Water from Heaven: Cleansing

Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud
Photo by Leo Rivas-Micoud

We are wrapping up a lesson series about water from heaven — looking at water’s role in our lives compared to the role God’s word plays in our spiritual development. We began by looking at water as something that shapes and changes the world we live on and how God’s word should so change us. We then looked at God’s word in light of how water refreshes and sustains us. God’s word is a source of spiritual life, sustaining us in a way that nothing else can, and it also revives and refreshes us when the cares of this life leave us parched and thirsty for something better.

The Cleansing Power of Water

Today, we’re going to look at one more role water has in our lives, and it is that of cleansing. In our culture, we experience water this way every day. We get up in the morning, and we take a shower. We wash our hands before meals and after using the restroom. We assume clean water as a part of our lives. In other cultures, it’s not such a safe assumption, but the cleansing power of water is still highly valued. Charitable organizations the world over understand the value of clean water for bathing and other cleanings, and they work tirelessly to bring clean water to every corner of the planet.

The cleanliness water provides is more than a convenience. It’s more than simply about feeling fresh in the morning. Quite simply, washing is the first line of defense in preventing the spread of disease. Whether it’s in the home, in a restaurant, or in a hospital, the cleanliness facilitated by water keeps us well and prevents viruses, bacteria, and other germs from infecting our bodies. However, the cleanliness of the water itself is important. Water that’s been contaminated can be just as dangerous as not washing at all, so that’s many organizations work so hard to make sure communities all over the world have access to clean water.

God Using Water in the Old Testament

The easiest place to see where God used water for cleansing is in the account of Naaman. In II Kings 5:1 – 14, we meet Naaman, a military leader of repute but also afflicted with leprosy. A servant of his from Israel mentions a prophet who can heal him, and this eventually leads him to seek out Elisha. In verse 10, Elisha sends a messenger to Naaman to go wash seven times in the Jordan. After some initial refusals, Naaman finally acquiesces, and he comes out of the waters with skin as new and clean as a child’s. Not only was he restored from illness, but I think it’s safe to say that his new condition was even better than before the leprosy.

God did this through water that Naaman himself said was unclean. God was able to purify where there was no purity. He was able to heal where healing would be impossible. We see more about water in the Old Testament a s well. In Leviticus, numerous ceremonies are preceded by washing in water. Paul, in I Corinthians 10:2 clearly illustrates the crossing of the Red Sea as an event that sanctified and separated God’s people, and Peter, in I Peter 3:18 – 22, even refers to the flood as a cleansing experience in which the world was temporarily washed of unrighteousness.

Water and Our Salvation

Peter then goes on to make a clear parallel with baptism. As the water of the flood temporarily lifted Noah and his family above the death occurring below them, so baptism lifts us out of sin. Peter calls baptism the answer of a good conscience toward God. It raises us out of spiritual death to walk in newness of life, and the effects are much longer lasting than the events of the flood or the Red Sea crossing. Where physical cleansing is temporary, our spiritual cleansing is unending. That’s not to say we can’t fall (as I John 1 points out), but God will always be there to forgive us and make us clean again.

Ananias, in Acts 22:16 calls baptism a washing away of our sins. There’s nothing special in the water that cleanses us, but, like with Naaman, God is able to purify where there is no purity. He can heal where healing should be impossible. Then, as Romans 6:4 illustrates, we rise out of that water in newness of life. Again, as Naaman was raised from that water better than he had ever been, baptism makes us every bit as fresh and new. Whatever sins we have committed, whatever blots lay on our souls, they are gone by the power of God, and we are now something better.

Charity: Baptism

Baptism is one of the only physical rituals that exists in the New Testament, and it exists as a testimony of God’s power to cleanse us. Colossians 2:12 – 13 and the first several verses of Romans 6 tell us it is the way we enter into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. It is our way of accepting God’s great gift of grace and showing our obedience and gratitude for the salvation only He can provide. Our God cleanses us in the purest water available so that He can stop the spread of sin’s disease in our lives.

If we understand the importance of God’s water from Heaven, then we should become like those people trying to bring clean water to every community on the globe. We should want to share this water with others — this water that shapes and changes our lives, this water that never leaves us thirsty and that sustains our souls, and this water that cleanses our spirits of all disease and uncleanness. We should be excited to share this with others and provide them with the greatest water of all — God’s word. And we should want to keep that message pure, so that we are delivering a water that cleanses rather than something that will do more damage. We do this, not only through teaching and studying, but by how we live and how we behave when we leave these walls.

Water was pictured at the beginning of our Bibles, mentioned as early as verse 2, present before almost anything else was created, and we see it one final time in Revelation 22 as the river of life, flowing out from the throne of God. Water has been part of God’s creation since the beginning, and it will outlive this world. Will you enter into the cleansing waters of baptism, let the water of God’s word mold and sustain you, and share that water of life with others so that we can all gather at the river before God’s throne when this life is over? The water of His word has the power to do all of this if we but open our hearts to Him.

lesson by Robert Smelser

Baptism 101: When


We’ve been talking about baptism for the last couple of weeks. First, we looked at the purpose of baptism — how we put on Christ when we are obedient to Him, how we accept His gifts of forgiveness and remission through baptism. Then we talked about what baptism looks like and why we in Christ’s church believe baptism should be a total burial under the water, so we can be raised to walk in newness of life.

Now we’re going to wrap up this series looking at when you should be baptized. At what point in your life should you be buried with Christ and dedicated to Him? Should it be as a baby to guard you from future sins? Should parents make the choice to dedicate their children at a young age, or is baptism something that should be your own choice, made when you are old enough to have your own faith? When should you get baptized?

