What is Baptism, and who should be baptized? Before the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, He gave the Great Commission to His disciples: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matthew 28:19-20.

It was thus the Lord’s desire that, as His servants went throughout the world with the Gospel, they should baptize those who received the message. Baptism is an ordinance instituted by the Lord Himself. This raises two questions. First, how is the ordinance of baptism carried out? Secondly, what is the meaning of baptism?

In order to find a true answer to the first, we shall turn to Acts 8:26-39. There we find a servant of the Queen of Ethiopia riding along in his chariot, and reading the book of Isaiah, chapter 53, in the Old Testament. This man was a sincere seeker for the truth, and so God instructed His servant, Philip, to speak with him. Philip told him how the Lord Jesus had died on Calvary so that sinners might be saved. The traveler believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, and then asked Philip if he could be baptized. Inasmuch as the man had truly believed on Christ, Philip agreed to baptize him. The chariot was therefore halted near a body of water. Now notice verses 38 and 39 carefully. “And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.” Now what is the true significance of this ceremony, which was carried out so simply along that eastern highway many years ago, and which continues to be performed to this very day?

A. First of all, it is an act of obedience to the expressed will of the Lord Jesus. Matthew 28:19.

Its purpose is not to put away the filth of the flesh, but rather to give the Christian a good conscience toward God, knowing that he has obeyed the Lord’s will. I Peter 3:21. Only those who have heard and believed should be baptized. Acts 18:8.

B. Secondly, Romans 6:3-5 teaches that it is a symbol or picture of a spiritual truth.

(1) The water is a picture of judgment and death.
(2) When Christ died, He went under the waters of judgment and death to put away our sins. Heb.9:26.
(3) Since Christ died as a substitute for the believer, it is equally true that the believer died with the Lord Jesus. In other words, when Christ died, I died. When He was buried, I was buried. When He arose, I arose.
(4) The Christian has died to sin, to the world and to self. He has died to all that he was by nature, and from now on God no longer sees him in his sins, but sees him in Christ, risen from the dead, and possessing the resurrection life of Christ. Galatians 2:20.
(5) Thus, when a Christian is baptized, he is making a public confession that he has taken his place with Christ in death and burial, and he shall seek to show to all that he has a new life in Christ. Colossians 2:12; 3:1-2.

C. There is another aspect of baptism that must not be confused with water baptism. The word baptism means to immerse or to make a part of. The baptized believer is one who has been immersed in water. However, Scripture also speaks of believers being baptized or made part of the death of Christ. Therefore a believer’s life should show that his or her flesh, or old nature, has been put in the place of death. Thus, baptism for the believer is a matter of the heart, as well as the outward profession.
In the early days of the Church, when a believer was baptized, he was often persecuted and murdered in a short time. Yet whenever others were saved, they too stepped forward to fill up the ranks of the martyrs by being baptized. Even today in heathen lands, baptism may be the signal for the beginning of terrible persecution. In many countries a believer will be tolerated as long as he confesses Christ only with his lips. But whenever he publicly confesses Christ in baptism, the enemies of the Cross take up their battle against him.

Yet whatever the cost may be, each one who is baptized enjoys the same experience that the Ethiopian eunuch did. It is written of him: “He went on his way rejoicing.” Acts 8:39.