Baptism – A Symbol of Faith in Christ

How is Baptism Performed?

The scriptural mode of baptism is to immerse (put under) in water. The word baptism is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo, from the root bapto (to dip). The early church knew nothing of sprinkling and pouring. The words rhantizo (sprinkling), and ballo (pouring) are never used in the New Testament concerning baptism.

The purpose of baptism is that of identification. Baptism does not save, does not wash away sins, and has no mystical results. John preached baptism of repentance (Luke 3:3-8), and warned those coming for baptism, “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance,” or make sure what you are publicly professing by the outward sign of baptism has already occurred inwardly. The New Testament Christians baptized by Jesus and His disciples were claiming identification with Christ in their baptism. See Acts 8:26-38; 9:17-18, 10:34-48, 18:5-8 and 19:1-5.

The Beautiful Illustration of Christ

Baptism is a beautiful illustration of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Baptism is an outward sign, saying, “I have received Christ as my Savior.” As a believer goes under the water, this pictures the death of his old life; and as he comes up, he is raised to a new life in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17).

The subject of baptism is anyone who has received Christ as his Savior (John 1:12 and Acts 16:31). The only prerequisite is being born again (believing in Christ as Lord and Savior). The eunuch’s question to Philip in Acts 8:36, after having the scriptures explained, asked, “…What doth hinder me to be baptized?” Philip’s answer in vs. 37 was, “…If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest….” Notice, Philip said believe (see Romans 10:9-10), not, join a religion, or denomination, or church, or do some good work.

Baptism is based on belief, receiving Christ. This refutes the “authority for infant baptism” or entrance into a particular denomination — both are unscriptural, traditions of man. The scriptures quoted teach baptism should be followed by a new believer as soon as possible after conversion (Matthew 10:37).

Baptism should be practiced by every Christian after conversion, hence it is called the first step of faith. There are many contemporary ideas regarding the nature and the correct mode of baptism. There are many good reasons why every Christian should be baptized, but perhaps the example of Christ is a compelling one. As a new believer is baptized, he follows the example of Christ who began his public ministry with baptism.

The Basic Definition

The word baptizo is a Greek word transliterated into the English, “baptize.” The word could be better translated “to dip or immerse.” The Greek word is a form of the word bapto, which means “to dip,” as in dyeing cloth. In the New Testament, when the Holy Spirit places a believer into the Body of Christ so that he is identified with his death, burial, and resurrection, it is called “baptism.” Water baptism is the act of placing the new believer in water as a testimony that he has experienced the reality of the conversion experience. The act in itself should not be equated with salvation, as some groups teach. Baptism does not wash away sin. It is rather a symbol of the candidate’s cleansing in the blood of Christ (Rev. 1:5).

The symbolic significance of baptism is threefold, as explained by the apostle Paul.

  • First, it is a symbol of redemption, picturing the gospel. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Everyone who is baptized is testifying to the fact “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3,4).
  • Second, baptism is a symbol of the future resurrection. “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). This was an important concern of New Testament Christians. Some mistakenly believed that those who died prior to the return of Christ would not enjoy his presence for eternity. Paul had to teach at least two churches that the saved would be raised at the return of Christ. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).
  • Third, baptism is a symbol of regeneration. Everyone who is baptized testifies to the knowledge that “our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:6). In another place, the apostle explained: “I am crucified “with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the :flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Immersion is Biblical

Most Bible-believing churches practice baptism by immersion. One of the chief reasons to immerse in water is because of the meaning of the word baptizo, which means “to immerse or dip.” The Scriptures, however, clearly show the word sometimes to refer to ceremonial washings when no immersion was involved. “The Pharisee marvelled that he [Jesus] had not washed [baptizo] before dinner” (Luke 11:38; Mark 7:4). Throughout the history of the church the emphasis has been placed on the significance of the rite rather than the mode of its ministration. From the same biblical passages Bible expositors draw different conclusions. Some say at Jesus’ baptism that John immersed him in water.

