Water Baptism; What in the World Am I About to Do?
If you’re confused, welcome to the club!
Water baptism is a joy-filled aspect of our heritage as followers of Jesus Christ. For centuries, transformed men and women have been declaring their love for Jesus while standing in the waters of baptism. It is moment of celebration, a statement of testimony, and a pictorial rehearsal of Christ’s victory over sin and death and our participation in that victory through faith in Him. Water baptism should be a prominent and memorable milestone in our spiritual life.
Unfortunately, water baptism is also a highly confused aspect of our Christian heritage. By nature it contains some mystery because God is involved in the action. God is present with us in our baptism and we feel His pleasure as we declare His grace in our lives. Over the centuries disagreements regarding how a person receives the grace of God and what part we play in our own salvation have obscured the meaning of water baptism. Depending upon ones church background, one may have multiple questions regarding this privilege of faith.
- Is baptism for children or is it for adults?
- Should I be baptized more than once in life?
- Must I be baptized to be saved?
- How must I be baptized?
- Where should baptism occur?
Such questions, and others like them, have served only to deepen confusion and heighten frustration over the issue of water baptism. In fact, these concerns can do nothing but create confusion and frustration because they are off point! They are secondary issues and can only be resolved after answering a more fundamental question.
What exactly is water baptism?
1. Water baptism is a public statement of identification.
The English word “baptize” comes from the Greek verb baptidzo Literally the word means “to dip” or “to immerse” in a substance of some kind. The earliest occurrences of the word come from the textile industry and the process of dyeing cloth. Fabric was “baptized” into the dye and transformed by taking on a new color.
With such a history, the word baptidzo became an excellent candidate to describe the “cleansing rituals” of religion. The prophet Elijah required King Naaman to “go wash himself” in the Jordan river if he desired to be healed of leprosy and “cleansed” from the spiritual defilement associated with that disease (2 Kings 5). Religious leaders in the Hebrew community required Gentiles proselytes to Judaism to be washed as part of their cleansing. The word “baptize” began to take on a specific significance. It implied the leaving of one life to identify with the values and requirements of another.
New Testament usage shows further development of the meaning of “baptism.” John the Baptist clearly viewed water baptism as an “identification ritual.” For him, baptism indicated a willingness to identify oneself as culpable for sin and to repent from sinful behavior. Consider Matthew 3:1-17.
1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." 3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
"A voice of one calling in the desert,
'prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' "
4John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
15Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.
16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
Notice what John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they come to be investigate his ministry? He warns them that they cannot hide from judgment behind their identity as children of Abraham; they must bear fruit that identifies them as repentant before God. Those who were willing to be baptized by John were making that statement of identification. They were making it publicly, refusing to pretend that things were ok any more.
John’s ministry of baptism polarized the people of Israel into two camps. Those who were willing to repent were identified with water in baptism. Those who refused to be baptized were identified as the proud, unwilling to repent. In verse 11 of the above excerpt John clarifies the issue. He points out that his baptism separated the repentant from the unrepentant and that he used water to do so. Another “Baptist” was coming however that would separate the redeemed from the condemned and he would use the Spirit or fire. Those identified with the Spirit shall be saved; those identified with fire shall perish.
Continuing in the passage we find that Jesus understood “baptism” to be a rite of identification as well. By coming to John to be baptized, Jesus is seeking to identify with the repentant whom he came to save. John is hesitant to baptize Jesus because he knows who the Lord is. Once Jesus reminds John however of the purpose of his baptism, John relents. Immediately upon his baptism, Jesus is set apart publicly by the Father for the mission he came to fulfill.
Acts 19:1-7 provides another example of the “identification” purpose of water baptism.
1While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
3So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?"
"John's baptism," they replied.
4Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7There were about twelve men in all.
This text presents 12 men who had never heard of the Holy Spirit but had demonstrated their repentance by receiving the baptism of John. Paul took that to mean that they had never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and had not embraced the importance of his death and resurrection. Once these men identified with Jesus, God then further identified them as he poured out His Holy Spirit on their lives.
