As a sign of one’s close relationship with God, people of various religions adopt various outward symbols of their faith. But who do we try and impress with this for God searches our hearts and minds and id well aware of what is there. But why such symbols are considered an essential testimony of our faith. Why is baptism also necessary for a believer and faith is not considered enough? Is our surrender to Him incomplete without this ritual?
What is the importance of baptism? – God created man and there was no special mark of identity on him and he could live in the spiritual realm to commune with God and in the material world to exercise dominion authority on God’s behalf. In this state his spirit was in control of his soul to control his desires and will to keep it in line with God’s plan for him. The body was in obedience to him and the five senses were not for deciding his way of life. Under guidance of the serpent (devil) Eve was the first person who tried to decide using her five senses about deciding an event of her life. She saw and liked the tree for food, for ‘it was pleasant to the eyes and desirable’ (Genesis 3:6). First, that it was pleasant to the senses as meant by Hebrew word ‘taavah’ and the second word desirable is from ‘chamad’ (khawmad) actually meaning covet or desire in a negative sense.
From then on man’s body assumed control in his daily life, his soul with his desires fell under his bodily desires and because of spiritual death, his spirit became dormant. This brought in sinful nature in man who started living under ‘lusts of the flesh’ and personal gratification became the norm causing prevalence of covetousness and sinful living. In this state of being man is in opposition to God and slave to sin and under devil’s rule causing dissatisfaction with what we have and desiring what we don’t. The grass across the fence is more green and all that the neighbor or others had, looked to be better bringing in jealousy and urge to get the object of desire by any means and sin. Thereafter violence and untruth became the main narrative of man’s life.
It is in this state that the Israelites complained that ‘there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes’ while they remembered the fish of Egypt ‘that they ate freely, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic’ (Numbers 11:5-6). Heavenly things and God Himself also are also no longer desirable for man, in such a state of living under control of the body. The way for relief from such a state, where man is far away from God’s kingdom, is provided by Lord Jesus. ‘Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ or God Himself for God is in His kingdom ( John 3:3-5). Nicodemus questioned the rebirth of a grown up man and the Lord revealed this new birth being ‘of water and the Spirit’ with immersion in water and overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit bringing in change in the very nature on man. Apostle Paul defines that state as ‘dead in sins’, fully immersed and under its control (Ephesians 2:1). The change required is to be ‘dead to sins’ where sin loses its effect and desire for that due to being dead to its control.
God’s covenant with Abraham was to make him ‘father of many nations’ and Abraham and his descendents were required to be circumcised (Genesis 17:1-6 & 10-11). In the Holy Bible this is the first sign of baptism or commitment of a people to God. The ritual of circumcision itself does not change the nature of man but God commanded Abraham, ‘walk before Me and be blameless’. The Scripture defines the child of God as one, who receives the Son of God and then believes in Him as his Savior (John 1:12). Apostle Paul then clarifies the need and the way of undergoing baptism, for all believers, ‘Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts’ (Romans 13:13-14). But before receiving and putting on the Lord Jesus a believer has to ‘cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light’. It is about walking out of the darkness of death in sin into the God’s light of the glory of His Son. When we put on Lord Jesus Christ, we submit to Him and let Him totally overwhelm us and assume Sovereign control over our lives.
Lord Jesus has emphasized that ‘No one can serve two masters’ and baptism is about change of master in our life (Matthew 6:24). We die to the slavery of sin and control of the devil and surrender to the kingship of the King of kings and Lord of lords. In essence baptism is about bringing the body under control of the spirit when soul also comes in line with that and this is done with the strength and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Without baptism life amounts to living with someone without getting married, where both partners are free, without any sort of binding commitment to each other.
The right way and age for baptism – The Great Commission by the Lord Jesus is about making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Discipleship pertains to teaching the Gospel message and leading them into its light and making one understand the need for a Savior. Lord Jesus taught through the parable of the sower about discipleship and the seed sown is the Word of God (Mark 4:14). An evangelist reaches out to everyone for we do not know who has been chosen by God. Since we reach out under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, He works to ensure the seed bears fruit in the life of the chosen.
Apostle Paul while presenting his case before king Agrippa, told about hearing the voice of the Lord saying, ‘it is hard for you to kick against the goads’ (Acts 26:14). Like a stubborn ox is pricked by the wooden goad to keep it moving in the right direction and speed, God uses various situations as pointers for us to lead us to Him. This is the pricking of the conscience by the Holy Spirit before and after baptism to lead us onto the right path of holiness and obedience to God. Baptism is the result of this leading by the Spirit of God
The Jews circumcised every male child on the eighth day after birth when male babies were brought into presence of God in the Temple. Leviticus 12 describes the uncleanness of a woman for seven days after bearing a son and presentation of the son to the LORD on the eighth day. Based on this custom some Christian denominations advocate child baptism. The sequence of the Commission is categorical in this aspect, where the first step is about making disciples, which is through teaching and preaching the Word of God thus enabling someone to make a learned choice (Matthew 28:19). Baptism thus should normally be done of a person who can make a decision for his/her life and should only be for adults. Baptism through sprinkling of water on a dead body also is of no use for the same reason. A child may however be blessed in the name of the Holy Trinity by a priest.
