Easter is almost here, and with it comes an influx of baby chicks, bunnies, Easter eggs…and baptisms. When I was thirteen, I was baptized on Easter Sunday. Years later, I watched joyfully as my grandmother was baptized. Perhaps that’s why I always think of baptisms around Easter time. Or perhaps it’s because baptism is symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus.
I’m always happy to hear when someone accepts Jesus as their Savior, but to see that person get baptized is an overwhelmingly emotional experience for me. Baptism isn’t just words; it’s a public confession of faith. It’s an outward display of obedience that’s unlike any other in the Christian faith.
Although the word baptism is used a lot in Christian circles, it’s largely misunderstood. Here’s what you need to know about this first act in Christian discipleship.
What is baptism?
Simply put, during baptism, the believer is dunked under water for a moment by a church leader who proclaims the act is performed “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19 NAS). While this represents a cleansing of sins, the meaning goes much deeper than that.
Being immersed in water and then pulled from that watery grave signifies the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for atonement of our sins. As we participate in baptism, we not only reenact Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, but we lay claim to it as His disciples. Through the act of immersion, we bear witness that our “old self” has died (Romans 6:6 NAS). By being pulled up from the water, we testify that Jesus has laid hold of us and has saved us, making us a “new creature” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17 NAS). Even more, our baptism is a public declaration that, just as Jesus rose from the grave and lives forevermore, so we too will live for eternity alongside our Savior (2 Timothy 1:10 NAS).
While most Christians agree on the symbolism of baptism, there are some nuances that should be understood.
How should baptism be performed?
“Baptism” is what I call a “Christianese” word. It’s merely a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo, which means “immerse.” Although some churches prefer to sprinkle the believer instead of dunk him under water, the only instances of baptism throughout the Bible and early Church history involved true immersion. Remember, baptism is mainly a symbolic act, and the symbols of immersion and being pulled from the water are important elements to the believer and witnesses.
However, that does not mean that baptism by sprinkling is ineffective or wrong. Baptism is ultimately a public declaration of faith and an act of obedience. If you accepted Jesus and were baptized by sprinkling, then you did your part.
Who can be baptized?
The Bible shows that baptism is intended for those who have accepted Jesus as Savior and repented of their sins.
“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 2:38 NAS).
While some Christian groups may baptize infants or the disabled, there is no precedent for this in the Bible or early Church history.
I’ve met some people who were baptized as infants and who wanted to be baptized as adults so they could make a public declaration of their faith. Although I see no example of multiple baptisms in the Bible, I can find no reason to dissuade anyone of this practice and personally celebrate it as an act of obedience and faith.
When can you be baptized?
Throughout the Bible, those who accepted Jesus and repented of sins were immediately baptized. Although some groups today require the new believer to take a class or participate in years of study before baptism is allowed, there is no biblical basis for this. If you’ve accepted Jesus, then you can ask to be baptized immediately. If your church does not allow this, you may want to find a church that does.
“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41 NAS).
Does baptism do anything?
Those who perform infant baptism do so because they believe the act will enable the child to go to Heaven. I’ve already described the symbolism of baptism, but does the ritual actually do anything?
Interestingly, the Bible does state that “baptism now saves you.” Here’s the verse in context:
“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Peter 3:18-22 NAS, emphasis mine).
Here Peter states clearly that Christ is the One to “bring us to God.” Then he describes baptism as “an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Does baptism by itself—perhaps even forced on an unbelieving or unknowing participant—save a person from Hell? No, only a personal faith in Jesus does that. However, Peter shows that baptism is more than just symbolic; it’s an appeal to God that He would continue working in our hearts and guide our steps. This single outward act of obedience is the first of many steps in the Christian journey, a journey that is all part of our salvation and sanctification (or the act of becoming more holy as we draw closer to God).
When I was baptized, I had little understanding of the symbolism or importance of the act. However, my obedience to God was blessed nonetheless. For after I was baptized, I was able to talk freely about God to anyone who would listen, and I had an increased desire to learn more about Him—a desire that has never ceased.
If you’ve accepted Jesus but haven’t been baptized, I encourage you to do so. And if you have children who know Jesus, talk to them today about baptism. There’s no reason to delay.
Do you have a personal story about baptism you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below.
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