Believers and Water Baptism
by Gil Rugh
Few issues throughout church history have been as widely debated as the issue of baptism. Shortly after the time of the apostles, conflicting views began to arise about baptism. Many different views on baptism still exist today. Some teach infant and child baptism, some teach baptism for salvation and some teach that baptism is not necessary at all.
The Bible, however, clearly teaches that baptism is public identification with Jesus Christ. In Matthew 28, Christ instructed His disciples to baptize people “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” A person’s name represents all that he is and all he stands for. So to be baptized “in the name of” someone means to be identified with that person.
Water baptism is also based on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit baptism identifies a person spiritually with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, the moment that person believes. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
As believers, we have died and have been given new life—but it was a spiritual transaction. When a person recognizes and believes that Christ died for him personally, the baptism of the Spirit takes place. He is instantly transformed into a new creature and is identified spiritually with Christ. Although no one sees it happen, God sees a changed heart.
Water baptism testifies to the world that this spiritual transaction has taken place. It is not necessary for salvation, but it is very important because it shows obedience to God’s direct command.
Some people argue that there are many other ways of being identified with Christ. “I could write a speech and testify of my salvation that way. It doesn’t have to be done by baptism,” they claim.
It is true that there are many good ways of testifying about one’s new faith, but Jesus said we are to make disciples and baptize them. Other ideas may be good, but Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Church, and He said we are to be baptized.
Believers can testify about their faith however they like. But, a believer is not obedient to the Word until he does what Jesus commanded—identifying himself publicly with Christ through water baptism.