Covenant of Grace through the Old Testament to the New Testament.

There is one Covenant of Grace, with two signs in the Old Testament and two in the New Testament.  Both the signs point to the ultimate and final sacrifice that would make peace with God possible – the Person of Jesus Christ.  The signs of the old Testament were therefore signs associated with blood – circumcision and the Passover Lamb.  After Christ and the blood of the New covenant, there are no signs of blood.  The water of baptism and bread and blood of Communion signify the blood and body of Christ who is our righteousness before God.

God instituted the Old Testament covenant of circumcision with Abraham as an everlasting covenant.  How old was Abraham when he was circumcised? 99 years of age.  Why?  He had not been circumcised. How old was Ishmael? A young boy.  Why? He had not been circumcised.  How old was Isaac, who was born the next year?  Eight days.  Why? That’s what God commanded.

Those who were not Jews by birth, but converted to faith in God and became Jews, had to be circumcised before they could partake in the Passover.  Why?  They had not been circumcised.  When were their children circumcised?  Irrespective of their age, they were circumcised with their fathers, until it was only those who were added by birth, who were circumcised on the eighth day of their life.  Why?  God commanded it.

It could not be required of the children to first believe before they were circumcised? But, their parents were required to believe and make covenant promises to teach them all about God’s love and covenant grace as they grow up to the point where they too could enjoy the Passover.

If we take the same line for the same Covenant of Grace in the New Testament, we find remarkable agreements -and baptism is by no means so hard to understand.

Christ died, was buried and was raised to bring us to the Father.  He is the Head of the New covenant.  His blood saved us from sin and his body is the new covenant.

Who were baptised in the New Testament?   Those who believed in Jesus Christ.  Why?  They were united with Him in his death and resurrection and they were included into the household of God.  How old were most of them?  Like Abraham when circumcision was instituted, most of them were adults.  And likewise today, if a person was not baptised when they become believers, they are baptised as adults.  Now what about their children?  Like the children of those who came into the Covenant people of God in the Old Testament, they also receive the sign of the Covenant.  When? When their parents became Christians, and after that, all children born to that family while they are still babies.  Do they need to understand all of this?  No, God did not require children of the old Testament to understand or believe anything; but He places the parents of believing parents under the obligation to bring their children up and teach them about the grace of God, until the point in life when they are old enough to make their confession of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord.  They are then admitted to the Communion Table where they, with the rest of the body of believers in Jesus Christ, proclaim his death until He comes again.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 3 November 2013