What is Baptism and who is it for?

Short Answer

Baptism is a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who came to save the world from sin (1 Timothy 1:15), and baptism is a witness to the world that: 1) Christ died and was raised from the dead & 2) the person being baptised has been saved by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. In this baptism is also a symbol of the death of his old self and the re-birth of the new person. Therefore it is for the saved persons –the one who believes on Jesus Christ.


Baptism is not new, nor did Jesus invent it. John the Baptist, who was about half a year older than Jesus and was his cousin, went about baptising (Mark 1:4, John 3:37). Indeed John the Baptist baptised Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17, John 1:30-34) in a manner that was very familiar with the people at the time.

What is Baptism?

Baptism is symbolic, and relies upon two actors: the baptiser and the one being baptised.

God enjoys role-plays, and has set out many role playing activities for his people to follow over the years. Every year the Children of Israel had seven feasts to attend, and each was role-play that set out the blessings of God. The most important was Passover, which emphasised that God had saved Israel out of Egypt and had given them the Land of Canaan. Indeed Jewish families the world over play out the Passover, removing all yeast from their homes and eating unleavened bread and lamb, just as happened in Egypt when the children of Israel left (Exodus 12). God also uses symbolism; indeed the ceremonial Law of Moses was all symbolic, as the Bible states in Hebrews 9:9.

Baptism is no different and indeed is linked to Passover. It is both symbolic and a role-play and has been commanded by God to be undertaken by all who believe on the name of Jesus.

Baptism is a symbol – it symbolises three things

  1. Baptism acts out in symbolic form what happed to the Lord Jesus Christ when he was crucified, buried and raised from the dead.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.1 Corinthians 15:20, 22

  1. A person who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ is saved – that is he is justified by the grace of God, and that one is born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to Nicodemus (John 3) that only by being born again can one enter the kingdom of heaven. Baptism symbolises that the old self has been buried and that person has be raised by Christ in newness of life.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Romans 6:3,4

  1. Baptism presents a picture of the reality of the life of a saved person in that it sets out the reality of the baptism of the Holy Spirit of a person who has believed. That one will die (unless Christ returns before), and be buried but his soul will be raised to heaven because of the work wrought by Jesus Christ on the cross – in that Christ paid our debt in full and the believer has been justified.

Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. Colossians 2:12

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36

The role of the baptiser – the reality of grace

As Paul states in Ephesians, salvation is by grace alone. Grace is undeserved favour - it is a gift. In the baptism the person is placed into the water – and it is the baptiser that raises the person out again. There is no effort on the part of the one being baptised - it is the effort of the baptiser that creates the symbol.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7

This fits with the grace of God – there is nothing a person can do except believe on the Lord Jesus Christ because it was Christ who paid our debt in full by dying on the cross. In reality the symbolism demonstrates our justification.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus Romans 3:23-24

Likewise, a person being baptised has faith the baptiser will raise him back out of the water! This underscores that being saved is an act of faith upon God, and is not a result of one's own goodness, for we have none (see Ephesians 2).

Into what is a person baptised?

A person is not baptised into an organisation or even a church – on being saved a person is automatically ‘church’ – a part of the House or the Body of God of which Christ is the foundation and head, respectively. A person on being saved is baptised by the Holy Spirit, into Christ; water baptism symbolises this aspect as well.

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Romans 6:3

Therefore, as stated emphatically in the document, baptism is a symbol only, and represents what the Holy Spirit has done when a person who repented by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Why be baptized?

A person who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ is encouraged to be baptised because:

  • The Bible commands believers to be baptised – it is an act of obedience to God. Christians delight in pleasing God, and therefore, will want to be baptised.
  • It is an act of witness of the power of the Gospel to:
    • The world – it displays publically you have been saved, and are a child of God, demonstrating the reality of the gospel.
    • The church – which demonstrates your willingness to obey God

Some facts about Baptism


A person needs to be qualified to be baptised. The Bible states:

 “Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38

Repent means ‘to change your mind’. That is, before you were saved, you were going in a direction away from God (and straight to hell); on repenting you turned around and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism requires that you have repented.

Baptism shows that:

  1. You profess to be dead with Christ (For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3).
  2. You believe the living Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved Acts 16:31) – which means you believe he rose from the dead, and
  3. You have confessed Jesus Christ, the Son of God as you Lord and Saviour (that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9).

How is baptism carried out?

Baptism is done in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20) by immersing the person in water.

Baptism is about dipping someone into water and drawing them out again. The word baptism comes from one of five Greek words. Bapto means to dip and baptizo means to baptise or make fully wet. The other words include the baptiser – baptisteris, baptism – baptisma, and the word baptismos which is translated baptism or washing. We conclude from this that baptism has something to do with water and getting wet. We believe it is carried out publicly by another person who simply dips the person fully in a body of water and raises them out again.


You may have heard of some controversies about Baptism. These we will look at briefly in one of the studies.

Mark 16:16

He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

Some hold these verses are not in the original Canon. Notwithstanding, in the days of the Apostles a person accepting Jesus as his saviour was baptised immediately, as the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27) in Acts did. The understanding in those days was much clearer, as shown by the attitude of the people to John the Baptist. Baptism identified a person with an idea, message, person or group. The act of baptism it self does not and cannot save.

John 3:5

Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

This has nothing to do with baptism, but being born again. Water represents action of the Holy Spirit here and in other parts of Scripture. Paul writes; not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Being born of water is a Jewish expression of physical birth.

Acts 2:38

Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The word of issue is ‘for’, which has been used to connect baptise with remission of sins – this is not true. Baptism cannot remove your sin. The same word occurs in Matthew 12:41, and means “on account of”. Darby’s New Translation puts it:  Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; note the commas.

Acts 22:16

And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptised, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'

Does this mean baptism washes away sins? In the Greek there is no “and” between “baptised” and “wash”. Overall the verse has multiple parts:

  1. Arise – is not an imperative, but rather a participle, that is, a word that modifies the verb, and means ‘arising’.
  2. Be baptised – is an imperative, that is, a command.
  3. Wash away your sins – is an imperative, that is, a commend
  4. Calling on the name of the Lord – is a participle and means: “having called” – that is, the action has already occurred, before the “arise and be baptised” is pronounced. It could be translated “having called on his name”, being an aorist participle (The action takes place before the action of the main verb – be baptised).

So this means, a person being saved by calling upon His name, should arise and be baptised, which is an act of obedience.

Note that if baptism was done by sprinkling of water on the person there would have been no need to arise – emphasizing the emersion attribute of baptism.

Some have used this verse to mean one can baptise one’s self. The Greek does not allow this interpretation; however, it is hard to translate into English the exact meaning.

1 Peter 3:20, 21

Who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

These verses do not speak of salvation but the deals with the conscience. When one believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit baptises him or her – removing the guilt of sin. Water baptism is carried out in obedience to God – to demonstrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The one who is not baptised is disobeying God, and therefore will have the guilt of disobedience.

Baptism is certainly a sign of cleansing, but in and of itself it cannot cleanse.

A study for people wishing to be baptised

Baptism - A study for Individuals preparing to be baptised


David L Simon (June 2017)
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