I vividly remember the day of my baptism. Not the first one, of course, when, as an infant, I was held by a priest who sprinkled water on my unsuspecting, clueless face. I refer to the moment when I was submerged in the waters of a baptistry in a church in Carol City, Florida, when I was 17.
To say that my baptism was life-changing is an understatement. We had recently moved from New Jersey to South Florida just before my senior year of high school. My family seemingly had no clue what this uprooting meant for an adolescent with an already fragile social status. The few friends I had cultivated back at Union Hill High School vanished suddenly, and I was now challenged with making new connections at the worst possible stage of high school life. I’m still somewhat troubled by memories of trying to hold back tears on the bus ride to school.
Surprisingly, baptism changed all this. I see two reasons for it. One, it brought deep spiritual meaning to my restless soul in the context of a loving church congregation. To be clear, church did not fully answer my need for acceptance by classmates, but it did provide a warm and supportive environment where adults and young people my age welcomed me with kind words and friendly gestures. Second, baptism affirmed my own commitment to the biblical Christian message of salvation. It presented a new and different way to look at life. It gave me a new identity and provided a long-term outlook that helped sustain me through a difficult transition.
I completed high school with a small but growing group of friends and started college, intending to become a biology teacher. At 19, with two years of college under my belt, I perceived an overwhelming call to ministry, which led me to change plans and schools in order to pursue theological studies. Immersing myself in school studies and personal devotions, I began to understand why baptism had been so important in my life.
what the Bible says about baptism
Baptism is part of God’s plan. Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus gave His great commission: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen” (Matthew 28:18–20).1
Soon after the disciples heard these words, 3,000 people were baptized on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). The apostle Peter’s call to his audience that day was very clear about the need for baptism: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Notice that the Bible describes baptism as a meaningful experience, not an empty ritual. Mark 16:16 says tha “he who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Of course, the significance of baptism corresponds with our motivation and understanding of the baptismal experience.
For many, especially those whose perception of baptism comes from the media, baptism is a practice intended for infants by aspersion, or sprinkling of water. This baptism of infants may be meaningful to the parents and onlookers, but it has little to do with the personal faith experience the Bible calls for. The method is also not supported by the Bible. The word translated “baptize” is the Greek verb bapto, which literally means “to dip in or under.”2 In the New Testament, the word baptize is used to refer to baptism in water (see Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:9; Acts 2:41) as an illustration of Christ’s death and resurrection (Matthew 20:22, 23; Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50; Romans 6:3, 4), and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5).
The manner of baptism is important because of what it signifies. Only by being submerged under water do we grasp the full significance of the act. When Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan, He was immersed and came “up from the water” (Mark 1:10; Matthew 3:16) to represent His future suffering, death, burial, and resurrection (Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50; Romans 6:3–5). When we are baptized, we participate in Christ’s experience. We are “buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (verse 4). We experience a new life of faith and intimacy with God.
death to sin
Chapter 6 of the book of Romans goes on to tell us: “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (verses 5–8).
Baptism symbolizes that our old life has been crucified. We are laying claim to the promise that in Christ, “old things have passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Therefore, baptism must include a pledge to lead a new life. We are forsaking a life of service to sin and embarking on a life of obedience and service to Christ. Baptism is an outward show of repentance. It represents the washing away of confessed sins and the power of God to forgive us and make us “alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11).
a new relationship with God and His church
Baptism is also the sign of a committed relationship with Jesus. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:27–29, NIV).
When you are baptized, you invite the Holy Spirit to come into your heart. John announced that Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). This means that the Holy Spirit, if you allow Him, will purify your life from sin and give you a new power and purpose to serve God.
It is through baptism that God adds new disciples to the church (Acts 2:41, 47; 1 Corinthians 12:13). When you are baptized, you also enter into a relationship with the family of God. When you unite with Christ, you also unite with His body—the church. In reality, you cannot be baptized without becoming part of His church family.
Bible qualifications for baptism
God certainly wants every person to come to repentance and be saved. His very nature is love and acceptance (1 John 4:8). The Bible is full of God’s tender appeals to open our hearts and minds to Him. Here is one from the book of Isaiah:
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Baptism is a life event that marks our commitment to God and to a life of faith. Due to the nature of this commitment, the Bible includes a few prerequisites for baptism:
Faith. Believing is central to baptism. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).
Instruction in God’s Word. You don’t have to become an expert in theology, but you do need to familiarize yourself with the Bible. It says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). In the Great Commission, Jesus asked the disciples to make disciples, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20).
Repentance. God’s word in our hearts produces repentance and a change of heart, otherwise known as conversion. You cannot enter into a personal relationship with Christ without a conversion. But let me make this clear: You should not wait to have a conversion in order to come to Christ. He will listen to your pleas, and He will be glad to welcome you into His embrace. But to enjoy a fruitful, joyful relationship with Him, you must repent and ask Him to forgive your sins and grant you a conversion. The Bible is very clear: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8, 9).
A commitment to change. The moment we turn our lives over to God, we should be willing to obey His commands. Before promising the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of His followers, Jesus stated: “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15, NIV). This means surrendering wrong beliefs and practices and striving to love God and those around us.
In truth, no one who has been baptized can attest that their lives and their spiritual experience have been perfect. We will struggle against our sinful nature until the day we are transformed at the Second Coming (1 Corinthians 15:50–54). No spiritual journey is the same, but if we remain in Christ, we will be fruitful. Jesus provided the key: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As one of many whose lives were deeply changed by baptism, I urge you to think, pray, and commit to being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You will be much better for it.
Miguel Valdivia is a pastor and an administrator at Pacific Press® Publishing Association. He writes from Nampa, Idaho.
1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture in this article comes from the New King James Version of the Bible.
2. Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964), s.v. “Bapto, Baptism.”