Why is Baptism Important and Beautiful with Marcus Stenson

Why is baptism such a big deal in the New Testament? Many Christians understand that baptism is important, but they may struggle to articulate the deep meaning behind this sacred act. In this episode of the Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast, Wes McAdams and his guest Marcus Stenson dive deep into the topic of baptism, addressing questions and concerns that many believers have. Whether you’re new to the concept of baptism or have been a Christian for years, this episode will provide valuable insights and clarification on this crucial aspect of the Christian faith.

Through an examination of various biblical passages, Wes and Marcus explore the rich symbolism and spiritual significance of baptism. They discuss how baptism represents dying to our old sinful selves and being raised to new life in Christ, echoing the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus himself. The episode also delves into the relationship between baptism and the Holy Spirit, shedding light on how the Spirit works in connection with baptism. Additionally, the conversation touches on the communal aspect of baptism, highlighting how it relates to being welcomed into the family of God and the body of Christ.

Marcus Stenson is the preaching minister at the Leander Church of Christ, located just north of Austin, Texas. He is a co-founder of Christians for Kenya, a non-profit organization dedicated to equipping Kenyans to spread the gospel through education and humanitarian aid. Marcus is also a member of the team at Be1Make1, an organization that empowers people to fulfill their disciple-making purpose. With his deep knowledge of Scripture and passion for the kingdom of God, Marcus brings valuable insights and perspectives to this discussion on the importance and beauty of baptism.

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Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)

Welcome to the Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. Today we’re going to talk about baptism. Why is baptism important? Why is it significant? Why is it beautiful? I’m going to talk to Marcus Stenson, who is currently the preaching minister at the Leander Church of Christ, just north of Austin, Texas. He’s a co‑founder of Christians for Kenya, a kingdom‑facing nonprofit that focuses on equipping Kenyans to spread the gospel through education and humanitarian aid. Marcus is also a member of the team at Be1Make1, an organization dedicated to empowering the disciple‑making purpose that lives inside everyone. I so appreciate Marcus and the things that he has to share. I know that you’re going to be encouraged, as well. 

I want to start by reading Romans 6, starting in verse 1. Paul says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  

I hope that you enjoy this conversation, and I hope that it helps all of us learn to love like Jesus.  

WES: Marcus Stenson, welcome back to the podcast, Brother.

MARCUS: Hey, man, thank you so much for having me. It’s always a great time.

WES: We have spent far too long already having a pre‑podcast conversation, and it’s been so rich, so I’m excited now to hit the record button so everybody can join in on our talk.

MARCUS: Absolutely. Maybe you can cut that as some bonus content for subscribers in the future, put together a little package for them.  You never know.  Something special.

WES: No doubt. Well, it’s good to have you back, Brother. I’m excited to have this conversation. Let’s start with the question that I received from one of our listeners, and then we’ll kind of see where the conversation goes from there. So somebody wrote in and said, “I’m new to listening to the podcast. I’m really enjoying it. Do you have anything on the topic of Holy Spirit baptism? I’ve been in discussions with others about baptism, and they say most of the baptism references after the book of Acts are referring to Spirit baptism and not water baptism. Could you lead me in the right direction to better understand and teach others? Thank you.” 

So let’s kind of broadly discuss that idea, specifically, about water baptism. I think that there are multiple, you know, bad directions that people can go when they talk about the theology behind water baptism, but, you know, why is it a big deal? Is it a big deal? Do we make too big a deal of it? Do we not make a big enough deal of it? What are some of your preliminary thoughts on that?

MARCUS: Oh, man, I agree. There are a lot of wild roads you can go down when it comes down to the topic of baptism, but ‑‑ I don’t know if this will surprise you; I actually think we probably don’t make enough of it. I think, in so many instances, especially in our context, and probably, I assume, for most of the listeners to this podcast, the question has always just come down to “Is it necessary?” We spend a lot of time defending that, and we spend a lot of time proving that and demonstrating that from scripture, but the practice of baptism, even back for the Jews, leading up to the New Testament and then in the New Testament period, is incredibly rich. There’s a lot there. And then it’s so deep and rich with meaning and symbolism for us that, I think, unfortunately, sometimes we leave a lot of that by the wayside in the discussions of its necessity. So it’s absolutely important maybe, in some ways, on a level greater than we realize, so I’m excited to kind of step into some of those spaces in this conversation and hear what you think, too.

