We often use passages about baptism to show unbelievers the need to be baptized into Christ. Certainly, baptism was taught to those who had not yet done it. The various occasions in the book of Acts demonstrate this. Peter taught the need to be baptized in Acts 2. Those in Samaria heard it and were baptized in Acts 8. That it was taught is the only way to make sense of why the eunuch from Ethiopia, as they were traveling along, asked Philip, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36) The eunuch did not just pull that up out of the blue on his own. Philip had taught it to him as they were riding along. Paul was taught to do it in Acts 9 (cf. Acts 22:16). Cornelius and his household were told to be baptized in Acts 10. The Philippian jailor obviously heard from Paul in Acts 16. On we can go. Baptism was an integral part of the conversion process, and Acts is clear about that. If we are teaching the truth about Jesus, the Kingdom, and salvation, baptism will be a part of this teaching.
Yet there is something else to consider. When we look into the rest of the New Testament to read about baptism, we need to recognize that these writings, these epistles, were written to those who had already been baptized into Christ. So, for example, in Romans 6, Paul is not making an argument to tell the Romans that they need to be baptized, but is reminding them about the importance of the fact that they were, already, baptized. Read this in the context of one who has already done it and what does it show us?
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Rom 6:3-6)
Or read Galatians 3 to see what it tells the readers:
“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:26-27).
Several other passages like Colossians 2:11-14, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 1 Peter 3:21, and so on can be added to the list. These are passages written to those who had already submitted themselves to the Lord. Why is this so important?
These passages are not singling out some of the Christians who were baptized and separating them from others who were not baptized. These passages assume that they were all baptized. The fact that there is so much written to Christians about their own baptism is itself evidence that baptism is both necessary and stands at the beginning of their walk with the Lord.
Why is this important? Because while we want to teach non-Christians to be baptized into Christ, as in Acts, it is just as important that we be reminded of why we were baptized in the first place, as in the epistles. We need to be reminded of the commitment we made and what baptism meant to us. We put on Christ. We appealed to God for a good conscience. We were united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. We were baptized into one body. We put our faith in the working of God. All of these points (and more) serve to remind us continually why we submitted to the Lord in the first place, and they ought to be continually before us as we grow.
These passages also show us that we have a point in time to look back to so that we are reminded of the significance of what we did. Our baptism serves as a foundational grounding for us that we can think about no matter how mature we become in Christ. Sometimes it is quite important to go back to the beginning and remember why we did what we did.
The next time you read the epistles and come across these passages about baptism, don’t just think about what the non-Christian needs to do. Think about what you did and why you did it. This will help keep you grounded in the Lord. You will always have that anchor to go back to so that you can continue to move forward.