It is not uncommon today to find Christians who have never been baptized. Likewise, many people who have trusted Jesus as their Savior as adults see no need for baptism because they were baptized as infants. However, the Bible teaches that baptism is very important. For this reason, it is important to know why baptism in so important for Christians.
What did Jesus say about baptism?
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave His last earthly instructions to the disciples. He commanded His Church to do three important things. They are to share the Gospel, baptize the believers, and to teach them to obey God’s Word as follows:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Since Jesus made this statement concerning baptism, there are several things that are important to understand about baptism.
Baptism shows identification with Christ
The first and most important purpose of believer’s baptism is identification with Christ. The Gospels record the fact that even Jesus was baptized when He began His earthly ministry. Matthew wrote:
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: Matthew 3:16
By being baptized, Jesus set an example on how believers can identify with Him as their Savior. That is why it is important to identify yourself with Christ who died for you by being scripturally baptized. Scriptural baptism contains two important elements; the method and message (John 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Peter 3:21).
The method of baptism
In order to identify yourself with Jesus, you should be baptized by the method taught in the Bible. Paul tells us about this method in the account of the Ethiopian eunuch. This eunuch had just received Christ as his Savior because of Philip’s preaching. (Acts 8:26-35) Luke wrote just after his conversion:
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. (Acts 8:35-38)
This passage makes it clear that those who were baptized were immersed in the water. In fact, the Greek word used for baptism means “to be immersed.” The scriptural method of baptism is by immersion in water.
The message of baptism
Baptism by immersion is a public testimony of the believer that they have placed their faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The death and burial of Christ is symbolized when you are immersed in the water. As you are brought up out of the water, the resurrection of Christ is symbolized (Romans 6:3-6). Likewise, when you are immersed in the water, it pictures the death and burial of the old life. When you are brought out of the water, it symbolizes being born again by the Spirit to walk in the newness of life as a child of God (Galatians 3:26).
Baptism shows obedience to Christ
The second purpose of believer’s baptism is to show our obedience to Christ (Matthew 3:11-12; Acts 19:1-4). Baptism is our first act of obedience (Acts 2:37-41; Acts 9:17-18; Acts 10:44-48; Acts 16:27-33; Acts 18:7-8). There are two important points to consider concerning obedience to the command to be baptized:
Who should be baptized?
The first point you should consider is who should be baptized. Some denominations baptize infants and all adults they enlist in their church. However, scriptural baptism must be administered only to believers. That is why Bible teaching churches call it “Believer’s Baptism.” This is what Philip meant when he said to the Ethiopian eunuch, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest …” (Acts 8:37a). (See also Acts 8:12-13)
Water baptism is an act of obedience after salvation. Being immersed in the water does not save us; we are saved when we consciously trust Christ as our Savior! This is clarified as follows:
The like figure whereunto baptism doth now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21)
Paul reinforced this truth when he said that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel (1 Corinthian 1:17). If baptism was essential for salvation, then Paul’s missionary work had a dismal rate of success – heaven forbid!
When should someone be baptized?
If you have never been baptized, tell the leaders at your church as soon as possible of your desire to be baptized so they can make arrangements. Failure to be baptized when able will be a hindrance to your spiritual growth and development so you should obey Jesus’ command to be baptized right away (James 4:17).
Baptism shows association with the church
The third purpose of baptism is to show association with the Lord’s Church. As you publically come forward for baptism, you show your willingness to identify with other believers who have trusted Christ as their Savior. Likewise, your baptism assures them that you want to be involved in the work that God has called them to do.
Jesus commanded the church to share the gospel, baptize believers, and teach them to obey God’s Word. Baptism shows identification with Christ in both the method and message of baptism. Baptism shows a believer’s obedience to Christ when it is done as soon as possible after salvation. Baptism shows association with the church by publically demonstrating our testimony of salvation and desire to be part of God’s work.
Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. Williams, Michael, (2010). Baptism: The first step in the walk of obedience to God. Third Edition. Albuquerque, NM: Wisdom4Today.
Article by Dr. Michael L. Williams
Dr. Michael L. Williams is a pastor, author, Christian educator and Biblical counselor who has served in ministry since March of 2000. Dr. Mike holds under-graduate through post graduate degrees in Christian Education and formerly worked as a nurse. Dr. Mike is the Senior Pastor of Selah Mountain Ministries, which he founded in March of 2010 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA (selahmountain.org). In addition to counseling, he teaches how to overcome life issues Biblically on topics such as anger management, marriage, addictions, and other subjects typically referred to as mental illnesses. Dr. Mike is also a writer at What Christians Want To Know. Dr. Mike lives with his wife Pamela Rose and adult daughter Hollie Rose. He and Pamela have other adult children and several grandchildren as well. Learn more about Dr. Mike at his personal ministry web site Wisdom4Today