You might be surprised how much the bible has to say about baptism. There are 269 chapters in the New Testament, and baptism is mentioned 100 times. There is a danger of making too much of baptism, but there is also a danger of making too little of this sacred moment.
One of the reasons some people avoid baptism is because of the fear of promoting works righteousness. They’re afraid that if you teach baptism, people will think they are saved by works. People will think there’s something they can do to earn salvation. But if you really understand baptism, you realize that’s not the case at all.
We need to begin with the foundational truth that we are saved by grace through faith. Romans 3:24-25 says, “(we) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” Paul announces that we are justified by grace. The word “justified” means to be declared innocent. We’re declared innocent by grace. Not because of any merit on our part. Not because we have put God in our debt. There are only 2 religions in the world: divine accomplishment and human achievement. Paul says, you can never achieve righteousness. The only thing you can do is trust in the perfect righteousness of Christ.
So the bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith. But does that mean baptism has nothing to do with salvation?
Look at what Jesus said and experienced about baptism. Matt. 3:13-17 reports, “Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?” But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him. After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
This is the baptism of Jesus. It’s interesting, because John the Baptist says that Jesus should be baptizing him. So why is Jesus baptized? Jesus gives the answer: to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus says, it is right for me to be baptized. Jesus wasn’t baptized to remove his sin, because he had no sins that required removal. But He was baptized in obedience to the Father. He was baptized so that He identified with us in our human state in every dimension. When Jesus is baptized, God the Father announces that He is pleased with the obedience of His Son. Behind the baptism of every believer is the baptism of Jesus. Jesus himself insisted on being baptized.
Jesus gives these marching orders in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” These are the last words of Jesus to the disciples in the book of Matthew. Matthew’s gospel begins and ends with a focus on baptism. Jesus commands, “Make disciples and baptize them into the name of the Father, Son, Spirit.” “Into the name of” means to come under the management of. Transfer the ownership of. Baptism means the ownership of your life is transferred to Christ. And these are Jesus’ mandates to the church. So, if Jesus was baptized and told us to go and baptize, what does that say about its importance? It’s always necessary to imitate Jesus and obey what he says.
Paul says we’re justified, or declared innocent, by God’s grace. There is nothing you can ever do to achieve salvation! But don’t underestimate the significance of baptism.
Malcolm Smith tells about a girl who flew to a city to visit some people who had become Christians. The girl didn’t know that. And they didn’t know she had become a Satanist. A witch. The Christians took the girl to a Saturday night praise service. And she ended up staying all night long, listening to God and His word. On Sunday morning, she put on Christ in baptism. She called her boyfriend, who is a sorcerer. He got on a plane and flew to that city. He stomped into the office of the minister, spewing vulgarities. He said to the minister, “You can’t have that woman. She is Satan’s woman. And she is my woman. And I’ve come to take her.” Then the man said, “Where is she now? I want to get her and take her home.” The minister gave him the address. And as he was stomping out, he said to the minister, “Tell me. You didn’t baptize her, did you?” To which the minister responded, “Yes we did, yesterday morning.” The color drained from the sorcerer’s face. He said, “It’s too late then. I can’t touch her now.” Satan is sometimes more aware of what baptism into Christ means than Christians are.
Don’t underestimate the significance that Jesus attached to baptism. He regarded it as part of the process of entering the kingdom of God!