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The Meaning, Purpose, and Importance of Baptism


  • What does Scripture say about baptism?
  • How do some people overemphasize this act?
  • How to others undervalue this act?
  • What is the Biblical balance to these views?
  • In what way to most  denominations and churches either deny the importance of baptism or make baptism a form of saving ceremony?
  • How do you, personally, view the major Bible texts on baptism?
  • Are you willing to take a fresh and unbiased look at this deeply significant subject?

            In a day when many Biblical topics have been either underemphasized, overemphasized or even perverted in some significant way, we constantly need to search the Word of God to learn the will of Christ for our belief, life, and practice.  “What does Scripture say?” should ever be our concern.

            One subject that has suffered abuse for nearly two thousand years is that of baptism.  Some have elevated a water ritual they call baptism to the level of a saving sacrament that regenerates the soul separate from his conscious response of faith.  Others, in opposition to this historic practice, view baptism as merely a work the Christian does subsequent to an assumed salvation, an act that simply adds one to the visible local church.  Both of these theological extremes may be corrected by a careful examination of the primary baptismal scriptures in the Word of God.

Let’s review, in a brief form, the wide range of aspects of the meaning of baptism.  We simply want to list some of the points that reflect baptism’s meaning, significance, or purpose.  We will not directly address the action of baptism, the persons who may be baptized, or the occasion of baptism.  Other booklets that we have written treat these additional aspects at length. 

 (1)       Baptism is central to the Lord’s final commission to His apostles.

 “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:18-19; cf. Mark 16:15-16). 

(2)       We are brought into the possession or ownership of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit through baptism.

“. . .baptizing them into the name of [eis ton onoma] the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

  (3)       One becomes a disciple of Christ and commits himself to following Jesus’ teachings when he is baptized.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:41-42).

  (4)       One is saved by faith in the gospel of Christ in the context of baptism.

 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:15-16a; cf. Acts 2:38, 41, with v. 47).  Baptism now saves you . . . through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).  “It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (NIV).

 (5)       Baptism is an expression of faith, is motivated by faith, and embodies our faith in Christ, His death, and His resurrection. 

“. . . many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (Acts 18:8). “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27; cf. Col. 2:12; Acts 8:35-39).

(6)       Baptism must be an expression of one’s willingness to submit to God’s will.

“When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John.  But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John” (Luke 7:29-30; cf. Matt. 28:19-20).

(7)       We express or demonstrate repentance (our change of heart regarding God and sin that leads to a change of life) when we are baptized.

Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38; cf. Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4).

(8)       We are baptized for the forgiveness of our sins.

“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).  “. . . having been buried with Him in baptism. . . . He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Col. 2:12, 13).

(9)       We receive the promised gift of the Holy Spirit when we are baptized.

“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:38-39; cf. Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:21-22; Acts 10:47-48).

(10)   When we receive the apostles’ words of the gospel, we are to be baptized. 

“Those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

(11)   Men and women were baptized when they believed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.

“When they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12).

(12)   People who learned and understood the importance of baptism were baptized immediately, without delay,  without a prolonged period of instruction.

“. . . immediately he [the jailor] was baptized, he and all his household. . .” (Acts 16:33).  “And now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (22:16).  “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (2:41; cf. 8:12-13, 36-39; 10:47-48).

(13)   Part of Lydia’s faithfulness to the Lord was her immediate baptism in water.

“When she [Lydia] and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay’” (Acts 16:15).

(14)   Baptism occurs in the context of calling on the name of the Lord and washing away of sins.

“Now why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

(15)   We are baptized into Christ Jesus and into His death.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Rom. 6:3; cf. Gal. 3:27).

(16)   We are buried with Christ through baptism into death.

“We have been buried with Him through baptism into death. . . . We have become united with Him in the likeness of His death” (Rom. 6:4a, 5a).  “. . . having been buried with Him in baptism” (Col. 2:12).

(17)   We experience a death to sin in the context of baptism into Christ.

“How shall we who died to sin still live in it? . . . We have been buried with Him through baptism into death. . . . Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:2, 4, 11).

(18)   We are baptized in the name, into the name, and upon the name of Christ Jesus.

“Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38).  “They had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8:16; cf. 10:48; 19:5; 1 Cor. 1:13).

(19)   We are clothed with Christ when we are baptized.

“All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:27).

(20)   Baptism is a vital mark of distinction that identifies all true Christians, an act in which all believers share, one of the seven pillars of Christian truth.

