Baptism serves as a public testimony of faith in Christ. When asked if one has to be baptized to be saved, my answer is “Yes and no.” A person doesn’t have to be baptized to be born again. A person can go to heaven without being baptized, as evidenced by the thief who was saved even as he hung on a cross (Luke 23:43). But he would not experience the full orb of that which God intends a person to enjoy in liberty, maturity, and ministry.
Baptism is illustration. As spoken of in Romans 6, baptism illustrates the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. This is why I believe the accurate mode of baptism is immersion. After all, we don’t bury heads. We bury entire bodies.
Baptism is identification. The Greek word translated “baptize” is baptizo, which speaks of immersing cloth into a dye. The word “baptize” means, metaphorically, a change of identity, or, to identify. It might have been well if every usage of the word “baptize” had been translated instead of transliterated. Then we would have read, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, identifying them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). And, “One Lord, one faith, one identification” (Eph. 4:5). Or, again, we would understand the words of the forerunner, John the Identifier. “I indeed identify you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall identify you with the Holy Wind, and with fire” (Luke 3:16).
Baptism is association. In being baptized, I am not only identifying with Jesus, but with those all over the world presently and down through the ages of history who, regardless of doctrinal or denominational distinctives, are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. We might not agree on the timing of the Rapture, the meaning of Communion, or the use of tongues. But we are all wonderfully, powerfully associated in the waters of baptism (Ephesians 4:5).
Baptism is impartation. When Jesus was baptized and emerged out of the waters of the Jordan, the Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form of a dove, empowering Him to minister, to preach, to work miracles. So, too, I believe that the time of baptism is the ideal time to receive by faith the empowering work of the Holy Spirit. “Repent and be baptized,” Peter declared, “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Thus, embracing by faith the filling of the Spirit as one emerges from the waters of baptism is what is seen in the baptism of Jesus and the teaching of Peter.