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Baptism is immersion or a covering of water over a person, representing a significant change in one’s life. Christian Baptism is usually the sacrament symbolising the death of the old life as the person goes down into the water and the birth of new life as they come up again.

Baptism was not an original idea exclusive to Christianity, but it became a distinguishing factor for publicly declaring your faith in Jesus. There are various ways to express baptism and several arguments for why it may be carried out in specific ways.

Although practised before the Christian faith formation, baptism has become one of the most significant sacraments. It is usually considered the most public declaration of one’s commitment to the following Jesus.

What Does The Word ‘Baptism’ Mean?

Baptism was a common idea in many ancient communities, and it essentially was a form of bathing for ritualistic or tribal reasons. By the first century, it became synonymous with cleansing and purifying oneself for spiritual significance. Baptism comes from the word βαπτισμός (baptízmos) was a most common phrase and appears once in the NT; it gives rise to the idea of total immersion for purification.
The word develops and becomes βαπτίζω (baptízō) and, as a common phrase, was a way of describing something like a sinking ship – the idea of something being fully submerged underwater1. Total water immersion was a daily practice in early pre-70AD Qumran communities to keep clean within tribal communities, ensuring that everyone was ‘purified’ regularly. It was even stated in the Damascus Document (an ancient scroll fragment listing practices for communities) not to bathe in dirty water.

Why Do People Get Baptised?

Baptism is an outward expression of something taking place inwardly. It is the boundary of visible Christianity, marking a new beginning in the person’s faith journey. People get baptised to publicly declare that something has happened to them, denoting that they are baptised ‘into’ something new and meaningful.
Many of the references around Baptism from the Apostle Paul appear to concern the person receiving baptism as one who has undergone a physical and spiritual transformation. Baptism was a well-established practice before the inception of the New Testament, and it was a way of marking the shift of ownership around what that person was being baptised into. An example is a baptism of slavery. An enslaved person could have been baptised by a Jew into a baptism of freedom marking a new state of being for the previously enslaved person2. This water ritual was used as a public symbol of an exchange of someone’s value and form of being or, perhaps, how they ought to be considered by others.

Following what we know of the context around The Apostle Paul’s idea of baptism, it’s clear that the practice goes beyond bathing and was often used to enter into a type of covenant. The baptism of John, for example, was one where a covenant was made to turn away from one’s sin as repentance. The baptism of Jesus is one with The Holy Spirit & Power3. So these baptisms come to represent something when accompanied by a declaration. Interestingly, Jesus never (as far as we know) baptises anyone; his disciples do the baptising.

It’s clear the etymology is around this sense of immersion, dipping, sinking, covering, washing and cleanings etc…4 when the baptism is labelled as symbolic and representative of a purpose, it should be considered a sacrament. So what does this sacrament mean in the context of the Christian faith?

What Does Baptism Represent?

Several symbols are displayed in baptism; it signifies the death of the old life, being buried in the water just as sin was buried in the tomb upon Christ’s death, and being resurrected, reborn as you come up from the waters just as Christ was resurrected.
The part of Christian baptism that makes it spiritual and symbolic is the nature of this new baptism in Christ Jesus. Because of the declaration from John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11, we understand that baptism takes on a dualistic dynamic5.
It is symbolic in what it represents, death of the old life and being raised with Christ in the New encompassing a type of new birth. It is spiritual in that we are not just baptised into repentance of the old life, as with John the Baptist, but we also receive The Holy Spirit and fire (perhaps understood as power in the same light as an OT consecrating fire). We understand baptism to represent us being immersed and covered in all that Jesus accomplished and includes forgiveness of our sins, restoration to the Father and empowerment from The Holy Spirit.

How Do You Know You’re Ready To Be Baptised?

Confirming the person understands the significance of baptism is typical. You must be able to demonstrate comprehension of your decision. You are ready if you can articulate and confess your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour explaining how you have come to faith and are committed to Christian discipleship.
Baptism is the ‘boundary of visible Christianity’6. When someone is baptised, it’s a clear milestone we can easily reference. The sacrament seals something psychologically and historically in someone’s faith journey. Although it is not necessary for salvation, it should be encouraged as an active way of expressing one’s commitment to Christ. The only prerequisite that carries substance in determining readiness is to identify a genuine and sincere commitment to discipleship, to live a Christlike life and follow Jesus7.
1 Green, Joel B., Jeannine K. Brown, Nicholas Perrin (Eds.), Dictionary of Jesus and The  Gospels, (Nottingham UK: IVP, 2013) p.66
2 Hawthorne, F Gerald, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid (Eds), Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, (Leicester UK: IVP, 1998) pp.60-62
3 Green, Dictionary of Jesus, p.67
4 Swanson, James, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), (Logos Research Systems, 2019) Word Ref. 966-970
5 Green, Dictionary of Jesus, p.67
6 Fuller, “Practical Uses of Christian Baptism,” Works, 3:342
7 Schreiner, Thomas R., & Shawn D. Wright, Believer’s Baptism: Sign Of The New Covenant In Christ, (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2006), pp. 334-335
Feature Photo by Josue Michel on Unsplash

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