What does baptism do for believers? Since salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (Rom 3:25), what does baptism really accomplish? Jonathan Dodson, in his excellent book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, explains the purpose well: *
Dodson says that the primary reason for baptism is to express publicly our acceptance and understanding of the gospel. He says that baptism is a means to illustrate and express that by faith, “Jesus’ death and resurrection becomes our death and resurrection…it signifies our identification with Christ in his death as we are lowered into his ‘watery grave’, and identification with his life, where we are raised up into his resurrection life”. In that sense, baptism then is not merely a public ceremony of sorts, but rather a public confession of the gospel. This is in fact what Paul says, that “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Baptism then becomes this public declaration that we have died with Christ, and live a new life in Him.
Dodson continues with a second purpose found in baptism. He says, “second, we are baptized into two overlapping communities. The first is the divine community of the Trinity: ‘Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). The second community is the church: ‘For in one Spirit we were baptized into one body’ (1 Cor 12:13). Baptism results in our participation in a new, spiritual family–the family of the Trinity”. Baptism then is not only a public confession of the gospel, but also a public identification with the Triune God and his people. It is a joining with the divine community, and becoming one family in Jesus. Peter goes so far as to say that this one corporate body is like a temple, built together as one, and founded on the cornerstone, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). In this way, baptism is not merely a private matter, but a corporate celebration and adoption.
Lastly, Dodson says that baptism is about mission. This was something new for me to think on. As a person that has identified themselves with Christ, and with his body, they are missionaries for Jesus (John 20:21, Mt 28:18-20). This becomes part of their identity. Dodson says, “baptism is missional because it is the outcome of obedience to the Great Commission”. This is very true! Jesus sent his disciples out, commanding them to share the message of Jesus and to baptize disciples (Mt 28:19). Dodson gives good insight to this, saying, “in a sense [then], baptism is the end of the Great Commission and, at the same time, it is its beginning. Baptism begins our participation in the wonderful gospel mission. Whenever someone is baptized, another disciple is sent in the power and authority of Jesus to join the mission of making disciples…”. In this sense then, baptism fulfills Matthew 28, and also starts the process over again! As a new believer emerges from the water, they are identifying themselves with the mission of Jesus and his church.
I think this is an excellent summary of the purpose and power found in public baptism. In baptism, the Christian identifies himself with the gospel, the community of the gospel, and the mission of the gospel.
* These quotes come from pages 32-33 from chapter 1, “Making Disciples: Evangelism or Discipleship?”