The writers of the New Testament present several images for baptism. Just as with the images of the church, a picture or image can really help to drive a point, and it is really no different with these top five images for baptism. Baptism has always been part of the Jewish culture.  It was even Jesus’ cousin’s name-sake (John the Baptist). However, the purpose for baptism under the new covenant was different, and the images for baptism helped to communicate its effect and purpose.

How Scripture answers "Top 5: Images for baptism?"

Our top five images for baptism in the New Testament illustrate that an individual – through baptism – is…

  1. Reborn1: Jesus shares this image as a condition to “enter the kingdom of God” while describing it happening not through a womb but through “water and the Spirit”1, both of which Peter addresses when asked on the Day of Pentecost, “What shall we do [to be saved]?”10 This image is later used to both motivate (Paul7,11) and encourage (Peter6) Christians.
  2. Circumcised2,14: Similar to being born again, Paul uses this image to illustrate a “putting off of the body of the flesh”2,11. The physical practice, long-held among Jews, was a God-ordained sign of His covenant promises to His people14.
  3. Washed3: The conscience is cleansed3,13 and sins are washed away5,10, not dirt13! Promised during a time when the temple was lost9, this emphasizes a Christian’s ability to come before God as one of His own, just as the priest had to wash before entering the Holy Place of the Jewish temple.
  4. Buried4 and raised12,13 with Christ: Just as Jesus was buried and raised bodily, so the Christian is resurrected (the “first resurrection”) in baptism. Baptism signifies dying to sin (putting off the flesh2,4,6,11) to be born again1 to lead a new life4, seeking after “things above”12,13.
  5. Clothed8 in Christ: Simply put, if you haven’t been baptized you have not “put on” Christ!

These powerful images for baptism1,2,3,4,8,12 all work together to convey the significance – even necessity – of baptism14. Without being baptized, one cannot enter the kingdom of God1 since they have neither been raised with12,13 nor clothed in8 Christ, nor have their sins been washed away5,10,13 to even draw near to Him3.

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

Jesus answered him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus said to him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus answered him [Nicodemus] with a truism in stating that one must be born again to see the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus didn’t understand and asked how someone who is old could be born again as he couldn’t enter back into his mother’s womb.  Jesus answered by expounding on the same truth adding that unless one is born of water and the Spirit [born again] he cannot enter [see] the kingdom of God.
Jesus is approached at night (in secret) by Nicodemus, a Pharisee and “ruler of the Jews” (vs 1).
Scripture-block application to this question

To be baptized is to be born again spiritually, through water and God’s Spirit.

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

In Christ, you were circumcised by being buried with him in baptism.  This wasn’t a literal circumcision done with hands, but a removal and burial of your carnal intents. And you were raised with him out of baptism through faith in the powerful working of God, who also raised him from the dead.

Paul is writing the church in Colossae to encourage them and resist the false teaching, specifically “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” or anything that is not according to Christ (vs 8).  He continues by specifically calling out the Mosaic Law (“a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees”) – the law that Christ replaced.  Under the same theme of not falling away, he tells them not to allow others to judge them against things pertaining to the Mosaic Law such as food, drink, feasts, Sabbath days (vs 16).   In Christ, they are not obligated to observe those things.

Scripture-block application to this question

To be baptized is to circumcise a body of flesh (put away sin4,6).

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Therefore, brethren, we can confidently enter the holy place because of the blood of Jesus and the new and living way that was opened through the offering of Himself. He’s our great high priest over the church of God.  Because of these things, we should singlemindedly draw near in full assurance of our faith having entered into His covenant with hearts/minds given a clear conscience and bodies cleansed with water.

This letter to Jewish Christians that were now scattered throughout the region contrasts their Old Covenant worship practices (e.g. sacrifices, High Priest, etc.) with the New Covenant under Jesus Christ.  Specifically here, the writer is calling to mind several Old Covenant practices that he has been contrasting to this point, including the “sprinkling” of the blood that was required for the forgiveness of sins (9:19-22).

Scripture-block application to this question

To be baptized is to have our sins forgiven so that we can be in fellowship with God.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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.
What’s the conclusion then?  We should never continue in sin just so that God’s grace will be magnified. We can’t continue to live in sin after dying to it.  It was our baptism into Christ Jesus that united us in His death.  Our baptism was a death burial together with Him so that just as He was raised to glory by the Father, we too will be raised to have a new life.

Paul is making the broader point of the richness and fullness of God’s grace toward sinful man (chap 5) before turning to man’s response (and responsibility) for salvation. Through the beginning verses of chapter 6, Paul correlates Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection to the Christian’s “death, burial, and resurrection” to a new [spiritual] life.

Scripture-block application to this question

To be baptized is to be buried with Christ, dying to sin and its lifestyle.

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.

Don’t delay, rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

Paul is testifying to the Jews about his personal salvation while he was alone three days with Ananias.

Also told by Luke (9:1-19) and again by Paul (26:12-18).

Scripture-block application to this question

Baptism washes away sins.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Cast off all hatred, lying, hypocrisy, envy, and slander.  Just like babies, seek pure spiritual sustenance in order to mature into salvation – if indeed you have truly accepted Jesus as your Savior.

Peter is writing to the “elect” of the “dispersion” – Christians that have been scattered throughout Galatia and Asia Minor.  He is encouraging them to stand firm in the face of current persecution and reminding them of the promise they have in and through Christ.

