Baptism is a command of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who have come to faith in Christ publicly express their identification with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection, by being immersed in water. It is also a sign of belonging to the people of God, the Church of Christ. Further, the emblem of burial and rising, portrays death to the old life of sin, and entrance into the new life in Christ.
1. Appointed by Christ
In Matthew 28:19: Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Therefore, baptism is a command of the Lord. The Lord Jesus ordained it in a way that would make it an ongoing practice of the church. The church is commanded to make disciples of all nations and baptize them. And this is to be continued to the end of the age. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)
2. Identification with Christ
Baptism publicly expresses one’s identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. The teaching on this in Romans 6:3-4 is very clear. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 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.” It would be erroneous to say that water-baptism is the means of our being identified to Christ. In the New Testament, faith is the means by which we are united to Christ and justified. But we signify this faith and symbolize this faith publicly with the act of baptism. Faith unites us to Christ; baptism symbolizes the identification. The imagery of baptism is death, burial, and resurrection, just as Christ died, was buried, and was raised to new life. Baptism outwardly portrays what happened spiritually when you received Christ: Your old self of sin died, and a new life of faith and submission to Christ came into being. That is what you confess to the world and to God when you are baptized. Paul reiterates this in Colossians 2:12–13: “Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,”
3. Baptism is by immersion
Scripture teaches that this expression of identification with Christ in death and resurrection is undertaken “by being immersed in water.” The clearest evidence for this is again Romans 6:3-4 which describes the act of baptism as burial and rising from the dead. This is most naturally understood to mean that you are buried under water and then came out from the water to signify rising from the grave. The word baptism in Greek means dip or immerse. And most scholars agree that this is the way the early church practiced baptism. In Acts 8:37–38, the Ethiopian eunuch comes to faith while riding with Philip in his chariot and says, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Philip agrees and it says, “He commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” That they “went down into the water” makes most sense if they were going down to immerse him, not to sprinkle him. Similarly, it says in John 3:23, “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there.” Plentiful water infers immersion.
4. In the name of the Triune God
Jesus said in Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This means that not any immersion is baptism. There is a holy appeal to God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit to be present in this act and make it true and real in what it says about their work in redemption. There is no salvation without the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When we call on their name, we depend upon them and honor them and say that this act is because of them and by them and for them. Apostle Peter says, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:2)
5. Outward expression of faith and Spiritual birth
Baptism is an expression of faith and therefore only for believers. The Scripture does not advocate infant baptism. In Colossians 2:12, we read, “. . . having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith . . .” The words through faith are all important on this issue. Paul says that when you come up out of the water signifying being raised with Christ, it happens through faith. Baptism as a symbol of death, burial and resurrection with Christ gets its meaning from the faith that it expresses.” Baptism also represents a turning around from the old life and going off in a new direction, following Christ. Paul put it this way, “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.” (Rom. 6:4). Also, “That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-24) It symbolizes death to the old way and life to the new way. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17.) Paul says in Galatians 3:26–27: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. Paul connects this way of becoming sons of God with baptism, “for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Inclusion in the new-covenant people of God is not by physical birth, but by spiritual birth. That new birth happens by the word of God, the gospel. “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” (1 Peter 1:23.) The meaning of baptism is woven together with inclusion as children of God. Baptism was uniquely connected to conversion as a one-time expression of saving faith.
6. Followed by fellowship in the local Church
In Acts 2:41-2 we read, “Then those who gladly received His word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” In the act of baptism, a believer publicly identifies oneself with fellow believers. Baptism is important and the local church as an expression of the universal body of Christ is important. Failing to be baptized is disobedience. There are Bible-believing, followers of Jesus who fail to see the malady of not being baptized as a believer and thereby being excluded from fellowship. It is not the normative pattern of the New Testament.
7. Baptism symbolizes cleansing from sin (not the means of cleansing from sin)
Finally, baptism symbolizes cleansing from sin. This is the point of 1 Peter 3:18-21, which says, “There is also an antitype which now saves us – baptism; not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Cleansing is obviously a primary symbol of water. But it is not immersion in water that cleanses the heart. Peter makes that very clear. Water can only remove dirt from the flesh. It is the resurrection of Christ that gives us victory over sin and death. “O! Death, where is your sting? O! Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:56-57)
Because baptism is done with water, and water symbolizes cleansing, it is often mentioned in close connection with salvation. In Titus 3:5, Paul refers to salvation “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” But in the immediately preceding words he says that God saved us “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness.” The act of baptism cannot save anyone. We are saved only by God’s grace through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8, 9). After Saul had been blinded on the road to Damascus, Ananias came to him and said, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling upon His name.” (Acts 22:16.) Charles Spurgeon’s comments in this connection is helpful. “I know that believer’s baptism itself does not wash away sin, yet it is the outward sign and emblem of cleansing to the believer, that the thing visible may be described as the thing signified. Just as our Saviour said, “This is my body,” when it was not His body, but bread; yet, inasmuch as it represented His body, it was fair and right according to the usage of language to say, “Take, eat, this is my body.” And so, inasmuch as baptism to the believer represents the washing of sin, it may be called the washing of sin; not that it is so in reality, but that it is to saved souls the outward symbol and representation of what is done by the power of the Holy Spirit in the person who believes in Christ.” Spurgeon’s Sermons, Baker, 1983, V.8 p.31
Baptism symbolizes our identification with Christ and His body the Church
At the instant we believed, we became totally identified with Christ. His death became our death, His burial our burial, His resurrection our resurrection. Going under the water in baptism, symbolizes death to our old way of life; coming up out of the water pictures the beginning of a new life, lived unto God, in the power of Christ’s resurrection. We, were “baptized into Christ” through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, who places a person “in Christ” at the moment of salvation. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free - and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.” (1 Cor. 12:13) What Paul refers to in Romans 6 is not water baptism itself, but what it pictures, namely, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 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” Rom. 6:3-4. Paul further confirms this in Col. 2. 11-12. “Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” This happens at the instant we put our faith and trust in Christ. Water baptism symbolizes our identification with Christ and the church which took place spiritually at the moment of saving faith. In the act of baptism, a person publicly identifies oneself with Christ as well as other Christians as one; Christ being the head and Church His body. We become members of His body, the church. “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph. 1:2). “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” (1 Cor.10:17)
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