What Is the Purpose of Baptism in the Christian Life?

In Christianity, baptism is more than just an act to satisfy religious requirements. Every believer needs to know the purpose and the importance of baptism as it carries spiritual meaning and blessings in every believer’s life.

Christianity.com Contributing Writer
Published Sep 01, 2021
What Is the Purpose of Baptism in the Christian Life?

There are three types of baptism mentioned in the Bible: water baptism, Spirit baptism, and baptism by fire. Here, we will get a closer look at the purpose and significance of baptism in a Christian’s life.

Baptism Found in the New Testament

Water baptism is one of the church ordinances — the other one is the Lord’s Supper — to commemorate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The words baptism and baptize (Greek: baptizo) are exclusively found in the New Testament, and the first association we often have when thinking about baptism is with the figure of John the Baptist, who carried out the Old Testament ministry as forerunner of Jesus Christ, the foretold Messiah (Malachi 3:1; Isaiah 40:3; John 1:23).

The gospels reveal the purpose of this special role assigned to John the Baptist:

John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4, NKJV).

“John will help many people of Israel return to the Lord their God. John himself will go ahead of the Lord and make people ready for His coming. He will be powerful like Elijah and will have the same spirit. He will make peace between fathers and their children. He will cause people who are not obeying God to change and start thinking the way they should” (Luke 1:16-17, ERV).

Paul also affirms this ministry, as he said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus” (Acts 19:4).

Therefore, the water baptism by John the Baptist signifies the act of repentance, which brings pardon and forgiveness of sin (Isaiah 55:7). True repentance means to repent from sins (forsake one’s old, wicked ways) and to return to the Lord (believe in the Lord Jesus Christ).

Moreover, John the Baptist himself recognized, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8). John was talking about Jesus Christ, who will baptize His followers with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John’s Baptism Vs. Christian Baptism 

There is, however, a distinction between John’s baptism and baptism in the name of Jesus, even though they both require a repentant heart expressed through the ceremonial washing (or cleansing) by water.

John’s baptism is a baptism of repentance, which demonstrates a recognition of one’s sin, a desire for spiritual cleansing, and a commitment to obey God’s law in anticipation of the Messiah’s arrival.

Christian baptism (i.e., baptism in the name of Jesus) also symbolizes repentance, cleansing, and commitment, but importantly, it represents one’s identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:11-12).

It is important to note that John’s baptism occurred before Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, while Christian baptism is an integral part of God’s mission in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

The Purpose of Baptism for Every Christian

The water baptism that Jesus has taught to His disciples serves as:

1. Personal identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptism is associated with the terms “buried” and “raised” in the Bible, thus, under normal circumstances, the biblical method of baptism is complete immersion because it pictures Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

2. Public declaration or testimony of our faith in Jesus Christ. It is an outward manifestation of an inward transformation of heart that desires to obey the Lord.

The former has to do with the immersion into new life in Christ (Romans 6:4), while the latter with the immersion into a new community in Christ (Ephesians 4:4-6). In addition to water baptism, the Bible also mentions the Spirit baptism and baptism by fire, speaking of a divine identification and union of the new convert (believer) with Christ (the Head) and His body (the Church).

By being baptized with the Holy Spirit, every believer is given new nature and being transformed into God’s image (Colossians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Holy Spirit sanctifies our hearts, giving us the desire to trust and obey God (Ezekiel 36:26), and purifies our faith, giving us strength to endure suffering and temptation in this world (Mark 10:38; 1 Peter 1:7, 4:12-14).

Therefore, we can be Christ’s effective witness by the power from the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Baptism by fire produces godly characters manifested in a godly living and reverence to God because our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29).

The Importance of Baptism in Every Christian’s Life

Every Christian needs to experience water baptism, Spirit baptism, and baptism by fire in order to proclaim the victory upon believing and receiving Jesus Christ. The water baptism speaks of the washing of regeneration, while the Spirit baptism speaks of the renewing of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Titus 3:5-7; 1 John 5:6-8).

Baptism carries spiritual meaning — it is not about the washing of the flesh, but rather the cleansing of the heart, made possible through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21-22).

The ordinance of baptism is not found in the Old Testament, however, there are historical events that represented a type of baptism (as can be seen in the stories of Noah, Jonah, and Moses), which pointed to and ultimately found fulfillment in the New Testament practice commanded by Jesus Christ.

Baptism, while not essential for salvation, is essential for our spiritual growth. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23; Acts 16:30-31), thus nothing can be added to God’s grace for salvation.

By submitting to baptism, however, we take the first step of obedience as a believer. Obedience to God’s Word brings great reward in our lives.

For further reading:

What Is a Believer’s Baptism?

The Baptism and the Genealogy of Jesus Christ

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

What Ordinances Should the Church Keep?

What Does Living Water Mean in the Bible?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/kenzaza

Philip Wijaya, Ph.D. currently lives in Vancouver, Canada with his wife, Sandra, and their daughter, Shalom. His interest in science and faith in God has motivated him to actively write in his personal blog (philipwijaya.com), in addition to his professional research work in the area of clean energy and chemical engineering. In his leisure time, he enjoys sports, football games, music, and traveling with family.

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