Maybe you grew up hearing about baptism since you were a kid…or maybe, as a baby, someone in your family took you to a church for a ceremony where they sprinkled you on the forehead or maybe this thing called baptism is an entirely new concept for you. No matter what your story is, we hope this lesson will help in answering some of the questions you may have about baptism—and what it means in your growing (and ongoing) relationship with Jesus.
So What Exactly Is Baptism?
You see, God has been reaching out since the beginning of time—desiring to live in relationship with all of mankind. But because of our sin…because we have turned our backs on God and (in essence) told Him to butt out of our lives…we are separated from Him.
But God has created a way for us to reconnect to Him by offering us salvation: this incredible gift of grace that comes through His son Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And we receive this gift of grace any time we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior—turning our lives over to Him completely.
And when we turn our lives over to Jesus, He tells us to be baptized…as an outward expression of what He has done for us, and is doing, in our hearts.
And while baptism is an important (and significant) part of our decision to receive God’s gift of grace and become a follower of Jesus, each of us has come to this decision differently because each one of us has had a uniquely different experience…or journey to Jesus.
Even though each of our journeys is unique, the Bible shows us that there are some key (and consistent) components that every true follower of Jesus experiences. Let’s look at some of those key components:
STEP 1 – Hear the Gospel
As you may already know, the “gospel” literally means “good news”, but in order for us to have the good news, there has to be bad news… and the bad news always begins with the reality of who God is. God is the Creator of everything. And He is holy…which means: set apart. And God is perfect (or whole), without any defect. And He is righteous…which means God always does what is right. And He is just. His justice is always fair.
So, because God is the Creator; Holy, Righteous, Perfect and Just, we have a problem. We are none of those things. We are created by God (in his image), but we are fallen and broken and unholy…imperfect, unrighteous and unjust. Just as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans…
“What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. And just in case you thought you could try to be good enough to earn good standing with God.” Romans 3:9-12
Imagine a chain is hanging from the ceiling. The chain represents our connection to God. How many broken links (or sins) does it take to break the chain (or our connection to God)? The answer: One. All it takes is one broken link or one sin to break our connection God. And all of us have sinned—at least once. All of us have broken our connection to God. Another thing we might tell ourselves is, “If I really clean up my act…that will be enough to connect me back to God.” Once again, as Paul writes…
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Romans 3:20
So there it is. The Bad News. But here’s the Good News. Here’s the gospel…
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26
Sin separates us from God. And what is sin? The biblical definition of sin is actually an archery term meaning: missing the mark. We have all sinned or missed the mark of God’s perfection. And the punishment for this is death. Someone has to pay for these mistakes. We all know, deep in our hearts, what justice is. When a wrong has been committed, someone has to pay for it.
The Good News is that Jesus, the Incarnation or God in the Flesh, the one who never sinned or missed the mark, took our place and paid for our mistakes. Jesus took on ALL our sin when he died on the cross. The Apostle Paul put it this way…
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:1-11
So, while we were still sinners…still living in our sinful way of life, God showed his love for us in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. That’s GRACE. Grace is unmerited favor or getting something wonderful that you didn’t earn or deserve. And you can’t pay for it or earn it. All you can do is accept this wonderful, eternal gift. One of the best ways to remember the meaning of grace is this acronym: Grace= God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
STEP 2 – Believe
At some point, after hearing the Gospel, you believe in your heart that all this stuff is true. That God is holy. That you are separated from Him and that you can only be reconciled or reconnected back to God through Jesus. And that belief is so strong that you are “cut to the heart”. You have that utter realization that the only way back to God is through Jesus. This is the way some of the first people to hear the Good News felt…
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Acts 2:37
This “cutting to the heart” can only come from God. Just as Jesus says here…
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:44
Looking back over this, we Hear the Gospel, then Believe what we’ve heard and then we repent.
