What is Baptism?
The word "baptize" is essentially a transliteration of the Greek term which, according to virtually all lexicons, means to dip or immerse. It should also be pointed out that the word may be used in either a figurative or a literal sense.
The element in which someone is baptized or immersed must in each case be determined by the context or by comparing related passages of scripture. Christ commanded His disciples to be baptized in water. It is this baptism (i.e., Christian baptism) that is the subject of this lesson.
The Great Commission
A short while before His ascension, Christ, in what is commonly called The Great Commission, instructed His apostles to baptize those who became His disciples. He commanded: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in [i.e., into] the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. . ." (Matthew 28:19-20).
According to this scripture, when the disciple of Christ is baptized, he is brought into the possession of and into union with the Godhead--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When therefore the disciple is "baptized into Christ" (Galatians 3:27), he becomes a partaker of "the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4), privileged to share in "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost" (II Corinthians 13:14).
Baptism in Water
It is clear that water is the element of Christian baptism. Scripture relates, for instance, that Philip the evangelist preached Christ to the Ethopian eunuch. "And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ in the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him" (Acts 8:36-38).
Similarly, when Cornelius and his household believed the gospel, Peter asked: "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:47-48).
Baptism is Immersion
In his letter to the Romans Paul writes: "Know ye not, that so many of you as were baptized in to Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (Romans 6:3-5).
Notice the striking symbolism here. According to the figure, the "old man" with his sinful ways is buried beneath the water and a "new man" emerges from the water to live a new life in Christ. Moreover, there is in this operation a likeness to the burial and resurrection of Christ. "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead" (Colossians 2:12). Surely it must be evident that only immersion corresponds with the symbolism of these passages. There is nothing in either sprinkling of pouring which can be likened to a burial and resurrection. Immersion is uniformly the practice set forth in the New Testament Scriptures.
Faith and Baptism
Like repentance, valid baptism is an expression of faith in Christ We are told, for example, that when Peter first preached Christ to the Jews, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). Luke also reports that Paul preached Christ in Corinth and that "many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized" (Acts 18:8).
Again, we read of Philip preaching to the Samaritans. "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:12). It is thus evident from these passages, as well as others, that faith is a prerequisite to scriptural baptism. It must be concluded, therefore, that infants are not valid candidates for baptism inasmuch as they are incapable of believing. Accordingly Philip, the record says, baptized men and women--i.e., only individuals capable of believing.
Baptism and Remission of Sins
One cannot be saved without receiving the remission or forgiveness of sins. God, moreover, has made baptism a condition for the bestowal of foregiveness--i.e., God forgives one of his sins when he in obedient faith submits to the ordinance of baptism. Thus, for example, when the believing Jews on Pentecost asked Peter what they must do to be saved, he replied: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:38-29).
The account of Paul's conversion confirms the place of baptism in forgiveness. When he had entered Damascus believing in Christ and had received hi sight, he was instructed: "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). There is of course no suggestion that the water itself removed Paul's sins. It is simply that when he submitted to the "washing" of baptism, God cleansed him of his sins. And so it is with everyone who in faith is baptized into Christ.
Baptism and a Good Conscience
An evil conscience (i.e., a sense of guilt) is characteristic of the sinner. The procurement of a good conscience is therefore one of his great needs. Such a guilt-free conscience, according to Peter, is acquired when one is baptized. Having first spoken of Noah and his family being saved by water, he then says: "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God). . ." (I Peter 3:21).
God has promised that He will forgive one's sins when one is baptized. Hence when the believing sinner, cognizant of the promise, is baptized, he has a sense of forgiveness and freedom from guilt--i.e., he has the answer of a good conscience toward God who has pardoned him.
Baptism and the New Birth
Jesus teaches that one must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3). He goes on to say: "Expect a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). It is, then, a spiritual new birth which is in view here. And it takes place when one is baptized into Christ. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Corinthians 5:17). This union with Christ thus calls for a new outlook, a new moral life, a change from mere self-interest to devoted Christian service.
Baptism is the Divinely appointed ordinance by which on enters into Christ through whom only there is life everlasting and all heavenly blessings. To disregard this ordinance is to deny the force of Jesus' words and jeopardize one's soul. For Jesus commanded: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark16:15-16).