When evangelicals are asked about what baptism is, a typical response goes something like, “baptism is a public declaration of my faith.” This is how I grew up understanding baptism, and from what I can tell, so did many others.
Although the New Testament does not quiet put it like this, the previous answer is not inherently wrong. I think the general idea of a “public declaration” can be drawn from several of the passages in Acts which describe particular baptisms, but at the same time we must draw attention to the fact that baptism is so much more than this. If baptism were only a public declaration of our faith, then why must we use water? Why must one be completely submerged? And why must baptism be done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Surely there must be an easier way to publically declare our faith? The answers to the previous questions lead us to acknowledge that baptism is incredibly symbolic, and as such, points to something much more significant than a public declaration. Baptism is symbolic of our union with Christ. In other words, baptism is an outward symbol of an inward (spiritual) reality.
Romans 6:3-5 is significant to our understanding of baptism when it 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, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Here we see the key to understanding our baptism within the broader framework of our salvation: our union with Christ.
When a Christian is baptized they are submerged in water. This submersion into water is symbolic of our very real participation in Jesus’ death and burial (Galatians 2:20). We are buried with him in his death. Then, as we rise from the water, it is symbolic of the reality that we too have been raised with Christ to newness of life (Colossians 3:1). Baptism is a symbol our death to our old life and the beginning of our new life in Christ. Therefore, when an individual is baptized, it is more than a proclamation of their faith. It is a proclamation and demonstration of what Jesus has done and the union with Christ God has brought about through the Holy Spirit.
As we have the opportunity to witness several baptisms on Sunday, November 12th, let us take that time to remember and celebrate our union with Christ.