Identification is the central concept of baptism. In fact the word “baptism” is sometimes used when water is not even in mind. For example, in Mark 10:35-40 James and John ask Jesus for the privilege of sitting at this right and left hand in his kingdom. The Lord asks them an interesting question “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” he asks. Certainly Jesus was not talking about water baptism. He was asking if they could endure the fate he would endure and be identified as God’s faithful suffering as he would suffer. Suffering and death defined the “baptism” Jesus speaks of here.
If water baptism is a statement of identification, what do we identify with when we are water baptized? Romans 6:1-10 clarifies that we identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a statement of intent to live Christ’s life according to his resurrected power. In baptism we also identify ourselves with all other followers of Jesus. We declare that we are entering Christ’s body; the Church (Acts 2:38-41; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
2. Water baptism is a powerful picture of transformation.
Water baptism not only identifies those who have be transformed by Jesus, it illustrates the gospel that effects our transformation. It is a vivid picture of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we are submerged into the water we demonstrate our faith that the death of Jesus is sufficient to pay fully for all of our sin. We illustrate that we have chosen personally to participate in Christ’s death and burial and have abandoned our old way of life and our old reason for living. As we come out of the water of baptism we declare that we are now raised with Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit to walk in a newness of life (Romans 6:1-10). Water baptism pictures the entire salvation experience from justification (the forgiveness of sin) and regeneration (the birth of new life) through sanctification (the power to live a life pleasing to God) to glorification (complete transformation into the glory of Christ).
Technically, baptism is a metonym; a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated (as in “lands belonging to the crown”). A wedding ring is another example of metonymy. One might ask a newlywed; “when did you get your ring?” The real question however is “when were you married?” The ring is not the marriage. Couples can be married and not exchange rings. Couples may even exchange rings and yet not actually marry. Typically, however, a wedding ring worn on the third finger of the left hand is a pictorial expression of the marriage that stands behind the ring.
No one receives the gift of salvation as a result of being baptized. Salvation is by grace, through faith, and based on the blood of Jesus Christ. It cannot be a result of any work, even the work of baptism (Ephesians 1:3-14). Baptism is merely a picture of what has already occurred in the inner person and is not required for salvation. The Apostle Peter speaks of water that “. . . symbolizes baptism that now saves you also.” He goes on to say of that baptism however that it is ”not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” It is not the baptism that saves but it is “the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” (1 Peter 3:21-22).
3. Water baptism is a joyous celebration of new life.
Finally, water baptism is designed to be a celebration of joy for all who watch us declare our transformation in Christ and our intention to follow him. At ChangePoint we believe baptism is a “watershed” moment. The one being baptized is heralding the reality of resurrection power in their life and proclaiming a life-long loyalty to the same Lord and Master we love and serve. In light of that belief, we do not celebrate baptism in somber ways. We hoot, holler, applaud, cheer, and congratulate those who in faith are baptized.
The Bible tells us that after being baptized by Phillip, the Ethiopian eunuch ”. . . went on his way rejoicing.” That is our hope for you as well. We pray that God will immediately reward the faith you demonstrate through baptism by filling your heart with joy.
What is the process at ChangePoint?
- Read this article regarding baptism at ChangePoint.
- Complete a “Baptism Statement” and forward it to Lee Hudson. Lee will help you edit you’re your statement and schedule your actual baptism.
- Once your baptism has been scheduled, invite as many friends and family as possible. Remember, baptism is a declaration of intent and who better to hear you state your intentions than your friends and family. Often people who do not know Jesus Christ are moved to investigate the gospel because of the baptism of a family member or personal friend.
- Anticipate that God will do great things through the celebration of your transformed life. Come to your baptism ceremony with great expectation! Pray that as we celebrate what Jesus has done in you, God will be glorified and you will be flooded with joy.