The practice of baptism (ritual purification by water) precedes the New Testament, and historically even the Old Testament. The term is attached to Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Shintoism, American Indigenous Religions, and Buddhism. In nearly every case, baptism is the act of purification before one can be seen as able to sacrifice, or worship their God. It is the preparatory act, prior to walking toward God.
The Christian act of baptism grows from the practice of John the Baptist. While these two baptisms (Christian baptism and John’s baptism) are distinctly different in their relationship to salvation and Jesus, they were both for the forgiveness of sins, or the purification from it. It never originated with any denomination, or the inclusion in a denomination. In Mark 1:5 we find John’s mission was baptizing people. Not the act of cleansing physically, but of spiritual purification. (1 Peter 3:21) Baptism prior to John was an act which was quite different in its spiritual ramifications. It seems that John introduced and emphasized the concept of the absolution of sin through immersion. Judaism had proselyte immersion which was a ritual of induction into Judaism. The people of Qumran had ritual immersion up to several times daily, but not a one-time immersion for the forgiveness of sins.
John was sent from God. (John 1:7) His baptism was a simple immersion. (Matthew 3:13-16) It was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3) Interestingly, this Biblical immersion was a “type” repeated several times in Scripture. Noah’s flood and the ark survival is described as a “type” of baptism. (1 Peter 3:18-22)
New Testament Baptism is so far beyond “ritual” that words strain to even describe what it actually is. A recognition of the cost of my own sin makes this difficult to write. The reduction of baptism by some people to being ritual is part of the reason so many struggle to see its real importance or its Biblical mandate. If it were nothing more than ritual, then we would have trouble finding its place of necessity in Christian life because New Testament Christianity is a massive step away from shallow ritual or meaningless religion. Maybe this is why some groups have relegated baptism to an optional practice in the process of salvation. Failure to understand this results in an inaccurate view of salvation and even Jesus Himself.
The one thing that matters for us as people is to be part of Christ. Baptism is the initial entrance into that most precious relationship. (Galatians 3:26-27) When I contemplate the act of baptism and its connection to my salvation, I find many lessons. One is the gravity and destructiveness of my own sins. (Ephesians 2:1-3) I am reminded of my own inability to make any real atonement without the saving grace of God, and the purifying blood of His Son. It reminds me of the promise from a Savior who backed up His encouragement with a real-life example. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23) The only one, who raised His own Self from the dead, was Jesus the Christ. He lives and because He does, He tells me so can I. (Galatians 2:20) Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled scripture and showed us that He can surely keep the promises of our faith.
The world promises a great deal. It contains many things we want, but truthfully nothing we need. The one need we all have is to be saved from the ravages of our own sins. Only through contact with the blood of Christ can we find purity and holiness. (Hebrews 10:18) Only when Jesus went to the cross could we have an opportunity to find oneness with God. Only through His death can we find life! (1 John 3:16) Until we die to ourselves, we will never find life in Jesus. (John 12:24-25) After the spiritual death occurs, we are raised to a new life. (Romans 6) Baptism is the real life act of engaging in and uniting with Jesus in the most sacrificial act we can possibly participate in.
It is upon being baptized that God sees us as His children. It is the beginning of our spiritual walk. Our initial steps of purity begin once we are raised from waters that have immersed us. What we arise to is a life free from the penalties of sin and death and eternal unity with our Father. When you think you are invisible in this world, and trouble seems to be sinking your boat, please remember that Jesus died for you so that you could be with Him in eternity. No matter what our difficulty, we can look to our future with the hope Jesus gives us in our faithful response which is given us in the waters of baptism. (Acts 2) I pray your study of this matter will bring you closer to God. Godspeed on your journey.