Baptism: A New Beginning

By Pastor Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: A small spring that produces just one gallon of water a minute (a steady stream about as round as your little finger) will produce 1,440 gallons a day. That adds up to over 10,000 gallons a week. When used conservatively, that’s enough water to keep a household of four alive and clean, while also irrigating a small garden. It’s amazing how much life and cleansing can come from such a small amount of water.

If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water (John 7:37, 38).

Water. we need it to live.

On average, a person can survive without food for weeks. However, a person can survive without water for just three days.  Furthermore, by drinking an optimum amount of water, a person will think more clearly, have more energy, and even decrease the risk of certain cancers.

Water fights for you too. A natural cleanser, it helps to dissolve harmful bacteria, fungus, radioactive substances, and the like. Water helps to both bring to life and keep life going. It is, you might say, an all-in-one.

And it is, with good reason, used as a potent symbol in the Bible. Let’s take a look at how this illustration is used to represent a vital step in the Christian life: baptism.

What Christ Did for Us

The Bible emphatically declares that we all sin (Romans 3:23). And our sin, individually and collectively, causes immense destruction: “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it” (Isaiah 1:5, 6).

Who hasn’t done something that has caused harm? Who hasn’t done something that weighs heavily on the conscience? Tragically, the wrong that has been done cannot be undone. And the Bible is clear that the consequence of wrongdoing is as severe as it gets: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23); “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). There is nothing we can do to change this outcome. No matter how hard we try or how much we scrub, we can never free or cleanse ourselves from the stain of our sins.

But Jesus Christ can!

He, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), became “sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He “who knew no sin” and “who committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22) sacrificed Himself on the cross of Calvary, substituting His blood for ours. And, in so doing, He “canceled the certificate of debt … against us” (Colossians 2:14 NASB), the debt of our own blood that we owe for our sins. This means that we no longer have to die but are able instead to live a new life eternally with Christ.

Yet, Christ’s sacrifice is but one part of His precious gift to us. He furthermore offers us the ability to “turn from … sin” (Ezekiel 33:14). If we so desire, He “will put [His] law in [our] minds, and write it on [our] hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). We will “abide in [Him], and [His] words [will] abide in [us]” (John 15:7). Our characters will become like Christ’s, and “we shall … bear the image of the heavenly Man” (1 Corinthians 15:49). We will live that new life that Christ provided for and manifested in us.

After all, what good would it be if Christ paid His life for our sins, yet we then continued to be slaves to sin? That wouldn’t make sense. The apostle Paul reasoned, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1, 2).

This is what Christ has done for us: He has paid our debt and ensured that we never go back into debt. But notice this—and this is crucial: Christ gifted this to you and me. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). And as with any gift, we can choose to accept it—or toss it aside. God always has and always will give us free will.

If the cross and the new covenant to change our hearts are Christ’s responses to our sin, what is our free-will response to Christ?

Our Response to Christ

What happens when you understand what Christ has done for you and what your sins have done to Him? It changes you, doesn’t it? You experience gratitude, humility, and an intense interest in the One who saved you. Who is this Jesus who gave so much for me? Why would He do all that for someone like me?

Once you begin to read the Bible, the book that gives you the answers to these questions, you begin to realize that simply mailing Jesus a “thank you” note doesn’t suffice. You realize that Jesus, the Son of God, died for you because He loves you, and He wants to make you clean. He wants you to have a new beginning. When you want that for yourself, when you want Christ to do that in you, that’s when you make the decision to be baptized.

A baptism is similar to a wedding ceremony. Once two people who have been dating decide that they want to commit the rest of their lives to each other, they’ll get married. The wedding ceremony is their official and public declaration of commitment to one another. It is the start of their covenant.

Likewise, when a person decides to get baptized, he is making the decision to commit his life to Christ. In baptism, he is officially declaring that he has begun a covenant with Jesus and that he believes that Jesus can “create in [him] a clean heart” (Psalm 51:10). The wedding day is the start of the bride and groom’s new life together; the day of a person’s baptism is the start of that person’s life with Christ.

Some people point to the account of the thief on the cross to support the idea that baptism isn’t necessary to become a Christian. But the only reason the thief wasn’t baptized was because he literally couldn’t come down from the cross to get to a river. God is just and fair; He doesn’t expect us to do what we are unable to do. The problem is not God; the problem is us. So why wouldn’t you want to make your commitment to Christ official? Why wouldn’t you want to commemorate the most important decision of your life? It would be like a criminal who has been pardoned in court but refuses to have his handcuffs removed.