STEP 3 – Repent
“To “repent” literally means to “turn away”. We must turn away from sin or turn our backs to sin…putting our backs to our old way of life. And when we turn from sin, we naturally turn towards God—doing a complete about face. As Jesus was spreading the Good News He said…
“The time has come,” (Jesus said). “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15
The next logical step to repenting from our old way of life, from our old life of sinning is to share this change in our hearts or to confess to some other people what’s happened.
STEP 4 – Confess
Confession or to confess simply means to say it out loud—to say what is true out loud and publicly recognize that: God is holy and perfect and you are not. Confessing to other people means speaking to your belief that God has reconnected you back to Him through Jesus…because Jesus has taken your sin to the cross, and that you want to repent and turn away from your sin and your sinful past. Paul says it best here…
“That if you confess 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 confess and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10
And so this journey to being a follower of Jesus begins with Hearing the Gospel, then Believing it, then Repenting for your past, followed by Confessing to some others, which leads to Baptism.
STEP 5 – Baptism
Now, the obvious question to baptism is, “Why? Why should I get dunked under water?” The first answer is simply: Jesus was baptized Himself. He modeled it for us. One of the first stories we have of Jesus as an adult is Jesus going up to John the Baptist and getting baptized (See Matthew 3:1-16). But Jesus didn’t just get baptized to show us the way. He tells us to do it. Jesus said, in what a lot of people call The Great Commission…
“…go and make disciples (or followers) of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Matthew 28:19
Another good reason to be baptized is because it’s a great picture, a great visual image and outward expression of what has already happened inside in your heart. When you are baptized, you are lowered into the water. This is called immersion. When you are lowered and immersed, you are covered completely, and then raised up, out of the water. This is a beautiful image of Jesus death (lowering into the water), His burial (covered completely by water) and His resurrection (raised up, out of the water). Likewise, baptism is a great picture of our death to our old self. We bury that old life of sin and are raised up to a new life as a true follower of Jesus. Paul tells us…
“…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.” Romans 6:3-4
Maybe you’re asking yourself, “Why should I get baptized? I was sprinkled as a baby.” That’s a good question. Here are a couple of things about sprinkling: First of all, belief is a prerequisite in the Bible and how can a baby believe? Secondly, sprinkling isn’t found in the Bible anywhere. It’s just not there. We don’t want to, in any way, demean anyone for sprinkling their babies because it’s been used with honorable intentions by parents and grandparents to sort of “consecrate” a baby or make a promise to raise and point their child to Jesus throughout their life. But the truth is, at some point, when the time comes and you realize who God is…and how you haven’t lived up to His standard…and how God has reconnected us back to Him through Jesus…we need to make that decision for ourselves. We can’t rely on what our parents or grandparents may have done for us as a baby. We need to decide for ourselves and then act on it because there is a sense of urgency. Much like the first people who heard the Good News…and then acted on it…
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’.” Acts 2:37-38
One last thing we need to be careful of: Making baptism something that it’s not. You need to remind yourself that baptism is not a work that you do in order to earn salvation. It’s simply a gift, a public, outward act that shows the change that has happened in your heart.
Re-Cap: Becoming More Like Jesus
To re-cap this journey: We hear the Gospel (or Good News), we believe it, deep in our hearts, we repent for our old way of life without God, then weconfess to some other people what has happened in our hearts, and then we are baptized.
But the journey isn’t over. It continues and will continue on and on and on because this is all about becoming more like Jesus. As we begin this new life as a follower of Jesus, we have this gift of the Holy Spirit…which is God’s Spirit literally living inside us…guiding us and prompting us to grow and become more and more like Him. More and more like Jesus. And we do this by following Jesus’ words found in the Bible—through Bible study. And we do this by living and acting as Jesus did. Doing the things Jesus did, like loving others and caring for the “least of these”. Just as Paul writes in Romans 6:5-14…
“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” Romans 6:5-14
Finally, if you still have any questions, please contact us and we will do our best to answer them.