WES: Yeah, amen. I think that’s a great way to put it. I think that we have focused in, almost myopically, on the idea that baptism is necessary ‑‑ this is necessary for salvation ‑‑ and we have disconnected that from the beauty and the richness of this ceremony, however you want to frame what it is, and we’ve really ‑‑ I think that we have really made a mistake in making this all about, you know, works and ‑‑ you know, is this salvation by works, and we’ve sort of fallen into the trap that I feel like the evangelical direction has laid for us on baptism, because so many on sort of the broad evangelical side would say it’s not necessary for salvation, and I think they’re pushing back against the Catholic idea that baptism disconnected from personal faith ‑‑ so let me kind of frame it this way. I think that, for the longest time, you had the Roman Catholic Church that was practicing infant baptism and connecting this ritual of water baptism, and we could define that, you know, the sprinkling, but they were practicing water baptism as a sacrament that was the church bestowing salvation on these families, on these children.

And then the reformers came along and the Protestant movement came along and said, no, no, no, salvation is about personal faith in Jesus, and it’s really not about you going through this ceremony that you didn’t have anything ‑‑ you didn’t decide this, you didn’t participate in this; this was something the church was doing to you or for you, but not something that you’re participating in. And they pushed back against that and made it about, they would say, faith alone, that salvation is by grace through faith. And I think where I would come in, and I would say, well, you’re both right. You know, I do believe scripture teaches that it is a sacrament. This is the church giving salvation, through Jesus, to the world. This is the church baptizing people into Christ, so it is sacramental in a sense, and we do believe something is actually happening when a person is baptized.  

But the Protestant reformation was also right, that it is also about personal faith in Jesus, and it is about people deciding to put their faith in Jesus, and we are saved by grace. It’s a gift, through faith, through putting your trust, giving your allegiance, pledging your loyalty to King Jesus, but all of that comes together in baptism. And I think that the Catholics are so quick to say the Protestants are wrong, and the Protestants are so quick to say the Catholics are wrong, and I kind of want to come along, not necessarily in the middle, but to transcend that argument and say, well, you’re both right, and yes, it is sacramental in that something is actually transpiring in the act of baptism, but it’s also about salvation by faith.

MARCUS: I love that idea. Let’s come along and say “yes, and” and let’s not clip off some of the meaning that is actually built into this practice and into this ritual or this sacrament, whatever you would like to call it. Just to echo some of what you’re saying, one of the interesting things that I’ve found in that argument that has taken place for so long is many of the Protestant reform traditions retain infant baptism, and yet it would seem to conflict with their claim of faith alone and this is totally divorced from anything to do with salvation, yet they have this impulse to baptize infants in case something happens before they can make that profession of faith. And so there’s a little bit of cognitive dissonance built into that practice there. 

I would say that one of the best ways for me to understand some of the fullness of what baptism represents is going back and looking at the parallels and the allusions between the circumcision given to Abraham and the Israelites, and how it’s described like circumcision in the New Testament in the book of Colossians and elsewhere, and that signifies that we have something much deeper going on than just the church doing something to somebody or just this single individual act, so I like where you’re going with that.

WES: Yeah, yeah. Let’s talk about that idea of water. How do we know that it’s water that ‑‑ you know, for instance, Colossians 2 that you’ve already brought up; Galatians 3, Paul says we’re all one in Christ; everybody who’s been baptized into Christ, we’re all part of Abraham’s family. How do we know that when these passages are talking about baptism as being this moment that you are clothed with Christ or you are in Christ, or, Romans 6, you’re buried with Christ ‑‑ how do we know that we’re talking about water baptism as opposed to what some would claim that, no, no, no, this is Holy Spirit baptism, this is something that God is doing to you, not something that you’re doing, sort of an outward work, as they might put it. So how do we know that it’s water, and why water? Why is that significant, you think?

