I believe most of us have an incomplete view of what it means for someone to be baptized. While you could say, “It means that person got saved,” it actually holds so much more meaning than that one sentence can convey.
When we study the breadth of Scripture and look at the meanings wrapped up in baptism, we find these five things to be true when someone chooses to be baptized:
Baptism means they have been CALLED by God to be His.
We do not save ourselves.
We are saved by Jesus.
And when we are baptized, we do so in response to what the Lord has already done prior to our baptism.
Paul wrote to Titus about salvation, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life," (Titus 3:4-7).
While Paul is not talking specifically about water baptism in this passage, notice the symbolism. There’s a reason why baptism so beautifully depicts salvation. In Christ, when God graciously extends mercy to our lives, He washes us not with water but with the blood of Jesus. The best representation of this is being washed with water in front of the church, showing that you have been called by God.
So by this, baptism means someone is confessing, “I have been called by God. He saved me. I’m not just straightening out my life. I’m not just doing this to make my spouse happy or my parents happy. I’m not just doing this because it is a requirement of the church. God, in His grace, foreknew, predestined, and chose to extend His mercy to me. He called me.”
Baptism means they have CONFESSED both their sin and lostness and CHRIST as Lord and Savior.
The vast majority of the world will quickly confess that they’re imperfect. Almost no one with any life experience will try to claim they’ve never made a mistake, which can be a great starting point for a conversation with someone about the Gospel. While getting people to confess they’ve made mistakes and are sinners is good, it’s only half of the confession.
Not only must we confess that we are sinners, but we also confess before the Lord that we’re lost because of our sin. We cannot fix this ourselves. We cannot do enough good things to pay penance. There’s no chance of turning things around. We are hopeless. One of the lessons of evangelism that we have to learn in our day and age that celebrates sin and belittles the greatness and the holiness of God is that people have to get lost before they get saved.
So a person who’s being baptized is saying, “Not only do I want you to know I’m a sinner, I was lost and utterly hopeless. And then through God’s mercy, His calling of my heart, and the power of the Holy Spirit, I confessed Christ as my Savior and Lord.”
Baptism means they have been CLEANSED of their sin.
Paul paints a powerful picture of this truth in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Notice that we don’t wash ourselves. We don’t sanctify ourselves. Paul says, “You were washed. You were sanctified. You were justified.” All of this is past tense. It has already been done. It’s complete.
In your own life as a Believer, Christ found you. By your faith, He saved you. By His blood, He cleansed you. By His Spirit, He made you new. He sanctified you, and through the finished declaration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has permanently and eternally declared you justified, righteous, and worthy of the treatment due His Son.
And so when someone is water baptized, they are professing, “Just as this water totally washes over my body symbolically, I have been completely and totally cleansed.”
Baptism means they have been CREATED a new person.
Not only is the old person washed, but a new creature now exists.
Paul says it this way to the church in Rome, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life,” (Romans 6:3-4).
When a baptism candidate is taken under the water, we are literally saying that just as Jesus was taken down into the tomb by the sins of the world and then miraculously raised from the dead, so too was this person in Christ. Their sins were there with Jesus on the cross, and those sins condemned Jesus to death. But the Spirit’s power that raised Jesus from the dead has raised them so that they may walk in the newness of life given to us by the blood of Jesus.
Just as someone being baptized goes in dry and comes up wet, just as you step into a shower dirty and step out smelling good, in Christ, you step into your relationship with Him filthy, and you step out white as snow.
There is one more meaning – one that I’m afraid has been lost.
Baptism means they are CONNECTING with the church.
When you see someone get baptized, not only does it mean they have been created new in Christ, but they are also connecting with their church.
Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26-28, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Notice the two unions. When someone is baptized, they are declaring, “I am in union with Christ. He has taken away my sin, and I stand forgiven. I am a child of the King and an heir to the throne. Heaven is my home, and my name is in the Lamb’s book of life.” That is the first union.
But baptism is also a declaration of a second union that says, “I am not only with Christ, I am with Christ’s people. I am not only connected to the Head of the Body, I am now a part of the Body. I am a part of the Church – eternally, globally, and locally. I’m connecting my life with other baptized believers who will hold me accountable, pray for me, encourage me, build me up, and strengthen me. And if on the rare occasion they find that I’m straying from the Lord, they can appeal to me to come back.”
The next time you see a baptism, I hope you will think about all of the meanings wrapped up in it and feel an even deeper appreciation for it.