Water baptism has been a controversial subject throughout most of the history of the Church. Early in the life of the Church, people began to add formula, ritual, and requirements to this spiritual truth that was not present in the New Testament teaching. Like family traditions passed down through generations until the original meaning and intent become forgotten, baptism became an elaborate ritual involving lengthy preparations and instructions. A return to the scriptures will help rediscover the purpose and power of baptism!
Jesus submitted to baptism.
His constant attitude during His life on earth is that of the Psalmist, who said, “I delight to do Thy will, O my God: Thy Law is within my heart.” Psalms 40:8. Jesus restates this attitude several times in the scriptures, such as when the disciples were urging him to eat, and he said, “my food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” John 4:34. It was that delight in doing the Father’s will that brought Jesus to the banks of the River Jordan, where John was baptizing converts. It is interesting to note that John preached a message of repentance that made baptism essential, and yet Jesus was without sin. Still, he submitted Himself to baptism “to fulfill all righteousness.” Matthew 3:15. His baptism and the experiences that followed began His public ministry and the evidence of His clear conscience before God. 1 Peter 3:21.
Indeed, if the Messiah Himself was subject to this rite, we should have no question as to whether or not the experience is valid and necessary. It simply remains for us to understand the reasons why.
Water baptism is a symbolic yet real spiritual experience. It is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual transformation.
Symbolic Meaning, Spiritual Experience
Water baptism is a symbolic yet real spiritual experience. It is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual transformation. We enter the waters of baptism and stand before God as those who are dead in our transgressions and sins. Ephesians 2:1. Then, as dead men, we are buried beneath the water, just as they buried Jesus Christ in a tomb following His death on the cross. Romans 6:3-4. But God doesn’t leave us there just like He didn’t leave Jesus there! The hands of the brethren lift us, and we break the surface of the water and begin to breathe air once more. At
that moment, we are experiencing the wonder of a resurrected life. Now we identify with Jesus in His resurrection on the third day, and we begin to live a new life in Him. Colossians 2:12; 3:1. Through baptism, we are identifying ourselves with Christ. The experience is not merely symbolic of His resurrection, but it shows that we have been raised to a new life now!
Who, How, When, and Where
Who should embrace baptism? All who believe! The Bible says, “But when they believed the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.” Acts 8:12. The book of Acts has many baptismal accounts, and it was a regular part of daily life in the New Testament church. The ministry of the apostle Paul revealed the significance of baptism at the house of Lydia, Acts 16:14-15, the Philippian jailer and his whole house, Acts 16:33, and the Corinthian believers. Acts 18:8 The apostles commanded baptism as a statement of faith in Acts 2:37-41; 10:44-48. Baptism was related to conversion in the New Testament to the point that it was considered one event.
While it is apparent that obedience to baptism is a necessary act for all believers, the scriptures clearly show that baptism is not the means of salvation. Only the blood of Christ can accomplish that. As Jesus hung on the cross, two men were hanging beside him. One was full of cursing for this “King of the Jews,” but the other one rebuked the scoffer, saying that although they deserved the punishment of death, Jesus did not. Then with his dying breath, the criminal said, Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom, Luke 23:42. At that moment, the man expressed repentance, faith, and confession—all conversion elements. Yet, he couldn’t receive baptism. Jesus’ response lays to rest any question about baptism and salvation because He offered this assurance to His companion in death, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43.