What does Baptism mean?
The act of baptism has a lot of symbolic meaning, but the main picture it provides is of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Death and burial is symbolised by going down into the water. Resurrection is symbolised by coming up out of the water.
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> Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4
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Baptism symbolises the change that occurs when someone turns away from living a life of rebellion against God and submits to the authority of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus described this transformation as being 'born again'. Becoming a Christian is not about changing your habits - it's like starting a whole new life.
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> Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
2 Cor 5:17
> Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 3:3
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When a person is baptised they publicly identify themselves with Jesus Christ and submit to his authority. This is a bold step in a world that rejects him. For this reason, those who merely 'profess' faith in Christ without a real change of heart are unlikely to seek baptism. However, willingness to be baptised is not the test of genuine faith. This is nowhere more clearly illustrated than in the example of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts Chapter 8.
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> Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
Acts 8:13-21
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Peter condemned Simon because his heart was not right with God - the fact that he was baptised counted for nothing.
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The use of water in baptism also symbolises the cleansing provided by Christ's sacrificial death on the cross (1 John 1:7). Having lived a perfect life, without sin, his blood (symbolising his death) paid the penalty for our rebellion against God (the wages of sin is death; Rom 6:23). By this process a righteousness from God is conferred upon those who have faith in Christ (Rom 3:22). We are thus made clean and acceptable to God.
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Read next: What about infant baptism?
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