So, what is the point of baptism?
1. Baptism is the symbol of our union with Christ, specifically His death, His burial, and His resurrection.
When you go down into the water, it's a picture of our going down into the grave and being buried. Coming up out of the water is a picture of our being raised with Christ to walk in the freedom He gives those who are His children. This includes our dying to our old selves and rising to a new way of life that is free from the burdens, guilt, loneliness, and pain (the list goes on of the effects of sin in our lives).
When John the Baptist called all the Jews to be baptized, he was establishing that the children of God, or family of God, would no longer be defined by who their parents or relatives were. It didn't matter that we were not of Jewish descent. What mattered from here on out was faith. Faith in what Jesus has accomplished in His death for our sins is what determines whether we are a part of God’s family.
So, if that was true for all the Jews, it is certainly true for all of us Gentile dogs! Baptism does not save us, just like circumcision or family descent did not save the Jews. FAITH in the work of Jesus on the cross is the only sign God requires for membership. (Does not say how much, how little or how big our faith should be.)
2. Baptism is the symbol of our sins washing away.
“As we drove home from church one afternoon, we were happily talking about a friend who was presented as a candidate for baptism that day. As we were saying how proud we were of him, my 3-year-old daughter Elizabeth asked, 'What does it mean to be baptized?' My 5-year-old son Joshua spoke up, 'Oh, baptism — that's when the preacher washes all your senses away.' (Patty Meredith - Kids of the Kingdom)
This story tells of another picture we get in baptisms, which is the process of our sins being washed away. This is secondary to what I just mentioned, but it's still very powerful. How many times have we stepped into a bath or shower and physically seen the dirt, grime, sweat, and build-up from the day be washed away by the water?
Secondary to death and burial is the powerful picture of safely passing through the waters of God’s judgment. Those who go down into the waters of baptism are symbolically going into the waters of judgment and death they deserve as a result of their sin. When they come up out of the waters of baptism, it shows that they have come safely through God’s judgment. This is not because of their own merit or effort, but only because of the merit of Jesus Christ with whom they are united. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)
These amazing truths of passing through the waters of judgment safely, of dying and rising with Christ, and of having our sins washed away, are truths of momentous and eternal proportion and ought to be an occasion for great celebration and giving God praise. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)
What we celebrate in baptism is the mighty work of God in the hearts of children and adults to bring them to repentance and faith in Christ.
When we ask if Jesus is their Savior and Lord, we celebrate the eternally important truth that they have received Him for their own. When we baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we celebrate the involvement of the whole Godhead in their conversion and their new relation to each person in the Trinity. When we immerse them in the water, we celebrate the death and burial of Jesus Christ for our sins. When we raise them up out of the water, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and their participation in it. And when they walk out of the baptismal waters, we celebrate the newness of life in love and joy that Jesus gives. (John Piper - A Celebration of Baptism)
“In baptism we are initiated, crowned, chosen, embraced, washed, adopted, gifted, reborn, killed, and thereby sent forth and redeemed. We are identified as one of God's own and then assigned our place and our job within the kingdom of God." — William Willamon