Baptism comes from a Greek word meaning ‘dipping’, or washing by immersing something in water (Mark 7:2-4 gives an example). In the New Testament, John the Baptist baptised people as a sign of repentance (Luke 3:3) – i.e. a sign that a person’s sorry for disobeying God and wants to turn round and try to obey Him in future. Baptism into Jesus is still a sign of repentance, but it means much more besides. It’s a public statement of belief and faith in Jesus and his message; an acknowledgement that we’re astray from God and need his forgiveness; and a personal association with Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The New Testament puts it starkly – baptism is an end to a life that’s mainly lived to suit ourselves, and the start of one that’s devoted to God. The idea of being ‘buried’ in water and then ‘born again’, drives the point home. The imagery is quite deliberate – it’s death or life; with Jesus or against him. There’s no halfway house. That means everyone needs to make an individual choice - however much you know about the Bible, whatever your morals or your lifestyle are, whether you’ve been brought up in a Christian environment or not. At some point it has to get personal. There’s no compulsion; no pressurising; nobody gets kicked into the Kingdom. It’s each person’s choice – their turn to answer the question Pontius Pilate asked:
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22)
Questions don’t come any more important than that.
In the Bible, baptism follows belief and repentance – it’s a considered decision by people mature enough to know what it means and what they’re taking on. Baptism is a beginning, more than an ending. It’s a start of a life that looks to Jesus as its role model; where all the barriers that divide and hurt people - race, gender, status, whatever – pale into insignificance compared to Christians’ shared allegiance to Him. It’s also the point when the promises of God become promises to us. When we’re baptised, we become ‘heirs according to the promise’ - the resurrection, the kingdom, the future that God has guaranteed his faithful servants since the dawn of history, become our inheritance, because we belong to Jesus.
A few don’ts: