18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What is "baptism," and why is it important?
The answer to the first question is simpler than you might think: "baptize" is a Greek verb that has been adopted into English (originally Î²Î±Ï€Ï„Î¹Î¶Ï‰, or "baptizo"), and the literal meaning of the wordâ€”to those who wrote the books of the New Testamentâ€”was "to immerse, submerge" (Strong's Greek Lexicon). And we can see clearly that this is exactly what people were doing when they were baptized in the New Testament records: Mark 1:10
and Acts 8:38-39
, for example.
But of course, this baptism which they practiced was much more than submerging themselves in water. Rather, it was a teaching given directly from Jesus, and meant something very specific.
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Paul tells us eloquently yet plainly that this immersion is directly connected to the promise of eternal life that is offered to us by God. That through this burial we participate in Jesus's death, and thus we will also participate in his resurrection!
If this is what the apostles taught, then we can see why it was so universally done! Reading through the book of Acts, it may be surprising to see how many times a baptism is recorded and how virtually every account of someone becoming a Christian involves their baptism:
And that is only one book, and only examples
of baptismâ€”to say nothing of the instruction
that we should be baptized and baptize others. Jesus himself, in the passage quoted at the top of this page, directed us to teach everywhere about baptismâ€”it was important enough to him that this was one of his last instructions before he ascended again into heaven!
And all this is really only a part of what the Bible has to say about baptism. It is also how we "put on Christ" (Gal 3:27
). It is how we are added to the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13
). It washes away our sins (Acts 22:16
). Peter even goes so far as to say that our baptism saves us
(1 Pet 3:21
), in as tangible a way as how Noah was saved from the flood.
Of course it does not do this alone, and it is notâ€”by any meansâ€”our own merit in doing it, or believing in it, that saves us. God's love for us, His mercy, and His Son's self-sacrifice do far more for us than we could ever do for ourselves. But if Jesus himself asks this of us, and if we love God the way he has asked us to
, how can we justify ourselves in refusing him?