When was the last time you thought about your baptism? Did you realize that baptism is mentioned in one way or another in well over half the books of the New Testament, and that in the epistles it is a discussion directed toward those who have already been baptized? Why is it then that we relegate it to first principles only, and ignore it the rest of our lives?
Paul told the Colossians in 2:11,12 that baptism is the “circumcision” of New Testament Israel. Instead of removing a piece of flesh, we remove the “old man of flesh.” So what was circumcision to Old Testament Israel?
God told Abraham in Genesis 17 that circumcision was a token of the covenant between God and his people. And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant, v 14.
The Hebrew word for “token,” OTH, is used in a variety of ways in the Old Testament. In Numbers 2:2 it refers to the banners that waved over a tribe’s encampment to identify them. In Gen 4:15 it refers to the mark God put on Cain as a sign of his protection. In Josh 2:12 it was the scarlet cord, a sign of the bargain between Rahab and the spies. In Ex 4:8,9 God gave Moses miracles to do which showed both the people and Pharaoh that he came from God. In Josh 4:6 it referred to the pile of stones used to remember the crossing of the Jordan River, a memorial that was to be passed down through the generations.
If it was so important, why then did the people discontinue it in the wilderness? For all the people that came out [of Egypt] were circumcised; but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, they had not circumcised. For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the nation, even the men of war that came forth out of Egypt, were consumed, because they hearkened not unto the voice of Jehovah: unto whom Jehovah swore that he would not let them see the land which Jehovah swore unto their fathers that he would give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. And their children, whom he raised up in their stead, these did Joshua circumcise, Josh 5:5-8.
Maybe I am reading something into this that is not there, but I wonder if God simply did not allow those faithless people to circumcise their children. He certainly took it seriously when Moses did not circumcise his sons (Ex 4:24-26). Only when the faithless generation of Israelites were all dead did Joshua renew this covenant and its token with their children.
So here is our question today: If God were to take similar actions today, would he allow me to have my children baptized? Or would he consider it a travesty of the covenant for someone as faithless as I, someone who no longer lives up to the baptism I took part in, that symbolic resurrection from the death of sin, to try to teach my children about it and what it means? How could I even hope to do so?
The biggest insult a Jew could hurl was “uncircumcised Gentile.” That is why they stoned Stephen in Acts 7 after he said they were uncircumcised in heart, v 51. They understood that the token of the covenant with God was not supposed to be merely an outward sign, but a symbol of a faithful relationship. What is your baptism to you? Is it merely the last step on the staircase chart of the Plan of Salvation? Or is it a token, a daily reminder to live like a new person, a child of a covenant relationship with God, a relationship that is more precious to you than anything else in the world?
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. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, Col 2:11-13.