Shortly before ascending into heaven, Jesus told His disciples to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them” (Matthew 28:19). The Greek word used for baptism is one which means “to dip.” As a result, it seems that baptism involves immersing a person under water. The New Testament indicates that this event is to take place shortly after conversion (Acts 8:36 and 16:33). Though the newly converted Paul spent three years preparing for his public ministry (Galatians 1:18), his baptism occurred immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:18). By studying the New Testament, we can discover three reasons for this practice.
To Confess Christ
Before Christ instituted baptism, other creeds and cults had imitation rites which used some type of immersion. The Roman mystery religions were famous for such ceremonies. Some even baptized converts in bulls’ blood. When Jesus established the church, He sanctified the practice. He told His disciples to baptize people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). His words differentiate the New Testament rite from the initiatory practices of non-Christian groups. Christian immersion is a way for a new believer to publicly profess faith in Jesus. Because of this, it is a powerful evangelistic tool. As a pastor, I have often said that “baptisms beget baptisms.” When one is faithful to submit to Christ’s command, it is amazing how the Lord uses his or her testimony to make others aware of the need for salvation.
To Give a Picture of Salvation
Baptism is a beautiful portrayal of salvation doctrine. It gives a living demonstration of the gospel’s core concepts. Paul spoke of this in his letter to the Romans, saying, “We were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). The act of being immersed in water demonstrates the way in which our old life of sin has been buried. The act of being raised out of the water signifies the newness of life we have in Christ. Baptism is a real life object lesson which tells the timeless truths of salvation. Don’t overlook its Scriptural significance!
To Practice Obedience
Growing up in church, I often heard preachers refer to baptism as “the first step of obedience” in the Christian life. After serving as a pastor for years, I have to agree with that description. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). It seems that if a new convert is negligent in regard to the ordinance, he or she will struggle with being boldly devoted to Christ. Secondary areas of faith and obedience will be hard. I believe Jesus exhibited divine wisdom in issuing the command for His disciples to baptize new converts. He knew it would serve as a sort of test of faith, revealing whether or not one was serious about his or her conversion. I’ve seen it time and again. When a person has cold feet concerning baptism, he or she is usually unlikely to stick with the faith. However, a person who is willing to be baptized is typically ready for a life of obedience-oriented Christ-following. Baptism is important!
Dr. Patrick Latham