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Q. How Important is Baptism? (with handicap)

I am a 2 time stroke survivor. My son introduced me to Christ several years ago. He explained to me that water baptism would complete my connection to Christ. I currently can no longer stand nor walk. Can someone wheel me in my wheelchair into the water or perhaps someone who has great in Christ faith is permitted to carry me into the water? Time is running out for me.

Sincerely,
********,

Answer

Dear *****,

Thanks so much for your email. My father also was a stroke victim, and my mother has been an amputee for over 50 years (one leg), so I have some idea what difficulties you face. You are right to ask about baptism because it is a very important decision for you.

Sadly, some will say baptism is of little importance, and thus you should not agonize about it.

Others will make too much of baptism, as though your salvation, or some of its benefits are produced by the act of baptism.

Both of these extremes are wrong, in my opinion.

I would like to begin to answer your question by giving you what my friend calls “the short version,” just so the thrust of what I am saying does not get lost in the details.

First, I believe that every Christian should seek to be baptized to the best of their abilities and physical limitations. This baptism should not be done to “complete a connection to Christ,” but to obey His command to be baptized in order to declare and demonstrate that Christ has completed my connection to Himself and to the Father through His work on the cross of Calvary.

Second, if there is a way for you to be baptized (there are several options I will mention in my longer response), then I would encourage you to do it. If this is not possible, then I would suggest either an alternative symbol (sprinkling, rather than immersion), with an appropriate explanation being given, or a video-taped testimony explaining your understanding of what the symbolism of baptism means.

If all efforts fail, then I would find comfort in the thief on the cross, who was not able to be baptized either (and yet Jesus assured him that he would be with Him in Paradise).

That is the short version. The following is a longer version, which may help you come to a confident conclusion that your decision regarding baptism is the right one.

The Long Version

Let’s begin by approaching baptism broadly, in terms of its importance for any believer.

First, baptism is important because it is a command that all who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ should obey. It is one of the two ordinances of the church instituted by our Lord in the New Testament (Baptism and the Lord’s Table, or Communion).

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).

38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

It is assumed in the New Testament that one who puts their faith in Jesus will be baptized. Almost every instance of one coming to faith in the Book of Acts is accompanied by the report of their being baptized (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 36; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 28-34; 18:8; 19:2-6).

Second, baptism is important because it is the believer’s public testimony to others that he or she has trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. We are saved by the Spirit’s work of identifying us with the person and work of Jesus Christ. Once saved, we declare our identification with Christ by baptism. (I remember years ago when a young child said it was “being advertised” [see Mark 8:38; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10]).

Third, baptism is the believer’s symbolic proclamation of the gospel to those who witness their baptism. The work of the Holy Spirit in salvation is not visible to the human eye (John 3:7-8). Water baptism symbolizes what has taken place in Spirit Baptism, wherein the Holy Spirit unites the believer with Christ in His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension in their place. By faith in Christ the believer dies to sin and to its penalty and power. In Christ they are raised to new life. Thus, a believer is obligated to die to sin and to live in righteousness, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Summing it all up, this is what salvation is all about:

  • the recognition of our sin, and of our helplessness to rid ourselves of the judgment it requires,
  • our recognition that only Jesus lived a sinless life, which qualified Him to die in the sinner’s place (He did not need to die for His own sin, since He was sinless – John 8:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 7:25-27; 1 Peter 1:18-19)
  • Jesus died and then rose again in our place,
  • And by doing this He bore the penalty for our sins, and broke the power of sin and Satan (Colossians 2:8-15)
  • He sent His Spirit, Who gave us new life and now provides us with the ability to live a new and holy life (all of this is summed up in Romans 1-8).

Fourth, baptism is important because it is the believer’s public commitment to leave behind their old way of life that they once practiced (Ephesians 2:1-3), and to take on a whole new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:4 and following). It is the understanding that faith in Christ, of necessity, involves a radical change in the way one thinks and acts as a Christian. It must be emphasized here that this “new life” is not a “work” which the believer does to earn God’s favor; it is God’s work in and through the believer, so that He receives the glory:

4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27).

17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:17-24).

5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him— 11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. 12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity (Colossians 3:5-14).

1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. 8 “BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT” (Romans 4:1-8).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

Fifth, water baptism is a symbolic act which thus depicts a greater baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit that unites us with Christ, and thereby saves us.

“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).

3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:3-7).

Sixth, water baptism is not something we do to complete God’s saving action in Jesus Christ. Let me put it this way, “Baptism is not essential in order to obtain salvation; it is essential for those who have, by the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, received salvation. Baptism, like any other good work (see Ephesians 2:10), is the fruit of our salvation, and not its root.

What About Physical Obstacles to Being Baptized?

I can understand your concern about not being baptized due to your physical condition and the limitation it imposes. Thinking about this I see three options at the moment:

First, not getting baptized because you are unable to do so. This might be understood in the same way that the one who is financially broke cannot give as they purposed to do (2 Corinthians 8:12).

Second, you could be baptized in a manner that suits your physical condition by taking some extraordinary measures. You could be carried into the water, and out, using some mechanical device [a lift of sorts], or carried by a couple of people. You could be strategically lowered into the baptistry while the curtain is closed, be baptized, and then be removed after the curtain is closed once again. You would not want to put others at risk (back injury) or have an equipment failure which would cause grief to others. Having said this, this might be a possibility to discuss with the leaders of your church (if you have one), or of a church you choose to become your church. I would caution you, however, not to pick a church purely on it willingness to baptize you.

Third, you could be baptized, but in some modified form, sprinkling, for example. This could be done with an explanation for the witnesses, explaining the reason for the variation, and a clarification of the symbolic meaning of baptism by immersion.

Related Topics: Baptism

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