Basics on Baptism

by Pastor Larry A. Pozza

Baptism and the Lord's Supper are referred to as the ordinances of the local church. Both are simple expressions of profound truths: The Lord's Supper says "Jesus died for me". Baptism expresses "Jesus lives in me". The importance of baptism in the life of the believer is underscored by the last command of our Lord. In Matthew 28:19 we read "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit". 

Baptism, generally speaking may be defined as an act of association or identification with someone, some group, some message or some event. Christian baptism means identification with the message of the Gospel, the person of the Savior and the group of believers. Christian baptism might formally be defined as follows: "Christian baptism is the act of being immersed in water, whereby the believer makes a public profession of his faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and whereby he identifies himself with the visible body of Christ - the church". · 

The word "baptize" comes from the Greek word "baptidzo" which means "to dip, to plunge under, to submerge". Water baptism by immersion serves as a public pantomime of an inward reality. Paul says in Romans 6:4 "we were buried with Christ by baptism into death in order that we might rise to walk in the newness of life". Paul speaks here of the Spirit's baptism at the moment of salvation.

Water baptism tells of the spiritual change that has taken place in the life of the one who has believed. That spiritual change is two-fold: 1. Death to the old life in Adam (as illustrated by the burial in the water). 2. Resurrection to new life in Christ (as illustrated by the rising out of the water). It is an acted out statement of spiritual and positional realities. Baptism by immersion pictures the spiritual death, burial and resurrection with Jesus Christ of those who have trusted Him as their personal Savior. Special care should be taken to note the contrast between two types of baptism in Matthew 2:11-12; the distinction between Spirit baptism and water baptism. Water baptism is but a symbol of something else. It is a sign of the spiritual baptism of the Holy Spirit that makes a believing sinner a new creature. 

What, precisely, does this ceremony mean? The link with circumcision in the New Testament (see Colossians 2:10 ff.) gives us a clue. Baptism is a sign. As the Lord’s Supper has replaced Passover, so baptism has replaced circumcision. Now that Christ has fulfilled the covenant of grace by the once-for-all shedding of his blood (Mark 14:24; 1 Corinthians 11:25), two signs without blood (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) look back to this fulfillment, as two signs with blood (circumcision and Passover)  formerly pointed to it.  

As a covenant sign, then, baptism symbolizes at least: 

  • The washing away of sin
  • The death of the old life
  • A rising to new life
  • The ministry of the Holy Spirit
  • The believer’s assurance

Baptism is not necessary for salvation. In Luke 20:42-43 the believing thief who was crucified with Jesus was assured a place in paradise on the basis of his faith. Likewise, the same holds true for every "believing thief” since. Water can never wash away sin. Hebrews 9:12 and 10:4 teach plainly that nothing saves but the blood of Christ. 

Baptism reminds the world of God's great love. God the Father promised to make "the believing thieves" of this world His children. Jesus gave His blood to make it possible. The testimony of baptism rings out for the world to hear: "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20).