In this chapter, Peter calls forward several prophetic statements including Isaiah 28:16 (vs 6), Psalms 118:22 (vs 7), and Isaiah 8:14 (vs 8).  In verse 9, Peter takes all of the characterizations that God made (through Moses) to his people in

Exodus 19:5-6
and applies them to Christians. Finally, in verse 10, he recalls Hosea 1:6, 9, 10, the same verses that Paul applies to the Gentiles being grafted in by God in
Romans 9:25-26
Scripture-block application to this question

To be baptized is to feed on “spiritual milk” in order to “grow up into salvation”.

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.
But I [Paul], could not instruct you as spiritually mature, but rather as babes in Christ still holding to the flesh.

Paul is in the midst of correcting the divisions (“I am of…” vs 4) that had arisen in the church in Corinth, which he attributes to the “jealousy and strife” (vs 3) among them.

In these first four chapters, he emphasizes the need for them to rely upon the word of God that he had shared with them as the foundation to solve these issues.

Scripture-block application to this question

To be baptized is to start out as an infant1, but work to mature spiritually6.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Whoever has been baptized has been clothed in Christ.  Everyone [that’s been clothed] is one in Jesus Christ, regardless if they are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. Likewise, if you’re clothed in Christ, you are part of Abraham’s spiritual family and heirs according to the promise made to him by God.

Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia (a region).  Chapter 3 specifically argues the Christian’s justification through the [New] law of Christ, not the [Old] law of Moses, while at the same time, drawing strong parallels between the two. He has just stated that those “in Christ” are sons of God.

Scripture-block application to this question

To be baptized is to “put on Christ”.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

I will sprinkle clean water on you to remove all sin and idols from you. And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit that I will put in you, removing the heart of stone from you.  And I will put my Spirit inside you to execute/govern (Heb: “cause”) your walk in my covenant.

Ezekiel spoke God’s words during the Babylonian captivity – after the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple.  Interspersed with his encourage and preaching to God’s people of that day are many references to a time that God promises a true shepherd to care for them (34:13-15), a return of “my servant David” (34:23-24, 37:24), a convenant of peace (34:25), a gathering of a single nation to their land (36:24, 37:14, 22).

Scripture-block application to this question

God promised through His prophets a time when hearts would be “sprinkled clean”3 and His Spirit would be with them1.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brothers, what shall we do? And Peter said to them, 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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

When they heard the preaching of Peter and the rest of the apostles, they were convicted by them and asked what they should do [to be saved].  Peter told them that they each should repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that they could receive the remission of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This “gift” was the promise made for all Jews, but also all Gentiles — everyone whom God calls to himself.

Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost where he recalled several prophetic statements from Joel and David (vss 16-36). By divine inspiration, Peter interpreted these statements to apply their fulfillment to Jesus and the ushering in of the “last days”.

He also specifically refers to the “promise of the Holy Spirit” earlier – given by the Father to the Son (vs 33). More were continuing to be saved and they began meeting together as the Lord’s church (vss 41-47).

Scripture-block application to this question

To be baptized is to receive (a) forgiveness of sins, and (b) the promised9 gift of God’s Spirit.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

From now on we regard nobody according to the flesh, just as Christ who was once in the flesh is no longer.  As a result, anyone in Christ is a new creation.  He is new, and the old is passed away.

Paul is speaking of the temporary state the Christian finds themself in – yearning to be “further clothed” but still in this “tent” in which we “groan” to be with Him (vss 1-4).  His encouragement is to be reconciled to God through Christ and the “ministry of reconciliation” that he preaches (vss 16-20).

Scripture-block application to this question

Christians are new creatures (e.g. born again1), only if they are “in Christ,” which puts one back to how one becomes in Christ8?

Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ [in/through baptism] you must keep striving for the heavenly things, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Paul is encouraging the Colossians to “keep seeking the things above” (vs 1)  and imploring them to “put off” (vs 8) the sins of the world. He continues to give specific “in the Lord” behavioral instructions for wives (vs 18), husbands (vs 19), children (vs 20), fathers (vs 21), and slaves (vs 22).

Scripture-block application to this question

To be baptized is to be raised to a new life in Christ.

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Baptism, like Noah being saved through the water, isn’t a bath in the physical sense of bathing. It “saves you” and is your commitment to God for a good conscience by Jesus’ resurrection, the same Jesus that ascended to heaven and is at God’s right hand, with all angels, authorities, and powers made in subjection to Him.

Peter is comparing the way in which Noah and his family were saved (through water) to the way baptism now saves (also through water).  Importantly, he’s not discounting or negating the gift of God’s son and His sacrifice which makes it all possible.  Those elements that make salvation possible at all are alluded to, it’s just not his main point right here.

Scripture-block application to this question

Baptism isn’t about washing the body, but cleansing the conscience and is what connects us to the bodily resurrection of Christ!

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.

Watch out for those practicing evil that require physical circumcision. We are the true, spiritual circumcision that worship in the Holy Spirit and glory in Christ, putting no confidence in our own efforts as I could more than any of them.

Paul’s letter to the Christians at the church in Philippi, established during his second missionary journey. A big problem in the first-century church were those that were teaching that one had to be physically circumcised (e.g. become a Jew) in order to become a Christian.
Scripture-block application to this question

In calling out “those of the circumcision party” (Titus 1:10), Paul contrasts actual, physical circumcision with the spiritual circumcision of himself and his fellow brethren that were a part of the church in Philippi. NOTE: Spiritual circumcision is the ‘de facto’, assumed condition for Christians, a condition they only are in through baptism2.

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