WHAT IS BAPTISM?
Baptism is intended only for those who have professed faith in Jesus Christ and can give sufficient testimony to the basics of Christian beliefs. We baptize by immersion because it best symbolizes the reality to which baptism points—our death and resurrection in Christ.
In the most basic terms, baptism is a sign and a seal. As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, baptism “is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of [the believer’s] ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life” (28.1). A sign is a symbol pointing to a greater reality or idea. Baptism is “a neon light flashing ‘Gospel, Gospel, Gospel.’” When the church practices baptism, she testifies to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and signifies the sinner’s union with Christ in all he did and accomplished on our behalf.
The beauty of baptism may be observed by considering what baptism signifies, for baptism wonderfully associates the believer with the many riches found in Christ.
First, baptism visibly portrays the atonement that Jesus accomplished. Redemption and the remission of sins are central to Christ’s work and therefore central to the meaning of baptism:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
In Baptism, we are reminded of our Lord’s own baptism on our behalf. The Savior taught, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and great is my distress until it is accomplished” (Luke 12:50). When overly ambitious disciples requested to sit at his side in his kingdom, Jesus humbled them by replying, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? (Mark 10:38). The cup Jesus drank was the cup of the Father’s wrath against sin. The distressing baptism he endured was the baptism of the cross where he made propitiation for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2).
Baptism reminds the church and the individual Christian of Jesus’ cross, where Jesus took away and nailed our sins and where Jesus’ triumph becomes our triumph. Baptism reminds us that Christ has suffered our judgment and made peace with God for us.
Second, baptism represents the sinner’s spiritual union with Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
When Jesus died, we died with him. When he was buried, we were buried. When he rose, we rose, too! Because we are united to Christ by faith, we receive the benefits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Through faith we vicariously participate in all that Jesus did. Baptism pictures that spiritual reality.
Our union with Christ is so strong that some have compared baptism to marriage. For example, Marion Clark writes, “God is our bridegroom, who has chosen us, paid the dowry, and given us his ring so that all may know that we belong to him. Even more, he has done so to make clear to us that we are his. The ceremony of baptism asserts that his love for us is not a dream but reality.” In baptism we exchange vows uniting Christ, the bridegroom, to his bride, the church.
Baptism not only pictures our union with Christ but also our union with his body, the church. Having been joined to Christ through faith and the operation of the Holy Spirit, by the same Spirit “we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” (1 Corinthians 12-13). Or as the apostle Paul writes elsewhere, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Baptized individuals profess that they are joined to Christ’s body through faith. That union with Christ manifests itself in union with his people, most concretely demonstrated by commitment and membership in a local church.
Whenever a couple has a new baby, family and friends visit the hospital, deliver well wishes, and rejoice at the addition of this new life. In a similar way, when people receive the sign and seal of baptism, they become a part of God’s family, the church. They enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of family membership. Don Whitney explains this well: “When God brings a person into spiritual life, that person enters into the spiritual and invisible body of Christ – the universal church. When that spiritual experience is pictured in water baptism, that is the individual’s symbolic entry into the tangible and visible body of Christ – the local church.”
Finally, we should understand that baptism signifies our consecration to God. In baptism we are set apart for worship and service to the God of our salvation. We are marked out from the world and sealed as belonging to God. This is why the apostle Paul often writes of New Testament ethical requirements when discussing baptism. For example
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Because our lives are united with Christ by faith and the Spirit’s engrafting, we are obligated to “put off the sinful nature.” We “count ourselves dead to sin” but alive to God in Christ Jesus” and we “offer ourselves to God.” Because we died with Christ, sin no longer reigns over us. We are freed from the tyranny of unrighteousness. “Our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6).
Baptism is a beautiful picture of new life of freedom through dependence on the finished atoning work of Jesus – a work that binds us together with God and his people. It is also a proclamation to all of God’s grace freely offered.
Thank you for taking the time to read and contemplate the material above. We would like the opportunity to speak with you about your interest in baptism. If you would like to continue the conversation, ask questions or clarify any points, please do not hesitate to contact Tim Armitage at firstname.lastname@example.org.
REGISTER FOR BAPTISM
If you have already had the opportunity to speak with one of our staff members and are ready for the next step, please follow the link below to register for baptism.REGISTER HERE
Baptism is an important step of obedience in the life of a follower of Jesus. As you consider baptism, please also consider Covenant Membership. Membership and baptism are closely related in the life of the local church, the unity of God’s people and individual spiritual growth.LEARN MORE