Baptism is brilliant. Our God is all-wise and he gives good gifts to his children. Baptism is one of those good gifts. Though often misunderstood or overlooked as a merely religious ritual, baptism should be precious to the Christian. Our Lord Jesus was baptized (Mt 3:15-17). Our Lord Jesus died for our sins, rose again, and then gave his followers these marching orders, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them (Mt 28:18-20).” But why? Out of all the things Jesus could have commanded in these last moments before his ascension, why was baptism emphasized as a primary first step for every follower of Jesus? Here are three practical ways that Baptism is a work of God’s brilliance.
Baptism is a Personal Test of Faith
On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood and proclaimed that Jesus was the risen Lord. His Spirit-filled words pierced the hearts of thousands as they recognized their guilt before God. In a panic, they exclaimed, “what must we do to be saved?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:37-38).” Do you realize what Peter was asking of these listeners? In the same city that Jesus Christ was publicly humiliated, mutilated, and executed, Peter was now asking these new believers to publicly identify themselves with that crucified Jesus. The very first step of obedience was a public profession of their faith in Jesus as Lord, despite the possible dangers that may come with such an association. The rubber immediately hit the road. Was Jesus really going to be Lord of their lives? Would they risk their reputation, their family business, and even their lives? If Jesus really is who he says he is, then obedience to this Jesus is worth whatever the cost. Baptism is the dividing line that helps us see who really has taken the plunge of faith.
In modern America, baptism has not been quite as costly, but baptism is still the initial step of obedience. The first temptation of a newly converted person is to keep their conversion quiet. The temptation is to avoid responsibility and accountability, but baptism immediately confronts those temptations. Baptism opens the believer up to Christian accountability. They become representatives of the Lord Jesus and representatives of the church by which they have been baptized. If someone wants Jesus as savior but is not willing to obey Jesus as Lord in the matter of baptism there is a biblical rationale to doubt the legitimacy of their faith in Jesus. Baptism serves as an initiatory test of genuine faith.
Baptism is a Corporate Celebration of Faith
One of the beautiful things about baptism is that you can’t baptize yourself. God could have made baptism in such a way that someone cannonballs into the water all by themselves, but that’s not how God designed it. God designed baptism so that you need another Christian person to perform the baptism. You must lean back onto the strength of another. You must be submerged into the water and pulled out of the water by someone else. Baptism, therefore, requires not only that you believe that you are a born-again Christian, but that somebody else believes that you are a born-again Christian. Baptism is a corporate affirmation of the genuineness of someone’s faith in Jesus. The person doing the baptism stamps their affirmation on the person being baptized. Likewise, local church gathers together as witnesses to the baptism. They too provide their corporate affirmation of the one being baptized as a new member of the church family.
This corporate event of baptism is a unique moment of celebration for everyone. We hear about God’s salvation in his written word, but baptism provides a real-life physical representation of the fact that God saves. The person getting into the water is testifying to God’s saving work in their lives. Baptism, therefore, gives the congregation an opportunity to reflect on their own salvation stories. It encourages them with the present work of God to save souls around them. It stirs up their zeal to share the gospel with others who have yet to be saved. Baptism is not just a gift for the baptized person. It is a gift for the whole church that they might be regularly reminded of God’s great commission, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them (Mt 28:19).” For those discouraged by the difficulty of the task, baptism reminds them that God is still drawing people to himself.
Baptism is an Evangelistic Proclamation of Faith
On Sunday, we baptized a grandmother. She grew up with some religious ties to Roman Catholicism, but it was not until this year that she really grasped the gospel and placed her trust in Jesus alone for salvation. Her husband, children, and grandchildren came to watch their beloved family member plunge into the waters as a public testimony of her faith in Jesus. It was a powerful witness to her family members who may or may not have faith in Jesus, but it wasn’t just a witness to those family members. It was a witness to any and everyone who was at the gathering that day. When we got into the baptismal, a little boy exclaimed out loud, “WOW! What are they doing in there?” What a wonderful opportunity this was to explain the good news of Jesus to this curious little boy. One of our church members turned around and sweetly whispered to this visiting mother and her son, “She is getting baptized. She is showing everyone that she believes in Jesus for the forgiveness of her sins. One day if you trust Jesus as your savior you can be baptized too.” Baptisms are uniquely evangelistic. It provides an opportunity for unbelieving people to hear the stories and see the examples of others who have received the grace of God. By the new Christian’s obedience to be baptized, their witness might actually lead to someone else becoming a Christian. From the very beginning of our Christian journey, God invites us to be a part of the Christian mission.
Do you see the brilliance of it all? In the act of baptism, the new believer takes that first big step of obedience. Christians in the room are stirred to worship and encouraged to keep carrying out the great commission. Non-Christians are confronted with a living breathing testimony of what Jesus can do in someone’s life. Praise the Lord for his wisdom and for the gift of baptism to his people!