What Does Baptism Mean?

November 4, 2021

“baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit . . .”

Matthew 28:19b

Written by John Wilkinson from the Brentwood Campus

Why is it that often times the most obvious thing to do is not always the easiest thing to understand? Baptism is one of those things for me. Clearly we are to do it: Jesus did it (Matthew 3:13-17), the new believers at Pentecost did it (Acts 2:41), and Jesus commanded the disciples to go do it to those who would believe (Matthew 28:19). But what actually happens when we are baptized?

Lots of ideas abound about baptism anchored in various biblical texts. One could discuss the who, the methods, the implications, and a plethora of other rich theological topics concerning baptism. For the sake of this devotional, I’ll make three simple points anchored in one central truth.

The central truth is that Jesus’ work is complete and does not need baptism added to it for the salvation of the believer. Perhaps no clearer example of this truth exists than the thief on the cross who was with Jesus in paradise that very day (Luke 23:42-43). Moreover, it is odd to think that Jesus needed to be baptized for salvation since he was sinless.

Yet, baptism is clearly an act of obedience that all Christians should do. Why? Wayne Grudem in his helpful Systematic Theology offers three points:

  • baptism is a picture of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Colossians 2),
  • baptism is a picture of passing through the waters of judgment (1 Peter 3:21), and
  • baptism is a picture of the washing away of sins (Acts 22:16).

It seems that the first of these three pictures is the most crucial as the believer is buried (going into the water) and raised (coming out of the water) as was Jesus in crucifixion and resurrection from his tomb. But the other two pictures shouldn’t be ignored. We see clearly from the passage through the Red Sea (Exodus 14), the crossing of the Jordan (Joshua 3; not to mention Elijah in 2 Kings 2 and 5) and the Noahic flood (Genesis 7), that God’s people “passing through” the waters is significant for understanding his grace and mercy for us. And again, being washed of our sins is a constant theme in the Bible: Psalm 51:7, Isaiah 1:18, and 2 Kings 5.

In the one act of baptism, the believer bears witness to the community of faith their belief in Jesus. Baptism is for the church: a testimony of one’s faith and commitment to the community of believers, both locally and globally. It is a joyous event that should result in exuberant celebration from all those who believe!

If you have not been baptized, reach out to your church leadership about pursuing this act of obedience.

Believe it or not, one of the richest evangelistic opportunities available is to invite those who are yet to believe to a baptism. Rarely will friends say “no” to attending a baptism celebration. Whether it is you or a family member being baptized, be intentional about inviting friends, neighbors, co-workers, or your child’s teammates to your baptism.

Related Resources

What We Believe, scroll down to the section on Baptism (from the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message)
Why Do I Have to Be Baptized?, Mike Glenn
Sign Up to Be Baptized, (link at the bottom along with some helpful information)

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