Book: The True Meaning of Christian Baptism

As we have seen, baptism requires that a person be called of God, experience genuine repentance, and thoughtfully examine their level of commitment by “counting the cost.” But what does baptism itself picture? As noted earlier, baptism is a turning point in the life of the new believer. It marks the beginning of a new way of life, and the end of an old way of life. In fact, it symbolizes the death—in a watery grave—of the “old man” of sin. This is why baptism is by full immersion in water—not a sprinkling.

By definition, baptize—from the Greek baptizo—means “to immerse into.” This is why John baptized in the Jordon, where there was “much water” (John 3:23). At Jesus’ baptism, note that He “came up immediately out of the water” (Matt. 3:16). (Jesus, of course, did not need to be baptized, as He had no “old man” of sin; He was baptized as an example for us to follow.)

This immersion in a watery “grave” symbolizes the death—the absolute end—of the repentant believer’s former carnal life of sin. When the believer comes up out of the water, he or she rises to newness of life.

The Death of the “Old Man”—And “Newness of Life”

Paul explains the wonderful truth of baptism in Romans 6: “What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? MAY IT NEVER BE! We who died to sin [in baptism], how shall we live any longer therein?” (verses 1-2). Baptism is a burial, which is why you go all the way under the water, like being put into a grave. So infant baptism by sprinkling is a false baptism on two counts: sprinkling does not picture burial, and an infant has no idea what it is doing. Baptism is for mature adults who have “counted the cost” and are truly repentant.

When you enter into baptism, you die to sin—you must not “live any longer therein.” As noted earlier, we still sometimes sin, but we do not live in sin as a way of life.

Paul continues: “Or are you ignorant that we, as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into His death? Therefore, we were buried with Him though the baptism into the death…” (verses 3-4). But just as Christ was raised to life by the Father, we are to walk in “newness of life” (verse 4) after coming up out of the water. Our life changes. We no longer live to the self, we live to God; we no longer live to please ourselves, we live to help and serve others; we no longer live our way, we live God’s way.

Continuing in verses 5-7: “For if we have been conjoined together in the likeness of His death [through baptism], so also shall we be in the likeness of His resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man was co-crucified with Him [in baptism] that the body of sin might be destroyed [through the process of growing and overcoming] so that we might no longer be enslaved to sin. Because the one who has died to sin [by baptism] has been justified from sin.”

The new believer is no longer a slave to sin, but is not entirely free of sin. Romans 7 (which we will examine later) deals with the Christian’s struggle with sin, showing that we still have human nature. Why does God leave the human nature in us? Because it is only through overcoming that we develop godly character and prove to God that we will always follow His way. Through this struggle we come to thoroughly hate sin! And while we have already experienced an initial repentance, we actually come to a deeper repentance as we continue to walk in the way of God. You begin to love God more, you understand what God is doing in your life, and you understand more deeply what Christ did for you by giving His life.

Continuing: “Now if we died together with Christ [in baptism], we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has any dominion over Him. For when He died, He died unto sin once for all; but in that He lives, He lives unto God. In the same way also, you should indeed reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God through Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore, do not let sin rule in your mortal body by obeying it in the lusts thereof” (verses 8-12).

Before baptism, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). God calls you from a world filled with sin—having, for the most part, no true understanding of God or His spiritual way of life. But in baptism, after rising from the watery grave, God “makes you alive” (verse 1). Paul goes on to say that we “walked in times past according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air [Satan the devil], the spirit that is now working within the children of disobedience, among whom also we all once had our conduct in the lusts of our flesh, doing the things willed by the flesh and by the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest of the world. But God, Who is rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses, has made us alive together with Christ. (For you have been saved by grace.)” (verses 2-5).

Look at verses 8-10: “For by grace you have been saved [from your sins and Satan] through faith, and this especially is not of your own selves [you didn’t find God, He found you]; it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto the good works that God ordained beforehand in order that we might walk in them.” We become the workmanship of God the Father—He is creating us anew, in the image of Christ. Thus, we are to live by every Word of God, producing good works—obedient to God’s laws and commandments, and loving others as ourselves.

This is the “newness of life” pictured by baptism. But as we will see, it is not an easy life.

