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The Symbol of Baptism

Symbols are powerful communicators. Perhaps it’s because of their simplicity, or perhaps it’s the clarity they offer. A quick glance at the symbols above conveys clear messages and meaning. While there may be some small distinctions of understanding from person to person, each symbol generally communicates a universally understood statement.

Symbols are so powerful that emoticons (or emojis) are now fully integrated into our communications. Texts, emails, even official documents now include these symbols that effectively communicate, with a single icon, messages that would otherwise take many words to convey.

God understands the power of symbols. Throughout history, He has regularly employed symbols to communicate profound truths to all people. The rainbow communicates promise. The dove communicates peace. The cross communicates redemption.

Jesus understood symbols as well. He often taught and spoke using symbols to express truth in ways that were easy to grasp, and impacting when personalized. He called himself the “bread of life” and compared unleavened bread to His own body. He compared ceremonial wine to His blood that was selflessly, sacrificially (and voluntarily) spilled for the needs of humanity. At different times, He called himself the door that leads to life, the vine, living water, the slain lamb, and the lion of Judah. As we consider these symbols individually and collectively, we increasingly appreciate the uniqueness and complexity of Jesus.

Baptism is a powerful symbol, full of meaning and significance. When people enter the waters of baptism, they do so as living, active, personal symbols—communicating through their actions what Jesus is doing in their lives. When a person is immersed under the water, the message communicated is, “I identify with the death of Jesus on the cross. I am ‘dying’ to my old life marked by self-effort and rebellion against God. I trust that Jesus is who He says He is, and that He did what the Bible reports He did.” In being raised from submersion, the message declared is, “I identify with Jesus in His resurrection. I am ‘born again.’ I am a new creation. I trust that I am forgiven, restored back into relationship with God through my faith in Jesus!”

Baptism is a symbol that communicates so much: forgiveness, renewal, identity in Jesus, cleansing from sin, spiritual rebirth, and obedience to God. In a simple act, it tells a person’s story of relationship, hope, and promise of eternal life. Baptism declares to the world, “I am unashamed! I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back!”