IS BAPTISM ABOUT DEDICATION?
Why was Jesus baptized?
To know Jehovah is to love him. He is everything we could imagine our father and best friend to be like. As you become better acquainted with him you will come to the point where you want to do something about your love for him. But what? We feel so inadequate. What can we actually give to God? How can we show in a positive way just how much we love him? If you had someone help you come to know Jehovah through a study of the Bible you will soon be told that you must dedicate yourself to God. Ah, isn't that a positive way of demonstrating your love for your Creator? Once you have made a dedication of yourself to God you are then instructed to symbolize that dedication by water baptism. But first you are required to review what you have learned with a couple of elders in your congregation, for they want to discern if you are ready for the commitment that dedication to God entails. You must also be already busy in the witnessing work. Once they are satisfied of your qualification you are ready to be baptized at the next assembly. All those presenting themselves to be baptized will be asked two questions:
1. On the basis of the
sacrifice of Jesus Christ, have you repented of your sins and dedicated
yourself to Jehovah to do his will?
2. Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?
From then on you will be
expected to live up to your dedication and all the responsibilities that
go with it that you willingly accepted, and by doing so you understand
that God will bless you with everlasting life.
Says The Watchtower of 1956, July 1, page 399, paragraph 14, under the study article, "What Dedication Means to Me": “It is true that dedication places a heavy load of responsibility upon one. And faithfulness in carrying that load is mandatory!”
And as you carry that heavy load you believe that you are following the example that Jesus set for us.
There are those, however, who have studied the Bible and have come to know and love Jehovah, but feel they are not in a position to take on such a "heavy load of responsibility" that comes with making a dedication. (compare Matthew 11:28-30) I have met quite a number over the years who have been faithful meeting attenders for as long as twenty years or more without taking the step of baptism. They feel that it is better not to make a vow than to make one and break it. ―Ecclesiastes 5:5.
How different this was in the first century. Those who listened to Peter at Pentecost and "embraced his words heartily were baptized," as many as three thousand on that one occasion. (Acts 2:41) There was no delaying. Consider some other examples:
But when they believed Philip, who was declaring the good news of the
kingdom of God and of the name of Jesus Christ, they proceeded to be baptized, both men and women.
In answer the eunuch said to Philip: "I beg you, About whom does the prophet say this? About himself or about some other man?" Philip opened his mouth and, starting with this Scripture, he declared to him the good news about Jesus. Now as they were going over the road, they came to a certain body of water, and the eunuch said: "Look! A body of water; what prevents me from getting baptized?" ―Acts 8:34-36.
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira and a worshiper of God, was listening, and Jehovah opened her heart wide to pay attention to the things being spoken by Paul. Now when she and her household got baptized, she said with entreaty: "If YOU men have judged me to be faithful to Jehovah, enter into my house and stay." And she just made us come. ―Acts 16:14-15.
And he brought them outside and said: "Sirs, what must I do to get saved?" They said: "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will get saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of Jehovah to him together with all those in his house. And he took them along in that hour of the night and bathed their stripes; and, one and all, he and his were baptized without delay. And he brought them into his house and set a table before them, and he rejoiced greatly with all his household now that he had believed God. ―Acts 16:30-34.
Do you notice in the above scriptural examples that the believers were baptized without delay? Do you see any mention of them having to "dedicate" themselves first to God and having to weigh the responsibilities that go with such a dedication? Is water baptism about dedication? What does the Bible say on this matter?
Let us consider a few scriptures on how water was used in connection with the sin offering in the law covenant.
“And Jehovah spoke
further to Moses, saying: “Take the Levites from among the
"‘And a clean man must gather up the ashes of the cow and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place; and they must serve the assembly of the sons of Israel as something to be kept for the water for cleansing. It is a sin offering... 13 Everyone touching a corpse, the soul of whatever man may die, and who will not purify himself, has defiled Jehovah’s tabernacle, and that soul must be cut off from Israel. Because the water for cleansing has not been sprinkled upon him, he continues unclean. His uncleanness is still upon him.
