What is Baptism?

What is Baptism? February 4, 2015

baptismimersionMany new Christians ask about water baptism, and are unclear as to its significance. What follows is an extract from my book Hope Reborn and is used by permission of the publisher.

When Peter was asked “What must we do to be saved?” his reply outlined four steps to begin your Christian journey. The first, repentance is often also described as believing in Jesus, and is explained in another section of the book entitled, How to Become a Christian.


As we discussed in another article, making a public confession of your faith is very important. If you have never been baptized, the best way to openly declare your faith is to invite your friends and family to witness you following the command of both the Apostle Peter and the Lord Jesus Himself. Your baptism will be a vivid demonstration of the gospel to those closest to you, as well as a crucial moment in your walk with God.

Baptism is a way of publicly demonstrating the reality of what God has done for you in your heart. It doesn’t make you a Christian any more than jogging makes you human. But just as running is a sign that you are alive, baptism is a good sign you have made Jesus your Lord.

The word “baptism” literally means to be immersed or dunked. Bible verses talk of “much water” being required (John 3:23), and of going “down into” and “up out of” the water (Acts 8:36-39). We believe these verses demonstrate that baptism in New Testament times meant to get soaked, like in a bath, in the same way that Jesus was baptized by being immersed in the river Jordan.

We believe that the biblical pattern for baptism is to submerge in water people who have chosen to follow Jesus for themselves. However, there are many genuine Christians who have a different view of this, so some churches will instead sprinkle water on the head, as in the case of an infant. They do this because they feel that verses like Genesis 17:7 and Acts 2:38-39 show that God blesses families as a whole unit, and so the children of believers are part of God’s covenant community.

It seems to us, however, that in the book of Acts baptism follows the faith of the individual being baptized. So, for example, when the Philippian jailer and his whole family were baptized, this was after they had all listened to the gospel message, and believed it, and their newfound faith led to them all being full of joy (Acts 16:30-34).

Christians may differ on the when and the how, but one thing that we can all agree on is that Christians should be baptized, and that making a public profession of your faith in Jesus is a critically important step in your life as a believer in Christ.

Jesus gave very clear instructions to His followers after His resurrection:

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. (Matthew 28:19-20)

It would be very strange to claim that you want to follow Jesus as your Lord, but then refuse to obey the first command He gives you after you have repented.

Jesus Himself was baptized (Luke 3:21-22), despite the fact that He had never sinned. Sometimes people feel that they have become a Christian too recently to be baptized, or that they have followed Jesus for so long it now seems pointless and too late. But there is no better time than right now to follow Jesus’ example.

Baptism is all about turning from your old life and beginning a new one. It is a way of demonstrating that you are now seeking to follow Jesus. It is “for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38), and represents a bath to wash away our sins:

Baptism … now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21)

Through baptism we identify with both the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is like our own death, burial, and funeral service. We die to our old way of life by sharing in Jesus’ death. Baptism by immersion demonstrates this visually. As a person goes down under the water, it is as if they have been buried:

All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. (Romans 6:3)

As a person comes up out of the water, this represents the way that Jesus has raised them up to a new life, a new beginning:

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. (Colossians 2:12)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Baptism represents our certain hope that while we will still experience physical death (unless Jesus returns first), God will not leave us in the grave. Instead, Jesus will raise us up to live with Him forever. We will have renewed bodies and we will finally meet our Savior face-to-face (1 Corinthians 13:12).

There is a supernatural element to baptism. It is more than an outward ritual. It is truly a fresh start, and represents a clear cutting off and freedom from unhelpful ties to the past. Christians will often experience an inner feeling of being made “new.” Just as God said to Jesus, “This is my beloved Son,” when He was baptized, many Christians report feeling the love of God in a tangible way at the moment of their baptism.

When you are baptized, your local church is also declaring before God and witnesses that they believe you are now a Christian. Don’t be surprised if the church you attend wants to get to know you a little first, or if they ask you to attend a preparation course. It can sometimes be a little frustrating to wait once you have made up your mind, but Jesus sees your heart and the desire you have to obey Him in this way.

The Apostle Peter promises those who repent and are baptized, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  This is explained in another article: How to receive the Holy Spirit.

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  • The Aramaic speaking followers of John the Baptist, the Mandaeans, think Jesus an imposter who misrepresented the teachings of the Baptizer.

    And if Jesus had to be baptized, then he couldn’t have been a deity.

    • Guest

      “And if Jesus had to be baptized, then he couldn’t have been a deity.”


      What kind of ignorant comment is this? You’re just making stuff up at this point.

      What, exactly, makes you qualified to hold forth on issues of religion, language, and 2nd Temple Judaism?

      • Mark obviously doesn’t consider Jesus as a deity, because he had to be baptized. Google “Adoptionism.”

        • Guest

          I don’t gain my knowledge from googling…I went to school for ten years and earned four degrees.

          You’re in deep waters, but you can’t swim.

          • Has 4 degrees. Can’t admit that certain words are in the Bible. Goes to show what Bible College does to a mind. Same thing as a Madrasa.

          • Guest

            Who said I went to a Bible college?

            Anyway, now you’re moving the target.

            Are you arguing simply that the word “hades” is in the NT manuscripts, or that the mythological concept of Hades is in the NT manuscripts?

            Your problem is that you conflate the two, and fail to see that they are not necessarily correlated.

          • Oh, so you have no formal training in the subject either. You are so disqualified to discuss this, by your own demands. *snort* Funny when you shoot yourself in your own foot. Well, funny and sad.

            Words mean things. You may want to study that some day.

          • Guest


            Angry atheist thinks that the only place to study Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and ANE studies is a Bible college!


            EDIT: Duke, Harvard, and Yale just called. They’re insulted by your ignorance.

          • Angry Christian can’t admit what is written in the Bible.

          • Guest

            ad nauseam…

          • Exactly.

          • Guest

            Glad you’re getting some clarity about your silly, mindlessly repetitive fallacies.

          • I thought you were talking about your silly, mindlessly repetitive fallacies. Try some clarity.

          • Guest

            Angry atheist knows nothing about language and translation…keeps making fallacious arguments.


          • Guest

            Words mean things. You may want to study that some day

            Wait, what? Really?

            Obvious statement is obvious.

            Of course words means things. And what, exactly, a word means in a given context is not necessarily a simple thing to determine.

            Ever heard of someone quitting “cold turkey?” Hmmm…I wonder what that means? Could it be possible that sometimes people use a word/term outside of its original meaning? GASP! Why, yes, I think it is quite possible…common even!

            Go do some actual academic work and then we can talk.

  • Kyn Chan

    If baptism could be done in private, i would. It is not a “public declaration” of sort and has nothing to do with the public. Man made it into a ceremony and “redtaped/membershipped” it. Baptism is a committment; a magical bond with God, an initiation into His covenant. Jesus set an example of great significance, a beautiful union with Spirit, surrender and obedience. Peace and love.