Question #16 – Is it true that water baptism (immersion) is not essential to salvation because it is only a SYMBOL of an inner reality which is the spiritual transformation of a disciple?
Answer: Symbols are important and are required to be obeyed or fulfilled. By themselves, these symbols do not possess the power to forgive and to save, but these symbols are requisites before the grace of God operates on the individual truth seeker. There is what we may call “the touchstone” or a material item or physical action through which the Almighty God use to test the faith and obedience of people.
1. The Bronze Serpent in the Wilderness – In Numbers 21:6-9, God sent poisonous serpents to discipline the complaining Israelites in the wilderness. When the people recognized their sinfulness, they begged Moses to mediate and Moses was instructed to make a bronze serpent and raised it on a pole so that anyone who is bitten by a poisonous snake, if he looks at the bronze serpent would not die. The metal snake was a symbol and a shadow of Christ being raised up on the cross to remove the venom of sin. Read John 3:14. Did anyone who was bitten by a cobra in the wilderness argue with Moses the uselessness of the symbol brass serpent? No.
2. The Tabernacle and Its Furnishings – “It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience.” (Heb. 9:9) There you have the word “symbolic” but these were important in educating Israel in her relationship with the Most Holy God. Did Moses and Israel consider the symbolisms in the Tabernacle? No. Rather the people carefully observed everything specified and commanded.
3. Lord’s Supper Bread – Matthew 26:26, “Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat, this is My body.” Also in 1 Cor. 11: 23-24, “. . . the same night in which He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of Me.’” Do we dare disregard the command to remember Christ through the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper bread? Can a true Christian disregard the bread, consider it useless, and still remember Christ in the Lord’s Supper? No, I won’t do that.
4. Lord’s Supper Fruit of the Vine – “In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (1Cor. 11:25). This is a symbol. Do we consider the fruit of the vine as useless? By itself, the fruit of the vine, does not save us. God and Christ are the Savior. Do we dare disregard its observance and argue with Christ that it is useless so we do not observe its celebration?
5. Circumcision – It was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant started in Genesis 17:13, “He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.” Does circumcision by itself provide rich material blessings? No. It was Yahweh God who provided all the blessings, but He gave a condition to be observed so that Heaven’s grace would flow from above into Abraham’s household. Did Abraham consider flesh circumcision useless just because it was simply a symbol?
6. Moses’ Disregard of Circumcision – This commandment covered Moses, but Moses forgot to observe it with his children. In Exodus 4:24-25, Moses was downed with a severe sickness which Zipporah immediately understood to be related to circumcision. So Zipporah quickly took a sharp stone and cut the foreskin of her son and cast the bleeding skin at Moses. Did the bleeding skin by itself possessed the power to make Moses sick? No. The Almighty God had the power, but a disregard against a command earned God’s ire against Moses.
7. National Flag – Our national flag is a secular symbol of our country. There is a law demanding citizens to honor it. Burning the flag, trampling upon it, hanging it upside down are punishable. It is a symbol that calls for citizens to show respect or else there comes some penalty.
8. Baptism in Water – By itself, water has no virtue, no saving power. God and Christ and the Holy Spirit have the saving power. But the command is to be baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 28:19) It is a part of the Great Commission of our Savior Jesus Christ. You disobey the command and you earn the wrath of the King of the Universe. Remember what happened with Moses in Numbers 20:9-13. Yahweh commanded Moses to talk to the Rock so that water would gush out from it. Instead, Moses struck it. God was angry and he told Moses this: “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.” Moses died without setting his feet on the Promised Land. You disobey Christ regarding immersion in water which He commanded, might cause you not to enter Paradise. Beware!!!
9. Remember General Naaman – 2 Kings 5:1-27. Naaman was a Syrian army commander. He had a severe skin disease and his family’s Israelite maid suggested he goes to a prophet of God in Israel which Naaman did. Elisha the prophet told him to go to the Jordan River and dip himself seven (7) times to obtain cleansing and healing. Number 7 is symbolic to the Israelites. Water is also symbolic of cleansing because the Law of Moses commands many forms of washing and bathing to obtain ceremonial cleansing and forgiveness of sins. Naaman felt insulted and wanted to go home, but his aides prevailed upon him to try what the prophet commanded. He went to the River Jordan: dipped himself one time (no healing), dipped second time (no healing), dipped third time (no healing), dipped fourth time (no healing), dipped fifth time (no healing), dipped sixth time (no healing), dipped seventh time (skin became fresh as the skin of a little child.) Was the number the power that cleansed General Naaman? No. It was God who healed him. But there was a condition revealed by the prophet Elisha.
Several religious groups have a disdain for water immersion as a religious ordinance by saying, “Water does not save; Christ is the one who saves.” This statement misrepresents the issue. No one claims that water by itself saves. We observe water immersion because it is a part of Christ’s Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-16. We strongly suggest not to take lightly the command of our Lord Jesus Christ to be baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.