Let me start by saying that I am not a theologian. I am not an expert on Biblical doctrine. But I believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God can answer our questions if we read it in context and don’t try to make it say just what we want to hear. When I am looking for answers in the Bible, I simply try to read what it says and not try to infer some deeper meaning that I don’t have a full understanding of. I’m sure many scholars far more versed in this area have expounded on the purpose of Baptism. I have no desire to challenge or debate them. I simply searched out passages that spoke of Baptism and what they said seemed pretty clear to me.
Do we have to be baptized to be saved? The Bible doesn’t say that baptism redeems you. It is only through the blood of Jesus and his atoning death that we are made righteous before God. If we do not acknowledge that Jesus is our one and only Savior, then the act of baptism or any other outward thing we do will not make us pure. But the Bible does command that once we have accepted Christ as our Savior and have repented of our sinful ways we must be baptized.
Jesus himself told us, “Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16 NLT)
On the day of Pentecost, not long after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit came to the believers just as Jesus had promised and many saw the impact of his arrival. As the onlookers struggled to understand what this power was that had suddenly come upon these average people in their midst, Peter explained to them that they were witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promises made through their prophets.
“But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip…God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today. “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” (Acts of the Apostles 2:23-24, 32-33, 36 NLT)
This news hit home with the devout Jews that he was speaking to and they asked him what they should do.
Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” (Acts of the Apostles 2:37 NLT)
Peter’s answer echoed Jesus’ own words and is one that I believe applies to each of us…
“Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts of the Apostles 2:38 NLT)
There it is. Clear instructions for each of us. Repent, turn to God and be baptized in the name of Jesus. And I think it bears noticing that baptism comes after repentance and faith. Clearly this indicates that baptism is a conscious choice that must be made by someone who has decided for themselves that Jesus is the way.
So what does baptism signify? I believe that the Bible answers that, too. It signifies the fact that our decision to follow Christ has changed us. Our old, sinful lives were crucified with Christ on the cross. Washed away in the waters of baptism. And we have emerged, washed clean by the blood of Jesus. Our baptism is our outward demonstration that we have been made new.
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. (Romans 6:3-4 NLT)
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. (Galatians 3:26 NLT)
And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. (Galatians 3:27 NLT)
Another picture of baptism was illustrated through Peter when he spoke to the Jewish believers about how Noah and his family emerged from the flood, saved by God. He again reminds them that baptism by itself has no saving power, but that it is our response to God — made effective because of Jesus’ resurrection.
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. (1 Peter 3:20-21 NLT)
And, of course, one of Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples reminds us of the importance of baptism along with our faith. First we must become a disciple (follower) of Jesus. Then we must be baptized.
Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19 NLT)