Water baptism is a symbolic burial, by which the new Christian publicly declares they have died, and are now beginning a new life, in Christ.
Baptize is the English form of a Greek word which means to immerse: to place something into something else.
In Christian water baptism, the believer is put completely under water, then immediately raised out of the water.
Water baptism is a statement of faith: my old life is behind me -- I am a new person, with a new life.
Water baptism is a sign of repentance -- repentance means change -- a change so drastic that the old person is "buried."
It does not make you acceptable to God. As a work of righteousness, trying to obtain a good standing with God, it is worthless.
Water baptism is a way of giving testimony to what has happened inwardly, and a clear commitment to turn from the old life.
For Your Benefit
Water baptism outwardly demonstrates what has happened inwardly. Water baptism helps you to grasp the reality of the spiritual truth that the old "you" has died.
Water baptism is only as important as the participant believes it to be. Water baptism is their confession, and a public commitment. Unless the person really believes they died, there is no need for a burial.
It is not something we must do to impress God, but something to impress on our mind what happened to us inwardly. Water baptism is for our benefit -- not God's.
Meaning Of The Word Baptize
T. J. Conant in his book, The Meaning And Use Of Baptizein,1 after an exhaustive examination of the Greek word baptizein in Greek literature, concludes that the English word immerse is the best word to translate it.
Conant tells us, "The word `baptize' is an Anglicized form of the Greek BAPTIZEIN."
He says immerse is the English word that "precisely" makes known to us the same meaning as BAPTIZEIN did "to those who first heard and read the Gospel in Greek."
In all the available Greek literature, both secular and religious, Conant found no example in which the word baptizein had any other meaning.
Conant reports that it was a common, secular word, used in the daily affairs of life, to express the most familiar acts and conditions.
Baptizein was a daily household word. Whenever the idea of total submergence was to be expressed, whether literally or metaphorically, baptizein was the word used.
As you read the Bible, mentally translating the word baptize to the word immerse will greatly help your understanding. Not every time the word baptize or baptism is used in the Bible refers to water baptism.
Burial After Death
Water baptism is about death -- your death. ("Death" is the end of something.) Water baptism is your public declaration of your death. It is a public confession of faith: I have died to my old life and my old ways.
By being baptized in water you are saying that you have died to sin, selfishness, and the world's ways. Water baptism is a public burial of the old life.
By asking for burial, you declare that you believe something has died. There is no need for a burial without a death.
Burial is not absolutely required, but is recommended as the best course of action. So, generally, those who receive Jesus Christ should normally be baptized in water.
In the book of Acts, water baptism always seemed to be done without delay. Although burial can take place at any time, the best time is immediately after death has been confirmed.
Clean Break With The Past
As we are baptized in water, we are in effect saying goodbye to our old life (self), and saying hello to a new creation who is IN Christ Jesus.
Because of death you are free from your old master the devil; now you have a new Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
A major benefit to the believer is the clean break that water baptism makes with their past. When the devil brings temptations and accusations concerning their old life -- the believer can reply, "That person is dead and buried. I am a new person in Christ."
Water baptism is a point of separation, dividing the old from the new. It says the past is dead and gone -- drawing a clear line between the old life and the new, graphically imprinted on the mind of the believer.
Why was Jesus baptized in water? He was, and is, our pattern. And, in a sense, He was, at that point, dying to His past life.
From that point, His first allegiance would no longer be to earthly relatives. ("Who is My mother, or My brothers?" Mark 3:31-35.) Jesus would no longer be a carpenter. He was beginning His public ministry.
Jesus was declaring that He was dead to any selfishness and existed solely to do the will of the Father God.
A Picture Sermon
Because it illustrates the central message of the Gospel, water baptism should be a tool for teaching and evangelism. Water baptism should help people understand the spiritual truths being proclaimed.
Water baptism pictures the most fundamental truths of the Gospel: the burial and resurrection of Christ, and of the believer in union with Him.
By means of water baptism, we demonstrate to the world our identification with the crucified and risen Christ.
By water baptism we testify that our old life is gone, and we are now joined with Jesus. We are pledging ourselves to a new life, with Jesus Christ Who died for us and rose again.
