Across many Christian traditions, baptism stands as a sacred cornerstone, marking the beginning of a transformative journey. More than just a symbolic ritual, it signifies a profound shift in one’s relationship with God and the Christian community.
Baptism, a simple act of immersion in water, holds profound significance within the Christian faith. It’s not just a ritual, but a powerful symbol of transformation, a gateway to a new life in Christ.
Baptism is a Christian sacrament of initiation and adoption, almost invariably with the use of water. It may be performed by sprinkling or pouring water on the head, or by immersing in water either partially or completely, traditionally three times, once for each person of the Trinity.
What Is Baptism?
Baptism is the outward act that symbolizes the inward phenomenon of coming to and accepting Jesus Christ as real, as God incarnate, as the sacrificial means by which those who believe in him can be forever reconciled to God. The purpose of baptism is to give visual testimony of our commitment to Christ. It is the first step of discipleship (Acts 8:26-39).
The Greek word for “baptism” is “βαπτιζω”. The English letters look like this: “baptidzo.” The Greek word “baptidzo” literally means to “dip” or to “immerse”.
The symbolism of baptism is that, just as Christ died and was buried, so the baptized person is submerged (whether physically or symbolically) underwater. And just as Christ rose again from beneath the earth, so the baptized person rises again from beneath the water. Under the water is the believer’s old, dead, heavy, suffocating life. Out of the water, cleansed by the blood of Christ, is the believer’s new, fresh, purposeful life.
Baptism is like a wedding ring. We put on a wedding ring as a symbol of our commitment and devotion. In the same way, baptism is a picture of devotion and commitment to Christ. A wedding ring reminds us and tells others that we belong to someone special. In the same way, baptism reminds us and others that we are devoted to Christ and belong to Him.
Types Of Baptism
There are three different kinds of baptism in the New Testament. The first baptism is performed by the Holy Spirit, the second is performed by Jesus, and the third is performed by believers.
Reasons Why You Need To Be Baptized
As we’ll see, Christ not only commands believers to get baptized, baptism is also a gift he graciously gives for our benefit and blessing. Three reasons why you need to get baptized:
- Christ’s command
- Publicly profess faith in Christ
- Formally commit yourself to Christ and his people
What Does It Mean To Be Baptized In The Name Of The Father, The Son, And The Holy Spirit?
Jesus instructed his followers to “make disciples . . . , baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) “In the name of” means that the one being baptized recognizes the authority and position of the Father and the Son, as well as the role of God’s holy spirit. To illustrate: The apostle Peter said to a man who was lame from birth: “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!” (Acts 3:6) The meaning is clear—Peter recognized and acknowledged the authority of Christ and attributed the miraculous cure to him.
“The Father” refers to Jehovah God. As Creator, Life-Giver, and Almighty God, Jehovah has ultimate authority.—Genesis 17:1; Revelation 4:1
“The Son” is Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us. (Romans 6:23) We cannot gain salvation unless we recognize and appreciate Jesus’ key role in God’s purpose for mankind.—John 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:8-12.
“The Holy Spirit” is God’s active force or his power in action. God has used his holy spirit to create, impart life, convey messages to his prophets and others, and empower them to do his will. (Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4; Romans 15:18,19) God also used the holy spirit to inspire the Bible writers to record his thoughts.—2 Peter 1:21.
Is Rebaptism A Sin?
It is not uncommon for people to change their religion. But what if they had been baptized in their former church? Would they be sinning if they got baptized again? Some answer yes, perhaps basing their view on Ephesians 4:5, which reads: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” However, this verse does not mean that a person cannot be rebaptized. How so?
The context of Ephesians 4:5 shows that the apostle Paul emphasized the need for true Christians to be united in belief and faith. (Ephesians 4:1-3, 16) Such unity could exist only if they followed the same Lord, Jesus Christ; had the same faith, or understanding of what the Bible teaches; and followed the same Scriptural requirements for baptism.
The apostle Paul encouraged some who were already baptized to be baptized again. This was because they had been baptized without a full understanding of Christian teaching.—Acts 19:1-5.
Proper Basis For Baptism
To be acceptable to God, baptism must be based on an accurate knowledge of Bible truth. (1 Timothy 2:3, 4) If a person is baptized based on religious teachings that conflict with the Bible, that baptism would not be recognized by God. (John 4:23, 24) The person may have been sincere, but he did not act “according to accurate knowledge.” (Romans 10:2) To merit God’s approval, he would have to learn the Bible’s truth, apply what he learned, dedicate his life to God, and be baptized again. Under these circumstances, his rebaptism would not be a sin. It would be the right thing to do.
Baptisms Mentioned In The Bible
The Bible mentions baptisms that had a different meaning, or significance, from the water immersion of Christ’s followers. Consider some examples.
1. Baptism Performed By John The Baptist Jews and Jewish proselytes were baptized by John as a symbol of their repentance over sins they had committed against the Mosaic Law—the Law that God gave to the Israelites through Moses. John’s baptism prepared the people to recognize and accept the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.—Luke 1:13-17; 3:2, 3; Acts 19:4.
2. Jesus Personal Baptism
Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist was unique. Jesus was a perfect man and had committed no sins. (1 Peter 2:21, 22) So his baptism did not involve repentance or “the request to God for a good conscience.” (1 Peter 3:21) Rather, it showed that he was presenting himself to God to do His will as the foretold Messiah, or Christ. This included giving his life for us.—Hebrews 10:7-10.
