How does the Bible describe baptism, and why is it necessary?
The Bible teaches that baptism is an act of faith necessary to inherit eternal salvation. A baptism requires a person to be completely immersed in water (1) (Mark 1:5; John 3:23; Acts 8:36-39).
After Jesus rose to heaven to sit at God’s right hand, the apostle Paul took the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul wrote letters to the first century AD ecclesias, groups of “called out ones” or gospel message believers. In his letters, Paul teaches what baptism represents and why baptism is necessary for believers.
Baptism is a symbol of our Saviour’s death, burial and resurrection. In symbol, a person dies and is resurrected as they go under the water and come up again. A person is buried in water into Christ’s death. Our sins are washed away and we arise to a new life in Christ (2) (Romans 6:3-8; Colossians 2:12).
Just as one man’s sin (Adam) brought death to all humans, so one man’s righteousness (Jesus) brought justification to all humans who join him through baptism—justification means declaring one to be righteous in God’s sight (3) (Romans 5:18,19 ). We need to be justified through Jesus Christ in order to be saved from eternal death; this is the message of Hope contained in the Bible. This gracious gift of salvation is “free” to all in Christ, by God’s grace (4) (Romans 5:16, 21).
Through baptism, God regards a person as changed in the following ways:
Personal sins, or transgressions, before God are forgiven (5) (Acts 2:38). A new believer has “put on” Christ, in the same way that clothing is “put on” as a covering (6) (Galatians 3:27).
Position changes from “being separated” to “being reconciled” to God. Baptism frees the person from condemnation to death and identifies them with Jesus and his resurrection. (This condemnation to death came by Adam’s sin.) The new position after baptism is an association with Christ, called being “in Christ”. The position gives the assurance of resurrection to judgment and hope to attain eternal life. For this reason, the Bible speaks of believers who died as “falling asleep” in Christ (7) (Romans 3:23,24; 6:4-8; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 15:18, 22; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
Relationship to God changes from being “without God in the world” to becoming an adopted son or daughter of God (8) (Romans 6:3-6; 8:15; Ephesians 2:12).
Potential heir to an eternal inheritance. Before baptism, the person has no connection to the promises made by God to Abraham’s and David’s offspring, referred to in the Bible as the “everlasting covenant. After baptism, a person is counted as Abraham’s offspring, through Christ, and now an heir to those eternal promises (9) (Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:27-29).
A person can now pray for forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, who currently sits at God’s right hand in heaven. Jesus serves as a mediator and High Priest to the believers (10) (Romans 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:14,15).
Thus, baptism is the means by which a person can come out of the grave after death. Without baptism into the name of Jesus Christ, every person’s destiny is death, an eternal state of unconsciousness and non-existence. The resurrection of all believers will happen at the future return of Jesus Christ to the earth (see next banner section on Resurrection).
Jesus Christ tells his followers that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Baptism is necessary for a person’s salvation, according to God’s Divine arrangement. Before baptism, we are without God and without Hope (11) (Ephesians 2:12,13).
When a person understands and has faith in God’s truth and promises, they repent of their sins. They ask to be baptized into the saving name of Jesus Christ (12) (Acts 2:38). This one act of faith changes a person forever; they now have the “Hope of the resurrection”.
Read the next section to understand what the “Hope of the resurrection” means in the future.