Purposes of Baptism  
Various Passages
By Paul Robison

As was mentioned in our last lesson, there are some in our brotherhood who are no longer seeing baptism as a necessity for our salvation and as key to identifying who is a Christian.  We discovered that ministers are believing this way so that they can extend the borders of fellowship to others who are believers in Christ, no matter what their religious affiliation.  Last week, we saw how baptism is like a wedding ceremony; it is a very important, transforming, and defining event.  It is not just a part of a process that can be taken or left off.  In today's lesson, let's consider the purposes of baptism.  We want to look at Jesus' baptism and its purposes and how there are similarities with other examples of baptism in the New Testament.  Then we'll add some more purposes about our baptism beyond those linked with Jesus' baptism.
The first purpose of baptism is submission.  Jesus' baptism must be very important because it is mentioned in all four gospels.  Something significant is going on in this event of Jesus' life.  We know that the baptism practiced by Jesus' cousin, John, was for repentance, but Jesus did not need to repent.  “Jesus did not need forgiveness, for he was the very Son of God.  John's baptism was for sinners, so in this sense it [would] not be applicable to Jesus.
Jesus Himself mentions His baptism's purpose was 'to fulfill all righteousness' (Matthew 3:15)” (Young).  Let's see how this happened.   “In the Bible, righteousness means keeping God's commands.  Jesus submitted to John's baptism as a command of God.  Christ was saying, 'Since this is God's ordinance, I wish to honor it and to obey this command, even though I do not need to.'  What a tremendous attitude” (Ibid.)!  We also must submit to Christ.  That is the purpose of our baptism, just as it was Christ's purpose.
Jesus told His disciples these words in Matthew 28:18-20: “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 of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Because of His obedience to God, Jesus is now commanding His apostles to make disciples, to make followers, to help others to be Christians.  How are they to do that?  They are to baptize or immerse them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and then they are to teach them to observe, to obey, to practice His commands that He had taught them.  Jesus said in essence: “Tell others to be baptized and teach others to follow My teachings.”  Now isn't that clear?  So Jesus desires your baptism as an important action to becoming His disciple.  Have you obeyed Him?  Just as Jesus submitted to baptism as a command of God, so will you submit to baptism as a command of Jesus?  Jesus has all authority, and if He tells you to do something, shouldn't you obey what He desires of you?  So one purpose of baptism is to show our obedience or our submission to what Jesus desires.
Another purpose of baptism is separation.  When Gentiles wanted to become full-fledged Jews, they had to submit to a ritual washing.  This washing showed that they were separating themselves from their past pagan practices in order to serve the one true and living God.  When Jesus was baptized, another separation took place.  We see that He leaves His family and His occupation, and He begins a public ministry of service to others.  Likewise, the baptism in which we partake is the result of repentance and leads to a separation of our past lives.  “Repentance is the decision to turn, and baptism is the turning around.  Repentance is the inward turning, and baptism is the outward turning, which is followed by the new life of walking in the opposite direction” (Ferguson).  Listen to the apostle Paul's description of this turning or new focus in Romans 6:2-4: “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?  Or do you now know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” 

