What is the meaning of baptism? When should a person get baptized? Why should someone get baptized? These are all good questions that I’d like to consider in this Q&A.
What is the Meaning of Baptism?
The word baptize is a translation of the Greek word “baptizo” which means “to be immersed” in water. Immersion was the normal New Testament mode of baptism. And the mode of baptism tells us something about the meaning because baptism depicts outwardly what has happened inwardly when a person becomes a Christian. When a person goes down into the water it pictures how, upon repentance and faith, their sins are dead and buried in the grave of God’s forgiveness. And then, when they come up out of the water, it pictures their new life—indwelt by the Holy Spirit. So, water baptism pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and our death, burial, and resurrection with Jesus. That is why it demonstrates outwardly what has happened inwardly. The apostle Paul taught, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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” (Romans 6:3-4).
In the New Testament, water baptism so closely followed someone’s conversion, or baptism with the Holy Spirit, that they could practically be considered one and the same event. For example, the very moment that the 3000 people accepted the message of the Gospel preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost, they got baptized. Acts 2:41 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
At conversion, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is called being baptized with the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12:13). This inward spiritual baptism is in essence pictured outwardly by water baptism. I have found the analogy of wearing a wedding ring to be helpful. In our culture, when a person gets married, they begin wearing a wedding ring as an outward symbol that they are now married. Merely wearing a wedding ring doesn’t automatically make you married. But if you are married, the ring is significant because it is a visible sign of your marriage commitment. Likewise, when a person is baptized, the act itself doesn’t wash away their sins magically. Rather, in baptism they are visibly identifying themselves with Jesus Christ. They are saying, “I belong to Christ. I am united to him by faith. I am cleansed and forgiven and I have a new life.”
When should a person get baptized?
Once you have personally come to trust in Jesus as your Savior and Lord, you should be baptized in water. The Philippian jailor’s story illustrates this. He asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” … 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. (Acts 16:30-34). The jailer and his whole house had come to believe in Christ. That is why they all got baptized. Some have thought that since his whole household got baptized, it must have included babies also. But this would be unlikely because verse 34 emphasizes that he and his whole household had come to believe, implying that everyone was of an age where they could personally believe in Christ.
Why should a person be baptized?
One of Jesus’ final commands to his followers, before he ascended to heaven, was to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20). Baptism, therefore, is a command for every subsequent follower of Jesus to obey. It is a demonstration of our obedience to Christ. It isn’t a sign of maturity. It isn’t something we should put off until we’ve overcome all our sins and reached some higher level of Christian maturity. No. We are commanded to get baptized as a sign that we belong to Christ, that we have been cleansed and forgiven, and that we have a new life in Christ.