Circumcision of the Heart

In baptism, the “old self” dies and the believer enters a whole new life in Christ. This turning point in the believer’s life is called becoming converted. Jesus said that unless we became converted—fully changed in our way of life—we could not enter the Kingdom of God (Matt. 18:3; Acts 3:19 ). This turning point is likened to being circumcised—in the heart, the spirit, as opposed to the flesh.

When God entered into an eternal covenant with Abraham, He designated physical circumcision as the token or sign of that covenant. “And God said to Abraham, ‘And you shall keep My covenant, you and your seed after you in their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your seed after you. Every male child among you shall be circumcised. And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. And it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. And a son of eight days shall be circumcised among you, every male child in your generations; he that is born in the house, or bought with silver of any foreigner who is not of your seed. He that is born in your house, and he that is bought with your silver, must be circumcised. And My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:9–13).

But physical circumcision did not solve the problem of sin. Through animal sacrifices Israel experienced a figure of “justification”—but were not truly justified before God. In fact, throughout the Old Testament we see that without the circumcision of the heart Israel was never able to be faithful to God. This is a vital lesson—that without genuine conversion and the help of the Holy Spirit one cannot truly live God’s way. Thus, through Moses, God admonished the children of Israel to obey Him in everything—adding, “circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stiff-necked” (Deut. 10:16). God was already pointing to the future New Covenant wherein the nation of Israel would become converted, circumcised in heart, and faithful always to His covenant (see Jer. 31:31-34).

Thus, physical circumcision was a type of the spiritual circumcision to come as a part of the New Covenant. Baptism can be likened to the token or sign of our spiritual circumcision—of our conversion. Just as the Israelites carried God’s covenant in their flesh, we enter into a covenant with God in our spirit—our hearts and minds. Baptism becomes the outward sign of this inward covenant. In Colossians 2, we read of Jesus “in Whom you have also been circumcised with the circumcision not made by hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (verse 11).

Paul also describes this circumcision of the heart in Romans 2: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is external in the flesh; rather, he is a Jew [that is, a spiritual Jew] who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” (verses 28-29).

Physical circumcision, which under the Old Covenant was required of Jews (and also of Gentile proselytes), does not change the heart—and cannot lead to salvation. As a ritual, it only pointed toward spiritual circumcision—which under the New Covenant is required of both Jew and Gentile for salvation.

Thus, baptism pictures the death and burial of the “old self”—and, in coming up out of the watery grave, it pictures newness of life for the believer. As a ceremony, baptism is the token of your spiritual circumcision—being converted in heart and mind. The believer then goes on to grow in grace and knowledge and overcome the pulls of the flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit.

God Leads Us to Personal Growth Through His Spirit

As God begins to deal with you—drawing you, leading you to repentance—the Holy Spirit is with you. But after baptism and the laying on of hands, the Holy Spirit is within you, in your mind. This is the circumcision of the heart—your initial conversion. Receiving God’s Spirit also constitutes your begettal—thus, you are like a newly begotten child. Now you must grow in grace and knowledge, grow in the mind of Christ, overcome your human nature—and that is the life-long process of conversion.

In order to become a new person in Christ, each baptized believer must be begotten with the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. Looking again at Acts 2:38, we see that, following repentance and baptism, the believer is to receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:17 shows that this final step is accomplished through the “laying on of hands.” Paul admonished Timothy to “stir up the gift of God”—the Holy Spirit—that was in him through the laying on of his hands (II Tim. 1:6). Thus, the end result of a proper baptism is the receipt of the Holy Spirit.

Just prior to His death, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit: “If you love Me, keep the commandments—namely, My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter that it may be with you throughout the age: even the Spirit of the truth, which the world cannot receive because it perceives it not, nor knows it; but you know it because it dwells with you, and shall be within you” (John 14:15-17). In verse 23, He adds, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” The meaning is that the Father and Christ come to dwell within you.

When you are baptized and receive God’s Spirit, you become a complete person—and begin to possess the power needed to lead a godly life. This profound gift will guide you in your spiritual life, enabling you to overcome all things. When you receive the Spirit of God, you are receiving some of the power of God—not to make you better than anyone else, but to give you the strength to overcome human nature, to fight this world, and to fight Satan.