Preparing for the Plunge

Let’s now delve into the time leading up to baptism. What we’re really talking about here is coming to the place where we love Jesus: “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Being baptized for any reason other than love for Christ is an injury to His cause. Getting baptized because your girlfriend won’t marry you otherwise is the same as getting married just for her bank account. It’s an ulterior motive; and it’s a sham—a counterfeit act of love.

What happens when you start to truly love Jesus? You begin to develop a hatred for sin. You are horrified at the pain your sins cause the One you love, the suffering your sins brought Him on the cross. It causes you deep sorrow; you are loath to sin anymore. This is true repentance, and it leads to baptism: “I … baptize you with water unto repentance,” said John the Baptist (Matthew 3:11).

Notice the order: First comes repentance, then baptism. Some mistakenly think that it’s the other way around, that getting baptized gives one special powers to overcome sin. That is a myth. The baptismal pool is not a holy grail; it’s water—regular H2O—not a guarantee of salvation. What if a guy said to his girlfriend, “If we just got married, I think I could stop dating those other women”? Or what if a girl said to her boyfriend, “If we just got married, then I’d love you”? Who would accept those proposals? Real love must come first.

The first time I was baptized, I was a brand-new Christian living in the mountains. One day, some enthusiastic young Baptists came hiking by my cave. After a brief visit, they found out I was a baby Christian who had not been baptized. With a few choice Bible texts, they persuaded me that I should be baptized right away. So we hopped into a nearby pool of icy water. I admit that for a little while, I felt born again. I was so excited, actually, that I bought beer to celebrate the occasion with my old friends—and I wound up in jail for a night.

Clearly, I had not been taught about what it means to be a Christian. I didn’t understand the meaning of baptism. Sometime later, however, once I had gained a firm grasp of who Christ was, I wanted to be baptized again. The pastor, however, wouldn’t allow me to make that commitment until I had repented of my sins—including my smoking habit. “Baptism represents a new birth, and Jesus doesn’t want His baby smoking,” he told me.

That makes sense, doesn’t it? Indeed, that’s the whole point! Repentance means turning away from your old life of sin. Baptism crowns the achievement of repentance that you’ve had in Christ; it doesn’t cause it. It is by God alone that we are able to do what is right. It was by the grace of God that I threw my cigarettes away and quit smoking—and I never went back. Two weeks later, I was rebaptized.

Now, I do need to clarify that once you’re baptized, it doesn’t mean that you’ll never sin again. Furthermore, the Bible is not saying that you shouldn’t get baptized until you feel that you’re perfect. Does a baby learning to walk never stumble and fall? Do newlyweds never have another argument? A person goes into baptism with a measure of faith, “for if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12). Baptism is not the solution to your sin problem; it is the declaration that you know who the solution is—Jesus! Baptism does not give you deliverance; Christ does.

Tell Me the Story of Jesus

How do you decide to get married? You fall in love with someone who falls in love with you. How do you fall in love? You start getting to know the character of the other person, spending more time together, learning his or her likes and dislikes—and vice versa.

You get to love Jesus much the same way. How do we get to know Him? Read the book that tells you about Him: the Bible. Learn what He believes, what He taught while on this earth. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, … for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). This was commissioned by Christ just before He ascended to heaven; Jesus’ last words should be our first priority:

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 (Matthew 28:19, 20).

A person is first taught and is then baptized as a result of what he has learned. What you’re being taught is the blueprint of this new life with Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean that a person needs to know every little thing in the Bible before he can be baptized. Does a person know every little thing about his or her future spouse before the wedding? No, but a person knows the important things, the fundamental things, the things that make up the character of that future spouse.

And it’s not as though the learning stops after the wedding. In fact, it is during the marriage—that is, after the wedding—when a husband and wife really get to know one another. So, being ready for baptism has nothing to do with the amount of knowledge you have; you’re not being graded on an exam. You’re ready for baptism when you believe in the One about whom you’ve been learning, “if you believe with all your heart …. that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37).

On the other hand, not knowing anything is a concern. You’ve heard of those weddings that happen right after a couple has met. Those marriages usually end as quickly as they begin. And I want to stress the “knowing.” A person should be aware of who they are committing to and be capable of making the commitment.

In light of this, is it appropriate to baptize a baby? A baby has not yet developed the maturity to choose or even acknowledge such a commitment. We would be horrified if a woman were dressed and dragged to the altar against her will. Why not the same reaction with a baby being baptized?

What the Bible recounts concerning infants is not baptism but dedication. In infant dedication, it is the parents—not the baby—who make a commitment to the Lord. They are promising to do their utmost to raise their child as a Christian. When Jesus was a baby, He was dedicated by His parents at the temple in Jerusalem “according to the law of the Lord” (Luke 2:39). Infant baptism, though it might be common in some churches, is not sanctioned by God.

The Bible is an open book; we are to go into our commitment with Christ with both eyes open. After all, what you know matters. If you’ve been taught misconceptions about Jesus, then you don’t really know what He’s like. If you were to get baptized based on those teachings, then you’d be committing yourself to something of which you were not aware—just like a baby. You might have noticed that’s what happened to me the first time I was baptized. 

But is rebaptism biblical? Yes! Paul rebaptized 12 men in Ephesus because they hadn’t learned all the basics of Christ’s teachings since their first baptism (Acts 19:1–5). It is not the number of times but the full disclosure of the covenant with Christ that matters.

Drowning the Old Man

We now come to the actual service of baptism. Just as Christ’s response is broken into two complementary parts, so is baptism: 

1) A death of the old person, and 

2) the birth of the new person. 

Let’s talk first about the death of the old person in their way of life.

Part of Christ’s gift to us was His death. Correspondingly, baptism symbolizes the death of our old sinful self. Paul writes, “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3). What does that mean? Through Christ, our old sinful self drowns. “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” (v. 6). It means that all the sin you hated doing but couldn’t help but do died with Christ’s death.

That’s why there is a specific way in which we are to be baptized. The Bible describes it like so: “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water” (Matthew 3:16). And again, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is depicted as “coming up from the water” (1:10). When Philip the evangelist baptized the Ethiopian treasurer, they “went down into the water, and …. came up out of the water” (Acts 8:38, 39). The method symbolizes our death: Being lowered beneath the water represents the burial of your old life, just as a body is buried under the ground after a person dies.

Indeed, “to baptize” comes from the Greek word baptizó, which is defined as to “dip under,” to “submerge.” In ancient Greek literature, the word was used to explain the process of dyeing cloth by dunking it—baptizing it—into vats of color. Why do you think John the Baptist baptized people in rivers? Scripture tells us it was “because there was much water there” (John 3:23). There had to be “much water” if John was to completely cover full grown men and women under the water’s surface.

So, if Jesus was baptized by immersion and His disciples baptized others in the same manner, then why do different churches baptize in so many different ways? Some churches pour water over the person; some churches sprinkle it; some use oil, wine, or even rose petals instead of water. Some don’t use anything at all; they just recite a few words.

The Bible makes plain that there is “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). That’s it—just like there is only one Christ. That means that only one of these methods is the one that God designed for us; the rest are counterfeits. Wouldn’t that cloth look a lot different if it were sprinkled with dye rather than dunked? “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). A church may have been baptizing people in a certain way for thousands of years, but if it’s not the way decreed in the Bible, then it’s a “tradition of men” (Mark 7:8), not the righteousness of God, being followed. And who are you choosing to follow when you decide to be baptized? “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Don’t you agree?

Blood and Water

This might seem counterproductive, talking about water and death after we started off with how much water means to life. But let me ask you this: Is death always a bad thing? If what is dying is something evil, something harmful to you, something that prevents you from gaining eternal life, then wouldn’t that death be a good thing?

That same water that drowns your old life is also the symbol that cleanses you anew. The disciple Ananias told Paul, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins” (22:16). Are not the people of God those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”? (Revelation 7:14). Notice that both the blood and the water are used to cleanse; Jesus provides the blood; you decide if you want to use it.

When Paul wrote about the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt, he described their crossing of the Red Sea like so: “All our fathers … passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses … in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1, 2). The children of Israel had just carried out the first Passover, smearing the lamb’s blood upon their doorposts, a representation of Christ’s blood as the agent of salvation (Exodus 12:5–7, 13). Then, they crossed through the Red Sea, “baptized” by those waters of blood (14:21, 22).

