Baptism in water – Why is this such a big question?

When I was in Bible College I was the youth pastor in the local church. We had a number of young people who made the decision to connect with Jesus Christ and receive Jesus as their saviour. It was an exciting time and we taught them about baptism and they wanted to get baptised.

I approached the local hotel with the swimming pool and we organised the day. I’ll never forget the comment from one of the staff. “You’re going to baptise in the swimming pool? Those poor babies!”

Loads of people question this practice of the church; the reason being that baptism happens according to many different traditions. So what does the Bible really say about this thing called baptism?

I ask the question; “Have you been baptised in water?”

Many people answer no and turn the question around with a question, “Why do I need to be baptised in water?” The answer to that question is simple and incredibly impacting at the same time.

The answer to the question, should I be baptised in water is a resounding YES – yes you should. 

The reason you should be baptised in water is the incredible imparting part! You need to get baptised in water is because baptism is a clear and unquestionable command from Jesus Christ our Lord.

At the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry just before He was taken up back into Heaven he gave a very clear instruction to His disciples. 2,000 years ago Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20, “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus said “all authority has been given to Him” now go and make disciples or followers of Jesus – make, create or produce people who will “follow me.” Make disciples – create followers who will be obedient and you’ll do that by baptising them and teaching and instructing them to be obedient to everything I have commanded you.

You are to make disciples by baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. So if you want to be a disciple of Jesus and if you want to live obedient to the commands of Christ our Lord then you are to follow His instructions and get baptised.

What is baptism? 

If the scriptures are our sole source of authority then what is baptism from a biblical point of view?

The word baptise or bapto/baptismo in the Greek means to immerse wholly in water, to dip into, to wholly cover in fluid, one secular reference uses the word to describe the process of “pickling” vegetables in vinegar. There is no idea of sprinkling here but a fully emersion into water.

This is the explanation of the bible word. Let’s look at the bible action of baptism. Jesus was baptised in water by John the Baptist – another good reason why we should be baptised in water – Jesus was and His command is that we follow Him – how was it for Jesus?

Mark 1:9-10, “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”

Firstly, Jesus came to a river to be baptised. Secondly, scripture says “as he was coming up out of the water…” clearly shows the action of baptism. Coming UP means He went DOWN into the water.

John 3:22-23 says that after Jesus was baptised He started to baptise his disciples, “After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptised. Now John also was baptising at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptised.” Note once Jesus was baptised in water He started baptising others; note also the reference to there being plenty of water there.

Acts 8:36-39 gives us another example of a New Testament person being baptised; note here the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, “As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptised?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.”

Note the wording of scripture here; “Why shouldn’t I be baptised?” so different from people’s questions today!

Note the comment “here is water …” Philip and the eunuch went down into the water…” And Philip immersed him in water, wholly covered him – “when they came up out of the water…”

What is baptism all about then – why is it so important? 

So what is baptism to us today? Let’s get something clear here – baptism doesn’t save you. Scripture says Acts 2:37-38, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Note the divine order here; Repent – change your mind about Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour – turn to God in heartfelt belief and faith and then be baptised (fully immersed in water – dipped) in water – every one of you. The two commands are very close and in order – but salvation through repentance comes first – note also to then go on to be baptised – note – you must first be a believer.

Another example from New Testament life: Acts 10:46-48, “For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptised with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”

Peter was talking to these non-Jewish people about Jesus – they listened intently – they received the message about Christ and were baptised in the Holy Spirit speaking in tongues and praising God! This was a very important moment for the church as non-Jewish people were now responding to the message about Jesus. He church had to get this right.

Peter’s question is once again so different from most people; instead of asking “Why should I get baptised in water?” Peter is asking “Can anyone keep these people from being baptised (immersed, wholly covered over) with water?”

What is baptism all about?

For us in Protestant churches we would say that baptism is not a sacrament (in the true sense of the word), but an ordinance.

What that means is Baptism does not in any way convey, give or impart the grace of salvation it symbolizes salvation. Baptism is a public manifestation of the person’s conversion it doesn’t bring with it salvation.

Baptism doesn’t save you – baptism doesn’t give you salvation – salvation comes when we repent and change our minds about who Jesus is – when we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord – that brings salvation – and Jesus saves us – not baptism.

Baptism is a public confession of our faith – baptism is for those who have first believed – baptism is an outward sign that inward conversion has taken place.

Baptism is simple obedience to the command of Jesus Christ. It is for this reason many converts from Islam and Buddhism make such a big deal of baptism – it is their public confession of faith in Jesus Christ it shows a clear break from their old life and a start of a new life.

What does baptism symbolise?

Romans 6:3-8, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? 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. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

Baptism symbolises and appropriates our death to sin, to our old way of thinking and acting – going down into the water symbolises our death with Christ on the cross and coming up out of the water symbolises our new life with Jesus. We by this act of obedience identify with Christ in His death and His glorious resurrection.

Baptism in water is a way to outwardly demonstrate the power of death and publicly display a new life as seen in Christ death and resurrection. For some baptism in water is a moment when they bow to the Lordship and authority of Christ and humble themselves to the point of obedience – it is a moment of humility and obedience to the command of Christ – it is aligning our life with the life of Christ.

Put simply, water baptism is the bible way of making your statement of faith! My old life is behind me – a new life in Christ is in front of me! I have died with Christ and have also been raised up with Christ into new life. This is your public confession of faith.

It is for this reason we call for as many people to come and witness your baptism – so you can make a public declaration that your life is now hid with Christ in God. You are the partaker of a divine nature – your sins are washed away and you’ve died to an old way of life to live in newness of life in the name of Jesus Christ.

Water baptism is a clear way of giving testimony of a new life. You have chosen to be obedient to the command of the Lord Jesus and following Him through the waters of baptism. To a world waiting you now declare yourself a disciple, a true follower of Jesus Christ.

Water baptism is a sermon in itself because it demonstrates the gospel – it explains the good news – it reveals what salvation is all about! It is simple obedience to Christ publicly displayed!

So what do we do now?

If you are a Christian, if you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ – then I am commissioned by the Lord to command you to be obedient to Him and be baptised – I am also commissioned to teach you to be obedient to everything he has taught us.

As a Christian you now have a choice – Jesus commands us to be baptised – will you obey the words of our Lord Jesus Christ? Will you humble yourself and be obedient to be baptised (wholly covered) in water.

As a Christian will you make a public declaration of your faith in Jesus Christ?

Maybe you’re not yet a believer in Jesus Christ but this explanation of baptism has stirred something in you. Maybe today you have become aware of your need for Jesus Christ. Maybe you realised today you’re not a Christian but desire to be connected with Christ. Today is your day.

Author: Pastor Tom Rawls, Senior Pastor, Proclaimers Church

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