16 And everyone who on the open field may touch someone slain with the sword or a corpse or a bone of a man or a burial place will be unclean seven days. 17 And they must take for the unclean one some of the dust of the burning of the sin offering and put running water upon it in a vessel. 18 Then a clean man must take hyssop and dip it into the water and spatter it upon the tent and all the vessels and the souls that happened to be there and upon the one who touched the bone or the slain one or the corpse or the burial place. 19 And the clean person must spatter it upon the unclean one on the third day and on the seventh day and must purify him from sin on the seventh day; and he must wash his garments and bathe in water, and he must be clean in the evening.
20 "‘But the man who may be unclean and who will not purify himself, well, that soul must be cut off from the midst of the congregation, because it is Jehovah’s sanctuary that he has defiled. The water for cleansing was not sprinkled upon him. He is unclean.
21 "‘And it must serve as a statute to time indefinite for them, that the one spattering the water for cleansing should wash his garments, also the one touching the water for cleansing. He will be unclean until the evening. (Numbers 19:9, 13, 16-21)
Why did Jehovah require such an elaborate ceremonial cleansing with water?
We are told that the law was only “a shadow of the good things to come, but
not the very substance of the things," for "the reality belongs to the
Christ.” (Col. 2:17;
Did you note in the above scriptures that the "sin-cleansing water" was meant to make a person clean in God's eyes? That it was a clean man who was used to administer the sin-cleansing water upon the unclean person and thus the unclean man became purified? Note also the part the "sin offering" played in this.
In view of the above, can we see why Saul, who became the apostle Paul, was told by Ananias: "And now why are you delaying? Rise, get baptized and wash your sins away by calling upon his name." ―Acts 22:16.
Consider another scripture that shows how Jehovah viewed the use of water as cleansing his wayward people. Isaiah 1:16, 18: "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the badness of your dealings from in front of my eyes; cease to do bad. . . 'Come, now, you people, and let us set matters straight between us,' says Jehovah. 'Though the sins of you people should prove to be as scarlet, they will be made white just like snow.'"
The figurative "washing" of themselves symbolized their removing "the badness of their dealings," "ceasing to do bad," and would result in their sins being forgiven and being viewed as clean in God's eyes. This is further illustrated in Revelation 7:14 where the great crowd, that comes out of the great tribulation, is pictured as having washed their robes and made them white ("just like snow') in the blood of the Lamb, thus having their sins forgiven and enjoying an acceptable and clean standing before God.
Jesus also illustrated how water cleanses the person when he washed the feet of his disciples as a lesson in humility. "And so he came to Simon Peter. He said to him: 'Lord, are you washing my feet?' In answer Jesus said to him: 'What I am doing you do not understand at present, but you will understand after these things.' Peter said to him: 'You will certainly never wash my feet.' Jesus answered him: 'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.' Simon Peter said to him: 'Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.' Jesus said to him: 'He that has bathed does not need to have more than his feet washed, but is wholly clean. And you men are clean, but not all.' He knew, indeed, the man betraying him. This is why he said: 'Not all of you are clean.'" ―John 13:6-11.
Here Jesus was not talking about them having had a bath, but rather to the baptism they had by John the Baptist, who “appeared in the wilderness (desert), preaching a baptism [obligating] repentance (a change of one's mind for the better, heartily amending one's ways, with abhorrence of his past sins) in order to obtain forgiveness of and release from sins.” (Mark 1:4,5; Amplified Bible). To Jehovah they were clean because of their repentance and baptism, but not all, as Jesus said, referring to Judas. Judas had been baptized also but he was no longer clean as he had become a thief and was about to betray Jesus. ―see Exodus 40:30-32.
Concerning John the Baptist we are told that he "came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying: 'REPENT, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.' Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the country around the Jordan made their way out to him, and people were baptized by him in the Jordan River, openly confessing their sins." To the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him, he said, "YOU offspring of vipers, who has intimated to YOU to flee from the coming wrath? So then produce fruit that befits repentance . . . I, for my part, baptize YOU with water because of YOUR repentance. . ." ―Matthew 3:1-2, 5-8, 11.
