The meaning of baptism depends largely on what Christian denomination is answering the question. Baptism comes from the Greek word “baptisma,” the act of immersion, submersion and emergence from water. The root is “bapto,” meaning “to dip.”
In the New Testament of the Bible, we see this word used in reference to the ministry of John the Baptist. John, Jesus’ cousin, started his ministry shortly before Christ to alert everyone that the Messiah, Jesus, was coming. John baptized many people in the name of Jesus and ultimately baptized Jesus.
For some churches baptism is also called christening
In churches, we see varying forms of baptism. For most traditional Christian denominations, baptism is done shortly after birth by the sprinkling water over the forehead of an infant. Some denominations hold to the belief that baptism washes away “original sin,” and therefore is necessary to protect a newborn. It may be called a “christening.”
Some churches use this to make the infant a member of the church, that is they are baptized into the church.
Evangelical churches don’t baptize infants
Evangelical denominations or non-denominational churches hold to a more literal approach to the subject, meaning that believers are baptized in a public display of faith, by full immersion.
In this form of baptism, it requires the acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is a decision, a choice made by a person of their own free-will. The age of the person is not the issue, the full understanding of what they are doing is the point.
Baptism can refer to the suffering of Jesus on the cross
Another use of the word refers to the suffering and agony of Jesus on the cross. Jesus told his disciples:
“But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!” (Luke 12:50)
He took on the entire sins of the world and paid the price for man’s transgressions. He was immersed in that suffering. We see this referenced in Matthew when Jesus rebukes the mother of two of his disciples.
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons (James and John) came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” (Matt 20:20-23)
Christ spoke the truth explaining His sacrifice
Christ’s answer to a loving mother might seem harsh, but as the old saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for.” Jesus knew his end was coming and the tremendous pain and suffering that was essential for paying the price of man’s sins.
Jesus anticipated what was coming in that dreadful sequence of events. From the surging, to carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, and then to being nailed to the cross. Christ’s “baptism” on the cross was necessary and something that only He could accomplish. We can only identify with that baptism, to recognize the horror of that day.
Washing one’s self also a form of baptism
Forms of baptism also include the washing of one’s self. John the baptist told his followers to repent and be baptized in order that they might receive salvation. Again, this is a public confession. Baptism for the remission of sins.
In Christian practice, one would confess sins, ask forgiveness and receive Christ as Lord and Savior, then go through baptism. That is why many Christians enjoy baptism Sundays at their church. They celebrate the entry of a believer into the family.
Israelites crossing to freedom at the Red Sea
In the Old Testament, the Israelites experienced a kind of baptism, crossing the Red Sea, with huge walls of water on each side, under the cloud of God leading the way.
Some belief that baptism washes away sin, while, others will maintain that only the blood of Jesus can wash away sin. One interpretation is more ceremonial, while the the other, the blood of Christ, is quite literal. Jesus shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins.
Faith in Christ critical
Whatever way you see it, the key is faith. Without faith in Christ, baptism is meaningless.