The Purpose of Baptism in the Christian Life

Baptism
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Before exploring the purpose of baptism in the Christian life, it's important to gain an understanding of its meaning. The English word "baptism" comes from the Greek baptisma, which refers to "washing, dipping, or immersing something into water."

A general biblical definition of baptism is “a rite of washing with water as a sign of religious purification and consecration.” This rite of cleansing with water as a means of achieving ritual purity was practiced frequently in the Old Testament (Exodus 30:19–20).

Baptism signified purity or cleansing from sin and devotion to God. Many believers have practiced baptism as a tradition without fully understanding its significance and purpose.

What Is the Purpose of Being Baptized?

Christian denominations differ widely in their teachings about the purpose of baptism.

  • Some faith groups believe baptism accomplishes the washing away of sin, thus making it a necessary step in salvation.
  • Others believe that baptism, while not accomplishing salvation, is still a sign and seal of salvation. Thus, baptism ensures entrance into the church community.
  • Many churches teach that baptism is a vital step of obedience in the believer’s life, yet only an outward acknowledgment or testimony of the salvation experience already accomplished. These groups believe baptism itself has no power to cleanse or save from sin since God alone is responsible for salvation. This perspective is called "Believer's Baptism."
  • A few denominations consider baptism a form of exorcism from evil spirits.

New Testament Baptism

In the New Testament, the significance of baptism is seen more clearly. John the Baptist was sent by God to spread the news of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. John was directed by God (John 1:33) to baptize those who accepted his message.

John's baptism was called “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4, NIV). John's baptism anticipated Christian baptism. Those baptized by John acknowledged their sins and professed their faith that through the coming Messiah they would be forgiven.

Jesus Christ submitted to baptism as an example for believers to follow.

Baptism is significant in that it represents the forgiveness and cleansing from sin that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism publicly acknowledges one's confession of faith and belief in the gospel message. It also symbolizes the sinner's entrance into the community of believers (the church).

Purpose of Baptism

Identification

Water baptism identifies the believer with the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:

Matthew 28:19
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (NIV)

Water Baptism identifies the believer with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection:

Colossians 2:11-12
"When you came to Christ, you were 'circumcised,' but not by a physical procedure. It was a spiritual procedure--the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to a new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead." (NLT)

Act of Obedience

Water Baptism is an act of obedience for the believer. It should be preceded by repentance, which simply means “change.” That change is the turning from our sin and selfishness to serve the Lord. It means placing our pride, our past, and all of our possessions before the Lord. It means giving the control of our lives over to Him:

Acts 2:38, 41
"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." ( NLT)

Public Testimony

Water Baptism is a public testimony or the outward confession of the experience that has occurred inwardly in a believer’s life. In baptism, we stand before witnesses confessing our identification with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Spiritual Symbolism

Water Baptism doesn't save a person. Instead, it symbolizes the salvation that has already happened. It is a picture representing the profound spiritual truths of death, resurrection, and cleansing. 

Death

Galatians 2:20
"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." (NIV)
Romans 6:3–4
Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. (NLT)

Resurrection

Romans 6:4-5
"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." (NIV)
Romans 6:10-13
"He died once to defeat sin, and now he lives for the glory of God. So you should consider yourselves dead to sin and able to live for the glory of God through Christ Jesus. Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to its lustful desires. Do not let any part of your body become a tool of wickedness, to be used for sinning. Instead, give yourselves completely to God since you have been given new life. And use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God." (NLT)

Cleansing

The washing through the water of baptism symbolizes the believer's cleansing from the stain and filth of sin through God's grace.

1 Peter 3:21
"And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (NIV)
1 Corinthians 6:11
"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." (, NIV)
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Fairchild, Mary. "The Purpose of Baptism in the Christian Life." Learn Religions, Sep. 3, 2021, learnreligions.com/what-is-baptism-700654. Fairchild, Mary. (2021, September 3). The Purpose of Baptism in the Christian Life. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-baptism-700654 Fairchild, Mary. "The Purpose of Baptism in the Christian Life." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-baptism-700654 (accessed September 26, 2021).

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