Others say that John stood with him in the river and poured or sprinkled water on him. These interpreters claim that the use of the term was to signify the religious rite practiced in the Old Testament and later by the Christian church and is not the classical meaning of the terms baptizo or bapto. They interpret Jesus coming “straightway . . . up out of the water” to be a description of his climbing the banks of the stream. When Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, “they were come up out of the water” (Acts 8:30). In these two instances, Jesus and the Ethiopian, it is clear that the candidates for baptism were standing in a stream of water.u

Another reason for baptism by immersion is because of its clarity in representing the symbol of death, burial, and resurrection. As we are baptized, we are placed in water to sym-bolize the grave, then brought up to symbolize resurrection. Hence, a threefold message of death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:4-6) is symbolized in baptism.

Candidates for Baptism

The Bible does not teach infant baptism nor the baptism of any other age as part of a step in the plan of salvation. The Bible teaches only believers were baptized after they were converted. On the day of Pentecost, people were saved before they were baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:4’1, 47). This pattern was repeated continuously in the New Testament.

Some groups argue that the candidate should be baptized in the name of Jesus only, based upon their interpretation of Acts 2:38: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ” modifies both the verb “repent” and “be baptized.” Only as one repents can he experience the remission of sins and receive the Holy Spirit. In other places in the Book of Acts where people were “baptized in the name of Jesus,” the expression is used to distinguish Christian baptism from the baptism of John the Baptist or some other group (cf. Acts 19:1-5).

The formula by which the candidate is baptized is found in the Great Commission, “baptizing theme in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). Some immerse three times because of the mention of the three Persons of the Trinity, a practice dating back to Augustine. However, the word “name” is singular. The candidate is baptized once in the singular name of, the triune God.

Motives for Baptism

Christians are baptized to testify to what Christ has done in their lives. Baptism is a “symbolic confession” (Rom. 10:9). Everyone who has been converted should be willing to tell others what Christ has done for him (Acts 1:8).

Baptism is also a testimony of identification with Christ. Theologian A. H. Strong wrote, “Baptism symbolizes the previous entrance of the believer into the communion of Christ’s death and resurrection-or, in other words, regeneration through union with Christ.” This was what Paul taught the Romans when he explained the significance of this symbol (Rom. 6:3-5).

Christians are also baptized in obedience to Christ’s command. Jesus commanded baptism in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19, 20). On the day of Pentecost, baptism was the first command for the Christian to obey (Acts 2:38). A Christian who does not obey this command calls into question his love for the Lord (John 14:23). Obedience to this command is “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Pet. 3:21).

What is Baptism of the Dead?

“Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (I Corinthians 15:29)

The practice of vicarious baptism such as that which is practiced by Mormons today, appeared as early as the second century. It should be noted a Biblical doctrine should not be built on any verse as obscure as this one in I Corinthians 15:29. Since the Bible clearly teaches that baptism does not save an individual, therefore being baptized in the place of those who are already dead cannot be of benefit to anyone. The interpretation of this difficult verse yields to an understanding of the Greek preposition hyper. Usually, the word means “over” or “instead of.” But there are times when the only translation possible is “concerning.” In John.1:30, John says, “This is he concerning [hyper] whom I spoke.” The same applies here; the translation should be “concerning the dead.” The idea that Christian baptism concerning death and the promise of resurrection is a meaningless ordinance unless the resurrection is a reality. This interpretation certainly fits well with the contexts of I Corinthians 15. (The Criswell Study Bible, Page 1362)

In the Liberty Bible Commentary, Volume II, pertaining to I Corinthians 15:29, the following is given: “The expression may refer to young converts who took the place of the older brethren in the church who had died so that it would be properly rendered “baptized in the place of” (Greek hyper) which has the same sense (See II Corinthians 5:15; Philemon 13).

Since the context centers on the reality of the resurrection, it seems that Paul would be questioning why they are continuing to baptize new converts “over” or “in place of” the dead ones, if there is no resurrection, since baptism symbolizes our death and resurrection. This verse means, “to continue to baptize new converts, then, in place of the dead ones, would be meaningless if there were to be no real resurrection of the dead.”

A second interpretation of the passage is that the expression is to be taken synonymously with the meaning found in verse 30, thus being rendered “baptized with reference to the dead.” This would be a nonsacerdotal use of the term “baptism.” That is, the people of whom Paul was speaking were being literally immersed in such severe persecution that they were dying for their faith. (Liberty Bible Commentary, Volume II, Page 462).

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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