What is Water Baptism?
The word baptism
comes from the Greek word baptizo
which means to immerse or dip.
To baptize something, then, means to completely submerge it in a liquid.
In a biblical sense, to baptize a person in water means to put that person completely under the water, then immediately raise him or her up again.
According to the Bible, water baptism
is a symbolic act whereby a new Christian identifies with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. Water baptism is a public profession of a person's repentance
in Jesus Christ and a way of giving outward testimony to an inward work of God.
What Does Water Baptism Signify?
When God baptizes you into Christ, you become a new creation
in your spirit
, not in your body
(flesh). Your body remains corruptible until the Resurrection (see John 6:39-40), but something inside changes. Your heart is washed clean by the blood of Jesus, and your spirit is quickened (made alive) by the Holy Spirit. You now have the ability to communicate with God, hear His voice, love and obey Him, overcome sin
, and walk out your salvation by faith.
Therefore, water baptism symbolically identifies us as new creations in Christ.
By going down in the water, we illustrate that our old man
is dead to sin and buried by faith in Christ. As a result, we are free from our old master Satan. By being raised up out of the water, we show that our new man
is raised by the Spirit and made alive by faith in Christ. Since our new Master is the Lord Jesus, we commit to walk in righteousness (not by our old ways
and fleshly habits but by our new life in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit
indwelling our spirit). "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken [make alive] your mortal bodies by his
Spirit that dwelleth in you"
Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
The Bible tells us that there is
a baptism necessary for salvation; however, it is not
water baptism! A person must be spiritually baptized
into Christ in order to be saved: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ"
(Galatians 3:27). At the moment of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Yeshua), a person is "buried with him [Jesus] in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead"
Many people insist that water baptism
is essential for salvation. However, this is incorrect. You see, salvation is and always has been about faith
in Jesus Christ. You must be "baptized into Christ" in order to be saved; however, this is not the same as being "baptized in water."
Water baptism is purely an outward sign of God's cleansing work in a person's heart, and is therefore meaningless without a prior spiritual baptism
To illustrate this point, imagine that you have a friend who receives Jesus as Savior today but then dies in a car accident tomorrow. Your friend never had a chance to be water baptized, but was he or she saved? The answer is yes. That person was baptized into Christ
, by faith. The same is true for the thief on the cross (see Luke 23:43), who received salvation because he was baptized into Christ
, by faith. So we see that it is faith
in Jesus Christ that brings about salvation — not a ritual.
People in the Old Testament were not saved by sacrificing animals
but rather by their faith in the coming Lamb of God. In a similar way, one is not saved by being immersed in water; nor is water baptism a requirement for one's salvation. A person is saved purely by his or her faith in Jesus Christ. Just as it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin (see Hebrews 10:4), the natural water used in baptism will not wash away sin. Spiritual baptism into Christ is what saves, for a heart must be washed clean in the blood of the Lamb: "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood"
In the New Testament, Paul told the Jewish believers that circumcision
was not necessary for salvation (see Acts 15). This statement brought about some heated discussions, for the Jews thought that the Gentile believers should follow Moses' commandment of circumcision. But Paul explained that a person's heart is purified by faith, not by an outward ritual. He said, "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they"
(Acts 15:11), and Paul's speech persuaded the Jews.
The Bible says, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water"
(Hebrews 10:22). It would be silly for us to interpret the "pure water" in this passage to mean the absence of impurities in a church baptistry or river. Rather, the "pure water" mentioned here is symbolic, referring to the days when Israelite priests were required to wash with water before ministering in the Tabernacle (see Exodus 30:17-21). You see, God requires clean hands
and a pure heart
from those who partake in His holiness. "Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a
pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully"
(Psalm 24:3-4). Believers are sanctified and cleansed "with the washing of water by the word"
(Ephesians 5:26). Jesus reinforced this truth when He said, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you"
To further illustrate this point, Ezekiel likens sprinkling of water
to the spiritual cleansing of a person's heart. God said, "For I will take you from among the heathen ... and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you ... and I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them"
Indeed, the cleansing work of God unto salvation
is a spiritual baptism
which takes place in our hearts. God draws us to Himself, we respond by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, He forgives and cleanses us of all sin, and then our clean conscience toward God saves us! "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), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ"
(I Peter 3:21). Thus, it is through Christ's resurrection that we have the hope of salvation
, because as Paul said, if Christ be not resurrected, then our faith is in vain (see I Corinthians 15:14).
Is Water Baptism Important?
Lest the reader misunderstand, we'll clarify that water baptism is very important
. As a first step of obedience
in walking out one's faith, a new Christian should most definitely be water baptized because the Bible commands it! Furthermore, water baptism helps new believers understand the spiritual truth that according to their faith, their old man
is dead in Christ and their new man
is alive in Christ. "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin"
However, the fact remains that water baptism is a work
. John the Baptist called it a work "meet for repentance"
(Matthew 3:8; also see Acts 26:20). In other words, water baptism is a work which is appropriate for one who has repented
. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we are saved by grace, through faith
, and not
by works so that no one can boast.
To say that "a person is saved by water baptism" is to exclude everyone in the Old Testament from salvation, everyone who has ever been saved moments before death, and everyone who is physically unable to be immersed in water. Clearly, such a belief contradicts Scripture. The Bible teaches that salvation
is by faith alone. Water baptism is the testimony of that salvation.