People may think water baptism is a certain religious ritual necessary for church membership or salvation. Nowhere does the New Testament specifically express that you have to be baptized to be part of the church or that baptism can save you. In fact, the Bible says that salvation is only through grace by faith.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
(Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV)
Furthermore, if water baptism is required for salvation, then why would Jesus give the assurance of salvation to the thief on the cross next to Him? Jesus merely declared salvation after the thief recognized Jesus as God, acknowledged his own sinfulness, and asked that Jesus remember him in His kingdom.
“But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
(Luke 23:40-43 KJV)
Water baptism is not a means to be saved but an external declaration of faith as a result of an internal transformation brought about by a new believer’s willful acceptance of the finished work of Christ. We are not saved through baptism but are baptized because we are already saved. When a new believer decides to be baptized, his/her newfound relationship with Jesus Christ is publicly proclaimed before family, friends, and the congregation as a symbolical act of faith and obedience.
Though water baptism cannot be taken legalistically, it cannot also be taken lightly. After all, it is one significant way of saying to the world that you are for Christ now, and it illustrates a believer’s identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To better understand water baptism, the Bible shows us several illustrations.
- Burial and Resurrection
The Apostle Paul likens baptism to burial. For a person to be buried, he/she must die first. It is important that a believer understands that he/she has to die to sin for repentance. That is the reason why a believer is baptized through immersion in the water. Then after being immersed, a believer is lifted from the water, symbolizing Christ’s resurrection as we live a new life.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
(Romans 6:1-4 KJV)
- Crossing the Red Sea
As the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, we were also slaves to sin. They passed through the Red Sea when Moses led them out from bondage to freedom. It is analogous to Jesus’ death on the cross to purchase our freedom through His blood.
1 Corinthians 10:1-2 KJV
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
- The Great Flood
Since the time of Noah, when the waters in the Great Flood cleansed the whole world, water baptism has also symbolized our salvation and spiritual sanctification in the resurrection of Christ. As taught by Peter in 1 Peter 3:20-21:
“Which sometime were disobedient when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:”
Lastly, it is amazing to know the significance of baptism, as when Jesus said in the Great Commission:
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”
Matthew 28:19 KJV
The word “baptize” is translated from the Greek word meaning “to immerse.” That means that when we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, we are immersed not in the partiality of God but in His fullness.