In the language of the New Testament, the word of baptism and its various uses is “baptidzo”. Its most direct meaning is, “to be immersed in or with” something. Most often, baptism is associated with water baptism, the Christian ordinance given to the Church by the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are other sources to consider regarding baptism. Before the Lord Jesus began His ministry on Earth, John the Baptist was immersing people in the Jordan River. Where did he get the idea or authority to baptize? The following will provide a very brief history to help explain.
According to many historians, baptism was a Jewish ritual of “cleansing”. While it was meant to be a picture of cleansing for those in the service of the Lord, by the time of Jesus it had become a ritual that was repeated many, many times for ritual cleansing. The writer of Hebrews mentions this in Hebrews 6:2 and 9:10. Gentiles who wished to become proselytes of Judaism were required to be fully immersed in water as a sign that they were giving up their past life and committing to the Jewish religion. So, baptizing was not uncommon in the time of Jesus.
John’s baptism was one of repentance, as the special messenger to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus. This baptism was one that required people to confess sins, and look forward to the coming Messiah. It was not a baptism that cleansed from sin.
Baptism in the New Testament
There are several passages that speak of baptism and I believe are very helpful in gaining a perspective of the meaning of baptism.
While baptism is normally associated with water, this has also caused some confusion as to the use of the word in other passages. Water is one kind of baptism, but there are several others mentioned in the New Testament.
I. 1 Corinthians 10:1,2, : “I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea… ESV
This passage is pivotal to the understanding of baptism It actually goes back before the time of the ritual baptisms for the priests, and therefore provides a beginning to its meaning.
A. The time spoken of here is the time of the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, Exodus 13,14. The people were protected, or covered, by God’s Presence in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He delivered them through the Red Sea by moving back the water to make dry ground for a passage as the people escaped Pharaohs army. When the army tried to follow, the water went back to its place and the army was drowned.
B. These people were not actually “in” the cloud or the sea, so what does it mean that there were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea? The basic answer is: they were “immersed” into the cloud and sea; that is, the people were following Moses, whom God had sent to be their leader. They had to be fully committed to following Moses, and ultimately the Lord. Therefore, they were “baptized” in the cloud and in the sea as they fully followed. They held nothing back.
This is a very important concept, as it applies to the future meaning of Christian baptism.
The phrase I wold use for baptism, then, “It is being All In”.
II. Mark 10:35-45, : 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized….” ESV
In this passage, James and John ask Jesus if they can have positions of authority with Him in His Kingdom, to be “on the right hand and left hand”. Jesus answers them with a word about “baptism”
A. Can you be baptized with the baptism that I will be baptized with?” In verse 39 He says that they indeed will experience the same baptism. What baptism is Jesus speaking of? Luke 12:50 says that there is a baptism that Jesus still needs to accomplish. This “baptism” is His crucifixion, His death. While the disciples were not all crucified, nor were they going to die for the sins of anyone, they would die because of following Christ.
The “cup” was that of God’s wrath against sin, which Jesus would have to drink. See Mark 14:36, where Jesus speaks of drinking the cup.
B. In Romans 6:3-5 and Colossians 2:12, baptism is associated with the death of Christ. This death had nothing to do with water. To assume that water is always involved has made the Romans passage especially confusing.
C. Conclusion: the baptism spoken of by Christ was His full immersion into the will of HIs Father, which was to be crucified and be raised again three days later. Jesus gave Himself fully to this will above doing His own will. See Hebrews 10:4-7 (from Psalm 40:6-8). While the disciples would not die for the same purpose as Jesus, they would die because of following Him. Therefore, they wold assuredly be “baptized with the baptism that Jesus was baptized with”.
However this baptism was more than the experience of death physically, rather it is the “dying to self” and becoming a “living sacrifice” (1 Corinthians 15:31; Romans 12:1,2)
III. Romans 6:3-5, : 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” ESV
To be “baptized into Christ” is not about water, and nowhere in this passage is water baptism ever hinted at. Rather, it is Christ’s death to sin that is the topic. Romans 6:6-11, “ We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” ESV
Therefore, to be baptized into Christ means to believe the Gospel message and be given the free gift of salvation. It is to admit that I am a sinner, lost in sin, guilty before God, and condemned. I can do nothing about my own sin, no amount of deeds or sorrow will suffice. Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, took my sin upon Himself when He was crucified on the cross, paying the full price for my sin. He arose three days later for my justification. When I believe this with all my heart I receive forgiveness of sins and His free gift of eternal Life. He sends the Holy Spirit into my heart and I become a child of God. This is being baptized into His death. It has nothing to do with any water or ritual.
IV. 2 Corinthians 12:13, : “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” ESV
He we see that the Holy Spirit baptizes those who have received eternal life in the “body (of Christ). This is sometimes called the “universal Church” in the sense that it is made up of those from all of history have trusted in Christ. It is invisible, and is the true Church. 1 Corinthians 12 provides one reason why it is referred to as a “body”. Also see verse 27.
In addition, this verse maintains “drinking of the One Spirit”. Jesus “baptizes” with the Holy Spirit or rather, He sends the Holy Spirit to indwell every Believer, Romans 8:9.
So, what then is the meaning of water baptism? It is a symbol, an outward testimony of an inward change. 1 Peter 3:21, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, 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…” Water baptism is exclusively for those who have become children of God by faith in Christ. ESV
Here Peter explains that water is only a symbol. Water baptism does not produce the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, or any other like benefit. (I often say to those who are preparing to be baptized after believing in Christ, that, “the water will only make you wet”). It is a testimony to others that I am “All In” with Christ.
Water baptism is commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ, and is a special ordinance of the True Church. It is a testimony by someone that they have entered into Christ’s death and resurrection by their faith in Him, and not by anything that they did for themselves. It is not to be entered into lightly, nor treated as only a ritual.
The question each must ask themselves regarding following Christ, “Am I All In?” This is the true meaning of baptism, being “all in” with my life to follow Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:14,15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” ESV