MARCUS: There are a number of practical examples throughout the entire New Testament of this being clearly demonstrated as water baptism that is taking place. Now, there are those iconic passages where there is the presence of the Holy Spirit coming on somebody. The day of Pentecost, of course, is famous for that reason. Then, of course, you also have the conversion of Cornelius and his household, but in those instances, they are more outliers or exceptions to the rule. In both cases, the Holy Spirit manifested in a way to signify that God was doing something miraculous in that moment, and it was communicating something specific. I think it would be a mistake to take that understanding and apply it broadly across the other incidents of baptism in which there are other factors and variables in play, very clearly in the text, that show us that, hey, this is the Ethiopian eunuch going down to the water to be put physically in it. Or even, at the end of that Acts passage on the day of Pentecost, these are 3,000 people that are going down into the water to be baptized in response to what they’ve seen of the Holy Spirit appearing with the apostles. So I would be very wary to disregard all of the other factors in play in these passages that show us that we’re very really, practically, talking about someone going down into the water and reenacting the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

WES: Yeah. And I think that it’s important to recognize ‑‑ and you’ve already kind of pointed this out ‑‑ that “baptize,” that’s an English word. It’s a transliteration of a Greek word, but the word that’s being used, this Greek word of baptizo, it was a very common word. It was not a religious word. There were religious usages of the word, but baptizo was not a ‑‑ it was not specifically a religious word. So when they thought of baptizing something or someone, they weren’t necessarily thinking about a religious ceremony. It depended on the context. 

You could talk about ‑‑ Josephus even talks about whole ships being baptized. He talks about people being drowned; they were baptized. I think a good equivalent ‑‑ and maybe it would be helpful if we used English words that actually mean what we’re trying to talk about. “Plunge” is a great word. We tend to use the word “immerse,” but “plunge” is a great word. I think sometimes when we think about “immerse,” we get worried about, well, what if there was a strand of hair that was sticking up from the water? Or what if there was a toe that poked up from the water? That’s not the point. The point is, something is being plunged, dipped down into something, but the implication is always water. Like, that’s what the word implies. When we say the word “plunge,” we automatically think of water. 

Now, we can use the word “plunge” metaphorically. We could talk about somebody getting married and say, you know, “Did you take the plunge?” You know, “He took the plunge.” But it’s a metaphor and we understand that, and the context has to bear that out. But if you just hear the word “plunge,” you automatically think, oh, we’re putting something, almost by force, into water. And the same is true with the Greek word baptizo, that the automatic assumption with the word “baptize” is putting something into water. Now, John the baptizer used the word metaphorically to say that Jesus is going to baptize you in the Holy Spirit, meaning Jesus is going to plunge you into the Holy Spirit or he’s going to pour out the Holy Spirit on you; you’re going to be washed in the Holy Spirit; you’re going to be overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit; you’re going to be immersed in the Holy Spirit. But it was obvious, because he attached the phrase “with the Holy Spirit,” that it was a metaphor and he was using it metaphorically. But if we just see the word “baptized” by itself, it can’t be that. We can’t make the assumption that it’s a metaphor. We have to assume that it’s water because that’s the most natural use of the word.

MARCUS: And it’s the most common use of the word throughout the entire New Testament, as well. You bring up John. John is literally standing in the Jordan, putting people down in the water, plunging them, dipping them, immersing them, however you want to render it, when he makes this statement and when he draws this metaphor. So I think that’s very well ‑‑ very well said there.

WES: And when you ‑‑ in some of the passages that come into question ‑‑ I think about Acts 22:16. Paul is retelling his conversion story and he says that Ananias said to him, “Why do you wait? Arise and be baptized, wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” So it’s obvious that baptism always is tied to this idea of forgiveness of sins, the washing away of sins, the salvation of the person. It’s always tied together with that idea. And when someone is told to do it, be baptized, of course that’s a passive ‑‑ it’s a passive commandment. It’s not something you do. You don’t arise and baptize; you arise and submit to baptism. You allow someone else to baptize you ‑‑ and I think there’s an important part of the picture there ‑‑ but you can’t do that if he’s talking about Holy Spirit baptism. You can’t arise and make the Holy Spirit baptize you. Like that’s not how it works. Like when the Holy Spirit is poured out on people, that’s something that Jesus does. That’s not something that you have any control over. When that happened to Cornelius’ household or when it happened at Pentecost, that wasn’t something that they were commanded to do. And so Paul couldn’t be commanded, “Get baptized with the Holy Spirit.” He could only be commanded to be baptized in water, and so that has to be the assumption that we make when we see baptism in Paul’s letters, is that he’s talking about water baptism.

