Water baptism is the first commandment given to us after salvation. Unfortunately many in the Church do not see the importance of water baptism. Several questions arise when discussing water baptism. First of all, “What does water baptism mean?” Another question would be, “Is water baptism necessary for salvation?”, and if not, “Why do I need water baptism?” Let’s find out.
What Does Water Baptism Mean?
Water baptism symbolizes something that already happens to be true inside of one that is born again. Indeed, at salvation your old man dies, symbolized in baptism by your submersion under the water. Then you become “resurrected” with Christ as a new creation, a new man, symbolized by you being raised out of the water. Paul uses this symbolism in Rom. 6:3, 4 which says, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (NASB).
The details of the death of your “old man” unfolds even further in Gal.2:20, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I , but Christ liveth in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Paul goes on to tell us in Col. 3:3, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Consequently, in baptism, one tells the whole world that, “For all the remaining years of my life, I shall be dead to my past and my old carnal ways.”
But, there remains more. Just as you are buried under the water, you also rise again! As you come out of the water, you declare to the whole world, “I will, from this point on, draw on the power of the resurrection life of my Lord Jesus!”
Is Water Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
Most people who believe that water baptism remains necessary for salvation quote Acts 2:38 as evidence. “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” There are other Scriptures besides this one but this persists as the main one that people use to justify this teaching. We must remember to filter specific verses like this one through the clear teaching of the Bible. The Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, “not of works lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). If water baptism saves you then faith would have to be put in the ceremony of water baptism which would produce salvation by works. The apostle Paul also wrote in Rom. 10:9, 10, 13, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. …For whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” No mention of water baptism appears anywhere in this passage.
So What About Acts 2:38
The solution to what this confusing verse apparently says proves not so difficult. The Greek word eis translated “for” in this passage can also be translated “because of” or “in view of,” and many Greek scholars, such as A. T. Robertson and J. R. Mantey, maintain that it should be. This changes the meaning of the passage dramatically and lines up much better with the rest of Scripture.
Luke 23:42, 43 says, “Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’” This was one of the two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus. One of them had nothing but cursing for Jesus, but the other one became convinced that Jesus entered this world as the Messiah. The thief placed his faith in Jesus right there on the cross next to Him. At no time did any of the guards let Jesus and the thief off their crosses so Jesus could go baptize him real quick before they died. It wasn’t necessary to the thief’s salvation for him to get baptized.
Let’s consider deathbed conversions for a minute. When a person on their deathbed sincerely places their faith in Christ right before they pass away there isn’t time for them to get baptized. By the way, getting sprinkled wouldn’t do any good in this situation because the word for baptism in the Greek (baptizo) means to immerge or submerge.
What about some poor chap that gets saved at a restaurant across the street from the church. He decides he wants to get baptized right then. So they walk across the street to get to the church, but he gets hit by a car and dies on the way and doesn’t make it. I guess that’s too bad for him, he’s going to hell. Baptismal regeneration stands as not only unscriptural it’s not practical either.
So Why Do I Need to be Baptized?
So the short and simple reason why one needs to be baptized? Jesus commanded it. Jesus commanded the apostles in Matt. 28:19 to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. When we look back at the original action verb (the word go actually acts as a participle acting as a verb) of this verse, go, we find it in the imperative sense. This makes it a command. In Acts 2:38 the phrase “be baptized” occurs in the imperative mood which, again, makes this a command. The issue here remains not one of salvation, it abides as one of obedience. However, it stands to reason that one who truly receives salvation will want to follow the Lord in Baptism and be obedient to His Word.
Obedience is not the only reason a believer should be baptized. Baptism endures as a wonderful opportunity to tell the whole world about your new relationship with Jesus. Baptism tells everyone that you have been buried with Christ in His death and raised in His resurrection to newness of life. Water baptism declares to everyone that you are different, that you have become a new creation. You’re not the same person that you used to be. It tells everyone to watch your life and see if this is a way of life that they may want to follow. In this regard we see the importance of walking in the Spirit and in the truth of God’s Word so we do not become a stumbling block to someone else.
Jack Hayford tells us that, “Baptism is not a ritual to be performed but rather a dynamic to be experienced.” As most believers’ first act of obedience baptism opens the door to experience all that baptism represents. Our old nature crucified with Christ and our new life raised in resurrection to live out all that God has awaiting us. We also must remember that this is not a once for all time transaction. In 1 Cor. 15:31, Paul says, “I die daily.” We must commit to live the baptized life on a daily basis, always staying above the dead habits of the past and walking in newness of life every day.