What the Bible Says About... | Water Baptism
"When once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 3:20-21).
"Then went out to (John the Baptist) Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins." (Matthew 3:5-6).
The word "baptize" comes from the Greek word "baptizo" when means to immerse, submerge, or dip. It became a ritual started by John the Baptist as a public confession of one's faith and repentance. Though started by John, it may have its roots in the Old Testament story of Noah and the flood. The water of the flood was responsible for destroying mankind, but the same water which destroyed the world was also responsible for saving Noah, for the water lifted up the Ark and gently carried it throughout the duration of the flood. It may also have its roots in the ceremonial cleansing of the priests in the temple, for they were required to wash before they could begin service.
To be baptized by complete submersion under water is important, for baptism symbolizes (Peter refers to it as a "figure") the death of the old man and the resurrection of the new man. The full meaning of baptism and its representation of salvation is not realized in the ritual of sprinkling alone. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?", Paul told the Romans. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:3-4). Paul said again to the Colossians that we are "buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead." (Colossians 2:12).
Does baptism save?
To say that baptism is required for salvation would cheapen the grace of God. Baptism in water is a work which we perform -- the Scriptures clearly state we are saved by faith and not by works or any righteousness which we have done. In Paul's writings to the Galatians, he clearly condemned them for making circumcision a necessary requirement for salvation. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage," he wrote to them, "If ye be circumcized, Christ shall profit you nothing." (Galatians 5:1,2). Surely, any work required by man, whether it be circumcision, baptism, or any other work, entangles us again in bondage and make Christ profit us nothing.
Matthew Henry says in his commentary, "To prevent mistakes, the apostle declares what he means by saving baptism; not the outward ceremony of washing with water, which, in itself, does no more than put away the filth of the flesh, but that baptism, of which the baptismal water formed the sign. Not the outward ordinance, but when a man, by the regeneration of the Spirit, was enabled to repent and profess faith, and purpose a new life, uprightly, and as in the presence of God. Let us beware that we rest not upon outward forms. Let us learn to look on the ordinances of God spiritually, and to inquire after the spiritual effect and working of them on our consciences. We would willingly have all religion reduced to outward things. But many who were baptized, and constantly attended the ordinances, have remained without Christ, died in their sins, and are now past recovery. Rest not then till thou art cleansed by the Spirit of Christ and the blood of Christ. His resurrection from the dead is that whereby we are assured of purifying and peace."
If water baptism were necessary for salvation, then clearly Jesus would have stressed its importance. But to our Savior, repentance was the key. Of those who encountered Christ and received salvation during His ministry, none requested or were told to be baptized: Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, the man with a palsy, and countless others. And let us not forget the thief on the cross who found salvation in his dying moments, but in his current state could not be baptized (let us also not forget the thousands of people who have found Christ in their dying moments down through time). Paul said that Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel. If baptism was a necessary requirement for salvation, surely baptism would have been part of his ministry.
Should infants be baptized?
Baptism was a ritual which was performed, not to save, but as a public act to confess one's salvation. Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and his family, believed on the Lord Jesus, and afterwards were baptized. Certain Gentiles which believed, while hearing Peter preach, were filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with tongues. Peter said, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10:45-47). These Gentiles were saved and filled with the Holy Ghost, but had yet to be baptized. A man named Simon, who was a sorcerer, and other people in the city of Samaria, believed on Jesus and the kingdom of God when they heard the preaching of Philip, and were later baptized. Soon afterwards, Philip preached Jesus to an Ethiopian eunuch as they traveled in a chariot. As they went along, they passed by some water. "Here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?," the eunuch said. "And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him." (Acts 8:27-38).
Clearly, we see through the Scriptures that people were baptized, not to save, but because they were saved. In this we find the error of infant baptism. "What does hinder me from being baptized?", the eunuch inquired of Philip. And Philip responded, "If thou believest with all thine heart." The requirement for being baptized is that one professes faith in Christ and believes He is the Son of God. Without this profession, one should not be baptized. Without question, a baby or infant doesn't have the mental capacity to make such a decision or profession. Sadly, many have lived their lives not having a true relationship with Jesus, but boast of their baptism as an infant, trusting in this baptism to save them.
Water baptism is a ritual which all Christians, if possible, should perform. It symbolizes the salvation experience, the death of the old man by burial or submersion in water, and the resurrection of the new man to walk in newness of life. Like any other work, water baptism should not be performed to save, but because one is saved.