I’ve never been the kind of person who places much value in traditions. I don’t have much interest in looking through photo albums and reminiscing about days gone by. And other than the well-known annual celebrations — anniversary, family member birthdays, common holidays — I’ve never designated a certain day of the year with special meaning in memory of a life-significant event.
This approach I take to life stands in stark contrast to the way God treats major events.
Consider this passage (It’s a little long, but it’s important to read what it has to say):
When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priest stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
Similarly Leviticus 23 lists a variety of feasts, which God commanded the Israelites to celebrate on a regular basis.
He seems to take commemorating significant events pretty seriously, don’t you think?
Baptism as Commemoration
So it should come as no surprise that God has provided a specific way to commemorate something as important as our new life in Christ – our salvation. (NOTE: If you are not familiar with what salvation means, this link will show you how to find true spirituality.)
That commemoration is baptism.
We’ll explore the rich meaning of baptism in a moment. But first I think it’s important to look at a mistaken idea some people hold about baptism.
Does Baptism Usher In Salvation?
The Bible presents a very close tie between trusting Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins (salvation) and baptism. This close tie has led some people to conclude that baptism is a key part of salvation. In other words, they believe that one cannot be saved until one has been baptized.
It’s important to understand if this view is correct. If it is, the urgency of getting someone baptized is far greater than if baptism is a step that follows salvation.
In Acts 2:38 Peter says:
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
This is just one of several passages that seem to show an almost inseparable link between salvation and baptism.
So here’s the question: Does the link between salvation and baptism mean that baptism is required for salvation? Or does it merely mean that baptism is the natural (and important) next step one should take after placing her or his trust in Christ?
Contradictions to the Necessity of Baptism for Salvation
In Acts 10:44-46 we read:
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Here’s a situation where the Holy Spirit has come upon and “filled” a group of people “who heard the message” (the gospel) but had not yet had a chance to be baptized. This event strongly suggests that they received salvation before they were baptized.
Then, in 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul states:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel ….
If baptism were a necessary part of salvation, it would appear that Paul is taking a surprisingly light view of its importance. If salvation could only be completed if it included baptism, it’s hard for me to understand how Paul would make a statement like this one. I suspect that Paul understood the importance of baptism as a commemoration of salvation, but he felt compelled to focus on preaching (his calling and primary purpose) and let others do the physical act of baptism.
A complete review of what the Bible has to say on this topic could get quite involved. However, I believe that these two examples show that instead of baptism being required to achieve salvation, it is secondary to salvation.
However, this does not mean that baptism is unimportant. Instead the Bible treats baptism as a vital ceremony in the life of a Christian, a ceremony rich with meaning.
The Rich Meaning of Salvation
We’re now ready to mine some of those nuggets of meaning.
Baptism Symbolizes Death
Romans 6:3 says:
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
When in baptism we are dipped under the water, we participate in a physical act that mimics burial. This “burial experience” gives us a vicarious participation in the burial of Jesus, a powerful reminder that Jesus died to take away the sins of humanity.
But not just for humanity as a group. He died for each one of us — individually — as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sin. Baptism offers us the opportunity to reflect on the tremendous cost Jesus paid on our behalf, a demonstration of His unbelievable love for us.
Baptism Symbolizes Resurrection
In Romans 6:4 we read:
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Jesus was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
The act of rising out of the waters of baptism mimics Jesus rising from death to life. Just as He regained life through resurrection, we gain new life through believing in Him. Our rising in baptism underscores the preeminence of Jesus and His resurrection in the gift of new life we have been given.
Baptism Testifies to God’s Power
We see in Colossians 2:12:
… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
In baptism we acknowledge the power of God, and His ability to give us eternal life. But even more importantly we affirm that it is our faith in God by which we are raised to new life.
Baptism Symbolizes New Standing Before God
As Galatians 3:27 says:
… for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
We no longer appear as our old, sinful selves, condemned to death as payment for our sin. Instead we have taken on a new appearance — that of the Righteous One, Christ — clothed in the righteousness He has credited to us.
Additionally, the water used in baptism reminds us of another important aspect of our salvation. Just as we use water for washing and cleansing, the waters of baptism symbolize how Jesus has washed away our sins through his sacrificial death.
Baptism Serves as a Public Confession
Finally, baptism serves as a public confession of our faith. Although baptism can take place privately, it is much more common for baptism to take place in a public setting. As a result, when we are baptized, we give a formal, visible declaration of our decision to identify with Christ.
Baptism is a valuable ceremony in the life of a believer. In the Old Testament, the followers of God built monuments of rock and celebrated feasts to remember the mighty works of God. In our New Testament faith, we remember the mighty work God has done to save us from our sin by participating in baptism.
Through baptism we more closely identify with the work Christ did on our behalf. We also reflect on the power of God over death and re-affirm our new standing before God. The waters of baptism remind us of how Jesus has washed away our sins. And through the baptism ceremony we make a public confession of our faith.
Baptism is a celebration of the highest order — a chance to let joy fill our hearts as we consider the persistent love that our Great God lavishes on each one of us.
Coming Up: In our next mini newsletter article we will cover
Doing a Great Job of Preparing Children for Baptism.