The new believer is to be led by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14) to walk in loving obedience to God through faith in Christ; to develop the mind of Christ; to keep the commandments and laws of God through the power of the Spirit; to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus; and to ultimately be faithful unto death.

Under the New Covenant, the laws and commandments of God are written in our minds—inscribed in our hearts through the Spirit (Heb. 8:10; 10:16). Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Over time, the Holy Spirit imparts the very mind of Jesus to us—but only as we yield to God and draw close to Him in much prayer and study of the Bible.

In fact, when God’s Word is coupled with God’s Spirit, a unique thing happens. Notice I Cor. 2:10-12: “But God has revealed them [the truths of His plan] to us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things—even the deep things of God. For who among men understands the things of man except by the spirit of man which is in him? In the same way also, the things of God no one understands except by the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is of God, so that we might know the things graciously given to us by God.” (Also note verses 13-14.)

Indeed, if we hunger and thirst for the Word of God, we will be filled—because God has opened our minds to understanding. God freely gives it—and He freely gives His Spirit. But He requires all of you—your whole being given to Him. The key to personal growth is putting God first—loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength—which is the “first commandment” (Mark 12:30). Paul adds that we are to set our minds “on the things that are above, and not on the things that are on the earth” (Col. 3:2).

As we grow in understanding—as we study the Word of God and use the Spirit of God—our lives continue to change— sometimes slowly, imperceptivity—but there is growth. As a new believer, remember that you belong to God and to Christ—for they are in you. As you build a close, loving relationship with God, His Holy Spirit will guide you in all things—giving discernment, wisdom, knowledge, and a true understanding of the Scriptures. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you can go forward and build on the foundation laid in Christ.

The Christian Struggle Against Sin

One of the things that plagues new believers is, “Whoops! I’ve sinned! Have I committed the unpardonable sin?” Some assume that once they are baptized they ought to be perfect. No— you are baptized because you are imperfect, because you are a sinner. And now you have to start learning God’s way and learn to be led by the Holy Spirit. It is a process.

The fact is, even after baptism you will not overcome human nature all at once. You no longer live in sin—but, because of human nature, you will find that you do sometimes sin. But we have, upon repentance, God’s promise of forgiveness. And only those who are truly in Christ have that forgiveness available.

Paul discusses the Christian’s struggle against sin in Romans 7. In verses 7-14, he essentially shows that once you are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit, you become hyper-aware of sin in your life. It is as if sin becomes “exceedingly sinful” (verse 13) or magnified—because now you are convicted of it in your mind. In verses 15-25, Paul says there were times he would sin— yet he didn’t want to sin; and there were times he wanted to do good, but couldn’t. In effect, he said, “There is this conflict in me, and only Christ can save me!”

Paul said this years after his baptism! He understood that his own nature was inherently evil and that only God could change it and help him overcome—through the Holy Spirit.

What should you do when you find that you have sinned? First, realize that you, as a baptized believer, are under God’s grace. Grace covers you like an umbrella—you live and walk in grace; you have faith through grace; you are continually led to repentance through grace. This grace gives you access to God the Father—so when you slip up and sin, you go to God and repent! Notice I John 1: “If we [who are baptized] proclaim that we have fellowship with Him, but we are walking in the darkness [living in sin], we are lying to ourselves, and we are not practicing the Truth [the Word of God]. However, if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ, His own Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we do not have sin [or that we do not have a sinful nature] we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our own sins [to God, not to some man], He is faithful and righteous, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (verses 6-10).

When you sin, get on your knees in a private place and repent to God. Ask Him to forgive you and grant you more of His Spirit; ask Him for strength to help you overcome; ask Him to help you “bring every thought into captivity” (II Cor. 10:5). Resolve to never repeat the sin.

Above all, do not become discouraged—for that will allow Satan a foot-hold into your mind! Remember, overcoming is a lifelong process. Many years after baptism, Christians still struggle with sin. We all will. But we live under God’s grace. We don’t live in sin, but we do sin. When this happens, we confess our sin to God and more diligently seek His help to overcome.

