So You've Been Baptized, Now What?

What does baptism entail beyond all that happens on the day of baptism? What is its long-term relevance and its daily significance?

So You've Been Baptized, Now What?
Photo by Vince Fleming / Unsplash

It is a beautiful day when one can make one's faith in Christ public through baptism. Baptism proclaims to the whole world that I believe in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ — that I am a sinner who needs salvation and has found it through union with Christ. Baptism beautifully pictures our union with both His death and His resurrection. As we go down in the water, we identify with His death and as we rise from the water, we identify with His resurrection. Through this union, I confess that I have also with Him died to sin and have risen to obey God. From now on, I will look back to my baptism to remember my union with Christ and all that it entails. Here is where I need to pay close attention to the Scriptures. What does baptism entail beyond all that happens on the day of baptism? What is its long-term relevance? Or, what is its daily significance?

To understand the New Testament teaching on baptism, we need to note, first of all, that Scripture uses baptism in three senses signifying distinct but not necessarily separate realities in the life of a child of God. The word 'baptism' is an English transliteration of a Greek word which simply means to immerse someone or something. In immersion, we always have three things involved in it. We have the baptizer or the one who does the immersion, the baptized or the one who is being immersed, and then the medium or the reality into which one is immersed during baptism. Considering the three senses of baptism in the New Testament, first of all, when we become born again through the word of God (Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23), we read in 1 Cor.12:13 that the Spirit of God (the baptizer) baptizes every repentant sinner (the baptized) into the body of Christ (the medium). This invisible and spiritual reality of being part of the body of Christ through our new birth is then signified by the visible and physical reality of water baptism. In water baptism, another believer, usually a man of God (the baptizer) baptizes a believer (the baptized) into water (the medium).  Thirdly, we read in Scripture (Matt. 3:11) that the Lord Jesus (the baptizer) baptizes a believer (the baptized) into the Holy Spirit (the medium).

Regarding the first two senses of baptism in the New Testament, we can say, that the first one is part of the work of the Holy Spirit in making us born again in Christ and be part of His church, the spiritual and mystical body of all true believers. In other words, this spiritual baptism is synonymous with our conversion to Christ. If someone has not experienced this reality of true conversion, they cannot meaningfully take part in water baptism. As we saw earlier, water baptism is a visible sign of an invisible reality. Hence in our journey to study the significance of water baptism, we should first of all keep in mind that water baptism gets all its spiritual significance only from the deeper reality it points to and not from the mere act itself. Simply because I jumped into a pool of water in a religious ritual does not possess any meaningful significance for the rest of my life. Only if I was truly a born-again child of God in Christ, repentant of all my sins and through faith pledging my allegiance to the Lordship of Jesus as my Saviour, does my water baptism have any significance in my life.  This is the reason why when we read the New Testament, Scripture often talks about our spiritual baptism and our water baptism together as simply baptism (Eph. 4:5). The invisible reality of spiritual baptism is considered synonymous with our visible ritual of water baptism. Thus in Scripture, water baptism is spiritually a burial of my old man (Rom. 6:1-4, Col. 2:12) and a bath for my conscience to begin my new life in Christ (Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:20-21). But bear in mind, this efficacy does not rest in the ritual as such (contra sacramentalism), but in the deeper spiritual reality wrought in by the Spirit during our conversion, the spiritual baptism into the body of Christ.

To unpack the daily significance of water baptism for all who took it meaningfully as born-again believers in Christ, let us look at five Scripture passages.

