What is Baptism?

Some churches emphasize baptism. There are even denominations associated with it. Have you ever wondered what it’s all about and just how important it is?

As I focus on the meaning and importance of baptism in this post, the note I want to strike from the start—the tone and the truth that I want to set first and foremost—is that baptism gets its meaning and importance from the death of Jesus Christ in our place and for our sins, and from his triumph over death in the resurrection that guarantees our new and everlasting life. Baptism has meaning and importance only because the death and resurrection of Jesus are infinitely important for our rescue from God’s wrath and our everlasting joy in his glorious presence. That’s the note that must be struck first.

I am not mainly talking about religious ritual here or church tradition. Instead, we are mainly talking about Jesus Christ and his magnificent work of salvation in dying for our sins and rising from the tomb. Talking about baptism means talking about how Jesus taught us to express our faith in Him and his great salvation.

I should mention that I’m indebted to John Piper who has influenced my thinking on this subject.

Anyhow, the big idea here is that baptism by water is a reenactment of the baptism by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Let me dig into baptism a bit more.

Baptism is an ordinance of the Lord.

The other ordinance we practice is communion. When we observe communion, we remember Christ’s death and resurrection by re-enacting an aspect of the Last Supper. Today we are talking about re-enacting what the Holy Spirit has done in and for us via faith in Christ. Why do we do it? Jesus told us to do it (Matthew 28:19-20).

Jesus is telling us that disciples of Jesus should be baptized. If you are a follower of Jesus, you should be baptized.

You might wonder…what’s the big deal? Help me better understand what it symbolizes or signifies or expresses.  OK…

Baptism expresses union with Christ.

The clearest teaching on this is Romans 6:3-4:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  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.

In the wider context of Romans, I think it would be a terrible mistake to say that water-baptism is the means of our being united to Christ. In Romans, faith is the means by which we are united to Christ and justified. But we show this faith—we say this faith and signify this faith and symbolize this faith—with the act of baptism. Faith unites to Christ; baptism symbolizes the union.

An Analogy

An analogy would be saying, “With this ring I thee wed.” When we say that, we don’t mean that the ring or the putting of the ring on the finger is what makes us married. No, it shows the covenant and symbolizes the covenant, but the covenant-making vows make the marriage. So it is with faith and baptism.

Similarly, Paul is saying, “With this baptism you are united to Christ.” And the point I am focusing on here is that we are united to him in his death and burial and resurrection. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” So, the imagery of baptism is death, burial, and resurrection. Christ was buried and raised to new life. As you go into the water, you are dying, while under the water, you are buried, and when you come back out of the water, you are resurrected.

In baptism, by faith, we are united with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism dramatically portrays what happened spiritually when you received Christ—your old self of unbelief and rebellion and idolatry died, and a new you of faith and submission and treasuring Christ came into being. That’s what you confess to the world and to heaven when you are baptized.

Baptism is for believers joining the Church.

The baptism we are talking about is often known as believers’ baptism. It is for people who have turned from their sin and to Jesus, placing their faith in Him for their salvation. At this point, let me interject that every single person is welcome to join the family of Christ by faith in Him. You can do so now. You can’t be baptized while reading this, but you can be saved today. All you have to do is put your faith in Jesus, believing he died for you and rose from the dead. Ask Him to be your Lord and Savior.

Once you receive Christ, the next step is baptism. See Acts 8:37-38.

Look, I realize that being baptized can seem scary for some people. But, hey, it’s easier than having to be circumcised! ? In Colossians 2:11-12, circumcision (the sign of God’s people in the Old Testament) is related to baptism (the sign of God’s people in New Testament).

You see, baptism is a symbol of becoming a child of God, of joining the Church with a capital C, that is, God’s family. That’s why many churches make it a requirement for being an official member of their church.

But I don’t want to coerce you into being baptized. I hope you’ll have the response of the new Ethiopian believer in Acts 8, “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

Have you been baptized?

So, I’ve got a very straightforward application for you. We are going to have a baptism pool party this summer. If you are interested in being baptized, let me know, and I will follow up with you to answer any questions you might have and talk to you more about it.

It’s going to be a very meaningful celebration!