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Why did God command baptism?

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Why did God command baptism?
Posted on February 16, 2020  - By Ethan Merck

If you are a believer and have been for very long, chances are you have been baptised. Hopefully, you were taught that baptism is a personal announcement of faith in Jesus, and an important part of joining the visible people of God — the church.

But if you’re like me, at some point, you have also wondered, “Why did God command this in particular? Why dunking in water?” That’s what I want to talk about today.

The short answer is that it makes something unseen become visible… Let’s jump in!

A change of being

When you first trust Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins, there is an enormous ‘night and day’ change that happens in you. You are moved out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.

Something that many miss, though, is that God moves us between kingdoms not just by changing what He says about us (i.e. “you are righteous, you are saved”), but by changing our very being. He does this by giving us a new spirit and making us into a completely different person — a new creation, forgiven and cleansed in Christ.

While that is true, the change is mostly on the spiritual side of our being — and, at the moment of conversion, our visible body remains the same.

Unseen made visible

This leads us back to our question of “Why baptism?”. Baptism exists because God wants to make this incredible change on your unseen, spiritual side visible! He wants to announce to everyone that you have died, and been reborn — while giving you the blessing of re-enacting and announcing it.
Far from being a strange or arbitrary tradition, baptism is designed to reveal the inner workings of salvation: how grace and the gospel actually work to save us not only from sin, but from ourselves who do the sinning.

The physical act of baptism does not save — but our spiritual baptism through saving faith in the gospel does. In fact, these things are so closely tied that you will find Biblical authors often do not distinguish between them clearly.

What is spiritual baptism? The Bible also calls it “circumcision of the heart”, being “cleansed from sin,” and being “born again”, among other things. It means this: that through spiritual union with Jesus Christ, I have personally experienced His physical death and resurrection (Galatians 2:20).

Water baptism echoes my death and resurrection with Christ, announcing it as God’s completely effective mechanism for giving me a new spirit cleansed of sin.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?” Romans 6:3

“We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” Romans 6:6

Freedom comes after dying

What this means is that I am no longer under the control of the spiritual source of sin in my life — my Adamic nature. He was nailed to the cross with Christ, and God left him there!

But it gets even better. Not only have I died with Christ, I have also been united with Him in His resurrection.

“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 6:4

“…having been buried with Him in baptism… you were also raised with him through faith…” Colossians 2:12

“…present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life…” Romans 6:13

United to the resurrected Christ, I have received a new creation spirit that lives inside Him! A spiritual self as flawless as God Himself:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“…and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:24

Our new source of life, Christ Himself, is now seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places. Because of our union with Him, we are also sitting with Him there right now (Ephesians 2:6).

The first steps in God’s complete rescue

You and I can’t see any of this. But this is what it means to be “born again”. This is, in many ways, more real than what I can see (2 Corinthians 4:18).

It means I am not who I once was — I have literally begun a new life as a new person. Water baptism makes these things visible. It declares to the world: “I am a new person. Jesus Christ has remade me!”

The cross removes the old man that lives under law and is defined by sin (Colossians 2:11) and the resurrection gifts me a new spiritual self inside Christ.

Co-crucifixion and resurrection through faith in Jesus Christ are the Father’s first steps in rescuing me completely from sin, by separating my being from the spiritual self that does the sinning.

Why do we still sin? We’ll touch on that in future articles. But the “new me” starts here.

Do you know someone who would be encouraged by this? Or who may be getting baptised soon? Share it!

Ethan Merck

About Ethan Merck

Ethan is a cross-cultural consultant who has lived in a number of major cities across Asia. He has served on staff at three churches, including one he helped plant. Some of his hobbies are reading, hiking, ultimate Frisbee, drawing, and exploring the gospel in all of life. Find him on Instagram at @insidethegospel.



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