The Meaning of Baptism

Posted by Paul Kemp on


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then baptism is one of the most powerful pictures in the New Testament.

In ancient times worshippers often participated in ceremonial washings in which they immersed themselves in pools of water before entering the temple. It was a kind of holy bath that represented a deep commitment to ritual purity. John encouraged his Jewish audience to undergo baptism as a sign of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. 

Jesus’ disciples joined John in their invitation to repent and be baptized in preparation for the coming Kingdom.

After Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, the ritual took on a whole new meaning. While the symbolism of ceremonial washing was still in play, baptism came to signify so much more. Listen to Paul’s description of baptism in his letter to the Romans.

Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. (Romans 6:4).

While Paul says far more here than we can digest in the space of a single blog post, it should be immediately obvious that baptism is a simple picture of a far greater spiritual reality.

It reminds us of what Christ has done for us. He lived, died and rose again. But Paul tells us that through our response to the gospel, we were active participants in Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

  • He lived the life that we could never live and somehow that gets credited to us.
  • He died the death we should have died, and somehow that gets credited to us.
  • He was raised to live a new life, and we too experience new life in Christ through faith in Him.

Before coming to Christ we were alive to sin, but dead to God. Through faith in Christ the exact opposite is true. We are now dead to sin and alive in Christ. We are free to know Christ and enjoy the blessing of being in a relationship with Him.

What did we do to deserve such a privileged position before God? Not a thing! He lived the life we could never live; died the death we should have died, and offers us freely the gift of new life through faith in Him.

In baptism we not only celebrate the reality of what Christ has done for us, we also celebrate the mystery of what Christ has done in and through us. Sure we could spend a lifetime unpacking the riches of all that Christ accomplished on our behalf, but the picture is simple enough.


The simple answer is that Christ asked us to. It is an act of obedience. He told his followers to go into all the world and make disciples “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).” The water doesn’t make us clean; faith in Christ makes us clean. Baptism is simply a way to celebrate what He has done for us. While Jesus did not need to be baptized, He was baptized in order to fully identify with us (Matthew 3:13-15). It’s not really asking that much for us to be baptized in order to fully identify with Him.


There is always a link between believing the gospel (or accepting the message) and being baptized in the New Testament (Acts 2:41; 8:12; 18:8). 

In the Old Testament you were born into the covenant community.  In the New Testament we are born again into the family of God.

While practices vary throughout the church, we reserve baptism for those who have placed their faith in Christ.


While traditions vary widely--some churches sprinkle and some churches pour water over those being baptized, we choose to baptize by immersion.

Immersion best portrays the reality that we are trying to communicate--our participation in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.


If you have understood and responded to the claims of Christ by trusting in Him, you should be baptized the next time your church family gathers to celebrate baptism.




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