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What is the Meaning of Baptism?


What does baptism mean and why does it play such a prominent role in the life of the Christian and the Church? Baptism is a sign, which is to say it signifies something beyond itself. It is a pointer that directs our attention to several important truths. Continue reading . . .

What does baptism mean and why does it play such a prominent role in the life of the Christian and the Church? Baptism is a sign, which is to say it signifies something beyond itself. It is a pointer that directs our attention to several important truths.

First, baptism is designed to direct our attention to the source and cause of our salvation: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. We are not saved because of or through baptism but because of and through Christ and what he did for us. When people witness a person being baptized they should immediately think about the way salvation has been obtained for us.

The living Christ was crucified for our sins. He was then buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. He was finally raised from the dead and entered into a new and glorious phase of life. In other words, baptism in water is a visual enactment of the gospel itself. The gospel is the good news of what God did in and through his Son, Jesus Christ, to obtain for us redemption and forgiveness of sins. The Jesus who lived a sinless and perfect life on our behalf, was crucified where he suffered the judgment and wrath of God we deserved. The sufficiency and adequacy of his atoning death was confirmed when God raised him from the dead unto a new life.

So, when you watch someone who is alive be immersed or buried beneath the waters of baptism, only then to be raised up out of the water, you are witnessing the gospel. You are seeing with your eyes and hearing with your ears what God did for sinners in Jesus.

Second, baptism is a visible picture of the believer’s death in Christ’s death as well as his/her resurrection in Christ’s resurrection.

In other words, baptism is a picture of the believer’s identification or union with Christ. It’s more than simply a statement that I belong to Christ. It is a statement that I am “in” Christ. I am united with Christ. My life has no meaning or purpose apart from Christ. We are one. I in him and he in me. This is Paul’s point in Romans 6:3-4,

“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” (Rom. 6:3-4).

When Christ died, he died our death. Baptism declares and signifies our identification with him in it. Look again at the three-fold use of the word “into”. The word is designed to highlight our union with Christ so that what happened to him is reckoned by God as having happened to us. We are united to him spiritually so that his death becomes our death. But when we are baptized we don’t stay buried beneath the water. We are raised up out of the water as new people, pointing to the glorious truth that his resurrection life has become ours as well.

Paul says much the same thing in Colossians 2:11-12 – “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:11-12).

Third, baptism is also the way in which a Christian says: “I am a new creation. The person you saw step into the waters no longer exists. He/she has been created anew by the power of the Holy Spirit. The person who emerges from the waters is governed by new affections and a new power.” In other words, the person who is baptized is making it known that he/she has, by God’s grace, taken on a new identity. “I am not the man/woman you once knew. He/she has died to the world and its ways. He/she is alive to God and his kingdom.” In other words, in baptism we say, signify, and symbolize our faith in Christ. Faith unites us to him and baptism symbolizes that union.

Fourth, baptism is a physical representation of what happens spiritually in the life of one who trusts Christ. In the waters of baptism, literal dirt is washed from the physical body. This symbolizes or illustrates the washing of spiritual dirt from the soul. Just as water cleanses a garment of a dark stain or blemish, so the Holy Spirit, through the blood of Christ, cleanses our hearts and minds and spirits from the stain of sin and guilt. Several texts make this clear. Here are two:

“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

Fifth, baptism is the Christian’s public pledge of allegiance to Jesus. To be baptized “in the name” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit points to a change of ownership. It is a visible and vocal declaration that he/she now belongs to Christ. It is an individual’s statement for all to see and hear that from this point on he/she is devoted to Jesus and is determined by his grace to follow Christ in all of life.

Water baptism, then, is the way in which a follower of Jesus makes it known that he/she is not of this world, that he/she is governed by a new system of values and beliefs. Although the Christian is a citizen of an earthly state, his/her ultimate allegiance and dedication is to Christ and his kingdom.

1 Comment

Thank you so much for this post. When I was a child, I asked my parents if I could be baptized, (all the other kids were doing it) my Mother said no, I don't believe you understand what it means. And she was so right! At the time, I was clueless. So, after many years of drifting, dabbling, and ending up in a "church" that uses a non-biblical method of baptism, I found a new church in which the true gospel is rightly proclaimed. At age 55, I was baptized!

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