Through repentance, you begin to separate yourself from your sinful past, and then at baptism, you make that separation definitive and start living in a newness of life, which is the life that Jesus commands and teaches a Christian or a disciple to live.  Have you made such a public separation?  The apostle Paul teaches that baptism is the turning point from a life devoted to sin to a life devoted to God.  Have you put into practice what the apostle Paul teaches on the matter?  “Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”  Baptism shows separation.
Another purpose of baptism is dedication.  Someone once observed that Jesus' baptism was an appropriate act where He “entered His work [as] prophet, priest, [and] king” (Young).  Let's think for a moment about Jesus' role as a prophet.  What usually happened when God called a prophet in the Old Testament to preach to His people?  Yes, that man would usually have some kind of vision about God: Isaiah saw God surrounded by angelic beings; Ezekiel saw four heavenly creatures, wheels, and a throne; Daniel saw a throne and a heavenly court.  Immediately after Jesus' baptism, Matthew reports: “and behold, the heavens were open to Him” (3:16).  Only one other time in the New Testament are the heavens opened, and when they were, Stephen saw the glory of God and the Risen Jesus.  So Jesus must have seen the glory of God too, and so He was affirmed as The Prophet who Moses had predicted would come and to whom the Jews should listen and obey (Acts 3:22-26).  In the same way that Jesus was dedicated to His role as a prophet, so we, at our baptism, dedicate ourselves to living under God's new covenant.  In fact, 1 Peter 3:21 states it this way: “There is an antitype [and Peter has just talked about Noah's salvation] which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer [or some versions say “the pledge”] of a good conscience towards God).”  You see, like a prophet who pledges himself to do God's will, so “baptism is [our] pledge of [devotion], [our] oath of loyalty to Christ. ... Our baptism represents the pact, the covenant into which [we] enter with God” (Ferguson).  At baptism, we show our commitment and our dedication to doing Jesus' will.  “After [our] baptism into Christ, [we] wear the name of Christ.  [We] now live a Christian life because we became a Christian at baptism” (Ferguson).  As Jesus began to live as a prophet, so we begin to live as one dedicated to Christ and to following Him, wherever that might lead.  Has baptism saved you because of your pledge of dedication to Christ, which shows a good conscience towards God?
Another purpose of baptism is consecration.  Now let's think about Jesus as priest.  He is actually called our High Priest in Hebrews 3:1.  Under the law of Moses, the Levites entered into their service as priests at the age of 30, and Luke 3:23 informs us that Jesus began His ministry at the age of 30.  In fulfilling all righteousness, Jesus may have had this idea about the priesthood in mind as well.  According to Exodus 29:4-7 and Leviticus 8:6ff, the consecration of the priests involved two acts—a washing and an anointing.
Isn't that exactly what happened to Jesus?  His baptism was the washing, and the Holy Spirit descending upon like a dove was His anointing!  Notice carefully that this idea is sustained by the apostle Peter in Acts 10:36ff: “The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him.”  Thus, we see that Jesus was divinely consecrated at His baptism.  The same thing happens to us.  “God wants you to be a part of His priesthood, the church.  You must be consecrated, and your attitudes must be given over to Him” (Young).  To be prepared to become a priest who serves as a mediator between God and others (and all Christians have this glorious responsibility according to 1 Peter 2:9), we too experience a washing and an anointing by God's Spirit.  Remember in our reading what Paul writes to Titus in 3:4ff: “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, [Well, how did He save us?] through the washing of regeneration [or rebirth] and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  Our washing of rebirth is baptism, and our anointing is the gift of the Holy Spirit given abundantly at our baptism.  So another purpose of baptism is our consecration into the priesthood of all believers.
Another purpose of baptism is adoption.  Let's return to Jesus' baptism and hear what happens in Matthew 3:17: “And suddenly a voice came from heaven saying, “This is My  beloved Son ...”  Jesus was God's unique and only begotten Son, and at His baptism, Jesus hears God's voice which confirms His Sonship in a public way.  Our adoption as God's sons and daughters also takes place at our baptism.  Did you catch the closing words of the passage we just read in Titus?  Listen again: “through the washing of rebirth and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”  Heirs are a part of a family, aren't they?  Notice how rebirth, renewal, justification, and becoming heirs are all taking place at the same time.  That definitive event is baptism!  So baptism is where we also become heirs or sons and daughters in God's family.  This is also confirmed in 1 Corinthians 6:11.  Paul lists many sins in the previous verses and then states that such sinners will not inherit God's kingdom, or eternal life in heaven.  Then notice what he writes: “And such were some of you.  But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”  Notice how washing, sanctification, and justification are all linked together again. Washing surely refers to baptism.  Today you fall into one of two positions: You are a child of God's wrath who lives in the kingdom of darkness or you are a child of God's hope who lives in the kingdom of His beloved Son (Ephesians 2:3; Colossians 1:13), and there is no middle ground!  With the washing of baptism, you can become God's adopted son or daughter, and you will be made an heir who will inherit heaven and eternal life if you will live faithfully according to Jesus' teachings!  So another purpose of baptism is adoption.
Another purpose of baptism is mission.  At Jesus' baptism, He also heard these words from God in Matthew 3:17: “And suddenly a voice came from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  This statement from God underscores Jesus' mission or His role as the Messiah or king.  Another preacher explains it in this way:  “The statement of God here is actually two quotes from the Old Testament.  'This is My beloved Son' is from Psalm 2:7.  Every Jew accepted this as a description of the Messiah.  'In whom I am well pleased' is from Isaiah 42:1; [and this is part of a description] which ends with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.  In the baptism of Jesus came two certainties that would shape His ministry and confirm His Sonship with God: the certainty that He was the chosen one of God [the Messiah or King] and the certainty that the way in front of Him was the way of the cross. ... In this moment [at His baptism] was set before Christ His task [or His mission] and an awareness of the challenge of fulfilling it.  He knew who He was, [and] where He was going.  Something similar [should] occur in our baptism.  We should know clearly who we are, where we are going, and to what we have committed ourselves” (Young).  Notice that something similar happened to the apostle Paul at his conversion.  Jesus told Ananias, a Christian, these words: “Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake” (Acts 9:15-16).  We see here that witnessing for Jesus and suffering for Him were going to be Paul's mission. 

