You may have heard of it – it is something associated with churches and religion. But what exactly is it?

The symbolism of baptism

It is essentially a symbolic act.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? 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. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.    Romans Chapter 6:3-14

From this passage in scripture we can see that baptism is very similar to what Jesus did when he died and was baptised.

The following table shows what the act of baptism represents:

Died to sin   Before baptism we served sin. We thought about ourselves and not God.
Buried under water   Burial of our old self. We are symbolic letting the life of sin die.
Rise out of water   Resurrection into a new life in Jesus. Once the old life of sin is dead we then start a new life dedicated to God and Jesus.
New life in Jesus   We live our life serving God.

There are two ways we can view the symbolism of baptism:

1. Baptism is a burial

having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.     Colossians Ch.2:12

2. Baptism is a washing away of sins. 

And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’      Acts Ch.22:16 

How should we be baptised?

You may have heard of some people being sprinkled with water whereas others are fully immersed in water. What is the correct way of being baptised?

In the first century full immersion was the way people were baptised.

And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.    Acts Ch.8:38-39

Baptism symbolizes the burial of your old self so a baptism that does not involve full immersion in water does not fulfill this symbolism.

The Greek word “baptize”, which is translated “baptise” in the English Bible, does not mean to sprinkle. It means to completely wash and immerse in a liquid. This word is used in classical Greek concerning ships sinking and being “baptised” (i.e. submerged) in water.

Other verses to prove submersion versus merely sprinkling:

Now John also was baptising at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptised.       John Ch.3:23

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.   Matthew Ch.3:13-16 

How does baptism change our life?

The act of baptism gives the person a freedom they have never felt before. This freedom comes from knowing that our natural self is really dead, and therefore Jesus is very actively living with us through our every trial.

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.

Galatians Ch.2:20

The baptised person experiences a peace and true spiritual joy which is indeed unique to only those who take the step.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.    John Ch.14:27 

Baptism means changing our behaviour to meet the needs of your new master.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.   Ephesians Ch.4:29 

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.      1 Timothy Ch.6:18 

Baptism puts you on the path towards eternal life in the future.

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”      Matthew Ch.25:46

Is baptism really necessary?

Some people say that you can be a believer and follow God without being baptised. It is something which you choose to do or not do.

The Bible makes it very clear what the true position is in relation to baptism.

Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.      Mark Ch.16:16

Baptism is essential if we are to be saved from sin and death and to be given eternal life.

How do you know when you are ready for baptism?

Baptism is the biggest decision you will make in your life so it is important to make it carefully.

Before you are baptised you must believe the gospel concerning Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. You must also repent of your past sins. If you honestly believe the gospel then your conscious will steer you towards being baptised.

and this water symbolises 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,     1 Peter Ch.3:21 

Baptism is a symbolic act where you have said you will give a life-long commitment to God. You will join the family of God as one of his adopted children.

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans Ch.8:12-17

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