These two acts are symbolized by two objects in the courtyard of the earthly sanctuary: The altar of sacrifice points to Christ’s blood spilt at His sacrifice; the laver points to our cleansing through baptism—the blood and the water together. At Christ’s death, when “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, … immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:34).

Look at the beautiful symbolism God provides through a baby growing in the womb. There are two main elements used by the body to both protect and nourish the baby before birth: water and blood. The baby develops in a pouch of water; and a special organ, the placenta, is created during pregnancy to purify the mother’s blood before transferring it to the baby. Basically, the water and the blood keep the bad stuff out and let the good stuff in. Working in their proper order, they are necessary for the baby to be born. And it’s the same with the birth of your new spiritual life with Christ: The blood of the Lamb and the watery grave are needed in order to be born again.

Born Again

Christ was not left in the tomb, and neither are we: “Buried with [Christ] in baptism, … you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). Just as Christ was resurrected, so are we brought up out of the water, “born again” (John 3:3).

Jesus made clear to Nicodemus, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5). Who is this Spirit? The Holy Spirit, the other part of Jesus’ gift to us: “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). The Holy Spirit is how Christ lives out His life within us: “We … are … transformed into … [Christ’s] image from glory to glory … by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18), “for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Did you know that in the original Hebrew, “spirit” and “breath” are equated? Job 33:4 declares, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Again, when He created the first man, Adam, “the LORD God … breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7).

When you take that first breath after coming up out of the water, it’s like a newborn taking its first breath. It’s the start of your new life in Christ—powered by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, every day of your new life is a symbolic baptism, in which you intentionally bury your old habits and surrender to Christ’s plan. In other words, “[you] die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). “Let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily” (Luke 9:23) to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

You cannot live the Christian life without the Spirit of Christ. What does it mean to live a new life? Well, obviously, you can’t do the old stuff that you used to do. Otherwise, you’d just be living your old life again. So, the old stuff needs to stop happening: “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. ... But new wine must be put into new wineskins” (Mark 2:22).

Baptized in Fire

In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is also symbolized by fire. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to Christ’s disciples as “divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:3). Luke’s account goes on to explain: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4). We learn from John the Baptist that it is Jesus who “will baptize [us] with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Indeed, at Jesus’ own water baptism, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, came upon Him (v. 16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32), fulfilling this prophecy: “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (v. 33).

The children of Israel were baptized not only in the Red Sea; Paul states that they also “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud” (1 Corinthians 10:2). What was this cloud? It was the Holy Spirit:

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people (Exodus 13:21, 22).

Just as the cloud and fire led the Israelites throughout their journey to the Promised Land, so does the Holy Spirit lead us in our new life with Christ. Just as the Israelites depended on the cloud and fire, so are we to depend upon the Lord at every move (Numbers 9:15–23). Just as the cloud and fire never once abandoned the Israelites, so do we have the assurance that God is consistently leading us in our new life.

Not only do individuals undergo a water and fire baptism, but the entire world will as well. The earth has once been buried and made new by the Flood (Genesis 6:17); it will be destroyed and recreated at the end of the age by a “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15), wherein “both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). Thus it happened that “the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water” (v. 6), and that this same world is “reserved for fire until the day of judgment” (v. 7). After that, God will “create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17), “for the first heaven and the first earth [will have] passed away” (Revelation 21:1).

Is it not fire that purifies? Is it not the furnace that refines, burning away all impurities until only the pure gold remains? (Zechariah 13:9; Malachi 3:3). The Holy Spirit refines you into “the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

A New Beginning

Jesus is calling to all who will hear, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37). Baptism is your recognition of Christ as that “fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (4:14). Each of us has been offered drafts of “living water” (v. 10), which rescue us from our burial beneath the weight of sin:

Therefore we were 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 (Romans 6:4).

Baptism isn’t the end of the road. The Bible says that there is “the path of life” (Psalm 16:11, my emphasis). That means there is a starting point and an ending point. You haven’t reached the pearly gates once you’ve discovered that Christ died on the cross for your salvation. You’ve simply reached the starting line.

Jesus is asking to wash away your sins. Baptism is your answer that you want Him to. Would you like to be born again? “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).


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