The Short Answer

The short answer is that you should be baptized today. Before you go back to your daily lives for one more day, you should dedicate your life to Christ and be baptized into His death to walk in newness of life. The Hebrew writer puts it this way:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

– Hebrews 3:12-15

Or do you remember what Ananias said to Paul in Acts 22:16? “Why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” In fact, every baptism we see in the book of Acts, whether it is the Philippian jailor, Lydia, Cornelius, the Ethiopian eunuch, or the crowds at Pentecost, those who hear Christ’s word and believe are immediately baptized. They do not wait.

The only one we see hesitating and waiting is a Roman procurator named Marcus Antonius Felix in Acts 23. He hears Paul’s testimony of Christ and seems to come close to responding, but puts it off. In the end, we see no record of his obedience to Christ. That’s why now is such an important time. If we delay, we give our hearts time to harden against the gospel message, and we may then never dedicate ourselves to Christ. So when is the best time to be baptized into Christ? Right now.

The Longer Answer

Now it’s time to talk about a trickier topic. In Christ’s church, why don’t we practice infant baptism or parents dedicating young children? Growing up in the church, I always heard it explained that someone should not be baptized until they reach the “Age of Accountability” — some magical age where God would suddenly start holding your sins against you after years of letting things slide. I think the answer is simpler, and it has everything to do with having and owning your own faith.

In Mark 16:16, Jesus tells His disciples that those who believe and are baptized will be saved. In Acts 2:38, Peter tells the crowd to repent and be baptized. Before we are baptized into Christ, we should be capable of taking ownership of our faith. Finally, I Peter 3:21 calls baptism the answer of a good conscience toward God. Repentance, belief, a good conscience — these qualities are things that will lead to a person to being baptized.

We have to be able to believe. Furthermore, we have to be able to repent. We have to understand that we are in need of forgiveness and grace and be able to ask for that forgiveness and change our ways. These things take maturity. No baby can repent of their sins; not only are they sinless, but they have no concept of sin. A child dedicated by their parents does not own their own faith. Instead, faith is being imposed upon them. Baptism is meant to be a decision made by someone who understands their need for Christ, believes on His name, and is willing to change their lives in His service. Again, this takes maturity.

The Invitation

So when should you be baptized? The answer is this: as soon as you are ready and not one minute later. Do you recognize your need for Christ’s forgiveness? Do you understand your need to have your sins washed away? Does your conscience drive you to acknowledge your faith and come to Him? Then the time to be baptized is now. Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart, but rather come to Jesus, be buried in baptism for the remission of sins, and begin a new life, raised to walk in His footsteps.

lesson by Robert Smelser

Baptism 101: How


In our studies about baptism, it’s important to take a moment and look at what baptism looks like. Growing up in the church, I learned about the necessity of baptism long before I knew how you actually go about getting baptized. I knew the why, but I didn’t know the how — which is pretty important. Could you imagine teaching your children about the importance of taking notes without helping them learn to write? Yet that’s the experience I’ve had with baptism in Christ’s church — knowing the importance without really knowing what it entails.

What Does Baptism Look Like?

In Christ’s church we practice baptism by complete immersion. Over the centuries, there have been lots of debates over whether baptism can be by pouring or sprinkling as well, but most faiths today practice immersion baptism. For the most part, you’ll see immersion baptism in about any congregation unless they are practicing infant baptism, and we’ll be touching on that in our next lesson.

To facilitate immersion baptism, most congregation have baptistries installed — miniature pools large enough for a couple of people to occupy — but they don’t have to. Baptisms can be indoors or outdoors. Baptisms can take place at lakes, ponds, rivers, and beaches. Baptisms can occur in swimming pools, front-loaders, or any other container large enough to submerge a person.

There are several examples of baptism in the new Testament, but few focus on where the baptisms took place. In Mark 1:9-11, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River. Also, the eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 asks about being baptized when he sees a body of water along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Lydia is baptized at the riverside in Acts 16:11-15.

Why Do We Immerse?

So why do we believe in immersion baptism as opposed to anything else? It’s pretty simple really. The word Baptizo, from which we get the transliterated word baptism, means to dunk, to submerge, to immerse in water. When Peter says, in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized…” in English, he was really saying, “Repent and be submerged…” in his own language. The only reason there’s ever been any confusion over the nature of baptism is because the earliest English translations chose to transliterate the word rather than define it.

Moreover, in those couple of instances where we see a location recorded, we see the baptisms occurring where there is a lot of water. Jesus goes down into the Jordan River to be baptized. When the eunuch is baptized in Acts 18:36-38, he and Peter go down into the water. If these people weren’t planning on being immersed, there’d be no point in going down into the water.

I think, however, the best reason is found in a couple passages that talk about baptism. In Colossians 2:6, Paul begins a discussion about being separate from the world in Christ, and he talks about being buried and raised in baptism (verse 12). Paul also touches on this in Romans 6, when he’s talking about being dead to sin and alive to Christ. Starting in verse 3, Paul says we are baptized into Jesus’ death, that we are buried in baptism to raise again to newness of life.

Buried with Christ

Paul is painting a powerful picture that, when we are immersed in baptism, we reenact our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection. Christ was put to death, was bodily buried, and then rose from death to live again. When we’re baptized, we put our sinful selves to death, and then we’re buried under the waters so we can rise to new life in Jesus. Pouring some water upon my head buries me no more than pouring a bag of dirt atop a body buries it. If I’m going to be buried with Christ, then I humble myself to the point of complete immersion under the waters.

lesson by Robert Smelser