MARCUS: That’s such a good point. There’s no sense in which I could stand up and “I’m going to pour the Holy Spirit out on myself now.” It’s not really a decision that I get to make. It is a gift that is promised to me, but it is tied in conjunction with that other baptism, that water baptism, so yeah.

WES: So what do you think ‑‑ if you were just going to explain baptism to somebody, if somebody just said, Marcus, what is this thing? You Christians, I see you in your assembly, like you’ll get up in the middle of the night and you’ll go up to a church building or you’ll go to a swimming pool or you’ll go to a lake and you plunge somebody in water. Like what does that have to do with salvation? Why would God care about that? Why would you care about that? Why is this important? If you were just going to explain this to somebody that had no concept of baptism, how would you sort of frame it in a way that brings out the beauty of it?

MARCUS: This is where, I think, if we spend some time ‑‑ or if we spent more time, maybe I should say, there’s so many levels where I think beauty is a really good word for it. Somebody who is familiar with the Old Testament and the children of Israel and the sign of circumcision that they had, I would have the conversation with them that our baptism, as Christians, is like circumcision in that it’s a reminder of God’s supernatural intervention and his providence. 

Also, baptism is the point at which a person is granted access or admittance into the community of God’s people and thereby gets access to the oracles of God or the promises of God, as well. Baptism is signifying in that it’s a sign of a covenant that we’re entering into, just as that circumcision was for the children of Israel. One of the things about that covenant that was a change from covenants at the time, where there was usually a token or a trinket between a suzerain and a vassal which you had to produce in order to show that this covenant was in effect and you were under protection of the suzerain ‑‑ God gave circumcision as a covenant that could not be lost. It stays with you forever, so to speak. 

But just like that, in the New Testament, we have our baptism written of as a circumcision of the heart, and there’s not much more intimate that you can get than physical circumcision of the body, but if there is a way, that would be the circumcision of your heart. Baptism’s effectual in that it changes everything that we do. We don’t just carry it with us. We now see life through what it represents, and so it is an image of us stepping into or being put into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and then walking in newness of life on the other side, just as he did. So that’s one of the ways that I might explain it, especially that last bit there, I think, is the most important thing for someone to understand about what we’re doing with baptism.

WES: Yeah. Let me read the passage that you’ve referred to a couple of times in Colossians 2, because I read it just a little bit differently than you do, and so I’m curious to hear ‑‑ let me kind of lay out the way I read it, and I think maybe ‑‑ you can correct me if I’m wrong in the way I’m reading it, or we may find kind of a happy medium between us. 

So Paul says, in Colossians 2, starting in verse 8: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” 

It’s beautiful stuff. I love it. And in true Paul fashion, it is quite the run‑on sentence. And there’s so many different ideas, and so how to parse it is really interesting, but it seems to me that what Paul is saying is that these are the things that happen in Christ, that in Christ, in him, we are filled. This is verse 10: “You have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands.” 

So the way I read that is that this is something that Jesus does to the people who are in him, and so where I would kind of separate it out is to say that baptism isn’t exactly our circumcision, but it is the act by which, the ceremony by which, the moment at which we enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus, and by being in him, by being so associated with him, that we actually dwell in him, that he circumcises us, he cuts away the flesh. 

And I think that the way that the New Testament tends to talk about that symbol, that sign, that token, as you talked about, is that the Holy Spirit is that token, that sign, that symbol. And so I would put it ‑‑ I tend to put it as the Holy Spirit is the equivalent of circumcision, that the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is our token. The beauty of that is that it is this unseen token. It is this invisible token that is only seen through the fruit that the Spirit is living in our life: love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness. That’s the evidence that we are covenant children of God, that we really belong to him, and that that comes about by being in Christ. 

Now, when that happens is in baptism, and that’s what Paul says, that, in baptism ‑‑ “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him,” so in baptism you were raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God who raised him from the dead. So I might just kind of nuance that just a little bit to say the Holy Spirit is our token, but that that Holy Spirit is given to us at the point of baptism. So, to me, the equivalent is so much like the crossing of the Red Sea. Paul puts it that way in 1 Corinthians 10, that the Israelites were baptized into Moses, and so, in our baptism, we cross through the Red Sea, and just like the children of Israel were circumcised to show that these delivered people are my covenant people, we are circumcised with a spiritual circumcision in the giving of the Holy Spirit, and we begin to show the signs of our covenant relationship with him as we walk in the Spirit. What are your thoughts on that? I hate to kind of throw that at you.

