The Necessity of Baptism

“Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’” (Matt. 28:18–19).

- Matthew 28:18–20

The book of Genesis depicts many of the outward signs God gave when He cut (made) His covenants. The rainbow visually confirms that the Lord will never again flood the whole earth (9:8–17). When Abraham wanted to be certain of having an heir, God appeared as a fire pot passing between dismembered animals (15:7–21). Circumcision was later instituted to show that Yahweh had cut Abraham’s seed out of the nations to be His people (17:1–14).

The Lord normally institutes a sign whenever He makes a covenant. These seals reveal human responsibility and attest the validity of God’s promises. They visibly remind believers of the Lord’s provisions for His people as well as our required response. God makes the pledge, and thus the integrity of the promise does not depend on the one who administers or receives the sign. God will still save the one who trusts in Him, even if he is baptized by someone without faith. Some who are baptized never believe on Christ, but this does not invalidate Jesus’ promise to save all those who do trust Him. God will save His elect even if many falsely confer or accept the sacraments.

Fundamental to biblical theology is the idea of covenant continuity. Yes, there are significant differences between the old covenant and the new covenant, but there is not a radical antithesis between the two. The new covenant reveals and fulfills the promises of the old covenant, just as a greater covenant is expected to do (Heb. 10:1ff.).

One significant point of continuity is that both covenants have an outward sign of membership. Circumcision served this purpose under the old covenant, while baptism is the sign of the new covenant. This is one point of Colossians 2:8–15, where being baptized into Christ by faith is akin to being truly and inwardly circumcised.

Baptism in itself does not save, yet it should be the exception to the rule when a believer is not baptized (Luke 23:39–43). Baptism cannot be taken lightly. As today’s passage shows, Jesus orders us to be baptized. Unless somehow hindered from baptism, all who follow Christ will, at some point, receive the sign of the new covenant. If we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15).

Coram Deo

Many Protestants today dismiss the importance of the new covenant’s signs and seals. But baptism is not a negotiable matter, and all Christians, in obedience to Christ, must be baptized unless they are providentially hindered from this ordinance. If you have not been baptized, go to your pastor and ask to receive the sacrament. If you have a believing friend who has not been baptized, encourage him to submit to this sign of the covenant.

Passages for Further Study

Lev. 18:4
Num. 15:37–41
John 12:20–26
Heb. 5:7–10

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.