Just as preaching is Christ revealed to us in a “Spoken Word”, the sacraments are given to us as a “Visible Word”. Our water baptism visibly portrays and reveals something of God’s work for His people. Recently I preached a sermon on the blessings of baptism and during that study I thought it would be helpful to reflect on what Scripture says our water baptism represents. (Thanks to William the Baptist for originally pointing these things out to me years ago.)
It seems many people believe baptism only signifies “I have decided to follow Jesus.” Certainly it does declare that we are now part of the Christian church and we should be living our lives as a disciple of Christ. But this application of water to someone by a minister of the Gospel actually represents deep spiritual meaning which I will call our true, spiritual baptism. Here are three things the water of baptism points to:
1) Baptism’s water shows that we have been spiritually washed. The Old Testament is full of ceremonial washings for people who are unclean and therefore cannot stand in God’s presence in worship. These washings (actually referred to in the original Greek as “baptisms” in Hebrews chapter 9) all pointed to man’s need for true, inner washing, which is what we receive through faith in Christ.
Titus 3:4-5 “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…”
In 1 Corinthians 6:11 after Paul describes the Corinthians’ former lives of sin, he says, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Ephesians 5:25ff: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word…”
Hebrews 10, referring to Christ, says, “and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
So, our spiritual washing represented by baptism is one of purification and removal of the defilement of sin.
2) Baptism’s water also symbolizes the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (which is one reason many denominations use pouring or sprinkling for water baptism).
In Isaiah 44:3, God promises, “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”
In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist says, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
In Acts 2, after the Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples on the day of Pentecost, Peter says this is a direct fulfillment of prophecy in Joel chapter 2. Peter, referring to what just happened, says, “this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
Later in Acts 10, verses 44 and following, as Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell for the first time on Gentiles. And precisely because the Spirit had just been poured out, Peter said, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” In other words, Peter said they should have water baptism because it corresponds to what just happened: a pouring out of the Spirit.
3) Lastly, our baptism is a sign we have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection. Romans 6 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His [planted together in the likeness of His death](KJV), we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”
Galatians 3:27 “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
1 Corinthians 12:13a “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body“.
We have been joined together with Christ in His death and resurrection, planted in Him, clothed with Him, and grafted into His body. Our baptism represents our union with Christ.
God’s Word shows us that our baptism represents the washing away of sin, the pouring out of the Spirit, and our union with Christ in His death as we die to sin and our union with Him in His resurrection as we are raised to walk in new life. That explains why saved people– those for whom the outer washing is a true symbol of God’s work in a man’s heart– can be reconciled to God. Praise God for this visible sign of His gracious mercies bestowed on us!
Here is the full sermon on 1 Peter 3:18-22: