What is Baptism? FAQs on an Ancient Tradition

Updated: Oct 24

What is Baptism?

We’ve all been through some kind of initiation that welcomes us into a new stage of life. Maybe you remember the thrill of getting your driver’s license. Or the excitement of getting your first full-time job. Or the joy and trepidation of your retirement party. Every community you join or life stage that you enter includes some sort of rite of passage to mark the occasion.

For over two thousand years, followers of Christ have recognized a singular event that celebrates our new beginning with God and entrance into his community. That practice is baptism. On the one hand, this event is simply the initiation ceremony of becoming a Christian. On the other hand, this event marks the mysterious and supernatural occurrence of God’s redemptive work in the life of one of his children. It is a simple event that can happen almost anywhere, but it is a deeply theological moment representing profound spiritual realities being changed forever.

Where did baptism come from?

Christians aren’t the first ones to practice a ceremonial cleansing with spiritual significance. The Jewish people practiced this before Jesus’ day as part of their regular worship of God. During Jesus’ time, the Jews introduced an event similar to Christian baptism as part of the conversion process for non-Jews who wanted to become Jewish. Then John the Baptist came on the scene “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” That set the stage for a practice that was embraced by Jesus and his followers ever since.

At the end of his life, Jesus gave his followers the charge to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” (Matthew 28:19). In so doing, Jesus took the common idea of ritual cleansing and turned it into the practice by which followers would declare their devotion to him. Because Jesus closely associated following him with the act of baptism, we believe that baptism is an essential act for each person who has trusted in Christ.

What does baptism mean?

Getting baptized represents the act of changing your allegiance. First, you join yourself to Christ by accepting the salvation that he offers. Second, you join yourself to the community of Christ-followers who are part a local church. Both of these are symbolized in baptism. Further, something “happens” when you are baptized—it is not merely a symbol. Your baptism tells the story of the gospel in a powerful way, and is a sign of God’s work in your life and proclaiming it to those around you.

Your new life with Christ

The power of baptism lies in how it expresses the truth of salvation so graphically. Christians believe that God the Father sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to sacrifice himself for the sins of the world (John 3:16). The forgiveness of sins that Jesus’ death brings about enables us to live our lives before God as ones who have been made clean and pure in the sight of God. Being washed by the water of baptism demonstrates that when we trust in Christ’s saving work on the cross we are washed clean from the sins that formerly characterized our life.

We are not saved through baptism. We are saved through the death of Christ which is so vividly portrayed in baptism. Because we are now clean, we are able to enter into the presence of God with confidence that he knows, loves, and receives us.

Baptism also portrays your joining with Christ in His death and resurrection. Before becoming a Christian, you were alienated from God and were enemies because of your evil behavior (Colossians 1:21). Accepting God’s offer of salvation in Christ means that you have died to your old life and come back to life with a new way to live. Baptism recounts that death and resurrection.

During baptism, the act of going under water dramatically depicts dying to your old life characterized by sin and guilt. Coming up from the water illustrates your joyful resurrection and beginning of new life. In the same way that birth brings a new baby into the world, baptism signifies a rebirth that brings a new believer into the world. As a result of your faith in Christ, you are not the same person. You have been given new life in him.

Conclusion

Accepting the salvation that God offers through Christ and entering into his kingdom as it unfolds here on earth and continues into eternity is the most significant event that a person can experience. The public expression of that reality through baptism makes for an exciting and rich experience. If you consider yourself a Christian and have not been baptized, we highly recommend that you celebrate your life with Christ and the community of faith by being baptized! If you have recently become a follower of Christ, there is no reason to wait to be baptized. If you have additional questions, feel free to contact one of our pastors. May God bless you in this decision.

With love and joy,

The FBC staff


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