Baptism and Christology

Dr. David Ackerman is the Field Education Coordinator of the Philippine-Micronesia Field.


A question raised during the Global Theology Conference on the topic of baptism and Christology requires further reflection. The New Testament teachings baptism as the necessary response to faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). Baptism does not save us but is the visible act of faith that joins us with Christ in the profound and deep relationship. Baptism is Christ-centered. The primary source for our information on this topic comes from the Apostle Paul in Romans 6.

First, we join Christ on the cross by putting to death the old life controlled by sin (vv. 3-4a). This death is symbolized in the act of submersion into water. Death to the old life comes by rejecting sin’s control (v. 12). Crucifying the old self ends sin’s control (vv. 6-7) and is necessary for new life in Christ (v. 8). Sin as a power is no longer master of our lives. Our old life has been put on the cross with Christ, never to get off again. Baptism is the experiential calendar event that sends us into the future with assurance.

Second, we join with Christ in resurrection life upon coming out of the water (vv. 4b-5). In our preaching and theology, we often link baptism with conversion based on the stories of Acts. Paul does not split salvation into segments but understands our new life in Christ as beginning at the moment of justifying faith. The new life in Christ of Romans 6 is the expected development of our faith in Christ. We should not struggle under sin’s control because we have given ourselves totally to the lordship of Jesus Christ. “Newness of life” comes through the visible act of faith in Christ. It is a life lived in the shadow of the cross but fully committed to Jesus as Lord. Jesus’ death and resurrection make possible our own death to sin and resurrection to Christlikeness through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Several things can result from a deeper look at baptism and Christology. First, this should cause the Church of the Nazarene to think deeply about baptism and the requirement of the faith of a person. It is interesting, in my perspective, that there is no textual evidence of any infant being baptized in the New Testament. A baptism is always an act of faith of the one being baptized. Baptism is always linked to faith in the person of Christ and is evidenced by the rejection of sin in the act of repentance. Second, because of its link to the person of Christ, baptism should be the visible result of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our preaching should call believers to remember their baptism and renew this commitment on a daily basis as we live out our new life in Christ. Third, baptism should be joined with our doctrine of holiness. Baptism is the outward sign of entire sanctification expressed as freedom from sin’s control and new life led by the Holy Spirit. Baptism is a necessary step in the journey to Christlikeness.