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What is the Deal with Christian Baptism, and Why Is It So Important?

The concept behind baptism is a washing with water to make one's soul clean. The practice was first officially instituted by Christ (Matthew 28:18–20, CSB), but it had been foreshadowed since Old Testament times. God cannot fellowship with sin. Yet, all of mankind since the beginning has disobeyed God in one form or another. In early times, when mankind had become utterly corrupt and wicked, God said that His Spirit would not strive with man forever (Gen 6:3) because He cannot fellowship with or give life to an irreconcilable humanity. So, he sent the waters of the global flood which cleansed the earth of its wickedness while also saving eight souls through that same water. These eight would go on to have a renewed relationship of promise with the Creator (Gen 9:9). The great flood that saved Noah and his family was a foreshadowing of the salvation that would come through Christian baptism (1 Pet 3:20–21)!

Another instance of the Old Testament foreshadowing Christian baptism is in Ezekiel 36. The people of God had been defeated and scattered because of their infidelity to the Lord. They no longer had fellowship with God at the temple in Jerusalem. However, we learn through the prophet Ezekiel that God is looking forward to a time when He will establish a new relationship of promise with His people (Ezek 37:26). As part of this agreement, the people of God would still need to be clean in order to fellowship with Him. Which is why God says, "I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave your ancestors; you will be My people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness." (Ezekiel 36:25–29, emp. added).

Between the time of Ezekiel and the time of Jesus, the Jews would go on to institute many different ceremonial washings. They would wash before making sacrifices in the temple by immersing themselves in pools of water called Mikvahs[1]. They would wash themselves and their utensils before meals (Mark 7:4; John 2:6). Many of their traditions went beyond what was required by God in the Old Testament law, but this does demonstrate that the Jews had a previous understanding of the need for purification by water to be right with God.

John the Baptist, a prophet who was the forerunner to Jesus, came preaching of a water baptism for repentance. Many were going out to be baptized by him because they were anticipating the Christ who would ultimately cleanse them spiritually and restore a personal relationship with God, as Ezekiel had prophesied (John 1:25–27). Even Jesus Himself would be baptized by John. After Jesus was baptized, the Spirit of God descended on Him, and God spoke from heaven confirming Jesus as the Son of God (John 1:33–34).

Jesus Himself would go on emphasizing the need for His followers to be baptized (John 3:22; 4:1; Matthew 28:18–20). In John 3:3–5, Jesus made clear to the Jewish leader Nicodemus that water baptism would no longer be just a Jewish ritual, but being "born of water and the Spirit" would be a required element to being "born from above".[2] When the Apostles began preaching Christ, they would go on emphasizing the need for baptism in order to have forgiveness and fellowship with God. Peter said to the crowd of Jews on Pentecost in Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Later, when the Apostle Paul was converted, he was told by Ananias, "And now, why are you delaying? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name." (Acts 22:16). Paul would go on to write to the young missionary Titus, "he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).

The New Testament is abundantly clear that baptism is not just a ritual or symbol. It is the point at which the sacrificial blood of Jesus takes effect in the soul of the believer. After baptism, God can look into our souls and instead of finding our faults, He instead sees the perfect blood sacrifice of His Son Jesus. Without baptism, we would not be able to enter into this new relationship of promise based on the blood sacrifice of Jesus.[3] Hebrews 10:22 says, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water." This connects the believer's physical baptism with the cleansing of their soul by God.

The Bible makes a further connection between Jesus' death and resurrection life with Christian baptism by stating in Romans 6:3–4, "Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life." In other words, if a Christian wants to participate in the resurrection of Christ on the final day, they need to have also participated in his death, which in this case is represented by their baptism in water. Colossians 2:12 parallels this thought by saying, "…when you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead." The implication is that baptism is a necessary step to becoming a Christian. It is a prerequisite to benefitting from the death and resurrection power of Christ.

Some Christian groups teach that baptism is not a necessary part of being a Christian, claiming that it is a work of our own doing that would merit salvation. The Gospel definitively rejects the idea of a salvation based on our own merits or actions (Titus 3:5). However, obeying Christ in order to submit to the conditions of this promised relationship, does not mean we have merited our salvation. As 1 Peter 3:21 states, "Baptism, which corresponds to [the global flood of Noah], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." If you are looking to be in fellowship with God through the cleansing power of Jesus' sacrificial blood, then you will need to participate in the work of God through Jesus' death and burial. We do this through baptism (Rom 6:3–4; Col 2:12). We want to encourage you to be washed in water for the forgiveness of your sins. Connect with us if that is your desire, and we will attempt to connect you with a local Christian willing to baptize you into Christ.

1. Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 170. [2]. Baptism is not explicitly mentioned in this exchange with Nicodemus. However, because of the frequent allusions to baptism and purification in the Gospel of John up to this point, it is strongly implied. [3]. We can even see this idea paralleled in the order of events of the great flood— First, Noah listened to the Lord (Gen 6:22; 7:5, 9, 16). Second, God sent the cleansing waters (7:23, 24). Third, Noah made sacrifices (8:20–21). Finally, based on these preceding activities, God established His new relationship of promise (9:9–17).


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