The Importance of Baptism 

Introduction

To stress the importance of baptism may be strange to some, simply because most denominations and their creeds fail to emphasize it.  Some may question if it is even necessary.  However, if we turn to God's Word, we will find God's answer to our question concerning the importance of baptism.  A more in depth answer is provided here for those who are interested, because of the large number of questions often raised concerning baptism.

Examining the Passages

One of the first passages that should be examined is Christ's commission to his apostles:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you ... " Matthew 28:19-20

This verse teaches that part of making disciples was "baptizing them".  (Please examine the parallel account of this event in Mark's book - Mark 16:15-16).  Shortly after receiving this commission, the apostles began to preach Christ.  As an example, please listen to the words of the apostle Peter when he was asked what to do to be saved:

Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" Acts 2:38

The apostle Peter included baptism as a part of being saved and as a condition for receiving the remission of sins.  He later states unequivocally that it is through baptism that one is actually saved:

"... when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us - baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." I Peter 3:20-21

Please notice the context of I Peter 3:21, because it solidifies the meaning of this verse:  The subject of the analogy is Noah.  God saved Noah "through water", which is the type. Likewise, God also saves us today through the waters of baptism, which is the "antitype". (Some translations read "symbol" or "like figure".)  If we are convinced that God saved Noah "from the water", in spite of what I Peter 3:20 states, then we should ponder, "What would happen if Noah had not built the ark?" Would God have saved him in is disobedience? In truth, the waters actually saved Noah. They saved him from suffering persecution and the corrupt influence of a grossly wicked world, which is the subject of the greater context of I Peter 3 (please read I Peter 3:12-4:19).

The Significance of Baptism

Some may wonder how being dipped in water can result in one's salvation.  The answer to this is also in the above verse.  It is not the "removal of the filth of the flesh", or the washing in water, that is special, but it is the demonstration through baptism of one trying to have a "good conscience toward God".  However, this action does not earn us salvation - it is merely a condition.  Just as Naaman of the Old Testament did not earn his physical healing by dipping in the Jordan River, we also today do not earn spiritual healing when we obey His conditions (II Kings 5:1-16).  It is granted out of mercy and grace.  Baptism does not warrant salvation; it is merely a condition by which God graciously grants redemption.

Why baptism?  Why dipping in water?  No person today can answer why God chose the symbol of baptism, but some explanation can be provided by examining what is symbolized by baptism.  Please consider the following verses:

"How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? ... For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin." Romans 6:1-6

"by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, ... buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." Colossians 2:11-12

From these verses we learn that baptism symbolizes two things.  First, it represents our decision to "crucify the old man", or to turn from our past sinful life.  Second, it symbolizes a spiritual union with Christ's redeeming blood through us being "buried and raised in the likeness of Christ."  If we study these verses closely, we will recognize that it as the point of baptism that God redeems us through Christ's blood.  Under the New Testament, one cannot contact Christ's blood without baptism, and consequently, will not be redeemed.  This is a necessary logical inference from these verses.

Baptized Through Faith

The above statements can be better understood when they are tied together with the following passages:

"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Galatians 3:26-27

The Bible teaches that those who are part of Christ's body, or have a relationship to Christ, will be saved (Ephesians 1:3, 22, 23; 4:4).  This passage from Galatians and the earlier one from Colossians teach that there are at least two essential steps for us to get into this body: "through faith" and "by baptism into Christ".  This is understood by recalling that salvation occurs at the point of baptism and realizing that one only gets to that point by faith.  So then faith works through baptism.  The two are inseparably intertwined.  The Bible clearly teaches that faith without works is a dead faith (James 2:14-26).  But, works without faith is just as dead (Amos 5:21-24; Miciah 6:6-8; Matthew 23:23).

The entire salvation process can be illustrated as chain with many links.  God let down a chain to us, made up of several links: His love, His mercy, Christ's death and resurrection, and the revelation of His plan through the gospel.  There is nothing we could do to replace any of these links.  If he had not lowered this chain, we would have no hope.  Yet, we must link a chain to His.  We must first hear, believe, confess, and finally be baptized (God's Plan of Salvation).  If any of these links are broken, then the connection is not made, and we are lost.  But, if we connect these links, one by one to His, then we will be saved when the final link is made, which is baptism.  Without it, the gap is not spanned, and the other efforts will be in vain.  It takes all links working together - any one broken, renders the chain useless.

The Example of the Conversion of Paul

Examining all of the examples of conversion in the book of Acts is compelling, but also overwhelming.  So for brevity, only the example of the conversion of Saul (later became the apostle Paul) will be examined here.  If you have not already, you will want to read the account of Saul's conversion (Acts 9:1-22).   After Saul's name was changed to Paul, he also recounted his conversion in two different speeches (Acts 21:37-22:24; 26:1-32).

Once you have read these passages, you will see that Saul was not saved after Christ appeared to Him.  We know this because Christ instructed him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." (9:6).  And yet, later in the city he still was in need of having his sins forgiven three days later because God's prophet, Ananias, told Saul to "wash away your sins." (22:16).

The question is how did Saul wash away his sins?  Let's look a little closer at this verse in the parallel account:

"And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16)

This example teaches us that repentance alone is not enough for salvation.  Reread the verses that tell what Saul did for the three days between the appearance of Christ and when Ananias came (Acts 9:8-11, 19).  For three days, Saul had been fervently praying and fasting; yet, his obvious repentance was not enough.  Ananias instructed him to wash away his sins through baptism.  Also from this verse, we learn that is through baptism that one "calls upon the name of the Lord."  This is consistent with the verse we looked at earlier about baptism being an appeal to God towards a good conscience (I Peter 3:21).

Conclusions

In summary, the following 4 points were made regarding the importance of baptism:

  1. Several Bible passages directly state that it is essential
  2. Inferences can be drawn from passages about the symbol of baptism that teach it is essential
  3. More passages explain that is through baptism is the culmination of our faith and God's grace in His plan of salvation
  4. Finally, the example of Saul's conversion teaches its essential role in his salvation

We must always be careful to approach God's Word as avenue to receive answers from God, and not as means to justify our preconceived opinions.  What conclusion will an open and honest heart make from these passages?  More importantly, we must all ask ourselves, "Am I open to God's Word?"  What is our decision?  What does the Bible say about the importance of baptism?


If you any questions or comments regarding this essay, please e-mail any of our local contacts.  They will be glad to discuss your questions or comments.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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