I recently had the honor of baptizing two of my children, Jaxson and Paitlyn Bradley. Words cannot express the joy I felt while taking part in this moment of their lives. It’s always special when someone takes this important step of obedience, but when it’s your own children it takes things to a whole other level. Along with the excitement, however, I have also felt the overwhelming sense of responsibility as a dad to teach my children not only what baptism means but also how to follow Jesus daily.
There has been some disagreement as well as confusion over centuries as to what baptism represents. Some believe it to be not only a step of obedience in following Christ, but an actual requirement for salvation. Others have almost brushed it aside as not really that important at all. However, these approaches aren’t necessarily biblical.
Historically, the church has primarily viewed baptism as an outward expression of the inward work the Holy Spirit is doing in the heart of a new believer. This teaching echoes what the New Testament clearly teaches – – that salvation is simply the work of God alone and that water cannot save a person. However, the move to ignore or diminish the importance of baptism also misses the mark.
After Jesus rose from the dead, He met with His disciples before ascending into heaven and laid out the battle plan – what we know as The Great Commission.
Matthew 28:19 states:
“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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
It’s critical to observe here that Jesus links baptism with teaching new believers all that He had taught His disciples. One is not more important than the other.
Baptism is a crucial step of the discipleship process. Those that downplay the importance of it should know that baptism was an unmistakable act that marked a person as a follower of Jesus in the early church. Just as Jesus died and was buried, a new believer is lowered beneath the water. As Jesus rose from the grave, a Christian emerges from the water as a new person. Through the act of baptism, a follower of Jesus symbolically demonstrates that they identify themselves with Christ.
When first century Christians took this step of identifying themselves with Jesus, they were marking themselves for martyrdom. It wasn’t just a ritual for them; they were guaranteeing that all the hostility that had been directed toward Jesus would now be directed at them. It was basically a death sentence!
Baptism is simply the first step of declaring to everyone around us that our hearts belong to Jesus and He is who we identify with. Through baptism we have been changed by the washing of the Holy Spirit that has regenerated our souls, and we are no longer the same. As Christ was dead, we also were once dead, but now as Christ was raised to new life we too are now raised to new life in Him. This should be taught to every new believer and then lived out as we seek to follow Jesus daily. Being able to baptize my children was an event that I will never forget, but also is a huge responsibility as I teach them what it symbolizes as we follow Jesus together in the days to come.