Also let's note that Paul is still waiting to hear about this mission in Acts 9:17.  His experience on the Damascus road was not the point of his conversion!  He has been fasting and waiting patiently to see what Jesus would have him to do (v. 9), and this is exactly why Jesus sent Ananias to him.  When Ananias finds Paul, he tells him that Jesus has sent him, that Jesus wants Paul to be healed, and that Jesus wants Paul to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Now notice what Acts 9:18 says: “Immediately, there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once, and he arose and was baptized.”  Following his baptism, Paul began to preach that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  He was so forceful in his debates with the Jews in Damascus that some other Jews plotted to kill him (9:23).  The brethren then helped Paul to escape from Damascus.  You see, after his baptism, Paul began experiencing his mission—he witnessed about Jesus, and he began suffering for Him as well.  Who knows what mission Jesus may have in mind for you as well.
Let baptism be the point where your life takes a turn for the better.  Yes, there may be hardships as you bear your cross and stand up for Christ's name, but your life will be a joyful blessing to so many others as you strive each day to follow in Jesus' steps!  Another purpose of baptism is mission or a new purpose for living.
Another purpose of baptism is transformation.  We have seen similarities to Jesus' baptism and to our baptism.  At this point, let's add some more purposes about baptism beyond those linked with Jesus' baptism.  Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus never sinned, so we know that Jesus was not baptized to have His sins forgiven, but this is not the case with us.  We are sinners, we are guilty of violating God's will, we are children of wrath!  We need a Savior who can rescue us, and forgive us, and restore a lost friendship with God.  How does such a transformation take place?  Are there any examples in the New Testament where sinners have asked what they needed to do to be saved? 

Yes, in the book of Acts, we find two.  Let's look at them quickly.  Look at Acts 2:36ff where we find the apostle Peter preaching: “'Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified both Lord and Christ [or the promised Messiah].'  Now when they heard this [when these Jews understood that they had killed God's Messiah], they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles: 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?'  [There's our question isn't it?  'We are guilty of murder, fellow Jews, so now what shall we do to have this awful sin forgiven, to be rescued from this terrible situation?]  Then Peter said to them: 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of the Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”  For what purpose were repentance and baptism into Jesus' name practiced?  The text says, “'For' or 'in order to obtain' “the remission (or the forgiveness) of their sins.”  And in addition to this, they would also be given God's Spirit as a gift at their baptism.  And then notice that the promise of forgiveness and God's Spirit is not only for those people, but “for all afar off”—and that's us!  In other words, the transformation that took place for those Jews through their baptism into Jesus' name is the same transformation that can take place for us when we are baptized into Jesus' name as well!  Your past sins can be forgiven, and you can be indwelt with God's Spirit as well!  By the way, “the teaching of forgiveness of sins in baptism is expressed in other passages by the imagery of washing or cleansing” as we've already seen.  We mentioned the conversion of Saul previously, but you might be interested to know that Saul was also told these words found in Acts 22:16: “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”  Now let's look at the second example in Acts 16:29ff: “And he [a jailer in Philippi] called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.  And he brought them out and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'  [There's our question again.]  So they said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.'  [But what does this “belief” involve?  Let's read on.]  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house [notice, they had not believed yet because they first had to hear the Gospel in order to understand who Jesus was.  What does that message do?  It causes them to be sorrowful for their sinful lives, just like it did to the Jews who heard Peter.  So they want to repent and notice now what they do].  And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes [Now that's showing a penitent heart isn't it?]  And immediately, he and all his family were baptized.  [Just as Peter followed Christ's order to make disciples by having the Jews to be baptized in Jesus' name, so Paul does exactly the same thing! 

The same way of salvation that was valid for the Jews is also valid for these Gentiles!]  Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them, and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.”  Why did he rejoice?  Because he had believed in Jesus!  And what did that belief entail?  It involved hearing the Gospel, showing repentance, and being baptized.  All of these actions were involved in his belief, exactly as all of these actions had been involved in the Jews' salvation.  You are hearing the Gospel in this lesson, so now why won't you also repent and be baptized, just as those early Christians did?  Baptized into the name of the Father, who provides justification, of the Son, who provides restoration of friendship, and the Holy Spirit, who provides purification!  Another purpose of baptism is great transformation.
A final purpose of baptism that differs from that of Jesus is unification.  
1 Corinthians 12:13 states: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.  For in fact the body is not one member but many.”  The body spoken of here is the church.  The Gospel is for all, so all kinds of people from all nations and all stations in life are now united in the church.  But how is entrance made into that one body?  “For by the Spirit, we were all baptized into one body.”  Baptism puts you into the group of those who are saved.  Jesus puts it this way in John 3:5-6: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  When one is born in the waters of baptism and drinks of the one Spirit by being given that gift at baptism, then he can enter into God's worldwide kingdom.  Another purpose of baptism is unification.
Let your baptism show your submission, your separation, your dedication, your consecration, adoption, mission, transformation, and unification!  Let your baptism visibly show forth to all this resolve: “I take God to be my Lord and highest aim, I take Christ to be my Prince of peace and Savior, I take the Holy Spirit to be my Guide and Comforter.  I take the teachings of the New Covenant to be the rule for all my actions, and I take the church to be my people under all conditions.  I do hereby dedicate and devote to Jesus all that I am, all that I have, and all I can do.  And this I do deliberately, freely, and forever [because I believe that Jesus is God's Son]” (modified Henry in Swindoll)!  Follow in Jesus' footsteps and begin that new mission in life to which He is calling you!  Wash away your past sins and become an heir to eternal life!