Please note, John's baptism was for repentance of sins, not for the forgiveness of them. Repentance comes before forgiveness. Indeed, without repentance there is no forgiveness. (Luke 13:3, 5; 2 Peter 3:9) That is why John the Baptist was sent by Jehovah to prepare the way, to have a cleansed repentant people whose sins would be forgiven once the ransom was paid by the blood of God's own Son, and their exercising faith in that blood. (Mark 1:2-4; Acts 13:24; Heb. 9:11-14; 10:21-22) After Jesus' death, baptism was no longer just for repentance of sins but also for forgiveness of them. That is why John's baptism was no longer valid after Jesus' death. Those who had been baptized by John did not need to get baptized again as Jehovah accepted their repentance and viewed them as clean, as symbolized by the water, and forgave their sins upon the death of his Son. Baptism since Jesus' death is for repentance and forgiveness of one's sins. (Acts 2:38; 19:3-5; Heb. 9:22)
So, we see that water baptism is an appropriate symbol of our heartfelt repentance and being cleansed of our sins. It is true that we gain forgiveness of our sins only by exercising faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice (washing our robes in "the blood of the Lamb," Rev. 7:14), but it is at the moment of our baptism that the benefits of the ransom are applied to us. Water baptism is a requirement from God. Submitting to it demonstrates obedience, humility, faith and the desire to have a clean conscience toward our Creator. (Hebrews 10:19-22) Without baptism there is no cleansing and thus no forgiveness of sins. (see Numbers 19:20) "Peter [said] to them: "Repent, and let each one of YOU be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of YOUR sins..." —Acts 2:38.
Hence the command to baptize and be baptized. (Matthew 28:19) "That which corresponds to this is also now saving YOU, namely, baptism, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the request made to God for a good conscience,) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." ―1 Peter 3:21.
Baptism is not about dedication. Dedication is not mentioned, nor defined, anywhere in the Scriptures.
WHY WAS JESUS BAPTIZED?
But, you may wonder, if baptism
is about forgiveness of sins, then why was Jesus baptized since he committed
no sins? We might similarly ask: we know that we all die because of
our inherited sin from Adam, so why did Jesus die, seeing that he had no
The apostle Peter tells us,
"In fact, to this [course] YOU were called, because
even Christ suffered for YOU, leaving YOU a model for YOU to follow his
steps closely. . . He committed no sin, nor was deception found in his
mouth. . . He himself bore our sins in his own body upon the stake,
in order that we might be done with sins and live to righteousness. And
'by his stripes YOU were healed.'"
―1 Peter 2:21-24.
Yes, since "Christ died for our sins"; he suffered for our sins; he also was baptized for our sins; which, as Peter explains, he "bore in his own body." (Isaiah 53:2-12; 1 Corinthians 15:3, 22) This fulfilled all the requirements of the Law according to the covenant. The Tabernacle, the anointed high priest, the sacrifices at the temple and all the necessary requirements regarding the offering of the sacrifices, including their being cleansed with water, were "our tutor leading to Christ." (Galatians 3:19, 24-25; Hebrews 8:1-6; 9:6-14) Does it seem reasonable that his baptism, at which time he was anointed and became the Messiah, and with which he started his ministry and the fulfilling of the law, was not foreshadowed anywhere in the Law? Jesus' baptism prepared him for the sacrifice of his perfect human body, the sin offering on behalf of mankind.
Another point to consider: When we are baptized, should the emphasis not be on God's love for us, and the love of his Son, and the ransom provision whereby we gain forgiveness of sins and a relationship with our heavenly father; rather than emphasizing our love for God and what we are doing, and will be doing, as is the case with Dedication. As The Message Bible (MSG) so aptly puts Galatians 3:11: "Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you."