3. Jesus Getting Baptized By John The Baptist
Baptism with holy spirit. Both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ spoke about baptism with holy spirit. (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; Acts 1:1-5) That baptism is not the same as baptism in the name of the holy spirit. (Matthew 28:19) Why is that so?
Only a limited number of Jesus’ followers are baptized with the holy spirit. These ones are anointed with the holy spirit because they are called to serve with Christ in heaven as fellow kings and priests over the earth. (1 Peter 1:3, 4; Revelation 5:9, 10) Their subjects will be the millions of Jesus’ followers who have the hope of everlasting life in Paradise on earth.—Matthew 5:5; Luke 23:43.
4. Baptism Into Christ Jesus And Into His Death
Individuals baptized with the holy spirit are also “baptized into Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:3) This baptism, therefore, applies to Jesus’ anointed followers, who will rule with him in heaven. By being baptized into Jesus, they become members of his anointed congregation. He is the Head, and they are the body.—1 Corinthians 12:12, 13, 27; Colossians 1:18.
Anointed Christians are also “baptized into [Jesus’] death.” (Romans 6:3, 4) In imitation of Jesus, they lead a self-sacrificing life of obedience to God and renounce any hope of everlasting life on earth. They complete this symbolic baptism when they die and receive a resurrection to life in heaven as spirit creatures.—Romans 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44.
5. Baptism With Fire
John the Baptist said to his listeners: “That one [Jesus] will baptize you with holy spirit and with fire. His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clean up his threshing floor completely and will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with fire that cannot be put out.” (Matthew 3:11, 12) Note that there are differences between baptism with fire and baptism with the holy spirit. What did John mean by this illustration?
The wheat represents those who will listen to Jesus and obey him. They have the prospect of being baptized with the holy spirit. The chaff symbolizes those who will not listen to Jesus. Their end is a baptism of fire, which symbolizes their everlasting destruction.—Matthew 3:7-12; Luke 3:16, 17.
Different Layers Of The Significance Of Baptism
Let’s delve into the various layers of significance this sacrament holds, illuminated by the guiding light of Scripture.
1. Cleansing and Forgiveness:
First and foremost, baptism symbolizes the washing away of sin and the granting of forgiveness. The very act of being immersed in water mirrors the cleansing of one’s spiritual state. John the Baptist, heralding the arrival of Jesus, declared, “I baptize you with water for repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Similarly, the Apostle Paul states, “For you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the mighty power of God who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). The symbolism is clear: just as water cleanses the body, baptism purifies the soul, offering a fresh start through Christ’s sacrifice.
2. Identification with Christ:
Baptism further signifies a profound identification with Jesus Christ. By entering the water, we symbolically join Jesus in his death and resurrection. Romans 6:4 beautifully illustrates this union: “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.” This act declares our allegiance to Christ, aligning our lives with his death and embracing the promise of new life in him.
3. Entry into the Christian Community:
Baptism also serves as a gateway into the Christian community, the Body of Christ. Acts 2:41 tells us, “Those who believed his message were baptized, and about three thousand souls were added to them that day.” Entering the waters signifies joining a global family of believers united by faith in Christ. We become part of a network of support, accountability, and shared love, walking alongside fellow Christians on the path of discipleship.
4. A Commitment to Faith:
Furthermore, baptism represents a public declaration and commitment to the Christian faith. By choosing to undergo this act, we openly express our belief in Jesus and our willingness to follow his teachings. Mark 16:16 emphasizes the importance of this outward profession: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Baptism serves as a powerful reminder of the vows we make, urging us to live a life consistent with our newfound identity in Christ.
5. A Continual Transformation:
Finally, it’s crucial to remember that baptism is not a singular event but an ongoing process of transformation. While the act itself marks a significant milestone, the work of growth and sanctification continues. Galatians 3:27 reminds us, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This signifies a continual shedding of old ways and embracing the values and character of Christ in every aspect of our lives.
Scriptures On Baptism
1 Peter 3:21 – “And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ..”
Colossians 2:12 – “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Ephesians 4:4-6 – “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Acts 22:16 – “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’”
Misconceptions About Christian Baptism
1. Misconception: Sprinkling or pouring water on a person is an acceptable alternative to complete water immersion.
Fact: All the baptisms recorded in the Bible involved complete water immersion. (Matthew 3:13, 16; Acts 8:36-39) None involved mere sprinkling. Sprinkling misses the point of water immersion—that the person being baptized is dead to his former way of life and is now starting his new life as a dedicated servant of God.
2. Misconception: When the Bible says that a jailer in Philippi “and his entire household were baptized,” it implies that infants were baptized too.—Acts 16:25, 31-34.
Facts: For one thing, no ages are mentioned. For another, before the jailer and his household were baptized, they heard and accepted “the word of Jehovah.” (Acts 16:31, 32, 34) Therefore, they must have been old enough to understand what was said and to believe in God and the Lord Jesus.
In conclusion, baptism holds immense significance for Christians, encompassing spiritual cleansing, identification with Christ, entrance into the Christian community, commitment to faith, and a lifelong journey of transformation. As we delve deeper into its meaning, guided by the wisdom of Scripture, we can fully embrace the richness and power this sacrament offers on our path of discipleship.