There is no subject more debated in Christianity than baptism. The debate ranges from who should be baptized to how they should be baptized. Further, the discussion centers on the purpose of baptism. Is baptism a covenant for a young child to be realized later in life? Is baptism an outward sign of an inward grace? Is baptism essential for salvation or the remission of sins? Entire denominations and religious movements have been founded over the answer to the above questions. This essay will discuss the connection between baptism and the Christian life. In order to understand this relationship attention will be given to the purpose of baptism and what it communicates about the Christian life.
First, Consider the purpose of baptism. Many in Christianity view baptism as a sacrament. The term “sacrament” was developed by Tertullian. Sacraments are said to signify grace that Christians have already experienced. Therefore, baptism is an outward confession or expression of identifying with Christ to the world. Baptism, to some, is only a symbol. Grenz believes that baptism symbolizes our union with Christ (Rom. 6:3-8, a transfer of our loyalties to the church (1 Cor. 12:13), and our union with Christ in his resurrection (1 Pet. 3:21).
While respect should be shown to Grenz and McGrath, their positions on baptism fall short of the biblical teaching. The Bible does not teach that baptism is a sign of salvation but is the final step in seeking salvation. Everett Ferguson boldly writes, “Or better stated, baptism is the appointed time at which God pronounces forgiveness. Faith takes away the love of sin, repentance takes away the practice of sin, and baptism takes away the guilt of sin. The association of washing in water with purity made it natural to associate the immersion bath with the washing away of sins.”
Further, the Bible says that baptism unites one with Christ (Rom. 6:3-8) and saves (1Pet. 3:21). Ferguson correctly observes, “Peter clearly distinguishes the baptismal washing from an ordinary bath or ceremonial cleansing. The difference is made, on the part of the individual, by the verbal commitment and the association with a good conscience, and, on the part of the divine action, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no magical power in the water nor merit in the act itself, for the value comes not from the water but from the intention with which the act is performed.” Finally, Scripture says that in baptism, the participant acts in faith of God’s working to cut away his or her sins (Col. 2:11-12).
Contrary to Grenz’s assertion, Churches of Christ are not the only people in history to believe that baptism is more than a sacrament and has nothing to do with salvation. Much to the embarrassment of the Reformers, Augustine believed that baptism was the time of regeneration adoption into the family of God.
Also, consider what baptism communicates about the Christian life. Everett Ferguson correctly writes, “Baptism is an expression of repentance and faith, and is itself a confession.” In baptism, one pledges allegiance to Christ and turns away from the world (1 Pet. 3:21). Also, in baptism, one is confessing their faith in Christ (10:22-23). Further, baptism is a result of repentance and a way of expressing repentance. Baptism is a way of communicating repentance, faith, and allegiance to Christ. Therefore, it is a vital action in the conversion process.
Although baptism is a much-debated subject, the Bible’s teaching remains clear. Baptism is not a sacrament observed one time after a person is saved. Instead, baptism is the point at which a person is forgiven of his sins. It affects the Christian life because it declares a break with sin and ways of the world. The baptized are no longer living a life of sin but are walking in newness of life and rejecting sin (Rom.6:1-8).