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Bible Answers: What is the true purpose of a baptism?

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“Why does baptism seem to be important to most Christian churches?”—Tim

Baptism is important for numerous reasons. Jesus was Himself baptized. He indicated this act was “proper” and “fulfilled all righteousness,” as such setting an example of humility and obedience to the crowd who watched (Mt. 3:13-15). Clearly, His baptism was pleasing to God (Matt. 3:16-17).
Jesus commanded that new believers be baptized (Mt. 28:19-20) although he did little or no baptizing Himself (John 4:2). The early Christian church baptized new believers routinely.
The apostle Paul, very early on, realized the potentially divisive nature of the ritual and downplayed his practice (I Cor. 1:13-17). Unfortunately, this did not prevent millennia of subsequent debates regarding the modes, associated formulae and efficacy of baptism. Wars have been fought, individuals jailed, beaten and executed, and denominational lines drawn over this subject. Vast amounts of material have been written defending the “correct” theology of baptism, with a variety of “correct” theologies being pitted one against the others.
I betray my own biases in the following comments, but I think many students of Scripture will find some legitimacy in these thoughts regarding the “why” of the practice.
Baptism as found in the New Testament church was a powerful testimony to one’s faith in Christ and willingness to make that faith public (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12-13, 36-39; 16:31-35). Through baptism one identified with other believers and demonstrated a desire to be involved with God’s people in the local church (Acts 18:8; cf. I Cor. 1:10-17). Baptism revealed outwardly what had already happened inwardly; i.e., through faith in Christ one’s “old” self has died and been buried and one’s “new” self has been raised up to new life (Acts 9:17-18; 10:47-48; Rom. 6:1-14; Gal. 3:27; Col.2:12).
Baptism, thought by some to be a strange and archaic practice, can be a personal and powerful occasion for joy and celebration. As seen in the texts above, it not only conveys a believer’s repentance, but also his joyful acceptance of the gospel of Christ and readiness for a fresh start in life.