The Bible commands all people in the world: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The book of Acts shows that everyone who believes the gospel should be baptized (Acts 2:41; 8:12-13; 8:36; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:14-15; 16:33-34; 18:8). To understand why baptism is so important, we must look at the message of the whole Bible.
Our hearts need to be cleansed
The Bible tells us that from birth we all have sinful hearts (Psalm 51:5) and out of our hearts flow sinful thoughts and actions that make us unclean (Genesis 6:5; Mark 7:20-23). We are in danger of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3) but we cannot save ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 10:26-27). Even our most righteous acts are polluted and unacceptable to God (Isaiah 64:6; Philippians 3:8).
However, even though we can’t fix our own hearts, we shouldn’t despair: the LORD is the God who saves (Psalm 42:11). Long ago, God sent His prophets to announce that a day was coming when God would send the Holy Spirit to wash clean the hearts of His people (Ezekiel 36:25-28; 11:19-20; Deuteronomy 30:6). Old Testament believers prayed for God’s promise to be fulfilled (Psalm 51:10).
John the Baptist
God sent the last and greatest prophet, John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11-15), to baptize people with water in the Jordan River for repentance and forgiveness of sins (Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24). Those who received John’s baptism and turned from their wicked ways showed that they were truly God’s people. But John’s baptism was only provisional (Acts 19:4-5): John baptized people in water to prepare them for Jesus (Acts 13:25).
Jesus came to fulfill all God’s Old Testament promises (2 Corinthians 1:20) and baptize us with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33-34; Acts 1:5), Who cleanses our hearts (Titus 3:5).
Jesus was baptized
Jesus Himself was baptized by John (Mark 1:9; Luke 3:21). John was surprised (Matthew 3:13-14) – after all, Jesus is the only person Who has no sins to repent of (John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15)!
But Jesus was baptized to show He had come to identify with sinners like you and me (Matthew 3:15; Isaiah 53:4-6). This is why Jesus metaphorically describes His death and resurrection for us as a “baptism” (Luke 12:50) – going down into the water and coming back up is a picture of Jesus dying and rising to suffer the punishment we deserve for our sins (e.g. Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 1 Peter 2:24).
The meaning of baptism
In a similar way, Christian baptism symbolizes how, when we believe in Jesus, we are “clothed with Christ”, (Galatians 3:26-27), meaning that everything Jesus did 2000 years ago is counted as ours. So, as we are baptized, we’re acting out how we have died with Christ and risen to new life with Him (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12). When we are “washed” with the water, it is a picture of how the Lord Jesus Christ has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to cleanse us (1 Corinthians 6:11) and wash away our sins (Acts 22:16).
Until that Last Day, Jesus commands us to share the Gospel with people of every nation, so that they too can put their faith in Him, and be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-20).