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Baptism by Water
Sacraments, Lesson 4
In last week’s lesson, we learned about John’s baptism of repentance, but we also learned that this baptism alone isn’t enough. Another baptism is needed. People need to be baptized into the name of Jesus.
Acts 19:4-5: 4 Paul 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.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The apostles baptized people in the name of Jesus based on a command that Jesus gave before he ascended into heaven:
Matthew 28:18-20: 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This is called the Great Commission, and it is a command that applies to all Christians. As disciples of Christ, we should be baptized, and then we in turn should continue to baptize other new believers.
In this lesson, we’ll look at three main topics related to baptism by water in the name of Jesus.
John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Our sins are the greatest barrier between us and God. In order to be in fellowship with God, a penalty needs to be paid for our sins. In the Old Testament, atonement for sins, or paying the penalty for sins, was done through a system of sacrifices (see Bible Essentials lesson on Leviticus 4). In the New Testament, Jesus came to be the ultimate and final sacrifice for our sins, as we learned in the Bible Essentials lesson on Hebrews 9.
So when it comes to forgiveness of sins, the Bible tells us that all our sins are forgiven through Jesus because of his work on the cross. In our lesson on God is Forgiving, we looked at this series of verses:
Matthew 26:27-28: 27 Then he [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Colossians 2:13-14: 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.
1 John 2:12: I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his [Jesus’s] name.
Because Jesus is the one who has paid the penalty for our sins, and because our sins are the primary barrier between us and God, it follows logically that we should be baptized into Jesus’s name. However, the act of baptism itself isn’t required for Jesus’s death on the cross to atone for our sins, allowing our sins to be forgiven. Forgiveness comes when we confess our sins to God and repent (see Bible Essentials lesson on 1 John 1). This confession and repentance should come before the act of baptism. Baptism then is a symbol we use to tell those around us that we have been forgiven and that we choose to follow Christ.
In the Bible, water is often used as an avenue to become clean. We looked at this in Lesson 2 of this series when we talked about ceremonial cleansing. The Israelites used water for washing and cleanliness, whether physical or spiritual, in many instances. The Levites and the people of Israel ceremonially cleansed themselves with water in order to stand before God (Exodus 19, Exodus 40, many passages in Leviticus and Numbers). The prophet Elisha told Naaman to wash in the Jordan seven times to be cleansed of leprosy (2 Kings 5). David talked about being washed and cleansed of his sins in Psalm 51. Even today, if we want to be clean, we take a bath or shower using water.
In the New Testament, the connection between washing and forgiveness of sins is still prevalent. Even Saul (Paul) during his conversion was told: “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Later in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul continued to connect washing and cleansing:
Ephesians 5:25-27: 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Throughout the Scriptures, it becomes clear that if we want to be clean, we need to be washed. And water is the primary tool we use for washing. Therefore, baptism with water is a symbol of being cleansed of our sins, which was ultimately accomplished through Jesus’s death on the cross.
What Is the Deeper Meaning of Baptism?
If symbolically cleansing us from our sins was the only reason for baptism, then why wasn’t John’s baptism enough? True, John’s baptism wasn’t done in Jesus’s name, which we know is important. But is there something else we need to consider? Several verses lead us to this deeper meaning in the symbolism of baptism.
The deeper meaning to baptism is found in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. This is a sequential process.
1. The Bible tells us that when we are baptized, we are first “baptized into his death.”
Romans 6:3: Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
To pay the penalty for our sins, Jesus first had to suffer death. Jesus even referred to his destiny of the cross and the agony he would go through to pay the penalty for our sins as his “baptism.” When two of his disciples come to him and ask to sit at his right and left hand in heaven, Jesus responded:
Mark 10:38-40: 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
In another passage, Jesus refers to the constraint he is under until he undergoes his baptism:
Luke 12:50: But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!
In these passages, he’s not talking about his baptism by water. That baptism had already taken place. Instead, he’s referring to his death and resurrection. By being baptized into his death, we recognize that Jesus’s death applies to us—his work on the cross to pay the penalty for sins includes my own sin. We also state that we are willing to sacrifice our lives for the sake of the gospel just like Jesus gave his life to pay the penalty for our sins.
2. When a person is immersed under the water during baptism, it is symbolic of being buried with Christ.
Romans 6:4a: We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death…
Colossians 2:12a: …having been buried with him in baptism…
When Jesus died on the cross, he was truly dead. He wasn’t faking it or hiding in those days he was in the tomb. He was really dead, so they buried him. So too, when we live a life of sin, we are spiritually dead. However, when we are “buried with Christ” in baptism, it symbolizes that we have put to death our old self, our sinful self.
Ephesians 4:22: You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires…
Once we are buried with Christ in baptism, that old self is buried with him, never to return.
3. When a person is raised up out of the water during baptism, it is symbolic of new life in Christ.
Romans 6:4: 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.
Colossians 2:12: Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
After his death and burial, Jesus was resurrected with new power over sin and with a new body. Similarly, when we are “raised with Christ” in baptism, it symbolizes that we have new life in Christ.
Ephesians 4:23-24 puts it this way: 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
This new life that comes from Christ helps us become more like God a little more every day.
In the act of baptism, particularly baptism by immersion, the person “dies” to the old self as they are immersed in water, they are “buried” with Christ when they are under the water, and then they are “raised” with Christ when the are brought back out of the water. This symbolizes that our old, sinful lives are gone. They are dead and buried, forgiven through Jesus’s work on the cross. In its place, we receive new life, a life in which we are created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. But can we live righteous and holy lives all on our own? No. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit, which we’ll talk about next week.
Centered on Christ, another Substack newsletter, recently wrote a post on this same topic. Consider checking it out!