(http://www.commontruth.com/Baptisms.html has been a great deal of help in sorting things out. Feel free to take a look - it is very informative.)
What's the big deal?
Baptism has always been closely associated with Christianity. As an unbeliever, I wanted to get my son baptized (a baby at the time). It was like this special thing you could do that would make things okay between him and God, or as if some how this act would make my son's life better, and he would go to heaven one day… or something. Honestly, I don't know what I expected the results to be. It just seemed to be a good thing to do.
Now, as a believer, when "all this God stuff" actually means something substantial to me, I have often wondered: What's the big deal about baptism?
Why is it so important? What does it do? What does it mean? Why is it so significant? I've spent time studying, researching, praying, and pondering this very thing. In fact, it has been an on and off subject of investigation for about 2 years now for me. I recently got baptized with my wife, and one of my biggest worries was getting baptized without it actually meaning anything to me. Why is it that when people believed in Jesus in scripture, they always seemed to have this overwhelming desire to be baptized, some how, some way? Why was it so important to them? I sort of wanted to get baptized since you're "supposed to", but why didn't I have this overwhelming desire?
I suspect it will become more meaningful to me as time goes on, but I would like to share what I've learned, by the grace of God. Hopefully it will help another come a step closer as well.
The first murder
Odd place to start, isn't it? And so it goes:
Genesis 4:1-8 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD." And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it."
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
Now I don't know about you, but I always felt bad for Cain. Why is God so hard on him? Why was his offering not considered "doing well", and therefore unacceptable? One thing is certain: Sin has been introduced to the human race. In fact, it started with Cain and Abel's parents, Adam and Eve.
We already have brother murdering brother over jealousy and pride (we assume). Reading further we see the line of Cain taking mankind down a path with no mention of God in the works - only human ingenuity and dependence on our own selves. We even start to come up with our own twisted ideas of what is right and what is wrong to live by. By verse 24, we have become so arrogant as to make ourselves far more worthy than Cain (7 compared to 77), and we have unknowingly given witness to man's increase in sin by the same measure. How quickly sin multiplies!! It seems hopeless for us all - if it weren't for the promise given in Genesis 3 that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head.
Now then, about baptism…
What is baptism for?
Immediately, one notices baptism when reading the New Testament.
Matthew 3:1-11 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. […] Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. […] I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and fire:
So this is the baptism of repentance. (Repentance means to turn away from sin). That dirt and grime which is sin, must be washed off when you decide you're ready to be rid of it. So this baptism reflects the people's choice to turn away their sins and be done with them.
Read II Kings 5:1-16. (I'll wait ;) Did you notice anything about this story? He was told to wash himself seven times in the Jordan River. This wasn't something he could earn by some "great work". Nor was this something that would just happen out of no where. God would work the miracle, but this man Naaman was required to make a choice. Isn't it interesting how dipping himself in the river cleansed him of his leprosy? Did you know that leprosy in scripture symbolizes sin?
1) Jesus's Baptism - a cleansing of sin
However, once the work of Christ was finished, Baptism took on a whole next level of meaning. Now, instead of symbolizing the repentance of sins, turning away from them, and seeking to be clean (just as Naaman did), baptism symbolizes the forgiveness of sins, or the actual cleansing of the sin (that dirt and grime!), such as was the result of Naaman's faith, even what little there was. See the following scripture:
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 22:16 And now why are you waiting? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
1 John 5:5-7 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three agree in one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
Again, just as with Naaman, the act of baptism itself does not forgive! Rather, our baptism symbolizes to the outside that forgiveness of sins which is in our hearts through Christ Jesus, our Lord.
2) Joining with Christ
In addition to the symbolism of a believer's forgiveness and cleanliness from having their sins forgiven and washed away, baptism also effectively draws a picture of exactly what happened to a believers heart, and how! Notice:
Colossians 2:12 Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him, through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead.
Romans 6:3-11 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined Him in his death? As Christ was raised up from the dead, by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Since we have united with Him in His death, we will also be raised to life as He was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. […] So you should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.