Water baptism also acknowledges that the person being immersed is indeed a Christian believer.
So, all who baptize should question converts, just as Philip did in Acts 8:37, to be sure of their commitment to Christ, before immersing them in water. Only those who accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ should be baptized in water.
Which Formula Of Words?
MATTHEW 28:19 NKJ
19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
ACTS 2:38 NKJ
38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Some people place great importance on certain words being spoken when a person is baptized in water. This is all religious tradition with no real meaning whatsoever.
"In the name of Jesus" can mean by the authority and command of Jesus. Colossians 3:17 tells us our every word and deed should be in the name of the Lord Jesus. Certainly, Colossians 3:17 does not mean we have to continually say, "I do this, or say this, in the name of Jesus."
Claiming that certain words must be said at the time of water baptism, or that only certain special people can truly baptize you in water, makes water baptism into a magical rite -- a work of man trying to be right with God.
The words spoken by the person baptizing you in water will not save you, or condemn you. Water baptism is not some magic ritual which makes you right with God. Water baptism is a testimony and picture-sermon of what God did in you.
Even if no words are spoken over you during your water baptism, it is still a picture of burial and resurrection. Specific words are not what is important, but the attitudes and faith of the people involved are what matters.
When baptizing new believers, saying something like, "In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I baptize you into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," is probably best. Then the devil cannot tempt them to think they were not baptized in the right name.
Must You Be Baptized To Be Saved?
In Luke 23:39-43, we have the record of one of the criminals crucified with Jesus acknowledging Him as Lord.
LUKE 23:43 NKJ
43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."
Jesus told the criminal he would be with Him in Paradise, even though he was not baptized in water.
Also, in Acts 10:44-48, Cornelius' household became believers, received the Holy Spirit, and began speaking in tongues, before being baptized in water.
According to Jesus (John 7:38-39, Mark 16:17), receiving the Holy Spirit happens only to those who are believers, and therefore saved.
So, we must conclude that these believers were born again, and ready for Heaven, before they were baptized in water.
TITUS 3:5 NKJ
5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
We are not saved by works of righteousness that we do. Many think, wrongly, of water baptism as a work that must be done to be right with God.
EPHESIANS 2:8-9 NKJ
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
If water baptism was necessary for salvation, then salvation would partly be by works, and not by grace.
1 CORINTHIANS 1:17 NKJ
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.
The apostle Paul, who received the Gospel direct from the risen Lord Jesus, said he was not sent to baptize. If water baptism was necessary for salvation, that would not make any sense.
MARK 16:16 NKJ
16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
What about Mark 16:16? Obviously, if water baptism was required for salvation, that requirement would be made clear throughout the New Testament -- and it is not. Mark 16:16 could mean, "believes to the point of publicly confessing, by the act of water immersion." Or, it could mean, "believes and is placed in Christ."
We should also note that the passage in question does not say, "He who believes and was baptized will be saved." Only a present tense baptism guarantees a person's salvation. That is to say: those who are IN CHRIST now, are saved.
Salvation cannot be dependent on physical surroundings -- such as water being present for baptism -- there are too many situations where water baptism would be impossible.
Those who make this error do so because the word baptize was not translated and understood. Therefore, they think every mention in Scripture of the word baptize refers to water -- which is not true.
Baptism in water is not necessary for salvation, but is beneficial for the believer. Water baptism provides a good foundation, if understood correctly.
The main points to remember about water baptism are:
* It does not make you a Christian, or right with God. It is only a symbolic act with no power to save you.
* It is a testimony of what has already happened inwardly in the believer -- the death of their old life.
* Certain formulas of words are not vital.
* It is complete immersion into water.
* It is best done publicly.
* It should be done only by someone old enough to understand what they are doing.
* It should be done only by those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ and are committed to Him.
Should you be baptized in water? Yes, if you understand clearly what you are doing, and sincerely mean what baptism signifies.
Otherwise, you should not be baptized in water, because it will do you no good whatsoever. Water baptism could even harm you by giving you false hope.
1The Meaning And Use Of Baptizein, Thomas Jefferson Conant, ©1977 by Kregel Publications, a division of Kregel, Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501. Originally published by American Bible Union, New York, 1864.
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