MARCUS: No, no. Actually, I’m not sure there’s much clarification that I would want to add to that. I’m thankful for the nuance that you’re bringing in there, and I’m actually really glad that you go somewhere like the Exodus account and crossing the Red Sea, too. I think one of the most interesting things about the rite of baptism is how often we find types of it in the Old Testament that point forward to what our ultimate state is going to be and how God’s going to work that out. I don’t disagree with the way that you break down that passage at all. I see more of a type in circumcision to the process of being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit, and so I think you’re actually right on the money with the way that you deconstructed that and discussed it in a little bit more nuance there, so I appreciate that perspective.

WES: Well, but, I mean, I think that that’s really ‑‑ I think bringing out that idea of circumcision ‑‑ I mean, what if we thought of it that way? What if we taught it that way, that when you are baptized, you are submitting to Jesus to circumcise your heart? Not necessarily that the baptism is your circumcision, but that that is the ceremony that’s happening spiritually when you go through this process, to say, in this process, God is cutting away the flesh. He’s giving you a brand‑new heart, a heart that isn’t hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, and when you’re raised up, you are now bearing the marks of a covenant child of God. And, I mean, to me, that’s just a totally different way of saying things than saying, okay, this is one of the steps that you have to do in order to get saved. It’s just so much different because what we’re doing is we’re saying this is a work of God. This is a work of God to which we are submitting when we put ourselves under the authority of Jesus and pledge our loyalty to him.

MARCUS: Amen. And very much so that community aspect that you point to, I think, is lost sometimes. It is the moment where we get brought into the special people of God, and that was a big deal for the ancient Israelite. It should be a big deal for us, too. That meant everything for them. They were the people who possessed the promises. They were the people who had the truth amidst all of the peoples and different societies around them, and so their token, if you will, with something that identified them in that community, and the presence of the Holy Spirit does the same thing for us. I love the way that you put that, submitting to allow Jesus to circumcise your heart and you arise bearing the marks of a child of God. That one needs to go on a t‑shirt somewhere, Wes. That’s a good one.

WES: It sounded better when you said it, though. But I love that you bring out the community aspect of it, and this is where I think it’s really important to sort of think through the implications of salvation is brought about through a people. Jesus, yes, but that the church becomes the body of Christ and that the church becomes the pillar, the buttress of truth, that we get to be the ‑‑ I don’t want to say arbiters; that’s probably not the right word, but a royal priesthood, and we get to be the ones through whom Jesus brings these blessings to the world. 

I’ve often heard people ask questions ‑‑ and, again, it comes about because of our individualistic nature, our obsession with, you know, what steps do I need to take to get saved, and these hypothetical situations, like what if I’m in the desert and there’s nobody else around, and there’s an oasis of water and I read my Bible and I say ‑‑ or I’m on an island and nobody else is around, I read my Bible, I figure out that I need to be saved, and I figure out that I need to be baptized, and then I baptize myself. Could I baptize myself? And I just think that the New Testament never talks about baptizing yourself because there is an assumption that you are being taught by someone, you’re being discipled by someone, you are being brought into the family of God through the receiving of the word, which, again, is another reason I don’t think that an infant can be baptized because it implies you are being taught about what Jesus is offering, what discipleship will cost you, and you’re being taught by someone else who is making this logical, this verbal invitation to you about who it is that you are being invited to follow, and that that person, or someone associated with them, is baptizing you into Christ. You don’t baptize yourself. Again, we’re not told to baptize for the forgiveness of sins; we’re told to be baptized, to submit to it, to surrender to someone else doing this to us.

MARCUS: I think that’s a really important point to make out. I would say, to those theoreticals, a wise person once told me, never base your theology off of theoreticals. And you can get into a world of pain if you do that because that will be an endless endeavor and you will never come to the end of it. There will always be another “what if,” but there are a lot of things that can be known under normal circumstances, and that’s, I think, where we ought to base our practice from.

