Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.
Do you enjoy following instructions? You know, like the assembly instructions for putting together a kid’s bike or a cabinet at work? Many of us struggle with instructions because there are steps that must be followed. Steps require that we pay attention, and that is hard to do sometimes. Nonetheless, steps are important, especially if you want to construct a bike that will not fall apart on your child or a cabinet that will not fail when the weight of files is added to it.
Just like instructional steps in everyday life, water baptism is an important step in the spiritual life of a Christian. The Scriptures tell us that after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, He instructed His disciples to make more disciples, baptizing them as part of that process. The first step, of course, in a new believer’s walk with the Lord is salvation. Once a person repents of sin and becomes born again, his next step is water baptism. To help us understand this next step in a believer’s walk, let’s briefly talk about what water baptism is, then look at several key scriptural references regarding its importance and meaning.
What Is Water Baptism?
To be clear, when we talk about water baptism, we are talking about getting dunked in water—yes, fully submerged from head to toe. We are not referring to being sprinkled with water, nor are we talking about infant baptism. The word baptism means to be fully submerged in a fluid, namely water. Therefore, the person being baptized goes under water as a testimony that he or she is now a Christ-follower.
Why Water Baptism?
First and foremost, water baptism is a separation. Have you ever watched a pro athlete hold a press conference to announce that he is changing teams? He stands with his new owner and proudly holds his new jersey with his new team colors. He puts it on and publicly announces that he has separated from his old team and joined a new one. This is similar to water baptism. When we are water-baptized, we are publicly professing Christ and announcing that we are changing teams and accepting a new owner.
In Acts 2:38, Peter said, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness for your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is the public stage on which we declare to the world, the devil, our neighbors, our friends, and our families that we are following Christ and have abandoned our old lives. In and of itself, water baptism does not add anything to our salvation; rather, it is a witness of the rebirth that has already transpired. Therefore, water baptism prior to salvation is of no value. It is only after we have received salvation that we witness this life change through water baptism.
In your own words, why is it important that water baptism happen after salvation and not before?
The second reason for water baptism is that it represents our surrender to Christ. Matthew 3:13-15 states: “Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.”
Surrendering is difficult for everyone, yet baptism is that step of obedience demonstrating the surrender of the human will to the sovereignty of God as expressed in His Word and through the Holy Spirit. There is a fact about surrender that we often ignore. In order for real life to take place, surrendering must occur. For example, in marriage we must surrender our selfish ways as individuals so that we can come alive as one in marriage. Jesus Himself stated that we must lose our lives in order to find them, meaning that we have to take up our cross and follow Him.
Furthermore, being baptized is symbolic of the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus died for all our sins in His substitutionary death on the cross. We die to sin when we turn to Him as Savior. After His death, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and placed in a grave. Our bodies are “buried” in the waters of baptism to represent this. After three days, Jesus rose from the dead in victory. When we come out of the waters of baptism, we rise to a new life of victory and power in Him.
What message does baptism send to the devil?
The third reason that we practice water baptism is for sonship. Mark 1:11 states, “And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’” (NIV). Even Jesus was water baptized. When He came out of the water, a miraculous thing happened. God the Father spoke words of encouragement and affirmation that would give Jesus strength as He faced great temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4). Let’s take a moment and look at each of these statements of the Father.
- “You are my Son”—This statement dealt with identity. We live in a society where people are always identifying with someone or something. Many identify with a sports figure, a team with a winning record, a product, or a people group. They proudly wear their team colors or logo as if to say, “I am one of them.” But know this: God has claimed you as His own. You are His child, and His approval of you is never based on your performance, but on His unconditional love for you as His son or daughter.
- “Whom I love”—This statement dealt with validation. In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he wrote in his prayer for them: “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully” (Ephesians 3:16–19). The love that God has for you is wider, longer, higher, and deeper than any love that you have ever experienced in this life. It is truly perfect. God will never love you any more or any less than He does right now.
- “With you I am well pleased”—This statement has to do with affirmation. God is pleased with you, just like He was pleased with Jesus. Say this out loud and let it sink in: “God is pleased with me!” This simple phrase is so empowering. You bring pleasure to Him just by being you. When Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness, He knew that His Father loved Him no matter what.
It is important to recognize that many people have not heard these words of affirmation from those who should have said them: parents, loved ones, caregivers, etc. But know this: God thinks all these things toward you as His son or daughter. As you pass through the waters of baptism, hear God the Father speak these words into your spirit as well: “You are Mine. I love you, and I am pleased with you.”
In your own words, what is the significance of God the Father’s statement about Jesus, and what does it mean for you?
Water baptism is an important step in your walk with the Lord. It is the first step of obedience after you make Jesus the Lord of your life. If you have not yet taken this step, sign up for the next water baptism event at Family Life. You can get more information or register here.
- “Beneath the Waters (I Will Rise)” by Hillsong