Getting baptized is something to celebrate. Most Christians would agree with this statement, but do Christians understand why. What is baptism for, anyway? Who should be baptized and how should it be done? Are there do-overs if it “didn’t take” the first time? And what does it all mean, anyway?
We celebrate baptism because it is the outward expression of an inward reality—salvation through faith in Christ. So, it is actually a person’s salvation that we celebrate. You don’t get baptized to get saved, you get baptized after you have been saved.
Let’s look at what Baptism looked like in the Bible. In the New Testament Greek, the word baptizo means “to immerse, dip, plunge.” This is what Jesus did. He went “into” the Jordan River, was “immersed,” or “plunged” into the water by John the Baptist (Mark 1:9-10). The Greek is very specific, that Jesus went “into” (eis) the water and came up “out of” (ek) the water. We baptize in the same manner Jesus was baptized.
Now, let’s take a look at what baptism means. In Romans 6, the apostle Paul uses baptism as a symbol of your union with Jesus. “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:3-4; see also Col. 2:12). So, baptism is a picture, and this is why baptism by immersion is what Paul had in mind. Going down into the water is a picture of dying and being buried. The old, sinful man is dead. Coming up out of the water is a picture of rising from the dead and the new life you have is a result of trusting in Jesus Christ. We celebrate this new life.
So, baptism is a picture of salvation. It is not salvation itself, just as a picture of you is not the real you. Baptism doesn’t save, nor does it bring you closer to God. Baptism is the snapshot taken after you are saved. Some people feel that the first snapshot didn’t turn out. Can you get baptized again? Some realize they weren’t really saved that first time, so they do get baptized again after turning to Jesus. Others were baptized at such a young age that they didn’t understand what it all meant and now they want to “own it.” If you were baptized once, but are unsure about it, have a conversation with your pastor, or a trusted brother or sister in Christ.
Finally, baptism is not optional. While it does not save you, you are commanded to be baptized. Jesus commands it (Matt. 28:19) and so do the apostles (Acts 2:38). But do not panic, you will still get to heaven without it. Salvation is not about getting wet. It is about admitting your sin, turning away from living for yourself and believing that Jesus died on the cross as payment for your sins, and that he rose from the grave on the third day, just as the Bible teaches. In fact, a criminal in the Bible trusted in Jesus and died without getting baptized. Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
If you are still holding out, my challenge is this: being willing to get baptized by immersion reveals something about your heart. We do it because Jesus did it. We do it because Jesus said to do it. We do it because we love Jesus. It is a celebration of what Jesus has done in you.