What is Baptism? (I)

I think baptism may be one of the most misunderstood and confusing topics in Christianity. There is such a wide array of beliefs among the numerous denominations, some believing it necessary to attain eternal life, others who think it an outward sign of an inward faith, and many who just see it as a traditional sacrament that doesn’t have any significance. Hopefully I can bring some clarity to the subject as seen in the Word of God.

Necessary for Salvation?

“He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”  Mark 16:16

I hope not much is needed on the side of the absolute necessity and importance of baptism. This verse makes it clear that it plays a significant role in our salvation. I’m not willing to go as far as the Catholics and say that if you aren’t baptized, then you can’t have eternal life. Clearly the man on the cross next to Jesus was given this life and taken to Paradise (Lk. 24:43). It is significant nonetheless.

The verse above includes baptism as a part of our salvation, but not as a reason for our condemnation in the latter half of the verse. It is only our disbelief that condemns. So how does baptism play a part in salvation? I think the confusion is in the meaning of the word “salvation.”

We all have a lot of baggage when it comes to the Bible and different practices. We have presupposed concepts that we try to conform the Bible to, rather than letting the Word shape our concepts. I implore all readers to be poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3) and allow the Lord to have His way.


The word “salvation” is usually identified with eternal life and heaven. Most take it as a one-time event that happened when you first believed and now you’re all good. This isn’t how it is used in the Word however:

“like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation”    1 Peter 2:2

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”   Romans 5:10

I hope no one just glossed over these verses without considering their implications. Salvation is a process! Yes, when we believed and received the Lord into us, we were saved (Rm. 10:9). However, there is a “much more” salvation as revealed in Romans 5:10.

“Salvation” is used in many ways in the Old and New Testament, just like we use it differently in our daily life. I can both “save” someone’s life and “save” five dollars at a restaurant, but they don’t have the same connotation. It is the exact same in the Bible. So in what way does baptism save us?

Salvation from the World

“And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ So then, those who had received his word were baptized”   Acts 2:40-41

Baptism saves us from the perverse generation of the world. It is our exiting the kingdom of darkness and transfer into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col. 1:13). This truth is richly and clearly typified in the Old Testament:

“But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever…Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘…lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.”   Exodus 14:13, 15-16

“And all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”   1 Cor. 10:2

The Hebrews were saved in Egypt. They took the passover lamb, proved their faith in the blood and were saved. But we must beg the question: what if they had stayed in Egypt? God’s plan for the Israelites did not stop at passover. He had a “much more” salvation for them.

The Israelites’ crossing of the sea typifies our baptism. As with baptism in the New Testament, the crossing of the sea was described as “the salvation of the Lord,” but this salvation wasn’t the same as the passover. It was a salvation from Egypt and Pharaoh. Egypt typifies the world and slavery (Deut 6:12) and Pharaoh typifies Satan. When they crossed the Red Sea, they were saved from the enslavement of Satan in the world and brought into the good land. This is the same transfer that we make in baptism.

Brought Into

The negative aspect of baptism, as revealed in the Word, is deliverance from the world and the kingdom of darkness. This is not all. Baptism also brings us into certain things:

“Baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Matthew 28:19

“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?”   Romans 6:3

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body”   1 Corinthians 12:13

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”   Galatians 3:27

There is no way for me to go into detail about all of these marvelous things that we are baptized into, but suffice it to say that we all, as believers, absolutely need to and should want to be baptized. Its a wonderful salvation to be immersed  into the  death of Christ, Christ Himself, the name of the Triune God, and the body of Christ!

I’m sure I’ll have to do another post concerning more of the details of baptism, but I hope you were all impressed by the Word of God and how wonderful a gift baptism is for all those who call upon the name of the Lord.


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