I love the idea of talking a little bit about the new birth in this because it is the process of becoming a newborn again. That’s how Jesus talks about it, right? That’s how Jesus refers to entering the kingdom. It’s how Paul talks about it when he’s writing to Titus, as well. So this concept of being born again, or that restoration of all things, necessitates that this is a person who has already lived and already understood. It makes it very hard to make the argument for someone who has literally just been born to be able to be born again immediately right after. And maybe that’s something you want to jump into a little bit here for a few minutes, but I think that what Jesus is talking about in that new birth is a really important aspect of our baptism, as well, so…

WES: Yeah. No, that’s a great point, and I think it brings out how important eschatology is ‑‑ kind of a throwback to one of our previous podcast conversations ‑‑ but how important eschatology is, in that what Jesus wants to do with the whole world by remaking the whole creation, he begins to do in us. That’s what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, that if you’re in Christ, you are a new creation. You are this little piece of new creation walking around, and, in yourself, you have a past, you have a broken past, a sinful past, a distorted past, a warped past, a perverted past. We all do. And then Jesus remakes us through the power of the Holy Spirit, and when we submit to baptism, we undergo this death to who we were and this rebirth into who we are and will be for all time. And what Jesus is doing in the individual convert, transformed person, he wants to do to all creation, and I think that’s such an important ‑‑ that’s why eschatology is so important to understand on a cosmic scale. That’s what God wants to do, but he’s begun that cosmic work in every single individual.

MARCUS: I love that. This might be a strange thing to think of, but I think about the frequently discussed passage when it comes to baptism. We’re always talking about 1 Peter 3, and it’s because Peter’s talking about baptism as an anti‑type when he’s talking about how the world was saved through Noah. I want to think about it from a different point of view, given what you just discussed, and that’s that there’s this really cool thing that God is doing at the end of the flood where it parallels perfectly with the days of original creation. And so there’s a

recreation happening as the rain ends and light enters the ark again and then, of course, culminates with animals leaving the ark and being back on land again, and then Noah being on earth again. You’ve got all six days replayed there in Genesis. God’s doing a recreation. 

So when Peter talks about us being saved in that same way, and then we read Paul writing about becoming a new creation, it’s really a way of saying that our baptism is this deep, rich, personal enacting of the reality of God’s redemptive power in his creation and making us a new thing, like he will restore all things in that day. So I love that you bring up the eschatological viewpoint there, too. I think it’s all over the place in the New Testament. It’s beautiful.

WES: And that’s a really ‑‑ I’m glad you went to 1 Peter 3. In context, there’s so much that ‑‑ that’s such a difficult passage, and I hate that we just kind of use it as a bullet in our gun because it really is a very difficult passage about what does he mean about Jesus going to and proclaiming to the spirits in prison. What is that all about? But in context, Peter is saying ‑‑ this is verse 13. He says, “Who is there to harm you if you’re zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks a reason for the hope that’s within you.”

I mean, he’s talking about ‑‑ he says in verse 17, “It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins.” So he’s talking about this sort of suffering in the present moment, and I think you’re exactly right; this deconstruction of the world through the flood and this reconstruction of the world in the world to come ‑‑ for Noah, that’s the world we live in now. It’s Earth 2.0. And so we have already ‑‑ Peter is saying we have already begun to enter into the world to come through baptism, 

that baptism is saving us. In this context, I don’t know that he’s saying saving us from our sins, like forgiveness. That’s certainly a part of baptism, and it is in Acts 2, it is in Acts 22 ‑‑ it’s all over the place. But in this context, he seems to be saying that baptism is saving us from this world of suffering and death and that it’s bringing us into this new world in which we’re already beginning to experience. And so, I think sometimes when we just pull it out of context and say, see, baptism saves you ‑‑ it’s true, and it does on multiple levels, but I think, in this context, he probably means something more like baptism is saving us from the world that we’re suffering in right now.

