What is baptism about?

20 Apr 2019

What is baptism about?

Baptism is about being ‘born again’!

John’s gospel records that Jesus met with Nicodemus, a Pharisee.  Jesus told Nicodemus:
 
‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ 
 
‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked.  ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’
 
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of WATER and the SPIRIT.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.   So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ [John 3:3-8]
 
In other words baptism is being born of water and results from being born of the Spirit which is the Bible bringing us to a state of repentance. There is a need to understand God’s revealed Word and act on it to enter the Kingdom of God.  
 
Jesus showed us what it is truly like to be born from above and to understand God’s ways. He was sent from above by his Father but born of a woman; he laid down his life for us but was without sin.

Baptism is an instruction…

Baptism is a supremely important divine instruction - Jesus said: ‘Whoever BELIEVES and is BAPTISED will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’.  [Mark 16:16]
 
In the book of Acts, the apostle Peter explains about the Lord Jesus to a crowd of Jews, who then ask him ‘What shall we do?’  Peter replied, ‘REPENT and be BAPTISED, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.’ [Acts 2:38]
 
So we are clearly instructed that salvation requires repentance; starting over again with a change in direction in our lives - as well as the physical act of baptism itself.

Biblical examples show its importance

The word ‘baptise’ in the Bible comes from the Greek word ‘baptizō’, that has the following meanings: 
- To dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)
- To cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water, to wash one's self, bathe
- To overwhelm
 
So, from this definition it is clear that the act of baptism involves being totally immersed (submerged) in water.  It is symbolic of going into the ground (as in death) and being raised to a new life (born from above) even though – unlike Jesus – we will continue to sin and therefore need to keep repenting!
 
The importance of baptism can be seen in the following examples from the New Testament:
 
The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 is sitting in his chariot trying to understand a passage in the book of Isaiah, when the apostle Philip is sent to him: ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.  ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’  Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.’  As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water.  What can stand in the way of my being baptised?’  Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ The eunuch answered, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’  And he gave orders to stop the chariot.  Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip BAPTISED him’ [Acts 8:30-38].
 
Acts 10 records how Cornelius, a devout and God-fearing Gentile centurion, was converted, together with all his family.  Despite the fact that they had just received Holy Spirit gifts – a clear indication of their acceptance by God – they still all went on to be baptised by the apostle Peter!  ‘Peter said, ‘Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water.  They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be BAPTISED in the name of Jesus Christ’ [Acts 10:47-48].
 
After the apostle Paul and Silas were miraculously freed from prison by an earthquake, their Philippian jailer, who had evidently heard something already of Paul’s preaching, asked them: ‘…what must I do to be saved?’ They ‘…spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.’ As a result ‘…he and all his household were BAPTISED.’ [Acts 16:30-33]
 
In Acts 19, Paul came across some believers at Ephesus who had known only the ‘baptism of John’.  Paul explained to them: ‘John verily baptised with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.  When they heard this, they were BAPTISED in the name of the Lord Jesus.’ [Acts 19:3-5]

Baptism requires a decision

In the book of Job we find that:
- God requires Job to respond to Him: ‘I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ [Job 38:3]
- Job’s initial, non-committal response does not satisfy God, and He continues to press Job for an answer in Job 40:7.
- Finally, Job repents: ‘My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore, I despise myself and REPENT in dust and ashes.’ [Job 52:5-6]
 
In a similar way, God requires believers to decide about repentance and baptism – the act is not an optional ‘nice to do’: our very salvation depends upon it:
‘Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  ‘Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it’ [Matthew 7:13-14].

Baptism requires sufficient understanding

We have already seen with the Ethiopian eunuch the need for an adequate understanding of the gospel message of ‘the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ’ before entering the waters of baptism.  
 
2 Thessalonians 2 mentions the word ‘truth’ 3 times: ‘   They perish because they refused to love the TRUTH and so be saved.  For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the TRUTH but have delighted in wickedness.  But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as first-fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through BELIEF IN THE TRUTH.’
 
Another example of the need for understanding of and belief in this singular gospel truth is Apollos in Acts 18: ‘Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus.   This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John.   So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue.  When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God MORE ACCURATELY.’ [Acts 18: 24-26]
 
We have also seen that ‘narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life’; in other words, life as a disciple of Christ will be challenging at times and each of us must understand the commitment we are making.  It is not something to be entered into lightly and must be carefully thought through.

In summary…

Baptism involves complete immersion in water and confessing a heart-felt belief that Jesus is the Son of God.  It symbolises being buried and raised to a new life as a Christian, seeking a place in God’s glorious and peaceful kingdom to come!