Is baptism merely an archaic symbol, or does it hold a deep meaning for the modern Christian?
What do you know about baptism?
What does the Bible teach about baptism? Baptism is one of the most important beliefs of Christianity, but why? What is this ceremony all about? Is baptism merely an archaic symbol, or does it hold a deep meaning for the modern Christian? Does it matter which method of baptism is used: sprinkling, pouring, immersion or some other technique? When should one be baptized? Let's examine what the Bible says about this important subject.
Before we search the Scriptures for the answers to these questions, let's examine some pertinent historical factors and language considerations. Baptism is rooted in the Old Testament. For example, in the book of Exodus, God required the priests to ritually bathe themselves before offering sacrifices (Exodus 30:17-20). The Jews properly viewed ritual bathing as an act that represented cleansing from sin. In time, they applied this principle to gentiles desiring to convert to Judaism.
The Holman Bible Dictionary comments: "At some point close to the time of Jesus, Judaism began a heavy emphasis on ritual washings to cleanse from impurity. This goes back to priestly baths prior to offering sacrifices (Leviticus 16:4, 24). Probably shortly prior to the time of Jesus or contemporary with Him, Jews began baptizing Gentile converts, though circumcision still remained the primary entrance rite into Judaism" (article "Baptism").
Because of this precedent, no one considered it strange for John the Baptist or Jesus to emphasize baptism in their ministries. Later, the apostles compared baptism to Old Testament events, Peter likening Noah's protection in the ark (1 Peter 3:20, 21) and Paul likewise relating Israel's crossing the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:2) as types, or forerunners, of baptism.
As Bible dictionaries show, the word translated into English as baptism is from the Greek word baptizo , meaning "to dip into" or "immerse." The Greek language clearly uses different words to express sprinkling or pouring, none of which ever refers to baptism. The New Testament reveals that baptism was usually performed in a river, with those who were baptized coming out of the water after being immersed.
Discussion: God sent a special messenger preceding Jesus Christ who taught the need for baptism. What was his message? (John 1:19-27).
Did John the Baptist emphasize repentance as necessary for baptism? What did John expect to see demonstrated as a result of repentance? (Matthew 3:1-11).
Note: John's message regarding baptism differed from contemporary religious teaching in that he taught that baptism was much more than simply a symbol of ceremonial cleansing. He taught a baptism of repentance, confession of sin and the need for moral cleansing (verses 5-8). For more information on repentance, review the study "What Is Repentance?" in The Good News of January 1996.
Did Jesus come to John the Baptist to be baptized by John? How did the Father demonstrate His approval of Christ's baptism? (Matthew 3:13-17).
Note: The sinless Son of God did not need to be baptized, but He sought baptism to fulfill all righteousness and to set an example for His followers. Note verse 16, which states that Jesus "came up immediately from the water."
After Jesus Himself was baptized, did He encourage His disciples to be baptized and, on His behalf, to baptize others? Why do you think Christ taught this? (John 3:22; 4:1, 2).
With what instructions did Jesus commission His Church before He ascended to heaven? (Mark 16:16).
Note: Jesus felt that the need for baptism was so important He commissioned His Church to go all over the world and baptize disciples who believe the gospel message. Let's now review in greater detail why baptism is so vitally important as a process of salvation.
Why do you think Peter clearly emphasized the need for repentance and baptism to receive the gift of God's Holy Spirit? (Acts 2:38).
Note: Converting to Christianity is more than simply accepting Christ as one's personal Savior. Even demons believe and know that Christ is the Son of God (James 2:19, 20), yet they are not offered salvation. Peter stresses the necessity for repentance and baptism for the removal of sins. Repentance involves a complete change in our thinking and a recognition of our need for the shed blood of Christ to cleanse us from sin. As a result of this understanding, the next step of salvation is baptism.
Baptism is a serious, life-altering commitment. For this reason, baptism is reserved for mature adults who understand the importance of this meaningful commitment. In the whole of the New Testament, there is not a single example of an infant or child being baptized.
Discussion: How do you think Paul came to this important understanding, comparing baptism to a death, burial and resurrection? (Romans 6:3, 4).
Note: The symbolism of the watery grave of baptism communicates profound meanings. First, as an ordinance, baptism represents our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as our Lord and Master. We accept the shed blood of Christ for our sins and picture the death of our former life in the baptismal grave. As Christ was resurrected a spirit, our coming out of the grave (rising out of the baptismal waters) symbolizes our new, converted, Spirit-led life. Our understanding the true meaning of repentance and conversion lifts baptism to more than symbol status; it becomes a profound, life-changing event!
Notice how Paul refers to baptism as a call to walk in "newness of life." In Romans 6:11, he states that we, rather than facing death, are now "alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Baptism is an outward sign of an inward change of heart and mind. This powerful picture of a new life committed to obedience and faith is so important it is also discussed in 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 1:22-2:3; Ephesians 4:22; and Colossians 3:10. As Paul mentions in Romans 6:1, 2, our new life in Christ Jesus should propel those of us "who have died to sin" to desire to live in it no longer, that it should not reign over us. Finally, another symbol of baptism is that it pictures our faith in Jesus to resurrect us from death when He returns (Romans 6:4; 8:9-11).
What name should a Christian be baptized into? Why? (Matthew 28:19).
Note: We are baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, not into any particular sect or denomination. This does not mean, however, that Christians should be independently preaching their own messages. Christ established His Church and actively leads it to powerfully fulfill the commission of Jesus Christ to baptize disciples and preach the gospel to the world (Mark 16:15, 16).
What significant event should follow the act of baptism? (Acts 8:14-18).
Note: Baptism cleanses us from our past sins, but Jesus Christ does not leave us alone to face the future. He offers us the precious gift of His Holy Spirit to empower us for a life of overcoming and serving others and Him in obedience and faith. God's Spirit is imparted to us by the "laying on of hands."
In what way was the laying on of hands used in the Old Testament? (Numbers 8:10-12).
Note: Much like baptism, the practice of laying on of hands has its history in the Old Testament. In ancient times, this practice, often accompanied by anointing with oil, set men apart for the specific offices of king and priest. It was also invoked to set sacrifices apart for holy use.
Discussion: Since the time of Jesus, the laying on of hands after baptism signifies the actual receiving of the Holy Spirit and the setting apart of a convert as a child of God. It is only through the gift of God's Spirit that we can develop the godly attitude of obedience and faith. Scriptures that refer to the laying on of hands include Acts 9:18; Acts 19:6 and 2 Timothy 1:6.
Further study: Baptism is an essential part of the process of conversion and salvation. All who repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as Savior should be baptized. Our Savior was sinless, yet He was baptized as our example, and taught His disciples the important meaning of baptism. Baptism, performed in water deep enough to immerse or completely dip the believer, holds profound meaning:
It represents our faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as our Lord and Master.
It pictures a new, converted life on our coming out of the watery grave.
It pictures our faith in Jesus Christ to resurrect us from death when He returns.
It pictures our being set apart as children of God, and is followed by the laying on of hands, portraying the receiving of the Holy Spirit.
The result of baptism is the opportunity for you to have a changed life with spiritual guidance and direction through the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit, leading you into the Kingdom of God!