This is the first blog of a series of posts on the important topic of Christian baptism. I plan to look at whether baptism is needed before one can be a Christian, but before we look at that we need to see what baptism is. Below are eight truths about baptism.
1. It’s commanded in the Bible. “Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is not something we can simply decide to receive or not receive. It is a command from God. If you confess to be a Christian and haven’t been baptized in water, you must be.
2. It represents our union with Jesus. “Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). Baptism symbolizes our spiritual union with Jesus Christ. What He experienced, in a true sense, we experience. He died and was raised from the dead. So we have died to sin and been raised to new life. Water baptism is a picture of this. We stand in the water as sinners who do not know God. We are then put under the water as those who have died to sin. Then we come out of the water as those who have new life.
3. It shows repentance and faith. “And were baptized of him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6). Though this is speaking of the baptism of John, still Christian baptism shows repentance. We are coming to the water being people who were and are in need of cleansing from sin. Baptism also shows faith. We believe that, not only have we died to sin, but we have been raised to new life through faith in the working of God (Colossians 2:12).
4. It represents the washing of our sins away. “And now why do you tarry? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). We will look at this verse more in a later post. But for now know that baptism does represent the washing of our sins away. And what a beautiful symbol it is for this.
5. It shows we have accepted God’s Word. Baptism shows that we have been saved and is a way we can make a public profession of faith. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). It identifies us as Christians and as part of the Church and of a local church.
6. It’s for those who are already believers. Not only does baptism show we have accepted God’s Word, but it is only for those who have accepted. You must be a believer before you are baptized. Circumcision was the sign that someone belonged to Old Testament Israel. Infants received this sign. However, this was the sign for physical Israel, many of whom who did not know God. Baptism is the sign of the spiritual people of God, those who are in the new covenant, and all who are in the new covenant know God (Hebrews 8:8-13). Therefore only those who have been born again can receive baptism. There are no baptisms of infants in the New Testament.
7. It’s by immersion in the New Testament. The word “baptism” primarily means to “plunge,” or “immerse,” and that is what we are led to see in the New Testament examples (Mark 1:5, 10; John 3:23; Acts 8:38-39). The Bible says we are “buried with Him in baptism” (Colossians 2:12; see Romans 6:3-4). Of course, the language of having been “buried” fits with being immersed into and under water, not sprinkled or poured on.
8. It’s a picture of salvation. In one sense we can say it is a picture of salvation. It is not salvation, but a picture of it. It does not save us in-and-of-itself, but it shows what Jesus has done for us, what has been done to us, and what our response to the gospel has been.
A brief definition of baptism that captures many aspects of it is: Baptism is an act that represents the spiritual reality that has been accomplished for us and in us by the work of the Triune God, and identifies us with God’s people.
The next post in this series will deal with whether baptism is essential and show us how we can think of this question in a more helpful way.