A picture of the Gospel

Why It matters

Baptism is all about going public with your faith in Jesus. It identifies you as a member of His family and with Jesus Himself.

But where does baptism come from? Why do we "dunk"? And do I have to get baptized again after I'm saved?

Let's take a closer look at these questions.

A History of Baptism

We see baptism pop up in the ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3). baptism wasn’t a uniquely Christian concept- it had it’s roots in Judaism. In Judaism, baptism had a couple of key concepts: First, it was seen as an act of spiritual cleansing in preparation to worship at the temple. In other words, it was an outward sign of being cleansed of sin and turning from sin (repentance) so that a Jew could go and worship God and make sacrifices at the symbol.

The second concept has major implications for the Christian view of baptism: If a Gentile was to convert to Judaism, one of the things he was required to do, per Jewish tradition, was be baptized by immersion in the presence of three witnesses. So with this act, it was an act of a person intentionally and publicly identifying with the people of God, turning from their former life as a pagan, and embracing their new life with God’s people. As an extension, baptism signified a person setting their self apart to God and His purposes rather than their own.

Why Was Jesus baptized?

Jesus didn’t need to repent of sin or be spiritually cleansed (as God in flesh, He was sinless). And, as He was born a Jew as the Jewish Messiah, He didn’t need to identify as a Jew.

There’s a few reasons Jesus was baptized. First, while He did not need to identify as a Jew, baptism DID signify Jesus setting Himself apart for the Father’s work- which was to seek and save the lost. Second- and perhaps more importantly- by being baptized, Jesus was identifying with people. His baptism was pointing forward to the cross: even though he had no sin, he died as a person for the sins of all people. In His baptism, though Jesus was without sin and had no need for a baptism to signify repentance, He was baptized as a way of saying “I’m one of them.” He identified as a person- and would die as a man (though still fully God) for the sins of all people.

A final note on these baptisms, and it speaks to how they were done: both the Greek word for baptism (baptitzo) and the Hebrew word (mikveh) are defined as “to immerse” or “an immersion”. So historically, baptism was done as immersion (or, dunking, if you will).

So that leads to this question: Why should we, as Christians, be baptized- and why after salvation and by immersion?

Jesus commanded baptism

Check out Matthew 28:18-20. Given what Jesus commands (that disciples baptize other disciples) and the structure of that passage, it seems that baptism is to take place after a person becomes a follower (disciple) of Jesus. This appears to be the pattern the early church in the aftermath of Jesus’ ascension into heaven (see Acts 2:38, 41; Acts 8:26-40; Acts 10:44-48; Acts 16:31-34- each of these use the Greek word for baptism, so it appears the early church baptized by immersion). Note that in each of these instances in Acts, baptism takes place after a person becomes a follower of Jesus.

Why Immersion?

Romans 6:3-5 is instructive here:

3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.

A few things there:

First- baptism identifies us with Jesus and His family. Just as baptism used to identify a Gentile convert with the people of God, baptism now is a public identification with the family of God. Just as baptism identified Jesus as one of us, baptism identifies us as one of His.

The last statement is crucial- because baptism identifies us as “one of His”, baptism should be done after salvation- simply because you cannot be one of His before salvation.

Now, if a person was baptized as a baby, that, in a sense- is a beautiful thing, because it was a statement of the faith of that person’s parents- they believe, and hoped, that one day, their baby would grow up to be who the parents they indicated they hoped their baby would be by having them baptized. When a parent has their child baptized, they are saying “We hope our child will become a follower of Jesus and follow him closely when they are old enough to make that decision.” It’s a faith-filled action on the part of the parents.

With that being the case, a person should be baptized if they- as an older child, teen, or adult- have made a decision to follow Jesus. And this is no way undermines the faith of the parents- it is a celebration of what they hoped would become true becoming true as a person publicly identifies with the family of God.

Baptism by immersion also identifies us with Jesus death. Being put under the water identifies symbolizes that- just as Jesus died and was buried- when we follow Jesus, our old, sinful nature is put to death and is buried. We are washed- fully- by Christ.

Then- when we are raised up out of the water, it identifies a person with Jesus’ resurrection. Just as He died and was buried, and yet came back to life, we also have had our sin nature put to self, our old self has died, and we have been raised by Jesus to a brand new life. (See also 2 Corinthians 5:17). This symbolism is especially clean when done by immersion.

So baptism is, therefore, a celebration of the new life that Jesus has brought us into by His finished work!

Why After Salvation?

Baptism identifies us with the family of God. Across the world, across denominations, churches hold a few things in common- and one of those is baptism. Baptism publicly identifies us with Jesus family as being united with His Church.

This is why we believe baptism should be after salvation as well. Think of it like a wedding ring. A wedding ring has no meaning for me before marriage. After marriage, it symbolizes something beautiful- when it is put on me by my wife.

In the same way, baptism- before salvation- has no meaning for me (while it certainly may for parents who had their child baptized). However- after salvation- it now has meaning. It shows- not just what my parents hoped would happen- but what HAS happened- and that’s why we celebrate big time when people are baptized!

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