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Understanding Baptism


By Benjamin H. Liles

          I baptize you with water to show that your hearts and lives have changed [for repentence]. But there is one coming after me who is ·greater [mightier; more powerful] than I am, whose sandals I am not good enough [fit; qualified] to carry. 


He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. Then heaven [the sky/heavens] opened, and he saw God’s Spirit coming down [descending and lighting/settling] on him like a dove [either in the form of a dove, or in bird-like descent]. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love [dearly beloved Son; Ps. 2:7; Gen. 22:2], and I am very [well] pleased with him [Is. 42:1]. ~ Matthew 3:11, 16-17, Expanded

          It isn't just my desire to live the way Jesus desires me to live. I want to understand, to not simply increase in knowledge, but in a relational way of what it means to live my life as a sacrifice. I believe I can say, in all honesty, I have never understood what baptism means, what it signifies, and why we ought to do so. We read, "John said, 'Change your hearts and lives (Repent) because the kingdom of heaven is near.' John the Baptist is the one Isaiah the prophet was talking about when he said: 'This is a voice of one who calls out in the desert: "Prepare the way for the Lord. Make the road straight for him (see Isaiah 40:3)" (Matthew 3:2-3, Expanded).

          I believe the significance of baptism is that it is an outward sign of what you know to be true about how you live inside your heart. Jesus wasn't just fully man but also fully divine as well. We read, at the beginning of Matthew, "While Joseph thought about these things, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, descendant of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife because the baby in her is from the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:20, Expanded). 

          The reason Jesus came to John wasn't that he was sinful, but since he knew where he came from (as evidenced by the Holy Spirit descending on him), he was being baptized as a sign of putting off his human desires. As Jesus was already part of God, for Jesus would later say, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30), he was baptized in order to show his purity before all. He did this to set the standard we ought to keep hold of. 

          Baptism then, for us, is a sign that we are changed by godly remorse for the lives we used to have before Jesus quickened our hearts and minds. Baptism is a means of what Paul wrote about, saying, "Put to death, therefore, the components of your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5, Berean Study). It tells others, "I am done living a life in and with sinful desires. I am putting off those things so I may have Jesus." 

          Really and truly we can't begin to understand the importance of baptism unless we first understand repentance. It means putting off our old, fleshly, human desires - seeking God and His ways - and living in a new way. It is why God gave these words to Joel, "Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster" (Joel 2:13, Holman Christian Standard). 

          Jesus gave us a parable of the lost son (or prodigal), and he tells us, "But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants" (Luke 15:17-19, New King James). Two things stand out: one is that the son "came to himself" (v. 17), and second, he realized the wrong he did to his father made him feel he could no longer be the father's son. This is what shows a repentant heart. It literally is waking up and seeing yourself as you truly are. 

          God's word, the Bible, tells us over and over with many stories of old that man's heart is inclined to do evil. Until we see and take God at His word, where He tells us, "You are to be holy to Me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine" (Leviticus 20:26). The physical act of baptism, in terms of God's word, is practically the same as Jesus washing us clean from all filth. Paul wrote, "to make her holy [sanctify her], cleansing her by the washing of water by the word" (Ephesians 5:26, Expanded). 

          Where God's word is to cleanse us from sin, baptism is immersing the person who believes in Him into a type of Jesus' physical death and being put in the tomb (or grave). Since Jesus rose again, as God allowed him (see John 10:18), we also partake in the resurrection, which is seen as us coming up out of the water after baptism. We have a new life since the old life is buried. 

          Therefore, we can be made new in Him by allowing the word of God wash over us; renewing, renovating, and making us clean. It means putting off those things which hinder: selfishness, idolatry, manipulation, sexual immorality, profanity, any and all things that keep us from the glory of God. We should desire to walk and seek God; to hunger after righteousness, to be made holy so as to be used with and by Him. 

          Father, I thank You for the things that You show me. I don't feel worthy or even feel I am able to do You justice. You alone are just. You alone show great and mighty things (see Jeremiah 33:3) to those who call and walk with You. I don't exactly feel qualified. All I know is You justify and cleanse me daily with Your words. I do what I believe I see You doing. I enjoy walking with You and in doing Your desire in my life. And it is in this I pray. In Jesus' name. Amen.