Here are some of my notes from Dr. Fred Malone's sermon at the ARBCA GA on baptism as a means of grace. If you've never read Dr. Malone's book, Baptism of Disciples Alone, I highly recommend it!
What baptism is a means of grace to the believer?
1. Baptism that is a means of grace is the baptism instituted in the New Testament.
2. New Testament baptism is a baptism of disciples alone.
3. New Testament baptism is a baptism of immersion.
4. Baptism is a church ordinance; therefore, the only instituted baptism is one performed by someone authorized by the church.
Is baptism a means of grace?
1. There is no ex opere operato (from the work performed) grace conveyed in baptism.
2. Baptism is not a "seal" of the new covenant. The Holy Spirit is the "seal." Baptism is a "sign" of covenant membership.
3. Baptism is a means of grace appointed by God to strengthen and encourage the faith of the believer who is baptized. Baptism also strengthens other believers and proclaims the gospel to unbelievers who witness the ordinance.
4. Some Baptists wrongly think baptism completes conversion. That notion is neither taught in Scripture nor the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. Those who would make baptism a part of conversion overturn the Bible's gracious doctrine of justification by faith alone because of Christ alone.
How is baptism a means of grace?
1. Baptism is a sign to the person baptized of the full salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ. We should never think of baptism without thinking of the Lord Jesus Christ and saving union with Him. The work of Christ on Calvary's hill must always take precedence in our minds and hearts over the ordinance of baptism itself. As the believer joins faith to his baptism, the Spirit of Christ strengthens the believer's faith, which lays hold of Christ who is proclaimed in the ordinance.
2. Baptism confirms forgiveness of sins in the heart of the believer. It testifies to the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. But, baptism itself has no power to accomplish forgiveness of sin, either as an atonement or as a means of appropriating the atonement.
3. Baptism is an appeal to God from a good conscience. We are not to appeal to baptism itself, but we are to appeal to the Lord Jesus Christ directly in baptism. Baptism, therefore, calls us to turn from sin and to Jesus Christ.
4. Baptism becomes a means of grace in older believers who reflect on their previous baptism. It reminds them of Christ and so strengthens their faith.
5. Baptism is a sign of the believer's future resurrection from the dead in glorification.
What are some applications of baptism as a means of grace?
1. When we administer baptism, we ought always to explain the meaning of baptism. We should explain that it represents the work of Christ in history, union with Christ, the work of Christ within the believer, and the promised bodily resurrection of the believer in the future at the coming of Jesus Christ.
2. When we administer baptism, Dr. Malone recommends including it in the worship service proper. Why not perform it in the middle of the worship service after congregational singing to make sure the people understand it one of the elements of worship, not something merely tacked on to the end, or something preliminary accomplished quickly at the beginning?
3. Some say baptism should be administered immediately after conversion as it was in the book of Acts. But, the converts baptized by John, Jesus, and the Apostles in the New Testament already had a thorough understanding of the OT Scriptures and the basics of divine truth. They lived in a culture of the knowledge of the biblical worldview and the expectation of a holy life. By contrast, many in our society do not have that kind of knowledge. They have little understanding of the gospel that they are committing to believe or the Ten Commandments that they are committing to obey. We are to make disciples before we baptize them. If we do not carefully guard this portal to our church, then we will lose the meaning of the gospel because we will lose regenerate church membership. Our churches will go into decline.