Baptism, which, biblically, is immersion, is not our design. We didn’t invent it as a practice. We didn’t come up with the reasons for doing it. We weren’t the ones who tied it to remission of sins, appealing to God for a good conscience, being clothed with Christ, or dying with Him to be raised up with Him in a new life. Our task, as those who would teach and practice what the Scriptures teach, is to be true to the biblical message. The answer, then, as to why we teach that baptism is necessary, is found within Scripture itself. Why is baptism so important?
1. Because Jesus taught His disciples to baptize. He commissioned His disciples: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:18-20). If we are going to take Jesus seriously, we will seek to do what He taught disciples to do, and He taught His disciples to baptize others.
2. Because the disciples carried out Jesus’ commission to baptize. The book of Acts shows how the disciples carried out Jesus’ commission. Multiple examples demonstrate this:
On the day of Pentecost, Peter, after preaching that Christ was raised to sit on David’s throne, responded to the question, “What shall we do?” by telling them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). The response was significant: “those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (v. 41).
Other cases in Acts show the same. For example, when Philip preached in Samaria, we find that “when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12). When Philip taught the eunuch and they came across water, the eunuch responded, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36) This tells us that Philip, in teaching Jesus and the kingdom, was also teaching baptism. Why would they have been baptized so promptly if they didn’t see the need for it?
When Saul of Tarsus saw the light of Christ, Ananias, by Jesus’ commission, told Saul, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Saul did just that. Upon regaining his sight and hearing what Ananias said, “he got up and was baptized” (Acts 9:18).
When Peter went to Cornelius, his message included baptism: “he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48). Here, Peter directly tied baptism in the name of Jesus to water (Acts 10:47).
The apostle Paul carried out the same message. In Acts 16, we find Lydia and her household being baptized after her heart was opened to respond (Acts 16:14-15). Later, the jailer at Philippi had a change of heart and, upon hearing of his need for Jesus, “immediately he was baptized, he and all his household” (Acts 16:33).
As the gospel spread, we learn that “many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (Acts 18:8), and that those at Ephesus, after learning the truth, were baptized (Acts 19:5). Clearly the message of Christ and His kingdom throughout the book of Acts included baptism. Shall we diminish its importance now? The disciples then carried out what Jesus taught, and so should we now.
3. Because the epistles emphasize the importance of baptism. For instance, in Paul’s epistles, we learn that we are baptized into the death of Christ in order to be raised with Him, thereby mirroring His death and resurrection (Rom 6:3-5). We learn that we are baptized into one body (1 Cor 12:13), and that, in baptism, we clothe ourselves with Christ (Gal 3:27). We are “buried with Him in baptism” and “raised up with Him through faith in the working of God” (Col 2:11-13). It’s really God’s work, and we are simply submitting to that.
Peter also emphasized the importance of baptism by saying that “baptism now saves—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3:21).
None of this is saying that we are earning our salvation by works. Salvation is by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9). Yet it is still by God’s grace that He gives baptism its importance as we commit ourselves to Him, die with Him to be raised up with Him, and receive the forgiveness that He offers through Jesus. We teach the importance of baptism because it’s just what God’s word says about it, and we don’t ever want to diminish the importance of that message.