What is it?
Multiple times in the New Testament a new believer is instructed to get baptized as a result of their newly found faith. This means that to start with, baptism is a simple act of obedience because it is something that God tells us to do. At Pentecost (the birth of the church when 3,000 people came to faith shortly after Jesus’ resurrection) Peter tells the people that in order to be saved they needed to first repent and then be baptized (Acts 2:38). Later in the book of Acts, an Ethiopian Eunuch is saved through a conversation with a disciple named Philip. Philip immediately instructs him to be baptized as a result of his conversion (Acts 8:35-39). Finally, Paul (the greatest church planter of all time and the author of 1/3 of the New Testament) he consistently baptizes people throughout his ministry once they come to faith.
So, clearly, baptism is an act of obedience after coming to faith which tells us that baptism is something that is very important to God. The question then becomes…
Why is it important to God?
Baptism is important to God because it is symbolic of two very important things. First, it's a symbol of our being a new creature as a result of our salvation. In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul says it like this:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
There are a lot of ideas packed into these two verses, so let’s break down what Paul is describing. First, the Bible teaches that before we come to know Jesus through salvation we are slaves to sin, or have no choice but to sin (Romans 6:20). Because of this, we are separated from God and in need of salvation. So, when we accept Christ as our savior and allow him to restore our broken relationship with the Father, that old version of us is dead (Romans 6:6-7)! When we are saved, God gives us a new life in which we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 8:10-11). This is the “newness of life” that Paul was talking about.
The picture here is that just as Jesus died on the cross for us, the old versions of us died along with him. This is why we go all the way under the water when we are baptized. It is symbolic of our old selves being buried with Christ. After being in the tomb for three days, Jesus rose from the grave, conquering death. When we come up out of the water the picture is that we are resurrected from the grave along with Christ as a new creature and enabled to walk in this new life as a believer.
In short, baptism is a representation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and how we are a new creature in Christ as a result of that resurrection.
Incidentally, this is also why we believe in baptism by immersion or being fully submersed under the water. Sprinkling or pouring doesn’t adequately paint the picture of what baptism truly symbolizes. Additionally, the original word for baptism means “to immerse.” Finally, in every instance of baptism in the Bible, the person being baptized is fully submersed. By putting people fully under water, we believe we are most closely following the biblical example laid out for us as well as honoring what it was meant to symbolize.
Secondly, it symbolizes our becoming a part of God’s family. Often we say that baptism is a public profession of a private decision. When we accept Jesus as our savior, we tend to do so privately. That decision is between us and God. Baptism, however, is a public thing. We do this in front of the rest of the church or witnesses of our family and friends. We do this so that others know about the decision that we have made. Paul teaches that baptism is a declaration of the faith we have placed in Jesus (Colossians 2:12).
Baptism is an act of obedience after faith and it is important to God because of what it symbolizes.
Who is it for?
In answering the first two questions, we’ve really revealed the answer to this third one. Baptism is for people who can articulate or express a faith in Jesus Christ as their savior. We believe this is true for a few reasons.
First, because of what baptism symbolizes. It doesn't symbolize what will happen in your life one day. It symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection into new life that has already happened because of your faith in Jesus.
Second, because of what baptism stands for. Scripture clearly teaches that baptism is a public declaration of your faith. It stands to reason then that you cannot publicly declare a faith that you do not have. In order for baptism to be genuine, it must declare a faith that is your own. Therefore, baptism must come after salvation.
Finally, every baptism we see in the Bible is done after salvation. If we are going to follow the biblical model of baptism then we must reserve it for those who are already saved.
What do I do if I was baptized as an infant?
You may have been baptized as a baby or heard of other traditions that practice this. So you may wonder, if baptism should be done by fully submerging someone after they are saved, then what about the people who were baptized as babies?
Well, the short answer is that we would say that you need to be baptized again. Or, more accurately, be truly baptized for the first time. We don’t say this to diminish the tradition of your family or the church you grew up in, but rather to honor what we believe to be the example set for us in the Bible.
At Graystone we have a baby dedication service twice a year. In this service, parents of new babies step forward and commit to raising these children in godly homes and according to biblical standards. In turn, the church commits to helping them and holding them accountable to this commitment. We believe that that those who were baptized as an infant were essentially dedicated to God before the church. While the baptism ceremony for an infant is very special and even very meaningful, ultimately it does not fall in line with the Biblical example of baptism. Again, we believe that for a baptism to be one of obedience, it must be done by full submersion after someone becomes a Christian.
Do you want to know more?
If you have any more questions that weren’t answered in this article or if you would like to find out more about taking this step of obedience and getting baptized, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. One of our pastors would love to walk with you through this process!
Small Groups Pastor, Ozora Campus