Look at I John 2:1: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And yet, if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.” Christ is advocating for you. He sits at the right hand of God right now to intercede for all believers. And remember, repentance continues all through your Christian life. Verse 2: “And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” The term propitiation means constant atoning sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice is continually applied (this was pictured anciently in type by the “continual” or “morning and evening” sacrifice—Ex. 29:38-39; Num. 28:3; Dan. 8:12).

Every time we come to God and repent and confess our sins, Jesus’ sacrifice is applied.

Continuing in verse 3: “And by this standard we know that we know Him: if we keep His commandments.” After you’ve repented, been baptized, and received the Holy Spirit of God, you walk in grace, you live in grace, you continue to confess your sins to Him, and continue to keep His commandments. Verses 4-6: “The one who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. On the other hand, if anyone is keeping His Word, truly in this one the love of God is being perfected [a lifelong process]. By this means we know that we are in Him. Anyone who claims to dwell in Him is obligating himself also to walk even as He Himself walked.”

A Life of Overcoming, Trial and Testing

God does not expect anyone to be perfect in knowledge before they are baptized; rather, we are to “grow in grace and knowledge” after baptism (II Pet. 3:18). But He does want us to enter into baptism with our eyes wide open. As previously mentioned, we are to count the cost to see if we are willing to finish the course (Luke 14:28). We must be willing to “bear our own cross” and put God before all others (verses 26-27). You signify to God, by going through with your baptismal covenant, that you will finish the course—that you will remain true and faithful to God in all circumstances.

We are told to “take up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23). This means you may be confronted with problems and trials even on a daily basis. And Christ expects you to be faithful in everything— to never turn back on Him. But know that God is always there with you. Just as we have committed ourselves to Christ, He has committed Himself to us. He said, “In no way will I ever leave you; no—I will never forsake you in any way” (Heb. 13:5). What a wonderful promise! Regardless of circumstances, God will never abandon us! David prayed, “When I am old and gray, forsake me not.” God will be with us throughout our lives—even into old age. In times of terrible trial and testing, God will be there. He will never leave you! God has committed Himself to you, and you have committed yourself to Him in a covenant relationship for eternal life. Always love Him, seek Him, and obey Him, and He will be at your side.

In time, every Christian comes to realize that their walk with God has not been exactly what they anticipated. The reality sets in that the Christian life is one punctuated by trials and tests—and the ever-present struggle to overcome our carnal nature and the influences of Satan’s world. Make no mistake, you will face tests and trials. Why? Because God must prove your faithfulness; He must see your obedience; He must come to know your character.

But as Psalm 23 so wonderfully demonstrates, God will be with us. Indeed, we can have this absolute confidence in God:

“The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want [I shall lack nothing]. He makes me to lie down in green pastures [fed spiritually, from His Word]; He leads me beside the still waters [He will bring peace to you]. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake [the good works we are to have]. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [sore trials], I will fear no evil, for You are with me [Jesus said, “I will never, no not ever, leave you or forsake you.”]; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies…” (verses 1-5).

The reference to “enemies” refers to being under adverse circumstances, even persecution from others. Most true Christians experienced persecution in some form—so you can expect it. But whatever the circumstances that come upon us, God will be there.

Continuing: “You anoint my head with oil [symbolic of the Holy Spirit]; my cup runs over [because nothing can bring fulfillment to your life like having a close relationship with God]. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (verses 5- 6).

Always keep in mind that to the world, we, as God’s called and chosen ones, are nothing. But God takes that which is nothing—those rejected, despised, and considered to be the least—and transforms them, through the power of conversion and the resurrection, into eternal sons and daughters. Notice I Corinthians 1:26-28. “For you see your calling, brethren, that there are not many who are wise according to the flesh, not many who are powerful, not many who are high-born [royalty] among you. Rather, God has chosen the foolish things of the world so that He might put to shame those who are wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world so that He might put to shame the strong things. And the low-born of the world, and the despised has God chosen—even the things that are counted as nothing—in order that He might bring to nothing the things that are.”

God is going to bring all of this world’s so-called wisdom, might and high-mindedness to nothing. “So that no flesh might glory in His presence [we are to glory only in God]. But you are of Him in Christ Jesus, Who was made to us wisdom from God— even righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption; so that, as it is written, ‘The one who glories, let him glory in the Lord’ ” (verses 29-31).