The Gospels tell us that John the Baptist was sent by God to announce the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He preached out in the wilderness near the Jordan River and many people gathered to hear him. The message he declared was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2 NLT).
The word “repent” comes from Greek word metanoia, which means “a transformative change of heart, or a spiritual conversion.” It literally means “to change your mind.”
John instituted a symbolic act—baptism—which was an outward sign to demonstrate the change of heart that had taken place internally. Those who desired God’s forgiveness for their sins came to the Jordan River and gathered on the shore. Then one by one, they entered the water to have John perform this outward act of baptism—submerging them entirely under the water.
The Bible says that baptism is a symbol of dying to our old sinful nature and rising again into new life in Christ. Water baptism is a symbolic act of our old nature—the Bible also calls it our “old man”—dying with Christ and then our new life or ”new man” being resurrected with Christ.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4 ESV).
In water baptism, you act out what has happened inwardly in your spirit—going from old to new, death to life, crucifixion to resurrection!
Water Baptism Is Christ’s Command
It’s important to remember that water baptism is not just a suggestion in the Bible. Jesus Himself commanded it:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them
to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV).
However, while this ritual is an important experience in the life of a believer, we must remember that water baptism does not lead to salvation. Instead, the act of being baptized is a public witness of the salvation that you have already received by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Many stories in Scripture show that the early church leaders moved immediately to have new believers baptized. A powerful example is when Paul and Silas were arrested for preaching the Gospel in Acts 16 (NASB). While chained in a dungeon, they offered up praise to God despite their circumstances. Suddenly an earthquake shook the jail, and the chains and the doors came unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he took a sword and was about to commit suicide. Paul cried out, “Don’t harm yourself, for we are all here” (v. 28). Trembling with fear, the jailer asked how he could be saved. Paul answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v. 31). The jailer believed, and he and his family were immediately baptized (v. 33).