In John 15:14 Jesus says: “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” And then later on in the great commission, He gives the following instruction to His disciples before He ascends into heaven:
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 NASB
Jesus didn’t give this command casually. He always modelled for us how we should walk, before asking us to do the same. Jesus Himself was baptised by John the Baptist and it was only then that the Holy Spirit descended on Him so that He could begin His earthly ministry.
So clearly being baptised is something we should do. But what is it? Who can get baptised? How does the whole thing work?
When we read the word “baptism” in scriptures like the one in Matthew above, it’s important to know the origin of the word so that we know how the writer was using it. This helps us to interpret meaning correctly. The original word for baptism, βαπτίζω, or baptizó, means to properly, “submerge” or literally to “dip under.” So we can see that this implies submersion or immersion in water. This is quite different to having water poured over you where you may well get wet, but you do not go under.
Ok, so to be baptised properly, according to the meaning of the word we find in scripture, we need to go under water, but still, what is baptism? What does it represent?
Romans 6:3-5 gives us a good picture of what happens when we are baptised:
“Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was.” NLT
So we can see that baptism is our symbolic death, burial and resurrection with Jesus. As we go into the water, we picture our death with Jesus, going to the grave. Then as we come out of the water, we picture our resurrection with Him.
It’s important to note at this point that being baptised alone does not save you. In Acts 9:1-19 we read how Paul was converted. He believed and was filled with the Holy Spirit, then only got baptised.
Peter also wrote in 1 Peter 3:21 (NLT) that baptism itself does not save: “And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”. We could read that it’s not the symbolic washing of sins that saves you, but rather a true response to God from your heart.
When we look at the requirements for baptism in water, this becomes even more evident.
John 3:3 tells us: “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.””
How is one born again?
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NASB
“that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Romans 10:9-10 NASB
All who trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior can receive this salvation without doubt or reservation. If you truly do this, then your spirit comes alive and you are born again. Baptism then is a next step where you publically decide to make a commitment to follow the Lord.
To be properly baptised requires this step of faith to properly turn away from the life you are leading and follow the Lord.
The word repent (metanoia) conveys the meaning of a change of mind or a changing of the inner man. Another way to think of it would be a 180° turn, to walk in the opposite direction. To repent means to make a firm decision to change how your life looks and follow Jesus. It is not a casual repentance, but rather a true reflection of an inner change where one can see that your life has actually become different.
John the Baptist warned the Pharisees of this in Matthew 3:7-8: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance;”
We must bear the fruit of repentance, in other words, there must be evidence of a change in our inner person, evidence in our lives that we have changed.
And we must believe by faith that we die with Christ going into the water, and that we are resurrected with Him coming out of it.
If you can do those things, then baptism is for you, or anyone who can.
The story of how I was baptised might help explain this a bit better.
I was baptised three times. First, as in infant, I had water poured over my head as I was dedicated by my parents in the church. Was there anything wrong with this? No. But did I have the mental capacity to understand what was happening, or know that I was a sinner, or make a choice to turn away from my old life? Certainly not.
I later learnt that my baptism had actually been a dedication. It was then at university that I gave my life to the Lord, was “saved” and then took the next step and was baptised. I say “saved” because I don’t think I truly was. I said the prayer in front of the pastor: “I confess with my mouth, and believe in my heart…”, but didn’t exhibit any of the fruits of repentance. I continued to party and mess around.
Many years later, having fallen away from church completely, I found my way back (thanks to my wife) to the church that we currently attend. I gave my life properly to the Lord and started to show evidence of a change in heart. It was about that time that I read a book called Iniquity by Ana Méndez Ferrell. This passage rocked me:
“The first design is death, then the resurrection. The baptism is a design of death. If we do not enter the waters with the firm conviction to die in the flesh and sin, then, we just get wet. The water does not have power for salvation, but what it does is represent the decision to die in order to be resurrected. This might be done with all of our heart and conscience. There are people that enter the waters as a mere religious requirement, but without the genuine conviction to follow Jesus with all their being. Maybe they need to be accepted, want to be part of a group to feel integrated in society, want to please their wife, or vice versa. Then, this important event becomes an errand, as someone who gets a passport. However, their hearts never truly had a desire to die with Christ.”
I suddenly realised that all I had accomplished in my second baptism was getting wet. This got me thinking and after consultation with an elder in our church and some time in prayer, I decided to get baptised a third time…for real.
It took me some poor decision making and some time to realise that Baptism represents:
- An outward sign of inner faith
- An outward sign of the inner work of God in our hearts
- A personal commitment to Christ
- A sign of identifying with His name and character
- A relationship with Him
- A visual representation of the fact that we are clothed with Christ, that we are in union with Him and share in His victory over sin
- An outward sign of an inner regeneration due to the work of the Holy Spirit
If being baptised is a step you are considering taking, my hope is that you do it in faith and that you do it with a sincere desire to turn away from your old life. If this is so then I believe you will truly become a son/daughter of God.
“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:25-29 NASB