Why would Jesus, the Son of God, need to be baptized since He was without sin?
Baptism has been debated as being necessary for salvation for a very long time and some even believe you can’t be saved without being baptized, but what does baptism really mean? There is no special property to water because it’s only by the precious blood of the Lamb of God that we’re really saved and our sins are cleansed from us, but a person that’s been saved should be baptized because it is commanded of believers. If I were to put it in my own words I would say that it is an outward expression of an inward profession of our faith in Jesus to save. Baptism does not make you a believer but it shows you that you are a believer. It does not save a believer; it shows the believer has been saved. It is often done in the presence of family members or in front of the church like when a person has joined the church, but it is an inward expression of an outward faith. Baptism is also symbolic of our identity with one another in the church. We are united with other brothers and sisters who are already in the faith-family of God, thus we are identified with Christ and with the Body of Christ, the church in baptism (1st Cor 12:13). The Greek word used for baptized is “baptizó” which means to dip or sink, but in the noun form, it literally means “to submerge” or to be completely submerged. This certainly differs from being sprinkled. The vast majority of times that the New Testament mentions salvation, it does not mention baptism. Examples are Acts 4:12, Acts 13:38-39, Acts 16:30-31, John 3:16-17, Eph 1:13-14, Romans 1:16 and 10:9-13. Only a handful of Bible verses contain the expression “repent and be baptized,” but these few verses are not saying we need to “repent and be baptized in order to be saved.” Baptism is important, but baptism never saved anyone.
Baptized into Moses
Baptism is what the Greeks used as identifying something in particular. If they submerged (baptizó) a cloth into purple dye, the cloth would be identified with the color purpose, not the water that the dye was in, so baptism is being identified with Christ, not with water. The ancient Israelites were said to be baptized under Moses, which means they were identified with him. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1st Cor 10:1-2). They weren’t identified with the water in the Red Sea but with Moses, so baptism identifies us with Christ and with His church. To make sure we understand this, Paul asked, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Rom 6:3), so “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). If you’ve been baptized, then you’ve been identified with Christ, and not saved by Christ through water. That’s what Jesus meant when He told the disciples to baptize them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19), without even mentioning water. Jesus wanted believers to be identified with Him, so while we’re in public, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind as to Who we belong too and are associated (or identified) with.
To think that we are saved by Jesus + baptism is to add to the work that was completed on the cross by Christ when He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), meaning it is paid in full or brought to a close (Greek, “teleō”), so it’s like saying, Jesus + Baptism = Eternal Life, which is not what the gospel teaches (Eph 2:8-9). Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness because we cannot. At first, John the Baptist didn’t want to baptize Jesus (Matt 3:14) but rather thought He should baptize him, “But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented” (Matt 3:15). We can identify with baptism because we who were dead in our sins were made alive in Christ (Eph 2:1-4), therefore we were buried with Christ but risen with Him to new life, so we are new creations in Christ (2nd Cor 5:17) once we’ve been born again. Jesus’ baptism fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the Law of God because it was not possible that we could. We are incapable of fulfilling God’s Law, so Jesus kept the Law for us, and for our sake, became sin for us (2nd Cor 5:21), breaking the curse of the Law that was against us (by law breaking). I believe Jesus’ example of being baptized should compel us to be baptized (if not already). The Apostle Paul writes, “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 6:4), and “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5).
Some see Jesus being baptized as a means to fulfill the legal requirements for entering into the priesthood (Psalm 110:4; Heb. 5:8-10; 6:20). God told Moses that the priests in the Old Testament are to undergo a ritualistic and thorough washing, as directed in Exodus 28:4, where it says they are to bring “Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting, and wash them with water,” and later, “Moses had Aaron and his sons come near, and washed them with water” (Lev 8:6), so only until they “wash their clothes, they shall be clean” (Num 8:7). When a person outside of the nation of Israel wanted to become an Israelite, they had to undergo seven washings, which typified baptism, but these washings never assured the person being washed that they wouldn’t stray or fall into sin. The custom of baptizing proselytes seven days after their circumcision was also part of this tradition. Today, people often use the day of their baptism as the mark of their new birth, but wasn’t regeneration necessary before baptism? A person without the Holy Spirit isn’t likely to seek baptism. If you ask someone if they are saved or not, and they tell you, “I was baptized in (fill in the year),” tell them, “I wasn’t asking about when you got wet, but when did you repent and believe.” They are equating their baptism + Jesus with their salvation, so it’s not whether they got wet, but if they’re repented and believed the gospel as Jesus requires (Mark 1:14-15).
There is so much confusion over baptism and it has caused many Christians to divide and debate over this issue. It’s sad because I believe when people think that baptism is necessary to be saved, it’s like telling Jesus, “Thank you Jesus for dying for me…it’s almost done…but I need to get baptized first.” Human nature, being what it is, seems we want to “complete” our salvation by being baptized. Many even mark that event as the day of our new birth, however, that is something we do, isn’t it? Doesn’t that rob God of glory? Salvation is fully a work of God and not of water. It’s not Jesus and our getting into the water; it is repentance and faith. A person that’s saved should be baptized, but not in order to finish the work of God in us. That’s already been done (John 19:30). It is paid in full!
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also host of Spiritual Fitness and Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.