Why Baptism Matters to the Christian Life
June 27th is a day I’ll never forget. While it’s a day I always try to remember (It’s my mother’s birthday, after all, so forgetting seems unwise.), 2021 gave that day additional significance: It’s the day I baptized my son, Hudson.
The first time Hudson asked about baptism was in 2019 when he was 7. Well, he didn’t really ask so much as declare that he wanted to be baptized. I asked him if he could tell me why. His response was simple: “Because I believe in Jesus.”
So, I talked to our pastor about it and we worked through a game plan. He wanted to talk with Hudson about his desire, to see if he understood the significance of what he said he wanted—if, in so much as any of us are able, he was asking out of a genuine faith in Jesus. When the conversation came, Hudson was asked the same two questions our pastor asks all people of all ages who have expressed interest in being baptized:
- Can you tell me what baptism means?
- Why do you want to be baptized?
These are actually two important questions for all of us to be able to answer, especially as we seek to make disciples in an increasingly post-Christian culture—one where we cannot assume any sort of familiarity or knowledge of Christianity.
What is Baptism?
So let’s deal with the first question—what does baptism mean? But to answer that question, we need to first answer the question of what baptism is. And the answer comes in three forms:
Baptism is an essential practice of the Christian faith. First, baptism is one of two prescribed rituals that are considered essential to the Christian faith and the life of a follower of Jesus. There are many different nuances to how and when baptism is practiced among different Christian denominations and traditions, but Christian baptism is shown in Scripture as the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, representing our union with Jesus and serving our entryway into the covenant community that is God’s people, the church. (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:4-5; 2:37-41; Colossians 2:11-12).
Baptism is a symbol of a greater reality in the Christian life. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ, our crucified, buried, and risen Savior, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ. And this is important for us to understand because we have to understand that while baptism is essential to the Christian life, it does not create that new life. It has no power to make those who are “dead” in sin alive (Ephesians 2:1). It does not have the power to forgive sins—salvation comes through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone. But while it does not provide a means of salvation, it does provide us with a picture of our salvation. It is an act that demonstrates the drama at the heart of the gospel, and stirs us to rejoice.
Baptism is a signpost for ongoing faithfulness. Baptism is not simply an essential practice, nor is it only a sign. It has a present purpose as we seek to live faithfully in this world—especially in moments of temptation. In the New Testament, we see frequent calls to back to our baptism, to remember it when we are tempted, when we have already fallen into sin, or when we are discouraged (Romans 6:1-4; 1 Peter 3:21-22). Our baptism, essentially, marks a spiritual reality for us—that there was a time when we were not in Christ, but now we are. Remembering our baptism is a call to remember our identities, to remember that we are God’s people. That we are beloved children of God, rescued and redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that our hope is in the final resurrection of the dead when Christ returns to make all things new.
That is what baptism is: it is essential to the Christian life, a symbol of a believer’s faith in the gospel, and a signpost to look back on as we pursue faithfulness to Jesus each day until He returns.
Why Be Baptized?
Which leads us to the second question: Why should we be baptized? And the answer to this is much simpler than the first. Baptism is commanded in Scripture. It is, first and foremost, an act of obedience for all believers everywhere. If you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and you believe that He has risen from the dead in victory over sin and death, then the appropriate response is to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
My Son, My Brother in Christ
We didn’t baptize Hudson in 2019. But it wasn’t because he didn’t understand or believe any of this. In fact, when my pastor and I talked with him, he was able to explain all of this in a way that was appropriate for a 7-year-old. His desire seemed, and still seems, to be based in a genuine belief in Christ’s death and resurrection. But as we looked at when we could baptize Hudson, to celebrate this milestone as a church family, a pandemic happened.
So we waited.
For more than a year.
Then the day finally came on June 27th. I kneeled in the grass beside the metal trough we use for baptisms. And I asked Hudson about his hope in life and in death: that Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of his sins and the promise of eternal life with Him. And upon his confession of faith, I baptized my son, my brother in Christ, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.