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).  “. . . all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:3).  “. . . all of you who were baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:27).

(21)   Baptism is associated with the spiritual, inward circumcision of Christ that removes the body of the flesh.

“In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism. . .” (Col. 2:11-12).

(22)   We are raised from baptism to live a new life in Christ.

“We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).  “. . . having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. . . . He made you alive together with Him” (Col. 2:12, 13).

(23)   Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience.

Baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).  “. . . the pledge of a good conscience toward God” (NIV).

(24)   Baptism is part of the “elementary teaching about the Christ” that has to do with “foundational” matters. 

“Leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment” (Heb. 6:1-2).

Additional Evidence

             Biblical teachers and students are not entirely sure of several more Scriptural texts.  Some believe that these verses make reference to baptism, while others believe that they don’t.  We must remember that water baptism is not merely water baptism.  There is a key spiritual aspect to this act.  There are both spiritual and material dimensions to baptism, and both must be present for baptism to be a genuine Scriptural baptism.  With this in mind, we shall simply list a few of these more controversial passages that may or may not have baptism in view.

 

·        John 3:5—we are born of water and the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God.

·        1 Corinthians 6:11—we are washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God.

·        1  Cor. 12:13—by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body and were made to drink of one Spirit.

·        Ephesians 5:26—Christ sanctifies and cleanses us by the washing of water with the word.

·        Titus 3:5—God saves us by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.

·        Hebrews 10:22—our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.

How Do You View Baptism?

             Now that we have reviewed very briefly the key baptismal texts and can see the great importance that God places in the act of baptism, how do you personally view this matter?  Do you believe that you have been careless about something that God says is very meaningful?  Have you dismissed baptism as something relatively insignificant?  Have you merely been baptized to fulfill a church or denominational requirement, to become a church member, to testify to an assumed past conversion experience, or to simply obey God in some manner?  On the other hand, maybe you formerly believed that baptism was an instrumental cause of salvation, a human work by which you could gain God’s approval and reward, or a sacrament or ritual that would bring regeneration or the new birth.

             The Biblical texts we have noted in this booklet show the error of both extreme views on baptism.  On the one hand, baptism is far more important and crucial than many assume.  The act is not merely a church ordinance, a symbolic ceremony, or a meaningless ritual.  On the other hand, baptism is not the saving or regenerating sacrament that operates independent of one’s conscious response of faith that many others assume.  That is, the act is not an ecclesiastical ceremony that, in itself, remits sin, bestows the Spirit, and regenerates the heart.  Both of these extremes are unscriptural and wrong!  We must consult the Scriptures—as we have done—and have a purely Biblical view of this meaningful act of faith, repentance, and commitment.

 Turn from the Erroneous Baptismal Extremes

            Perhaps we may display the two extreme erroneous views on baptism graphically in the following way, along with the centrist position that is Scriptural in orientation:

 

 

 

             Scripture does not support the idea on the left, that God works independently in baptism, separate from the person’s inner response of genuine faith in Christ and His sacrificial death.  That is, baptism is not a saving sacrament or a regenerating ritual that is performed by a priestly administrator.  But neither does Scripture support the idea on the right, that one merely makes a mental response of faith, then at a later date (a month, a year, or longer) he should perform a “work” that is considered baptism, which has no bearing at all on the salvation response.

 Let’s further notice the contrasting baptismal views in the following way:

 

 

 

 

 

             If you had too low a view of baptism, you need to see the great significance that God places in this act of faith.  If you had too high a view of this act, per se, you need to see that we are saved by the grace of God extended to us through Christ’s death and received by faith—not by any human act.  It is imperative that we have a balanced and Scriptural understanding of this matter.  If you have accepted a false or counterfeit baptism, realize that your baptism was not valid.  It was not accepted as a genuine New Testament baptism that expressed your faith in Christ Jesus, your repentance of past sins, and your commitment to God and His way of life—a commitment that brought you to salvation. 

            Therefore, now is the time to come to Christ for salvation and express your faith, repentance, and commitment to Him by being baptized into Him and His saving death.  Be like the twelve Ephesian disciples who were willing to be immersed a second time when they recognized that their former baptism was not valid in the sight of God (cf. Acts 19:1-6; cf. 18:24-26). 

            If we can help you in any way, please feel free to write to us immediately.  In the words of Ananias, “Why do you delay?  Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His [Christ’s] name” (Acts 22:16). 

Richard Hollerman