Is baptism an outward expression of an inward change? Yes it is. However, in our modern-day Christian culture it’s as though that has become the standard reply to the question, “What is Baptism?” While baptism is an outward expression of an inward change it represents and symbolizes so much more – Biblically speaking.
With that being said, I’m going to make an assumption – I’m going to assume that the overwhelming majority of people who are reading this have some level of familiarity with baptism. Therefore, details concerning immersion versus sprinkling, believer’s baptism versus covenant baptism, orthodox views of baptism versus heretical views of baptism, will be set aside for the moment. Instead we will consider the glorious arrow that believer’s baptism by immersion is, as it depicts the spiritual reality/ spiritual baptism that happened upon conversion.
Amazing truth #1: Baptism symbolizes and portrays our solidarity with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection. When a person is baptized they are not only publicly identifying themselves as followers of the Lord Jesus they are expressing their personal identification with His death, burial, and resurrection. All of those elements are portrayed in baptism. Going into the water symbolizes the spiritual union that occurs at salvation whereby a believer is united to Christ in His death and burial (Rom. 6:3b,4a), and when a believer comes up out of the water it depicts the connection between Jesus’ physical resurrection and the believer’s spiritual resurrection whereby they walk in newness of life (vs.4b). The act of baptism, then, is the disciple’s illustrative portrayal that they have been crucified with Christ nevertheless they live (cf. Gal. 2:20). They believe that although they weren’t physically present on the cross with Him, the punishment for their sins was; and they wordlessly proclaim that Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is the conduit of their forgiveness and newness.
Amazing Truth #2: Baptism is a symbolic burial. When a person is immersed under the water in baptism it represents the way in which a corpse is surrounded by earth and dirt in burial. Such is why Paul would use language like “buried with Him in baptism” (Col. 2:12a). The spiritual reality spoken of in that verse is well depicted in water baptism. When a believer is baptized it’s as though they are saying, ‘The old me died. He is dead and buried.’ I have been at a decent amount of funerals and although I’ve rejoiced knowing that a brother or sister in Christ was present with the Lord while I was present at the funeral, I’ve never been exuberantly joyful when I saw the body about to be placed in the ground. But every time that I’ve seen someone baptized I have celebrated the dramatic reenactment of their former self’s burial. And buried along with the ‘old man’ are all the sins that the old nature could or would commit. It’s a Micah 7:19 reminder that not only is the old self gone but the Lord has cast our sins into the depths of the sea.
Amazing Truth #3: Baptism illustrates our newness of life in Christ. Whereas the death of Christ abolishes the old man, it is through the resurrection of Christ that believers are born again to a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3). And, as you might imagine, the connection between the two and baptism is explicitly made in the Scriptures. After speaking about our being buried with Christ through baptism into death, the apostle Paul wrote, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (vs.4b). Therefore, our emergence out of the baptismal waters portrays both Jesus’ physical resurrection and our spiritual resurrection. The old man had passed away, the new man, who is clean (Heb. 10:22; 1 Pet. 3:21) and washed (Rev. 1:5; Ti. 3:4,5), is ready to walk in newness of life. I think one of the best inadvertent compliments that I ever received after coming to know Christ was from those who said, “I feel like I don’t even know you any more.” They didn’t say that because I was mean or nasty or anything like that, they said that because with the newness of life came newness of affections and direction, both of which centered upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
Amazing truth #4: Baptism illustrates our being clothed with Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). So, being spiritually baptized into Christ, a work that the Holy Spirit performs at conversion (1 Cor. 12:13), a work depicted in water baptism, also points to being clothed with Christ. It’s as though when a person comes up from under the water and their entire body is dripping wet, it represents that the entirety of who they are is clothed with the very righteousness of Christ (cf. Isa. 61:10). They have put off the old man [he or she is dead and buried] (Eph. 3:22) and they have put on the new man (vs.24) along with the robe of His righteousness.
Amazing Truth #5: Baptism illustrates the washing away of sins. While the previous ‘amazing truths’ depicted in water baptism have explicit connections to the baptism of the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, this one appears to be made in Ananias’ exhortation to Paul in Acts 22:16: “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” As we have noted in a previous teaching, this verse does not teach that baptism washes away sins, “calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16c) is what does that. However, the fact Ananias used that kind of language (i.e. “wash away your sins”) appears to suggest a connection between the imagery of baptism and the soul-washing that happens when one calls on the name of the Lord in repentant faith.