What is baptism? – The idea behind the ancient Greek word for baptized is ‘baptizo’ meaning ‘submerge, immersion, overwhelm’. It is derived from ‘bapto’ meaning ‘dip’. The difference between the two is best explained by a Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived in 200 B.C. He has referred to a recipe for making pickles, for it uses both words, where the vegetable must be first ‘dipped’ (bapto) into boiling water and then ‘baptized’ into vinegar. While the first is temporary the second brings about a permanent change.
The command to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is to be submerged in the character and love of God and then under His Divine guidance and strength be changed into that same image and likeness. In our old nature we were dead in sin, completely submerged in it. Baptism is preceded by repentance and confession of sins seeking God’s help in turning from sin. When one goes under water, it is washing of our sins through forgiveness in Christ Jesus and when we come out of the water it is like His rising from the dead. This ‘newness of life’ is here and now and not some distant future for we examine everything we feel, think, and do from a new perspective. With this we become dead to sin and come to live in Lord Jesus who gives His righteousness to us and opens a door for us to live above sin.
On the day of Pentecost, Apostle Peter exhorted the people to repent, be baptized for the remission of sins ‘and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38). Baptism without repentance is like bathing a pig who will again go back into the same slime. Repentance is a realization about our sins and the need for the Savior and His help to live above sin. Apostle Paul defines the act of baptism as, first, putting off our old man (nature) which was corrupt due to sin; be renewed in the spirit of your minds and finally put on the new man ‘which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness’ (Ephesians 4:22-24).
The other aspect is of baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Various names have been ascribed to God as per a particular blessing and each name thus describes a particular character trait of God who is love. Name represents the very nature of God like Angel Gabriel revealing the name of the Son of God as Yehoshua meaning Yahweh is salvation and Christ is added to mean the ‘Anointed One, the pre-incarnate logos’. Baptism into the Holy Trinity is about transformation into the character of God as revealed through His Son, the Living Word. Baptism into any other name will, therefore, have no meaning for a believer. The ceremony of baptism is a solemn event in the life of a believer for the Holy Spirit who was external to the person till then comes to dwell in Him to strengthen, enlighten and guide him then onwards.
Is baptism necessary for salvation and forgiveness of sins? – Lord Jesus after healing the man with 38 years of infirmity in Jerusalem answered the Jewish leaders, ‘he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has eternal life, and shall not come into judgment , but has passed from death to life’ (John 5:24). The Book of Romans and Galatians extensively deal with the theme that we are justified or declared righteous before God through faith in Lord Jesus and not by any of our works of righteousness. ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest anyone should boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The thief on the cross was not baptized but since he called out to the Lord in faith, he received the promise to be with Him in paradise that very day (Luke 23:39-43). Real faith leads to obedience and that cannot be without commitment which is baptism (Ephesians 2:10 & 2 Thessalonians 1:8). Baptism is the outcome of salvation and not the way to it, for we do not go for baptism without true faith.
Repentance and forgiveness of sins is the very core of Lord Jesus’ message. John the Baptist also preached repentance of sins before baptism, for how can someone surrender to the authority of Lord Jesus as Savior if he does not feel the need for that (Matthew 3:2). Once the need is felt the next step is automatic. If one says, ‘I repent and believe in Jesus’ but refuses to be baptized, his very repentance and faith is doubtful, for baptism is the outward sign of inward belief.
God created man in His likeness but then the Son of God became man to identify with mankind. He did not need any salvation from sin and John the Baptist expressed his surprise to see the Lord coming for baptism, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You’ (Matthew 3:14-15). It was after Lord Jesus’ baptism to ‘fulfill all righteousness’ that the Holy Spirit descended on Him and He started His earthly ministry. Baptism is thus an act of thankfulness for God’s grace to be chosen by Him and a declaration of commitment to the way of righteousness of God to be then blessed with the Helper, the indwelling Holy Spirit to empower, teach and guide us into obedience.
Lord Jesus after resurrection breathed on the disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22) and this started the fulfillment of the prophesy that ‘I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh’ (Joel 2:28). All those who were gathered together in prayer were filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost with the signs of a ‘rushing mighty wind from heaven’ and ‘divided tongues as of fire’ sitting on each one of them (Acts 2:2-4).
Passover was the day the angel of death passed over the houses of all who had put the blood of the lamb on the door posts and the Lamb of God saved us from death through His crucifiction. The Jews celebrate that day of Passover in commemoration of giving of the Law by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. For a Christian it is about completion of fulfillment of that Law by the Son of God and reestablishment of the new relationship by God with us through His Spirit. The Day of Pentecost is about thanking God by bringing the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple. God received the first group of 3,000 believers as the first crop as reaped in the power of the Holy Spirit. Apostle Paul found twelve men in Ephesus who were baptized by John the Baptist but who had ‘not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit’ (Acts 19:2-6). The Apostle then baptized them in the name of the Lord and they received the Holy Spirit.
We accept and surrender to the Sovereign control of God through baptism and He confirms our suitability and empowerment for His Kingdom work by blessing us with the Holy Spirit. The ritual of baptism is about commitment and surrender to the will of God and thus receiving the right of being joint heirs with God’s Son. We receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, then, to be guided into a life of obedience to God and transformation into His image and likeness. Baptism is therefore the first step towards our eternal rest in heaven with the Heavenly Father.