This topic is adapted from the PursueGOD Video YouTube channel. This is part 5 of 10 in the Basic Practices for Growing Christians series.
As you grow in your faith, you will need to know about two important practices that the church does together to give visible shape to your relationship with Christ. These are the ordinances of baptism and communion.
What Is an “Ordinance”?
An ordinance is “an outward rite instituted by Christ to be administered in the church as a visible sign of the saving truth of the Christian faith.” Two ordinances – baptism and communion – were initiated by Jesus as physical ways to remind us of spiritual realities. As physical beings, Jesus gave us physical actions by which to commemorate the intangible realities of our relationship with him.
Baptism Is a Command
One of the first commands that Jesus gives to new believers is to be baptized.
Matthew 28:18-19 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In the book of Acts, baptism is the normal response for people who put their faith in Christ (Acts 8:12-13; 8:35-38; 16:15; 16:31-34). There is no hint of any Christ-follower who was not baptized. Every Christian should consider baptism, not to conform outwardly to some religious regulation, but out of a heart’s desire to obey Jesus. It is a natural outflow of a new relationship with Christ.
The Meaning of baptism
Baptism is a public declaration that a person has identified with Jesus and his people. It is like putting up a sign that says “Under New Management”. Jesus commonly called people to a new life, but this involves laying down our old life.
Mark 8:35 (NIV) For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Going under the water in baptism symbolizes death to ourselves, our sins, and our old life, while coming up out of the water portrays our finding a new life in Jesus. So baptism is a beautiful picture of salvation.
What Baptism Is Not
Some will bring up John 3 to support the idea that baptism is required for salvation.
John 3:3-6 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Seen in context, Jesus is not telling Nicodemus to be baptized. He is talking about the necessity of a spiritual birth in addition to his physical birth.
This is made clear from an example in the book of Acts.
Acts 10:44-47 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message…. Then Peter asked, “How can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?”
As these people heard the good news of Jesus and responded by faith (verses 39-43), they received the Holy Spirit in a visible way. This shows that they were genuinely saved. Baptism then followed after they had received new life.
So baptism is not a means of salvation. It is for those who have already obtained salvation – by faith. It is an outward sign of an inner reality, a way of telling the world about the salvation we have received.
Baptism Is for People Who Have Believed
Because of what baptism symbolizes, it follows that baptism should only be entered into by someone who has placed their trust in Jesus to be right with God. Thus a small child should not be baptized until old enough to genuinely trust and follow Jesus. Those who belong to Christ will want to express the reality of what he has done for them. Those who do not belong to Christ yet should clarify their relationship with Jesus before taking the step of baptism.
Baptism can be a very challenging decision, especially for people who turn from a strong religious culture to follow Jesus. Christian baptism my stir up opposition. So we don’t take Jesus’s command to baptize believers lightly. Yet it can be very empowering to take a public stand for your faith in Jesus Christ.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Read Matthew 28:18-20. Why is baptism an integral part of making disciples?.
- Read Colossians 2:12. What does this say about the the symbolism of baptism?
- Different churches baptize in different ways. Why is immersion the best way to symbolize the meaning of baptism?
- Read John 3:1-7. What clues can you find in this passage to show that Jesus is not talking about water baptism?
- If a person was baptized as a small child, would you counsel them to be baptized again as an adult? Why or why not?
- Have you been baptized since becoming a Christian? If not, why not?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.