Baptism into water is one of the foundational doctrines of the body of Christ (Hebrews 6:1-2). It is commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ for every new believer to be baptized into water (Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:16), but I have met many Christians who do not see the need for it.
Many Christians just get water baptized because they feel they’re supposed to, without really understanding the purpose of baptism because they are taught that it is just a symbol. You even may have heard it called an “outward symbol of an inward reality.” This simply is not true, nor is it scriptural.
In this article, I want to shed some light on water baptism so we understand that being baptized is more than just a command by our Lord.
The word “Baptism” comes from the Greek word “baptizo” and it literally means immersion. So when we talk about baptism in water, we’re talking about full immersion into water, not just a little sprinkle. You must be immersed to be baptized.
Water Baptism = Baptism in the Name of Jesus
To understand the teachings given to us by the apostle Paul on baptism it is important to establish that when the writers of the New Testament write about baptism they use the term baptism in the name of Jesus. We see this very clearly in the book of Acts.
“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).
“Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, the sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 8:14-16).
“Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? And He commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” (Acts 10:47-48)
“And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:3-5).
However, there is one passage of scripture that seems to contradict the scriptures listed above. In Matthew 28:19 it says,
“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..”
So which one is it? Do we get baptized in the name of Jesus, or do we get baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
This question has hemmed a lot of people up. Most pastors nowadays even baptize according to Matthew 28:19. We have to understand that when we look at a teaching of scripture we have to look at the whole context to fully grasp that teaching.
Jesus gave the commission to the apostles in Matthew 28 to make disciples and baptize them in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then those same disciples went out and started baptizing every disciple in the name of Jesus. So were the apostles disobeying Jesus? No, they just understood that Jesus is the fullness of the God-head bodily (Colossians 2:9). That just means that the Father and the Holy Spirit is in Christ, so when you get baptized in the name of Jesus you are being baptized in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There is, however, a separate experience from water baptism called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is specifically an immersion in Holy Spirit and it is meant to give the believer power for service (Acts 1:8), but that is a teaching for another time (see Baptism in the Holy Spirit).
Please don’t get caught up on if you were baptized in the name of Jesus or if you were baptized according to Matthew 28:19. Regardless of either one, your baptism was authentic as long as your faith was authentic (Acts 8:36-37). I did not mention the correct wording for water baptism for some theological debate, that some people are so eager to pursue. I mentioned it simply so we can understand the teaching of water baptism in Paul’s letters.
Purpose of Water Baptism
In the Old Testament God spoke to a man named Abraham and made some promises to him. God made a covenant with Abraham that He would make him a great nation and that all the families of the earth will be blessed through him (Genisis 12:2-3, 17:1-8). The Bible says that Abraham believed these promises that God made to him and that by his faith God accounted it to him as righteousness (Genisis 15:6, Romans 4:3).
Which just means that God saw Abraham as righteous because of his faith, not because of his works. As a sign of the covenant, Abraham was to be circumcised
along with all his male descendants (Genesis 17:10-11). The apostle Paul calls Abraham’s circumcision a sign and a seal of his righteousness, which he obtained by faith (Romans 4:11).
Now, why am I telling you all about Abraham’s covenant and circumcision when this article is about water baptism? Because Paul compares water baptism to circumcision. In fact, he calls baptism the “circumcision of Christ.”
“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 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).
Notice it says that we are putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by burying ourselves with Christ, through baptism. So water baptism is a removal of the flesh, just like circumcision was for the old covenant. Except under the old covenant it was a literal piece of flesh, but under the new covenant the term flesh usually means sin nature. So when we are baptized, we are putting the sin nature off.
In Romans chapter 6, Paul addresses the question “shall believers keep on sinning?” Pay attention to how he uses water baptism to explain why they should not.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! 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? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life. For if we have been untied 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 OF SIN. For he who has died has been FREED FROM SIN. Now if we died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be DEAD INDEED TO SIN, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:1-11).
This whole passage of scripture is in the context of water baptism. Paul here lays out beautifully the purpose of baptism. Through baptism we are going into the water, our old man dying with Christ. Then we come out of the water, our new man, that is created in Christ Jesus, rising with Christ. Both passages in Romans and in Colossians, that I have quoted, say that through baptism the body of sins is being put off and that we rise with Christ a brand new man, free from sin.
I have a question for you, at what point in either of these passages did we ever read the word “symbol”? Never. That’s because baptism in the name of Jesus is not a symbol, but a reality. We are doing a physical act, by faith, reflecting a spiritual reality. That’s why Colossians 2:12 says “ you were also raised with Him, THROUGH FAITH in the working of God.” We, through baptism, are dying to the old and rising to the new!
Now we can finally understand the famous scripture in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ (baptism in the name of Jesus), he is a new creation, old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
If you are a believer and you have not been baptized in the name of Jesus, find a brother or sister in Christ who has, and ask them to baptize you. You do not need a pastor or deacon to do it, the only requirement for someone to baptize you is that they are following Jesus.
If you are a believer and you have been baptized, but you did not understand these truths, you do not need to be re-baptized. You just need to accept God’s word, and believe that these truths took place on the day you were baptized.