MARCUS: Yeah. I think you’ll find support for that idea if you look at the verbiage that’s used by Jesus when he’s talking to Nicodemus, by Jesus when he’s talking to his disciples in Matthew 19, as well, and the same word that Paul uses in Titus 3 is that word palingenesia, which is a Greek word that is talking about the cyclical ‑‑ what they believed was the cyclical nature of the Earth and things would get destroyed and recreated. So when Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You have to be born again,” he uses that word, so he’s referencing this concept of a total teardown and a total recreation, right? A total redemption. But the difference with Jesus’ use of that word was that this one’s final. You guys are right; there is a palingenesia, but there’s only one, and it’s when I come, and it’s in the new heavens and new earth. But you, when you become a Christian, when you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, baptism being a part of this process, you get to live out part of the future kingdom right now. It’s personal in your life. And that word you used, “arbiters,” a few minutes ago, we proclaim that. Baptism is a proclamation of that, and our lives ought to be a proclamation of that, as well, as we go along.

WES: Yeah. Well, and I love that you pointed out about that rebirth that Jesus says to Nicodemus, and he says it’s by the water and the Spirit. And I think that’s ‑‑ back to our original question of is it the water or the Spirit, it’s like yes, it’s both. 

MARCUS: It’s “yes, and.”

WES: It is. It’s “yes, and.” And so I think, in a way, the Catholic is right, and the Protestant that believes that baptism is this moment of entering into the covenant and being forgiven, those that claim that, it’s like, yes, it is sacramental in that sense. The evangelical says, no, no, no, it has to be about personal faith in Jesus. It’s like, yes, you’re also right. The person who says it’s about the Holy Spirit and about being baptized in the Holy Spirit, it’s like you’re also right. And the one who says it’s about water, it’s like, yes, you’re also right. 

And I want to kind of stand in the apex of all of that and bring all of those ideas together and say, you all are hitting on different elements of this reality, and they’re all there and they’re all valid, but I think when we try to invalidate what everybody else is saying, that’s when we go ‑‑ we get wrong and we want to pit one passage against another. It is yes, this is a work of God through the Spirit that is mediated by the church. It is a moment of actually passing out of death and into life. It is about faith in Jesus. When you’re baptized, you are being saved by grace through faith. You’re being born again. You’re experiencing this regeneration of yourself just like the cosmic world will experience. And so it’s all of those things, and I think, so often, we just ‑‑ we get myopically focused on one thing to the exclusion of others.

MARCUS: And it’s really a shame how much more rich and full and meaningful ‑‑ and this is not to detract from the meaning of anyone’s baptism or anyone’s experience or understanding, but if we were able and willing to hold space for all of these different facets of this beautiful thing, this act of God that he does in each one of us individually, and at the same time, within our community of believers together, within our family, I just wonder if a lot of these conversations and arguments, and, unfortunately, a lot of the division that exists over it would disappear into something that’s much more meaningful and much more beautiful. I don’t think you have to cut off your nose to spite your face. I don’t think you have to invalidate some of these other aspects of what baptism is and what it means and what it accomplishes, so I really appreciate how well you tied that together. I really do.

WES: Well, I think that phrase you used, cut off your nose to spite your face ‑‑ I think that that’s so true when it comes to this conversation, that when we take what scripture says about baptism and we twist it to use it in a militant way against other people, we’re really hurting ourselves. We’re trying to tell somebody else they’re wrong, but so often we end up hurting ourselves and we get worried about our own baptism. We get worried about our own salvation. We get fearful. We emphasize the wrong things. I did a series not too long ago on baptism and focused on the fact that most of the passages in the New Testament, in the epistles, of course are written to Christians about their own baptism in this very practical admonition to live out their baptism, that baptism is very practical, and it should be something that we were intentional about committing ourselves to Jesus when we were baptized, something we remember ‑‑ so I think that does nullify the idea of infant baptism ‑‑ but it should be something we remember, pledging ourselves to Jesus, because Paul and the Hebrew writer, they keep drawing on “This is what you committed yourself to. Do you remember when God did this for you? Do you remember that you are the recipient of these blessings because you experienced this?” 

Let me just ask you, like what practical difference do you think it would make in people’s lives if they really understood the biblical teaching on baptism?

MARCUS: Good question. I’ll say this. I think building off of what you just suggested a few seconds ago is a great place to start with this. I don’t hate the militant aspect of baptism. I do hate that we get militant with each other about baptism and we use different verses to fire bullets at each other, like you mentioned before. I think one thing that has changed for me is I do see our baptism as an act of spiritual warfare. 

WES: That’s right.

