The ceremony of baptism is deeply symbolic and meaningful.
Baptism, as taught in the Bible, is a ceremony in which a person is symbolically cleansed of sin through total immersion in water and given the Holy Spirit. A person becomes a Christian when the Spirit of God dwells in him or her. If this person remains faithful to God, he or she will become an immortal child of God when Jesus Christ returns.
Baptism and the beginning of the Church
On the Day of Pentecost in A.D. 31, thousands of people, many from various foreign lands, filled the bustling city of Jerusalem to observe this annual festival. About 9 o’clock in the morning they heard an unusual noise and some of them went to investigate the cause. Finding Peter and others speaking in different languages, many dismissed them as being drunk. However, Peter denied their accusation and explained to them the reason for the commotion (Acts 2:1-15).
He then recounted an Old Testament prophecy from the book of Joel about the giving of the Holy Spirit and stated that it had been fulfilled that very day! He also showed that Jesus was the promised Messiah whom they had unjustly put to death (verses 16-36).
His words were so persuasive they asked him what they should do. “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (verse 38). And about 3,000 of them did.
Baptism to a Christian, is more than a ritualistic ceremony. It is an outward acknowledgement of a person’s past sins and desire to change, to be cleansed from past guilt, and to become a disciple of Jesus Christ as a member of the Church of God.
What must one do prior to being baptised?
The Scriptures instruct that people must repent—that is, be sorry for their sins, become totally committed in their hearts to stop sinning and start living in accordance with God’s instructions—prior to being baptised (Acts 2:38). Repentance is a two-step process that begins as a gift from God. He leads us to repentance by opening our eyes to our need to stop living in rebellion to His commands (Romans 2:4).
Once we humbly see our need to repent, we must then take the second step, which requires us to do our part in changing the way we had been living to the way God wants us to live.
Peter stated that people should repent and be baptised “for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Paul later added “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). Having God’s Spirit thus identifies us as Christians.
Having God’s Holy Spirit also allows us to grow in the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). As we continue to grow spiritually, Christ is formed in us—meaning we take on the same way of thinking and acting as Jesus (Galatians 4:19). Having God’s Holy Spirit is also our “guarantee” that we will be changed into immortal, spirit beings when Christ returns (2 Corinthians 5:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:49-53).