The two ordinances that God has given the church are the Lord’s Supper and Believer’s Baptism. The Lord’s Supper points us to Christ’s death, and Believer’s Baptism points us to His resurrection. Each ordinance hinges upon a right understanding of its symbolism. If we don’t get the symbolism right, the reason for the ordinance will be lost upon us.
The symbolism of the Lord’s Supper isn’t hard to understand. The bread symbolizes the human body of Christ, that physical body that hung dead on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19). The wine — some Christians prefer the term “the fruit of the vine” as a reference to grape juice (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18) — symbolizes the blood of Christ, the blood that coursed through His human body. That blood has the power to cleanse sin (Matthew 26:27-28; Mark 14:23-24; Luke 22:20). As Christians eat the bread and drink the wine (the fruit of the vine), we proclaim Christ’s death until He returns (1st Corinthians 11:23-26).
The symbolism of Believer’s Baptism isn’t complicated, either. Baptism is a two-fold object lesson. First, it shows what has happened in the Christian’s earthly existence. Second, it shows what has happened in the Christian’s eternal existence.
Concerning the earthly existence, when the Christian goes under the water, he is publicly saying, “I am now symbolically dying to my old, sinful way of living” (Romans 6:1-3). Then, when he comes up from under the water, he is publicly saying, “I am now symbolically resurrected to walk in the newness of the Christian life” (Romans 6:4, 6-7, 11-23).
Concerning the eternal existence, when the Christian goes under the water, he is publicly identifying himself with Christ’s death and burial (Romans 6:4). Then, when he comes up from under the water, he is publicly identifying himself with Christ’s resurrection (Romans 6:5, 8-10). By submitting to baptism, the believer is saying, “Because Jesus died and arose from the dead, my body will one day be resurrected as well, and I will enjoy my resurrected body throughout eternity.”
But it is that symbolism involving the Christian’s earthly existence that I want to deal with a little more. Christian, what if the minister who baptized you caught you committing a sin and said, “You are certainly not living up to your baptism”? You would probably ask him, “What do you mean?” He would reply, “When you went under the water that day, you were publicly saying, ‘I am now symbolically dying to my old, sinful way of life.’ Then, when you came up from under the water, you were publicly saying, ‘I am now symbolically alive to walk in the newness of the Christian life.’ However, what I just saw you do looks like your old way of living rather than your new way of living.”
Tell me, if your minister caught you like that and said something like that, how would you feel? Would his stinging words of rebuke and theological logic drive home the point to you that getting baptized is a BIG deal? Would it remind you that the Christian who has submitted to Believer’s Baptism is supposed to shun sin and live differently than the rest of the world? I trust that it would.
Perhaps it would be good if every Christian who has submitted to Believer’s Baptism was required to wear his baptismal certificate around his neck. That way he could constantly be reminded of exactly what it was he committed to when we got baptized. Maybe us pastors need to carry copies of those certificates around — we could keep the saved pictures of them on our cell phones — so that we can pull them out whenever we see a Christian sinning. That would make for an interesting experiment, wouldn’t it? My guess is that it would cut down on the rate of sin quite a bit. And I can tell you that us pastors would hate to see the ministers who baptized us coming, too!