Sometimes when someone asks about water baptism, he would be told:
Jesus did it and so should we.
The Bible says, “Those who believe and be baptized shall be saved.”
And therefore he should get baptized. While both of these statements are true, they do not explain the meaning and reason for water baptism. Most Christians get baptized without ever understanding what it really means.
The Meaning of Water Baptism
Water baptism is really not for God to see that you are committed to Him — He knows your heart more than you know it yourself. It’s really for everyone else to see that you have accepted Jesus as your savior and committed yourself to God.
Why is that important? One’s relationship with God is a personal relationship, and so why care about whether others know it or not?
Perhaps it’s easier to understand water baptism if we compare it to a wedding ceremony. The bride and the groom love each other and are committed to each other, and they both know that. But if their commitment is not known by others, there will be problems such as:
Acceptance of each other’s family members as being part of their family.
Temptations from other single men or women.
Criticism from others who see their relationship as illegitimate.
Not being able to enjoy the rights of a married couple.
Water baptism is a public declaration of your faith in and commitment to Jesus, whom you have accepted as your personal savior and Lord. It’s something for others, the devil, and yourselves to see. It’s a memorable event because it’s something that is witnessed by others who share your commitment and joy. It, however, is only meaningful if it’s truly reflecting your faith and commitment.
In more philosophical terms, water baptism is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for salvation. This means:
If you don’t have a chance to get baptized, but you have sincerely committed yourself to God, you will be saved. Example: the thief on the cross.
Getting baptized won’t save you. Your faith and commitment to God allow you to be saved. Example: someone who doesn’t believe in God gets baptized just so he can marry a Christian girl.
Getting baptized is a step in the growth of your faith and commitment to God. It certifies your faith and commitment, but it does not create your faith or commitment. It won’t guarantee that your faith and commitment will be long lasting. That’s something that you’ll have to work on for the rest of your life.
So why bother with water baptism at all? It’s easily to see what it means if you don’t get baptized. Those who understand its basic meaning and have a chance to get baptized but decide to not do so:
Knowingly disobeys one of God’s commands about getting baptized after believing and accepting Jesus.
Not confessing your faith before other people and the devil.
Both of these violate the teachings of the Bible, and that’s not good. But whether the deliberate choice of not getting baptized would invalidate your salvation is something that I do not know.
The Symbolisms in Water Baptism
Like most things in the Bible, there are symbolisms in water baptism. Water baptism is really a burial. The water is a symbolism for the soil. When we accept Jesus and commit our lives to him, we are symbolically crucified with him and our old selves — the sinful men — died with him. Our whole body being immersed in water is the burial ceremony. But our faith in Jesus means that our new selves come out of the grave with Him. We are new beings in Christ. That’s represented by our bodies coming out of the water (becoming un-buried). So the water baptism process symbolically represents our death and resurrection.
Water baptism is also like a wedding ceremony. Although you and your spouse are madly in love and may have gotten the marriage certificate from the local government, you still want a wedding ceremony to let the people know that you and your spouse have made the commitment and taken the steps to be recognized as husband and wife both officially (marriage certificate) and publicly (wedding ceremony). Your private confession before God through a sinner’s prayer is like the marriage certificate, and your baptism is like the wedding ceremony. It’s a public confession of something that has already taken place inside your heart and between you and God.
Disputes about Water Baptism
There are differences of opinion about the requirements for water baptism and the method of water baptism. Catholics believe infants can be baptized. I do not believe infant baptism has any real meaning because the person being baptized can not yet make the choice about his faith and commitment. A wedding ceremony of two babies does not mean they love each other — they don’t have any idea what love and commitment are. Remember, faith comes before baptism. Baptism without faith in God is meaningless and has no effect.
Some Christian, most notably Lutherans, practice water baptism by sprinkling a few drops of water on the person. Later groups, starting with the Baptists, believe that it should be complete immersion in water. The Greek word that later became “baptism” is “baptizo,” which means “to immerse.” Nowhere in the Bible is sprinkling mentioned as a form of baptism. Why is this a big deal? Not practicing immersion makes one less likely to understand the meaning of baptism — death to sin, resurrection to new life in Christ. It’s also a violation of God’s command.
Sprinkling may have become a practice when the church began to practice infant baptism — they don’t want babies to be fully immersed in water because babies don’t yet know how to hold their breath and so they may drown. Some speculate that sprinkling became a practice because when Christians were being persecuted by the Roman Empire, they had to hide in tombs and could not conduct water baptism in rivers. No matter what the original reasons are, there is no reason to practice sprinkling anymore if one rejects infant baptism.
I was baptized in someone’s swimming pool. The owner’s young nephew began to swim in it right after the water baptism was finished. Does it matter? No. Only my faith in God matters. And part of my faith in God is shown in us conducting water baptism as it is described in the Bible. Living in a free country with abundant resources, there’s no reason why I would be doing water baptism any other way.