Weddings are loaded with symbolism. The day I married my wife Kathi was awesome. We were married in her grandmother’s historic church in downtown Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Many of our friends came to witness our wedding and spend the day with us. Kathi’s pastor officiated our wedding which meant so much to her. During our ceremony we lit a unity candle as a symbol that the two of us were becoming one family. We also exchanged vows and wedding rings as a symbol of the commitment we made to each other. After the wedding we made our way to the reception where everyone was able to enjoy an incredible buffet. All in all, it was a great day. Twenty-some years later, I still wear my wedding ring as an outward symbol of the inward commitment I made to Kathi before God and friends.
In a spiritual sense, baptism is like a wedding ring, it is the outward expression of an inward commitment that we have made to follow Jesus. Baptism by immersion symbolizes a death and resurrection and it was Jesus that commanded us to do it: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” Matthew 28:19. Water baptism identifies a person as a disciple of Christ and celebrates the passage from an old life into a new life in Christ. The bible clearly teaches that baptism is symbolic and doesn’t “save” you, but it does let others know you have made the decision to follow Christ.
In New Testament times, baptism followed repentance and faith. Peter invited his listeners on the day of Pentecost to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” Acts 2:38. As the good news of Jesus’ resurrection spread across the Roman Empire, new churches were planted, many people professed their faith in Christ, and they were baptized just like Jesus told his disciples to do. Acts 18:8 says, “Many of the Corinthians who heard [Paul] believed and were baptized.”
What Does Water Baptism Mean?
Water baptism is an act of obedience for the believer. It means that we have chosen to identify with Christ placing our pride, past sins, and lives before the Lord. “Peter replied, ‘Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church--about three thousand in all” Acts 2:38, 41.
Water baptism is an outward expression of an inward experience. In early biblical times, baptisms were held in public places where family and friends could gather. This public witness marked the believer as a follower of Christ. The apostle Paul explained that baptism also symbolizes the believer’s union with Christ: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” Romans 6:3–4. Baptism identifies the believer with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. This is why baptisms are done in public before witnesses (unless some medical or other special need prohibits it).
Water baptism is a picture representing three profound spiritual truths: First, it symbolizes death to a person’s old life. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” Galatians 2:20.
Second, it symbolizes resurrection. “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection” Romans 6:4-5. When a person is baptized they are submerged, representing death, and lifted out of the water symbolizing resurrection.
Third, it symbolizes a spiritual cleansing. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11. Again, baptism doesn’t save you, it sends a message to others that you are a believer.
How Should You Be Baptized?
The biblical word for “baptize” means to “immerse, douse, or saturate.” Some scholars translate the Greek word “baptizo” –“Dip under water or submerge.” In the two full descriptions of baptism found in the New Testament, individuals were immersed in water. Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River to identify Himself as God’s Son: “As soon as he was baptized, [he] went up out of the water” Matthew 3:16. The apostle Philip baptized the Ethiopian by going down into a body of water and coming up with him (Acts 8:38–39).
Baptism should be done by immersion after a person comes to faith in Christ because this is what the scriptures teach. Immersion best symbolizes the end of the old way of life. Coming up out of the baptismal waters pictures the new life found in Christ. The person who was previously dead in sin has been made spiritually alive by the same power that raised up Jesus from the grave. United with Him, the believer is released from the power of sin in order to obey God. Paul portrays this life change as putting on new clothes: “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
How old do you need to be to participate in a believer’s baptism? There is no age requirement. A person should be baptized once they are old enough to understand the meaning of salvation and experience it themselves. On the other hand, you may have a lot of years under your belt and if you have not been baptized, you should do it too. There is no reason to delay or put it off any longer.
We encourage every believer to get baptized because this is what Jesus says to do. If you were “baptized” as an infant, that decision was not your own and spirituality cannot be imparted onto other people. Therefore, take a public stand for Jesus and get baptized by immersion as soon as you can. This is what the bible teaches and it will strengthen your faith and encourage others.