II Kings 5:14,
"Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the
saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a
little child, and he was clean."
This morning, we can many times overvalue or undervalue a thing. When people begin to overvalue something, we may be given to extreme thinking and fall into the other ditch and undervalue the thing. For example, if someone overvalues the worth of confession and/or belief in Christ Jesus the Lord by saying that it gets someone saved to heaven's pure world, we could feasibly fall into the ditch of undervaluing those things by saying that they are of little value. Therefore, it behooves us to consider what the Scriptures say about a subject and not base our opinion of the matter on what others are doing. Anyone that bases an outlook, positively or negatively, on what someone else is doing or thinking is ripe for disaster. Our thoughts need to be centered on what the Bible has declared so that we rightly divide the subject as it ought to be. So, in keeping with that sentiment, how should we value the subject of baptism?
In our verse above, Naaman the Syrian has come to Elisha to be healed of his leprosy. After hearing about the man of God's abilities, he desires to be healed, and the command is to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River. When Naaman finally heeds this command, we read above that his flesh came again like a little child when he stepped out of the water. What are some characteristics of a little child? What exactly should we draw from that language, and more importantly, how does that apply to baptism in a New Testament sense?
The first thing we must understand about the flesh of a little child (no matter how cute) is that it is still plagued with sin. When children are born into this world, there is no period of innocence as Scriptures are clear that we are conceived in sin, shapen in iniquity, and come forth speaking lies as soon as we be born. (Psalm 51:5, Psalm 58:3) For anyone to logically consider that children are born innocent, a little time will show forth the nature that they possess and prove otherwise. For those with children, did you ever teach your child to lie, steal, or be covetous? Why do they do these things? Simply put, their flesh has the same stain that ours does because of the sin and transgression of father Adam. Our actions show forth that we are in this condition, and man sins, showing forth that he is a sinner. Therefore, we understand that having the flesh of a little child is not sinless flesh, but what exactly does that represent?
Children have exceptionally smooth skin. While not sinless, their skin is fresh as it has not been exposed and hardened by the world's elements. Given time, their skin will toughen due to the conditions to which it is exposed, but a fresh beginning is the most descriptive term for a child's flesh. Naaman came out of the water with fresh skin that was tender as a little child's. This has the connotations of a "fresh start" going forward, and transitioning to the New Testament age, we find some interesting parallels. What does baptism do for us? If one overvalued baptism, they would claim that it regenerates someone to make them fit for heaven, but if one undervalued baptism, they would claim that it was just a ceremony with not a whole lot of purpose or point. The Scriptural answer is fittingly in between these two ideologies. While baptism does not save one to heaven's pure world, it is the answer of a good conscience toward God. (I Peter 3:21)
When a child has disobeyed his parents, there is a sense of anxiety and mourning that comes from not having close fellowship with mom and dad. The reason that fellowship is lacking is because the conscience knows that wayward steps have been taken, and there is something to try to hide out of sight. When a child of God begins to see himself as a rotten wretch not worthy of heaven or God's favour, there is a sense in the conscience that cries out, "What must I do?" When the answer is found that all for heaven and immortal glory has been done, what a relief and yet still nagging anxiety that follows! Seeing that Christ has done all for us to be housed with Him in heaven some sweet day is the biggest relief and rest that can be found in this old world, but our loving desire to serve God in newness of life begs the question, "What must I do?" The answer is found in baptism for the remission of sins. (Acts 2:38) This deliverance is not in order to
receive the remission of sins, but because there is knowledge that remission has already taken place. Therefore, what more fitting a service could there be than baptism that shows (in a figure) what it took for remission: death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
What happens to one that has come out of the baptismal waters? Are their sins then washed away? Do they never sin again? Certainly, all could attest from experience that the answer to the second question is a resounding, "No!" My sins have continued to the present hour (regrettably so) even after being baptized some 19 years ago. So, baptism could not wash away our sins in the sight of Almighty God. Christ's blood and sacrifice alone could merit such a thing, but the waters of baptism do wash away our sight of sins from us. Much like a conscience being cleansed through chastisement from parents, we feel the weight of our sins lifted as we come forth from the waters. Children feel close fellowship with their parents after correction as the slate has been wiped clean again. Children of God feel cleansed after baptism as their slate has been wiped clean much like Naaman's flesh was that day in Jordan. Naaman was still a sinner, but he felt
relief from the sting of leprosy. We are still sinners, but we feel relief from the sting of sin and death that no longer holds us captive.
Let us never be found devaluing baptism due to the over-importance that others place upon it. While the water does not do anything for us eternally, it does quite a lot for us here in this life. It is the door that opens wide the privileges of church membership. It is the step that brings us closer fellowship with God as we feel the slate wiped clean with the conscience cleansed. Finally, it is the most evident performance that we submit to that shows our desire to be faithful to our Husband that bought and paid for us. His sacrifice is the substance of what baptism is in shadow or figure. We are saying by going down and up again, "I believe that this work of Christ was done in my behalf, and I desire to show forth humble submission to His cause all the days of my life." May we keep that vow of service and feel that closeness and freshness of life that is a blessing from Him.