In a previous article published in April 2021, we asked the question: When is it the right time to be baptised? The next few articles of this series on baptism will focus on the meaning of baptism. Why get baptised? Is this not a primitive ritual of primitive people? Why get wet? Does baptism achieve anything? Is it not enough that I believe? Are we not saved by grace through faith? Where does baptism fit in? These are questions we want to address in this article.
Rituals are full of meaning
Educated, twenty-first century people tend to look down on rituals as meaningless, superstitious practices of primitive people. What they don’t realise is that human life is driven by rituals. Things we say to each other every day are rituals. For example, we have the greeting rituals which comprise words and actions. Each culture has its own greeting ritual. Imagine walking into the office tomorrow morning and not saying anything. Imagine a colleague walks to you and say “good morning” whilst they extend their right hand for a handshake ritual, and you say “good morning” but keep your right hand to yourself. The greeting rituals of handshakes and “good mornings” are not empty rituals. They mean something deep, like how we feel about the person we are meeting, and whether we are feeling okay or not.
The Old Testament is full of rituals which God commanded that the people of Israel perform. So, the first answer as to why believers must get baptised is simply this: Jesus commanded it. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commanded the disciples to go into the whole world preaching the gospel, and instructed them to baptise those who believe in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The question in the early church was never whether somebody should be baptised or not, but why they should not be baptised. It was commonly accepted that believers will be baptised. For example, the common question was: “is there anything that prevents me from getting baptised?” (Acts 8:36; 10:47)
In the previous article we indicated that our baptism is a participation in the baptism of Jesus. When we are baptised, we claim for ourselves all that belonged to Jesus. In this regard, baptism gives us the right to be called children of God. “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John. 1:12 NLT)
When Jesus was baptised, the voice of God the Father was heard saying: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17 NIV)
When each one of us is baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, those words apply to us as well. We become the beloved sons of God, with whom he is pleased. Baptism is like an adoption ritual for us to become sons of God. Just like adopting parents sign the adoption papers, which is a legal ritual before they can claim the child as their own, we too get baptised so that we can share in the sonship of Jesus as son of God. Baptism is our adoption. It is for this reason that we are baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Just like the adopted chid assumes the name of the adopting parents, at baptism we too assume the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Do you want to be adopted as the son of God? “…Repent and be baptized… in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts. 2:38 NIV)