  1. Galatians 3:27 says, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." The spiritual significance of our baptism, according to this verse, is that we have been clothed with Christ. In other words, it speaks of our union with Christ. We have become one with Christ through our baptism. In Galatians 3:29, Paul further explains it as "belonging to Christ". So through baptism, we have gained a new identity in Christ — we belong to Him. Before baptism, I belonged to myself, but now I am no longer mine, but His. This picture of union with Christ is best portrayed, even in Scripture, by the reality of marriage (Eph. 5:25-32). Before the wedding event, the bride and the groom were independent. But as soon as the wedding is over, they no longer belong to themselves, but to each other. In the same way, through baptism, I belong to Christ as His possession.  
  2. Romans 6:4 says, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." Through baptism and union with Christ, not only do I have a new identity, but also a new walk that is consistent with this new identity. Just like in the illustration of marriage, not only do the bride and the groom get a new identity but also they have to maintain a pure and loyal love for each other in keeping with this new identity. In Romans 6, Paul is asking the rhetorical question that since salvation is by grace alone, does that then mean we can continue living in sin as we did before coming to Christ (Rom. 6:1)? His answer is an emphatic NO with the reason being such a walk is inconsistent for a baptized believer in Christ (Rom. 6:2). As Paul asks, how can someone who has died to sin through Christ live in it any longer? In other words, it is as absurd as someone who is married to a perfect spouse continues to be on a matrimonial site. So being baptized in Christ means there is a holy walk expected of me in keeping with my union with Christ. However, this is not to be misunderstood as simply behavioural modification based on mere morality. It is rather becoming what you truly are in Christ. Through my union with Christ, I have died to the power of sin and I have resurrection power in me to overcome sin. In other words, I am not only called to walk holy, but just like Christ was raised from the dominion of sin and death, I can now overcome sin by that same resurrection power (Rom. 6:6-14). So baptism now calls me to walk in the newness of life - a life of overcoming sin - which is now mine through Christ.
  3. Romans 13:14 says, "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." Upon first reading this verse, we might think it has nothing to do with baptism, but the root word in Greek for "putting on" is the same Greek word for clothing ourselves with Christ that we saw first in Galatians 3:27.  In Galatians, Paul used this word to speak of a fact that through baptism we have put on Christ. But in this verse, he makes it into a command that we must put on the Lord Jesus. How can being clothed with Christ be both a fact and a command? Or in grammatical terms, how can it be both an indicative and an imperative? I think the way the apostle is reasoning is that through baptism we have become one with Christ and have gained a new identity and there is a walk that goes with that identity, but now, it is our responsibility to uphold that walk steadfastly by maintaining a life free from the lusts of the flesh. Just like in a marriage, I get the identity of someone's spouse as soon as the wedding is over. But I can also be commanded to maintain that identity by avoiding all adultery. In the same way, putting on the Lord Jesus is both a fact and a command for all baptized believers. In fulfilling this command, we see it requires our involvement - making no provision for the flesh to fulfil its lusts. In other words, there is a new discipline that goes with this new walk, the discipline of saying no to sin. Hence Paul himself wrote, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Here we read Paul's personal discipline to maintain a holy life. It is not that resurrection power in Christ automatically makes us walk in victory over sin. Rather, Paul had to exercise self-control and discipline his body actively. His body was his slave and not that he was a slave to his body. Our body has many passions and if we do not exercise self-control we will easily become addicts - whether it be gluttony, slothfulness, or sexual immorality. Hence Paul says he used to discipline his body. The root word translated as discipline here comes from physical combat and literally means "to strike someone under the eye" and give them "a black eye". In other words, Paul got on a fight against his own bodily passions to keep them under control, lest after preaching to others, he himself was disobedient. So with baptism's new identity and new walk, we embark on a new discipline or fight for self-control.
  4. John 15:4-5 says, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." When we are baptized into Jesus Christ, the newness of life we enter affords us a new posture of abiding in Christ. In Him is our rest. Only if we abide in Him will we grow as believers who bear fruit (John 15:5). We must now rest in Him by faith (Heb. 4:1-3, 10). To rest in Him, we must always deny ourselves and give Him room to abide in us. When He abides in us, He will work in and through us His will. This is how Lord Jesus also lived on this earth, always denying Himself and allowing the Father to work through Him (John 14:10) So if we will also bear this daily dying of Jesus in our body – dying to our own will and giving room to God's will – we will also partake in the His resurrection life and we will also live like Him as holy and spiritually fruitful (2 Cor. 4:10-11). This is called taking up the cross and following the Lord (Luke 9:23). Thus the Christian life that begins with baptism is a life that bears fruit only through that communion of abiding in the Lord. For that, it is necessary that we take up the cross daily and abide in Him and He in us.
  5. Acts 2:41-42 says, "So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." We read that those who were baptized after hearing Peter's first evangelistic sermon on the day of Pentecost observed four things along with the early church. It is the apostolic pattern that the baptized should now be part of these four ministries together. For those who left the world and joined the Lord, the New Testament Church is now their new community. First, the baptized must learn apostolic doctrine. This study is about understanding, believing, and obeying the truths of God's Word. It is quite evident that one should not be baptized in churches that do not have apostolic teaching and study of the Word. Second, the baptized must fellowship. The root Greek word translated as fellowship means “sharing”. Children of God should share everything in life with each other and enjoy the genuine love and sweetness of their brotherhood in Christ. Thus fellowship in the Scriptures is more than just socializing. Third, the baptized must break bread together. Beyond observing the Lord's table, it means that they gathered together on the first day of every week to worship God through the breaking of bread (Acts 20:7). Congregational worship on the Lord's Day is a fundamental apostolic practice. We must not avoid it (Heb. 10:24-25). Fourth, the baptized should pray together. Beyond individual prayer, the prayer of the church is mentioned here. We should pray for each other in brotherly love (Eph. 6:18), and thus we should bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2). Prayer was the only response of the early church as they encountered adversities in all their ministries (Acts 12:5; 4:18; 4:23-31; 16:18-25). Thus, when we unite with Jesus through baptism, we are also brought into fellowship with his body, the church.

So in summary, what does baptism entail beyond all that happens on the day of baptism? What is its long-term relevance? Or, what is its daily significance? Water baptism points to the spiritual reality of our union with Christ. This spiritual reality gives us a new identity of belonging to Christ and not to myself anymore; a new walk of overcoming sin by the power of His resurrection; a new discipline of fighting for self-control to maintain steadfastness in this new walk of holiness; a new posture of abiding in Christ; and a new community of fellowship with the brotherhood of the church.

Water baptism is a one-time act of obedience, but it leads us to a life-long commitment of faithfulness to Christ. Having become one with the Lord, we must now walk in the newness of life - new identity, new walk, new discipline, new posture, new community. This is the relationship between water baptism and the Christian life. In other words, keeping our marriage imagery in mind, water baptism is like the wedding ring that signifies my new life of belonging to my covenant companion and points to my pledge of allegiance to my beloved and His family. As married lovers keep on looking to their wedding rings as reminiscent of the covenant vows they exchanged on their wedding day and draw new strength to love their spouses alone with singleness of heart, let us also keep on remembering our baptism and in keeping with our new identity in Christ, love our Bridegroom Beloved Jesus and His church with greater faithfulness, loyalty, and holiness. Amen.