In other words, being dunked in the water during baptism represents our death to our old, sinful selves, with Christ on the cross. Rising out of the water draws a picture of us raising from the dead (as we were very dead in sin), also with Christ. Water baptism is an outward testimony of a believer's inner faith.
3) Bloods and Crips - identification with Christ
Finally, baptism does more than draw a physical picture of miraculous, unseen spiritual things. It also identifies us with Christ. But what does that mean?
Gang members typically wear a color to show who they are loyal too. In some places, simply wearing the color red or the color blue can have very serious implications, and identifies you with a one group of people or another. In jail, all prisoners wear a type of clothing in order to identify them with the prisoner population. Police have a badge which identifies them as police. Likewise, take a look at this scripture:
Galatians 3:26-27 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
"Put on Christ"? Yep. You are wearing Him. You are clothed with Christ. This identifies you as one of God's children! Yes, you already are one of God's children through your faith in and love for Christ. Now you must put Him on and be identified as His… don't try to hide it! Make it known! Remember Colossians 2:12 above as well. "Buried with Him in baptism […]". Again… we are identified with Him. As you know, when we get to heaven, it will be our identification with Christ that God sees that gives us eternal life… not anything of our own!
In the Old Testament, a male's identification with God came through outward circumcision of the foreskin. This was an important requirement which God wanted to symbolized the need for the circumcision of the foreskin of our hearts. Now, with the mystery of man's salvation revealed through Christ, hundreds and thousands of years later, He commands us to be baptized in order to identify with Christ.
To recap, baptism shows a physical picture of spiritual things. These are:
- Our identification with Christ - to the Father, and to each other, and to the world; I suspect this is why people were so eager to be baptized… they wanted to be identified with that man/God that was going around bringing joy, peace, and righteousness everywhere He walked!
- The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ on the cross, both in the physical realm and in the spiritual realm
- The washing away of our sin - and the continuous cleansing or sanctification which we will experience while we yet are here
Typically, baptism is our first act of obedience to God after salvation. And now we come back to Cain. Remember Cain? Remember the question I always had? Why is God so hard on him? Why was his offering not considered "doing well", and therefore unacceptable?
In Genesis 3, after Satan introduces sin to mankind, the LORD God makes a promise to destroy Satan, and to get rid of sin. In fact, right here, He demonstrates how it will all work out, even though He hadn't fully revealed the answer to this mystery. How did God do that? The key is right here:
Genesis 3:20-21 And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
How did Adam know she was the mother of all living, when they were well aware of the kind of death they had just experienced, and will experience? And where did those coats come from? God set the principle from the very beginning. He shed the blood of innocent animals in order to cover the sins of guilty man, guilty Adam and guilty Eve. Yes they tried to hide their shame themselves (with the fig leaf), but as is always the case, it was not sufficient. There had to be a substitution. There had to be the shedding of innocent blood to take their place, to cover their guilt.
Now they did not know that this was representative of when the Son of God Himself would come to earth and be slaughtered, whose innocent blood would be shed to take our place, and to cover our guilt. However, God gave them the principle - He gave them the physical picture which would represent that which was spiritual - to practice, and they understood it to an extent. So when Cain brought his work of his hands, instead of that which God told them was needed, God warned him sin was about to take over his life, that it was "crouching at his door". Cain knew what God wanted all along.
And now, from example after example after example in the New Testament, we've been shown what God wants us to do in order to illustrate the fullness of the answer to the mystery of our salvation. He wants us to get baptized. Every. Single. Time someone was born again in the New Testament, it followed immediately with baptism.
Have you taken this first step in your walk with the Lord? Have you been obedient to the Word of God concerning this matter of believer's baptism?
Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized…
So what is your response?
May God richly bless you in your seeking of Him. And please, prayerfully examine the scriptures yourself, and allow the One with all Wisdom and Knowledge to guide your understanding. Don't just take my word for it!