Baptism is a topic that concerns a fundamental tenet of Christianity. It raises questions particularly for those new to the Christian faith. This article is all about baptism to answer those questions.
What is Baptism?
The root word for baptism is ‘bapt’, which has several variations: baptize, baptism, baptizer, etc. It is used in reference to washing and dipping.
Baptism is a Christian religious ceremony or rite. It is when water is either sprinkled or poured upon an individual or is immersed in water. It is the rite of induction into the Christian community. It symbolizes the individual’s identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some Christian denominations perform the baptism of infants as a covenant sign of identification in the Christian community of the faithful. However, the majority of Christian groups practice what is called believer’s baptism. Here is how the Scriptures explain it. Rom 6:3-6
(3) Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (4) We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
(5) If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (6) For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—NIV
In this chapter, Paul is addressing the Christian’s death to sin in principle.
What is Water Baptism all about?
Baptism is a representation of a spiritual truth. Baptism follows an individual’s decision to trust in Christ marking him or her as a follower of Christ, and a member of the Christian community.
Individuals who have faith in Christ are baptized into him and baptized into his death; in other words, they are joined with him. Just as Christ died, we die to our old, sinful lifestyle, and a new life begins. Scripture confirms this precept in 2 Cor. 5:17, which read: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” NIV
Immersion is the form of baptism for this principle— that is, Christians are completely buried briefly in water. It is recognized that this form of baptism represents being buried with Christ, thus the death and burial of the old way of life as a result. Rising up out of the water symbolizes resurrection to new life with Christ, in addition to the promise of a future bodily resurrection. As Jesus Christ was raised from the dead … we may also live a new life. If we consider our old, sinful life as dead and buried, we have a vigorous motive to defy sin. We can then willfully choose to treat the desires and temptations of the old nature as though they were dead. Subsequently, we can carry on enjoying the wonderful new life with Jesus. As the Scripture reads in Gal 3:27, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
John the Baptist also taught baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Matt 3:11
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
Here John the Baptist clarified that his baptism with the water from the Jordan River demonstrated repentance or a willingness to turn from sin. This was the initiation of the spiritual process. John baptized individuals as a sign that they had requested God to forgive their sins and had determined to live as he desired them to live. Baptism was an external sign of commitment. However, to be effective, it had to be and still needs to be accompanied by an “inward” change of attitude leading to a changed life as it does today. John’s baptism did not yield salvation. However, it prepared an individual to receive the coming Messiah and accept his message and his baptism.
The statement from John, “he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” exposed the character of the one who was more powerful arriving after John as the promised Messiah (Jesus). The coming of the Spirit had been prophesied as part of the Messiah’s arrival (Isa. 44:3, Jer. 31:31-34, Ezek. 36:26-27).
Perhaps the most significant baptism is the one Christ taught in the Great Commission. Matt 28:18-20:
(18) Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
First, we see that God gave Jesus power over heaven and earth, an all-encompassing concept that entails divine status. That is to say, nothing is outside of his supreme control.
Second, based on this authority, Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples as they preached, baptized, and taught. “Make disciples” meant instructing new Christians on how to follow Jesus, to submit to His Lordship, and to take up his mission of compassionate service.
“Baptism” is significant because it unifies a Christian believer with Jesus Christ in his or her death to sin and resurrection to new life. Baptism represents surrender to Christ, an eagerness to live God’s way, and identification with God’s covenant people. Baptism is decreed by Jesus. To baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”
affirms the reality of the Trinity, this concept coming directly from Jesus himself. For more information on the Trinity, please read the article, All about the Trinity, on this website.
Is Baptism Required for Salvation?
Baptism is not required for salvation. Baptism is not a necessity for salvation because we are justified by faith. Rom 5:1-2
(1) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. NIV
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. NIV
Therefore, it is evident that we are saved by faith—not by faith and a ceremony (works). A religious ceremony is a set of activities or rites executed by someone. For example, circumcision was a ceremony where one individual performed a religious rite on another individual. Similarly, baptism is also a ceremony where one individual performs a religious rite on another individual; however, we are saved by faith alone, and any works we do, including ceremonies, will not help.
Works (action) are things we do as a result of salvation. James 2:17, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” NIV
If baptism was necessary for salvation, then no one could be saved on his or her deathbed or children that had not been baptized. Also, the bedridden could not be saved. Remember Jesus granted salvation to the criminal on the cross (who had not been baptized).
Therefore, baptism is not required for salvation. However, it is a crucial rite in the Christian community and theological revelation of the New Testament.
Baptism is an external display and confirmation of one’s salvation.
Why was Jesus Baptized?
When Jesus requested John the Baptist to baptize Him, John balked at the idea. Jesus explained that it would be the proper way for them to “fulfill all righteousness.” [Matt. 3:15]
What did He mean? It seems that Jesus saw his baptism as advancing God’s work.
The fundamental reason that Jesus was baptized was to fulfill the Old Testament requirements of entering into the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek.
While even the greatest prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) were required to confess their sinfulness and desire for repentance, Jesus didn’t need to admit sin because He was sinless (John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 John 3:5). Although Jesus did not require forgiveness, He was baptized for the following reasons:
(1) To confess sin on behalf of the nation, as did Isaiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah had done (see Ezra 9:2; Neh. 1:6; 9:1 ff.; Isa 6:5).
(2) To carry out God’s mission and advance God’s work in the world.
(3) To show support for John’s ministry.
(4) To initiate his public ministry in order to bring the message of salvation to all individuals.
(5) To identify with the penitent people of God, such as with humanness and sin.
(6) To give us an example to follow.
We see how pleased God was with Jesus’ baptism in Matt 3:16-17:
16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
The illustration of the Spirit of God coming down from heaven like a dove was a sign that Jesus was the Messiah and that the age of the Spirit predicted by the prophets was formally beginning (Isa 61:1).
The downward Spirit portrayed a soft, quiet, but energetic presence arriving to anoint Jesus. It wasn’t that Jesus required to be filled with the Spirit (as if there was any lack in him) because he came “from the Holy Spirit” (1:20) since his conception. Rather, this was his regal anointing.
Baptism is a joyous external act of transformation and confirmation. There is nothing like a fresh start in life—especially with Christ!
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