Baptism: Why Do We Need It?

It is through baptism that we formally make our commitment to permanently turn from sin and surrender our lives to God.

What part of the conversion process follows true repentance?

"Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts:2:38).

"And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts:22:16).

It is through baptism that we formally make our commitment to permanently turn from sin and surrender our lives to God.

Did Jesus and the apostles baptize the repentant?

"Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John ..., He left Judea and departed again to Galilee" (John:4:1-3).

"And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized" (Acts:18:8).

Does Jesus want His servants to continue baptizing new disciples?

"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, '... Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age'" (Matthew:28:18-20).

Jesus commanded His disciples to continue baptizing after His death and resurrection. His promise to be with them until the end of the age—which has not yet occurred—shows that He intended for baptism to be a part of His followers' responsibilities through all intervening ages, including our own.

Why is baptism important?

"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark:16:16).

Baptism goes right to the heart of God's forgiveness of our sins and His gift of salvation. Through His death Christ paid the penalty (Romans:6:23) for our sins. At the Passover meal the night before His crucifixion, Jesus blessed a cup of wine and said to His disciples, "For this is [represents] My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew:26:28).

Paul explained that "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans:5:8). Then He added, "... Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (verse 9). Paul also wrote, "This is a faithful saying: 'For if we died with Him , we shall also live with Him'" (2 Timothy:2:11).

In what way do we die with Christ?

"... Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?" (Romans:6:3).

Baptism is a symbolic burial ceremony—commanded by Jesus Himself—through which we accept His death as a sacrifice for our sins. "For I delivered to you first of all," wrote Paul, "that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians:15:3-4).

Paul also explained: "... Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified [considered sinless] by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus , whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood ..." (Romans:3:23-25, NRSV).

Through the ceremony of baptism we become symbolically united with Christ in death. "For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin" (Romans:6:5-6).

What responsibility comes with baptism?

"Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans:6:4).

"In the same way you must regard yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, in union with Christ Jesus. Therefore sin must no longer reign in your mortal body, exacting obedience to the body's desires. You must no longer put any part of it at sin's disposal, as an implement for doing wrong. Put yourselves instead at the disposal of God; think of yourselves as raised from death to life, and yield your bodies to God as implements for doing right" (verses 11-13, Revised English Bible).

Baptism signifies the end of a life of habitual sinning and the beginning of a new life devoted to righteousness. "... Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works " (Titus:2:11-14).

Does this responsibility include living an obedient life?

"It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'" (Matthew:4:4).

"But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men'" (Acts:5:29; compare 2 Corinthians:10:3-5).

The teachings of the entire Bible—both Old and New Testaments—become our guide to life. The New Testament explains how we should apply Old Testament teachings under the New Covenant. The emphasis of the New Covenant is on the proper implementation of the spirit—the intent—of God's laws.

No longer can we live however we want, ignoring God's instructions. Jesus made this abundantly clear: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew:7:21-23). We are to live lawfully, not lawlessly!

Why was Jesus baptized?

"Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he consented" (Matthew:3:13-15, NRSV).

"It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan" (Mark:1:9).

Jesus was born to be a perfect example for us as a physical human being. Though He never sinned and needed no forgiveness, He was baptized to show us the example we should follow. As He was baptized, so should we be baptized. He personally showed us that baptism is the way He has established for us to unite with Him in death so our sins can be forgiven.

Should children be baptized?

"And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized" (Acts:18:8).

"Then those who gladly received his word were baptized" (Acts:2:41).

"But when they believed ... both men and women were baptized" (Acts:8:12).

Baptism is for those mature enough to comprehend and believe the meaning of repentance and baptism. Except on rare occasions for some in their later teen years, most children are not old enough to evaluate why they sin. They simply are not mature enough to understand their own nature and what is wrong with it.

Children are precious to God. Jesus took little children into His arms and blessed them (Mark:10:13-16). But in every specific example of baptism mentioned in the Bible, we see that those being baptized were old enough and mature enough to understand repentance, baptism and the seriousness of their commitment. Only those who are mature enough to produce the fruits of repentance should be baptized.

Is it ever necessary to rebaptize adults?

"And he said to them, 'Into what then were you baptized?' So they said, 'Into John's baptism.' Then Paul said, 'John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.' When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts:19:3-5).

Although these people had been immersed by the baptism of John the Baptist, they had not received the Holy Spirit (verse 2). Only those who receive God's Spirit are converted disciples of Christ (Romans:8:9). Paul rebaptized them in the name of Jesus Christ so they would receive the Holy Spirit. Today many people have been baptized who never understood what sin is or what real repentance entailed. They, too, would need to be rebaptized to receive God's Spirit and be converted.

How should we be baptized?

"Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized" (John:3:23).

"When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him" (Matthew:3:16).

Notice that John the Baptist chose a location where there was "much water" to baptize those who came to him. And Jesus "came up ... from the water" when He was baptized. Why is this wording significant? The Greek word baptizo means to "immerse," to "dip into" or to "submerge."

Jesus set us an example of being fully submerged in water in a place where there was "much water" to make this possible. All other examples of baptisms by Christ's disciples mentioned in the Scriptures follow this pattern. For example, we read in Acts:8:38 that "both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he [Philip] baptized him." There is no biblical example of any other form of water baptism.

The symbolism of baptism, as the burial of the old self, requires a ceremony picturing a true burial. Only baptism by immersion fulfills this symbolic requirement. Therefore, following the example of our Savior, we too should be fully immersed in water when we are baptized, symbolically burying the old self with Him in a watery grave.

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In this lesson we examine the process by which our lives can be turned to God -- the process of conversion.

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