What is the purpose of baptism? What does baptism symbolize? Does baptism save you?
What Is The Purpose of Baptism?
Shortly after I was saved I was baptized. I was baptized with the understanding of making a public testimonial of my profession of faith in Jesus Christ. The key was that I was saved before I was baptized. Baptism serves a purpose in the church and for Christians. We are told to be baptized after we are saved by placing our faith in Christ.
If I were to put it in my own words I would say that it is an outward expression of an inward profession of our faith in Jesus to save. When we are submerged into the water it symbolizes our death, when we are under the water it pictures our burial, and after we come up out of the water this symbolizes our new life; being resurrected in Christ to eternal life. The ordinance of baptism did not save me, the water did not save me, the symbols did not save me; it was when I placed my faith  in Jesus Christ that saved me.
Baptism does not make you a believer but it shows you that you are a believer. It does not save a believer; it shows the believer has been saved. It is often done in the presence of family members, in front of the church a person is or has joined, and reflects an inward expression of an outward faith.
Many of the Old Testament patriarchs and matriarchs were never baptized yet we know that they will be in the kingdom of heaven. Men and women like Abraham, Moses, Ruth , Deborah, Aaron, David, Elijah, and so many others. Even the thief on the cross was saved by his profession of belief in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and there was no chance of his coming down from the cross to be baptized. The point is that a person can be saved even outside of a church home although this is no reason not to be part of the Body of Christ (the church) as the author of Hebrews says in chapter 10:25, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
What Does Baptism Symbolize?
Baptism is a clear, public symbolic picture of the new life that we have in Christ. We are not sinless of course after we are saved but we have died to sin and die to ourselves and have been raised with Him to new life. This is precisely what Paul says in Romans 6:1-4, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Baptism is also symbolic of our identity with one another in the church. We are united with other brothers and sister who are already in the faith-family of God thus we are identified with Christ and with the Body of Christ, the church. The Greek word used for baptism (baptisma) is a noun and literally means “to submerge” or to be completely submerged which differs from being sprinkled. When Jesus was baptized it was said that “when He had came up out of the water” which explains why John was called “John the Baptist“. It was not referring to his denomination but to his method and if baptizing completely under the water was wrong, Jesus could have corrected John but He did not.
Does Baptism Save You?
First of all let us find out what the Bible says about what saves a sinner. A personal opinion or idea will not do here. We must fully trust  in what the Word of God says because it is without error. Humans are fully capable of making mistakes so when we find out what saves from the Bible itself, it is God speaking to us and we know it is right. So what does the Bible actually say about what saves a sinner? Let God speak to us from His inerrant Word.
The jailer asks the question that we are asking here in Acts 16:30-31:
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Acts 4:12 “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Romans 10:9 -13 “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Ephesians 1:13-14 “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Acts 13:38-39 “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses.”
John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Not one of these Scriptures has adjacent verses that talk anything about adding to the saving work of believing in Jesus. No mention is made of baptism in these verses and nothing is said like “but you must also be baptized”. It is not believing plus baptism, believing plus church membership, believing plus (fill in the blank). No, it is when you believe in Jesus Christ that saves you. Anything that adds to this belief is works and to suggest that being baptized is necessary to being saved is tantamount to saying that Jesus perfect life, sacrifice, death, and resurrection was not enough: I must add baptism to it to complete the saving work of Christ.
I have had the amazing experience of leading our church elder’s father-in-law to Christ on his death bed. This gentleman had heard the gospel and knew about Christ but had never expressed his belief in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. He was so weak that he could not get out of bed. He was extremely near death. When I shared the message of the gospel with this man in his “death bed” he finally expressed his belief in Jesus Christ and placed his trust in Him. I asked him if he believed that Jesus was born of a virgin, if he lived a sinless life, if he died on Calvary for our sins, if we was raised again in the resurrection….and this man say “Yes! I do believe”. He had tears in his eyes because I think he knew we was going to die soon. I believe with all my heart that this man came to saving faith while lying in his bed. He had no chance of ever being baptized. He could not even muster enough strength to get up out of bed to be baptized or join a church. He could not add one work to his faith except his belief in Christ. Less than two days later this man did die. No one can tell me that I will not see him in the kingdom of heaven or that since he was not baptized he was not saved.
The “death bed” conversion of that dying man was one of the most awesome experiences of my entire life. I cried like a baby. So did the church’s elder and his wife which was the man’s daughter. I have done similar things to others in nursing homes or assisted living care centers where people were near death or in their last days. They could not take the stress or strain of getting into or out of a tank, tub, or pool to be baptized, yet they still believed in Jesus Christ and placed their trust and faith in Him as their Savior.
Let me say that the word “believe” means to fully trust in, to completely rely upon, to absolutely lean on, and place all a persons faith in. When they say they believe in Jesus it means that they believe that He was born of a virgin, that He lived a perfect life, that He gave His life on Calvary as a ransom for us, that He died and was resurrected on the third day, and that He will come again for us. If any of these things are not believed, then there is no true faith. To believe in Jesus Christ also means that we obey Him. As the old church hymn says, we “trust and obey, for there is no other way.” Even the devil and his demons believe but the do not obey nor do they place their trust in Him.
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