MARCUS: I look at all of the passages in the Old Testament that point towards our baptism that are tied to our baptism later. We talked about crossing the Red Sea. The entire Exodus campaign was about God establishing his superiority over the gods of Egypt and then even turning them to look at a mountain named after Baal who they were about to go into his territory in Canaan. He’s the god of the sea and the storm god, and then God says, hey, look at his high place and then march through the dry ground so that you know that I was the God of where you were and I am the God of where you’re going. 

And then there’s all this language in the New Testament, as well. And some of the passages that we’ve already hit always end talking about Jesus being at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him, or him triumphing over authorities that he put to an open shame. And so, in that view, I have this rich, deep understanding of an act of God and what he’s doing for me. But this view of baptism especially comes out in 1 Peter 3 as a pledge or an appeal. Every single time someone is baptized, it’s a rehearsal and reminder to darkness that they have been defeated, and it is a public declaration of whose side of the war a person is on, and it’s another shot fired at the spiritual host of wickedness in which Paul says we’re at war against. This way, I think, like we can accurately position baptism as an act of spiritual warfare. And when I remember that, that my life, if I’m living out the baptism, as you said, is a declaration of the victory of Jesus, it changes the whole dynamic and paradigm that I see it through. So I hope that makes sense to you, but that’s something I get very fired up about, actually.

WES: Amen. Great stuff, and I’m so glad that you framed it that way. And I think that’s Paul’s point in Romans 5 and 6, that, before Christ, we were slaves. And he kind of puts it in terms like sin and death is this pharaoh, this ruler over us, and as you were talking ‑‑ you have such a beautiful way of expressing these thoughts ‑‑ I was thinking of the way that, like, the Bible Project videos express these thoughts in visual form, you have a poetic way of speaking, and so I could picture what you’re saying as you’re saying that. 

But I would encourage people to picture what a life without Jesus is like, that it very much is a soul that is wrapped in darkness. Like you can almost picture these demonic forces that are holding and binding a person. You can’t see it, and the person may walk around like they’re happy and carefree, but at some level, they know it. They know that their soul is in bondage to demonic forces and powers and authorities in the unseen realm, and that when that person is baptized into Christ, that life ‑‑ that life that is entangled and enmeshed in demonic forces dies and is crucified with Christ and they are buried with Jesus and then they’re raised up. And the person who comes up out of that ‑‑ as we often say, that watery grave of baptism, that person who is raised up is now emanating with light and has already, in a sense, been glorified with Jesus and is sealed with and circumcised by the Holy Spirit of God, and now they’re walking as a warrior of light and they have this helmet of salvation and this breastplate of righteousness and they can go to war against the forces of evil and darkness.

And you’re right, baptism is ‑‑ I’m so glad you framed it that way, as an act of spiritual warfare, and we are declaring war against the forces that used to bind us and hold us. And that’s why Paul says, in Romans 6, “Can we go on sinning? Should we go on sinning so that grace may abound?” What a ridiculous claim that anybody would say, well, if you say you’re saved by grace ‑‑ you people who say you’re saved by grace and not by works of the law, you know, you’re just encouraging people to go on sinning, Paul’s like, no, you were in bondage to these forces. How could you keep living in that? You died to that. This is ‑‑ you’re a brand‑new person, and that’s what happens at baptism.

MARCUS: Oh, absolutely. I’ve heard it said this way before. I was thinking about this as you were talking about a soul and a life that’s just entangled and enmeshed and then set free. Essentially, our entire lives, up to our point of baptism and that declaration, are ‑‑ you know, we’re told that our lives are defined and our value is defined by what we do, but at that moment, the script flips and it changes. We know, at that point, that our value and our lives are defined by what God has done for us and what Jesus has done for us. And so it is a real reversal and upheaval and overturning of the entire way that we look at life, and that is probably the best understanding of why Paul speaks the way he does when he says we’re not going to keep living like this. There’s no reason to. I’m not confined by this anymore; I’m not defined by this anymore, so yeah, it’s a good one.

WES: Yeah. Amen. What a great place to stop. Marcus, I miss you. I love you. I so appreciate this conversation, but more importantly, the work you’re doing in the kingdom.

MARCUS: Thank you so much, man. It’s an honor every time I get to spend some time with you, and, hopefully, I’ll get to see you soon, Brother.

WES: Thanks, Brother.

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