Beginning with the great commission, baptism has been and continues to be a vital part of the church’s evangelistic message (Mark 16:15-16, Matt. 28:19-20). As the apostles went out preaching the Gospel they preached the necessity of baptism. It was not optional (Acts 2:38, 8:35-39, 10:48, 22:16). Why this emphasis on baptism? When we understand what baptism does, we will appreciate the emphasis placed upon it.
Before one is baptized into Christ, one is “dead in sin”. Consider Eph. 2:1-3. In this passage Paul teaches that we are dead in sin and dead to God. As for having a relationship with God, there is none! But now read further in vv. 4-9. We learn that God, in His infinite mercy and love has made us, who heretofore were spiritually dead, alive together with Christ. The question before us then, is how and when does a person who is dead in sin become alive and raised up together with Christ?
If we consider carefully Romans 6:1-7, we learn that in baptism, one dies to sin, is buried, and raised up together with Christ to walk in newness of life. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Romans 6:1-7) Baptism is here shown to be a symbolic demonstration of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
Consider what Paul does not say in this passage. He does not say those who are already saved should be baptized. If one is saved, he is not spiritually dead, he is alive. One does not bury a live person. Those who are dead (in sin) are buried! Nor does Paul (or any other NT writer) teach that baptism is an outward expression of an inward possession. This is a false teaching from man, not the true teaching of the New Testament.
Paul is teaching that one dies to sin, is buried, and raised up to walk in newness of life in the single act of baptism. One dies to sin when he is baptized into Jesus’ death. We are crucified with him, die to sin, and thus are freed from sin (Rom. 6:3-4, 6-7). We see then that our state in regard to sin has changed from being dead in sin to being dead to sin and alive in Christ.
How does the simple act of baptism accomplish this? It does so through faith in the work that God is doing in our being baptized. Baptism is not a work that we do, but rather we are passive in it and God is working, or as Paul says, In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; (Colossians 2:11-13).
How does one receive Christ as his personal savior? Not by reciting the sinner’s prayer as is so frequently preached by the false teachers and preachers today, but rather by one being baptized into Christ as a penitent believer. Therein one is baptized into His death where His blood was shed, His blood thus cleansing all sins. Therein is one buried with Christ and raised up to walk in newness of life. Therein is one made dead to sin and no longer dead in sin, but alive in Christ. This is how the Gospel addresses our spiritually dead state in sin.