At a point in the worship service, the minister enters a pool of water joined by a candidate for baptism. After speaking a few words, the minister lowers the candidate beneath the water. Being raised up, the person leaves the pool to “walk in newness of life.” We know this procedure as Christian baptism. What is the significance and meaning of baptism?
One aspect of Christian baptism is that of being an enacted witness to Christ’s saving work. In the mode of immersion, baptism symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Upon His death, Jesus’ body was taken from the cross and buried in a borrowed tomb. The third morning He came out of the tomb and subsequently was seen by many eyewitnesses.
Christ’s saving work
Each time we witness the baptism of a new believer in Christ, we have an opportunity to think anew about Christ’s saving work. Upon recalling our Savior’s sacrifice, we take occasion to give silent thanks for so great a gift.
This act of a repentant sinner’s baptism is also a public declaration of that person’s gift of God’s salvation, being an outward attestation of inward faith.
Such was part of the meaning of the baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch who, upon hearing the good news of Christ’s saving work, responded positively and personally. He asked Philip, “Here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Peter’s response to the man’s question was simply, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch’s response was simply and sincerely, “I believe” (Acts 8:36–37). Thereupon, his baptism became an outward expression of his inward faith.
In another sense, being baptized is a new Christian’s outward witness of new life in Christ. Romans 6:4 declares, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Water baptism by immersion is also a symbolic testimony to a believer’s faith in the final resurrection from the dead. This blessed prospect is declared in 1 Corinthians 15:51–54, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. … Death is swallowed up in victory.”
In short, baptism has a past, present and future dimension to its meaning and symbolism.