PREACHING ON BAPTISM: AN EXAMPLE
Jack Cottrell – June 2016
Brother Bob Hentrich, minister of the Chillicothe (IL) Christian Church, wrote me this not long ago: “Dr. Cottrell, I plan to preach on Romans 6 next Sunday, and I want to display this quote of yours on the screen: ‘Both faith and baptism are conditions for salvation, but faith is the means and baptism is the time. Please take care: do not equate condition with means, and do not confuse means and time.’ I think it would be helpful to then use an illustration to help make clear the condition/means and means/time ideas. Can you suggest some illustrations that might clarify this for our folks? Thanks!”
(Here is how I answered Bob:) Yes, I have used several illustrations, especially for showing that the MEANS of bringing something about is not the same as the TIME when it happens. My favorite is the simple process of getting light out of a lamp. Here we can distinguish three things, all of which are “conditions.” First, the SOURCE of the light is the electric power that comes through the wiring of the house. Second, the MEANS of transferring this power to the lamp is the insertion of the lamp’s plug into a socket. Third, the TIME when the light actually comes on is when you flip the switch on the wall (or on the lamp). As applied to salvation, the source is grace; the means is faith; and the time is baptism.
Another illustration is the happy occasion of eating lunch in a nearby restaurant. The SOURCE of the food is the Cracker Barrel (e.g.) down the road. The MEANS of transferring the food from the Cracker Barrel to your stomach is the gift card some kind soul gave you for Christmas. The TIME when the food fills your tummy is when you visit the restaurant and eat the meal. It is quite obvious that you do not receive the food just because (or just as soon as) you have the gift card in your possession. You have to take your gift card to the place where the food is served.
A similar illustration is actually seeing the Super Bowl live! You may have a ticket to the game in your hand; the ticket is your MEANS for seeing the game, but you do not see it AS SOON AS you have the ticket. You have to go the place where the game is played, at the TIME when it is played.
In these illustrations, the “means” transfers the desired effect (light, food, visual experience) into your life, but not AS SOON AS the means alone is present. Even if the lamp is plugged in, the light does not come on until the switch is flipped. Even if you have the gift card in your hand (free food!), you do not actually have the food until you go to the place where it is served. The same is true of the Super Bowl ticket. These are simply examples of our common distinction between a “necessary” condition and a “sufficient” condition. Something can be the former without being the latter.
As applied to salvation, the point is that the phrase “BY faith” is simply NOT the same thing as “AS SOON AS faith appears.” The means and the time are not the same thing, and they do not necessarily occur simultaneously. This is clearly seen in Colossians 2:12, which says the sinner is “raised up,” i.e., regenerated (see v. 13), “through faith in the working of God”; but this happens specifically “in baptism.” This is what the text says! Both faith and baptism are conditions for salvation, but not the same kind of condition. Faith is the means by which we receive saving grace (“by faith”), while baptism is the time during which we receive it (“in baptism”).
(This was the end of my answer to Bob’s request, but it is not the end of the story. Shortly after Brother Hentrich presented his sermon on Romans 6, he sent me this report:)
“Dr. Cottrell–I am beyond thrilled today! I preached on Romans 6 today, and someone came forward to be baptized at each service: a lady in her early 60’s at the first service, and a mom in her late 20’s at the second service. NEITHER came to church planning at all to be baptized! The first-service lady was an incredible blessing! She has been talking with me for at least two years about baptism, having been baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church and not seeing the need for immersion as an adult. I gave her your book Baptism: A Biblical Study last year. She read the entire book, and still did not seem convinced. But today (after much prayer and patience) she said YES and came forward. It was a huge emotional moment for our entire church family! The other lady, the younger mom, had been sprinkled in the Lutheran church, and was convicted today for her need to be immersed.
“I simply cannot thank you enough for your commentary on Romans, your articles on baptism, and especially for the illustrations you messaged me that helped me clarify SOURCE, MEANS, and TIME. I used the electricity/light illustration (had an actual lamp on stage for this) and a gift card for Famous Dave’s for the dinner/restaurant illustration. These were invaluable in helping me craft and deliver the sermon. It is so gratifying to see people respond when God’s Word is preached simply and faithfully. Many, many blessings to you – and praise to God.”
(My final reply: “Thanks so much, Bob! This makes my day!”)