For the first Christians, baptism was the ceremony to show that a person has become a Christian. They used water to wash that personís body. As water washes dirt away, so God has forgiven that personís sin (evil deeds).
That is the simplest meaning of the ceremony, but in fact baptism has several meanings. Baptism is actually a very ancient ceremony which existed long before the time of the first Christians.
One of the earliest forms of it was the instruction for Israelís people to wash on certain occasions (for example, Leviticus 8:6; Leviticus 14:8-9). There, the meaning is that sin ruins a personís relationship with God. We need God to take away our sin.
That was how John (called the Baptist) understood baptism. However, at the same time, he was urging the people to make a decision. They must not accept baptism then continue to carry out their former sins (Matthew 3:1-12), Rather, baptism should show the beginning of a new life. Now, Godís people should allow God to direct their lives, even as he guided Israelís people through the desert (1 Corinthians 10:2).
Jesus compared baptism to death in Mark 10:38-39. As Godís people start their new lives with him, they must also accept the end of their former lives. They can no longer live for their selfish ambitions, or to please themselves. They have accepted that Jesus died for them (5:8). Therefore it is as if they died with Jesus (Galatians 2:20). They have a new life, but the purpose of that life is not to please themselves. Instead, they live to please God and to do his work.
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© 2017, Keith Simons.