What is baptism? What place does it have in the Christian life? First let's look at the Greek word from which the word "baptize" is translated: "βαπτιζω" (baptizo). Its definition is as follows:
"To immerse, submerge; to make whelmed (i.e. fully wet)."
There are eight other forms of the word "baptize" in the Bible:
baptism, baptisms, Baptist, Baptist's, baptized, baptizest, baptizeth, baptizing
Every one of these eight words are derived from "βαπτιζω" (baptizo). By my count, there are 115 instances of "baptize" and all other forms of this word in the Bible (all within the New Testament). Every single one of them plainly speaks of full immersion.
In addition, the context surrounding these words will allow for no other interpretation. Consider the following three examples:
And John also was baptizing in AEnon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.
("Much water" obviously is not required for sprinkling or pouring water on someone.)
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
When the eunuch was baptized he went "down into" the water and then came "up out” of the water. When water is sprinkled or poured on you, you don’t go down into it or come up out of it. Notice also that it was after (and only after) the eunuch believed that he was baptized.
Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
"Buried" means "buried". No one has ever been buried by having a little water sprinkled or poured on them.
Is all of this genuinely important or is it simply "nitpicking"? Consider the following verses:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Baptism is a picture of the Gospel message (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ)? Being fully immersed in water and then arising up out of the water is a very graphic representation of the Gospel. It is important that the Gospel message be portrayed in the clear way that God has chosen.
A comparison of the following passages makes it evident that baptism does not save:
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
I Corinthians 1:17
Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
It is evident that Christ sent Paul to the Gentiles so that they could receive forgiveness of sins (be saved). It is also evident that Christ did not send Paul to baptize. Now if Christ sent Paul to the Gentiles so that they could be saved but he but did not send him to baptize, then it is evident that baptism does not save. Baptism is a picture of the Gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection) which does save.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:
for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth;
to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
Baptism is the picture that God has chosen to represent the Gospel of salvation.
It is the first step of obedience in the Christian life.
It is the example that Jesus Christ has left us to faithfully follow.