The practice of baptism in the New Testament is immersion in water, but why be baptized? Some view baptism as a mere symbol of something that has already taken place in a person’s life. In other words, a person becomes a Christian, and then he or she is baptized. Baptism, then, is non-essential to becoming a Christian. Others view baptism as the place where God has promised to give the benefits of salvation. Which view fits the teaching of the New Testament?
- Mark 16:15-16. Both “believes” and “is baptized” are linked with “will be saved.” Some object to the linkage because of the phrase “whoever does not believe will be condemned” doesn’t mention baptism. But no one is arguing for baptizing the unbelieving. Without faith no one is scripturally baptized.
- Acts 2:38. In this passage “repent” and “be baptized” are linked with “for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Forgiveness and regeneration are reasons for baptism.
- Acts 22:16. “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (ESV). Baptism is said to be the place where sins are washed away. Baptism is also linked to one’s confession or appeal to God. The phrase “calling on his name” is an allusion to Joel 2:32.
- Romans 6:3-5. Baptism unites us to Christ and to his death. After being raised from the waters of baptism, we have the blessing that “we too might walk in newness of life” (ESV). This last phrase also links baptism to regeneration.
- 1 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). Baptism unites us to the church, the body of Christ. Note again that baptism is linked with regeneration—“to drink of one Spirit.”
- Galatians 3:27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (ESV). It is in baptism that we put on Christ.
- 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” (ESV). Baptism saves. Peter is clear. The reason baptism saves is because of what Christ has done for us.
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) is responsible for the Reformed doctrine of baptism, which views baptism as a mere symbol. He argued that no physical act could have a spiritual effect. The problem with such an argument can be seen in one simple question. What about the crucifixion? Zwingli was influenced by a philosophical dualism that does not have its roots in the Bible. Although baptism has symbolism (death, burial, and resurrection), the New Testament teaches that something real and spiritual takes place at baptism.
Why be baptized? Forgiveness of sins. Salvation. Regeneration. Union with Christ. Putting on Christ. Union with the body of Christ.