The single most important reason to be baptized is that Jesus commanded us to be baptized. When Jesus walked the earth, teaching and making disciples, He, with His disciples' help, baptized His disciples.1 Before ascending to heaven, he commanded His disciples to make other disciples and to baptize them.2 By trusting in Jesus’ love for us and obeying His commands, we have eternal life and walk in His love.3 His apostles explained that obeying His command to be baptized is at once the obedience from the heart that brings us into this eternal life relationship with God, and it is a symbol of that relationship.4 The symbolic aspects are:
- being buried—associating ourselves with Jesus’ death, which means we are dying to our selfish lifestyles5
- being raised—associating ourselves with Jesus’ resurrection, which means we have a new life motivated by love and are overcoming the power of sin in our lives, and will ultimately overcome death;5 and
- being completely washed—meaning, because we trusted in Jesus' words and commands, God has cleansed our hearts and forgiven our past sins.4
Some people make the mistake of thinking that if baptism is required to be saved, then salvation is earned by doing works and is not a gift. Jesus taught that God's gift was sending Him to die for us and that trusting in Him and obeying His commandments puts us in a relationship with Him which makes us spiritually alive and allows Him to forgive our sins. He also made it clear that if we do not do what He says, we do not love Him.6 While each individual may have different sins to repent of when he comes to trust in Jesus, all of us share this one command in common: to be baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
God judges the heart, so if we die on the way to be baptized, we won’t be condemned. But if we know that Jesus wants us to be baptized and we choose not to, we stand condemned.7
Of course, in the context of the meaning attached to baptism in the Bible, which I have just described, the baptism of infants is a ridiculous notion. Infant baptism is never spoken of in scripture, but only exists in institutional churches that believe that salvation can be imparted by force (or, in some cases, they believe that something they call “original sin” is removed). The Bible never speaks of the unwilling person being saved. The Biblical view of salvation is that of a voluntary relationship of trust in God’s love for us and in Jesus' atonement for our sins through the sacrifice of His life on the cross. An infant can’t voluntarily respond to the commands of Jesus. Therefore, infant baptism is meaningless and without consequence.
The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist was not the same as the baptism John performed for others. John the Baptist was doing what the Bible called "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."8 Since Jesus never sinned, He didn't need to repent nor to be forgiven. Nor was Jesus' baptism the same as our baptism, which is called being "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus."9 Jesus obviously didn't need to be baptized into Himself.
In the Old Testament, there are several types of baptisms (or purifications) mentioned, one of which was the the presentation of the high priest (Aaron) to Israel. John said he came baptizing in water so that Jesus might be manifested to Israel10. This may be the explanation for why Jesus would be baptized. And this might explain why Jesus told him, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."11
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is mentioned in many of the passages in the New Testament that refer to baptism. Though it is never thoroughly explained, it seems that it is at the time of their baptism that many early believers received "the gift of the Holy Spirit."12 But it is worth noting that there are some exeptions.13 My advice to all believers is to not be anxious about how or when you will receive the Holy Spirit, but just to trust Jesus' promise that He will send the Holy Spirit to live inside all who love Him and keep His commandments.14
So, to believers who haven't been baptized yet: find a disciple of Jesus and ask him or her to immerse15 you in some water in the name of Jesus.
To all believers: Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded you; and lo, He is with you always, even to the end of the age.
I should take this opportunity to point out that there is a segment, albeit rather small, of Christian denominations that believe baptism is more than a symbol. They believe that a person's nature changes at the moment they are baptized, making them a child of God by transforming them metaphysically. This belief is called "baptismal regeneration." The word "regeneration" simply refers to the Biblical concept of being born again. For those who believe in baptismal regeneration, one becomes a Christian at the moment they are baptized, and not a moment before. They believe that one must have faith already, but that salvation does not occur until they are baptized.
I believe this disregards the very important teaching throughout the entire Bible that what Jesus came to do was to influence our hearts to change by choice—not a metaphysical change, but a change we make with our free will in response to God's love expressed through Jesus' death on the cross. Those who hold to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration tend to take a legalistic approach to scripture. They tend to prefer rules to principles and like to quote scriptures for their superficial value rather than trying to understand the meaning the scriptures teach.
The danger of the belief in baptismal regeneration is that it would distract someone from seeing God's real goal in sending His Son—to transform our hearts through the impact that His love would have on our minds. It can, and often does, result in rule-oriented Christians who focus on outward actions to the exclusion of the intent of the heart.
10John 1:31; Exodus 29:1-7; Num. 4:3 indicates that the male child who would enter the priesthood was not eligible to do so until he was thirty years of age; Luke 3:21-23 indicates that Jesus was "about thirty years of age" at His baptism and at the beginning of His ministry.
I hold this view based not on any explicit explanation of Jesus' action given in the scriptures, because I don't know of any, but as the least unlikely explanation, based on the knowledge I have.
A common explanation, which I reject, is that Jesus was identifying Himself with sinners and giving us an example to follow.
Another view, which I strongly reject because of my view of the atonement, is that Jesus needed to undergo a baptism of repentence for the remission of sins, since He took our sins upon Himself and in a sense became sinful.
Another idea is that, in the same way as He was obedient to the Law of Moses, He submitted Himself in obedience to John's baptism as the prophetic commandment from heaven in His time. Of course, being a baptism of repentence from sins, complience would not be required if you had no sins to repent of.
15The Greek word used for baptism in the New Testament is baptizo, and means "to immerse." The meaning is unambiguous in the Greek and was simply left untranslated in the King James Version. Had they translated it, as they did with most other words, they would have translated it as immerse.