First of all baptism is a personal step of obedience. If someone is truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, if in fact they have chosen to surrender control of their life to Him, then the natural thing which should follow is obedience. In the Great Commission, after commanding His disciples to baptize He directs them to teach the new disciples to observe or obey all that He has commanded. Baptism is the first step of obedience in a lifelong journey with Jesus Christ.
Many Christians fail to get off to a good start in their Christian walk because they have not been obedient to follow the Lord in this area of Baptism. Baptism is a step of obedience. The idea of it being a step of obedience is why we feel so strongly that people must be baptized if they are to become members of our church. We only want church members who are obedient followers of Jesus.
When we talk about baptism, as Baptists, we are talking about believer's baptism. Only believers, or disciples of Jesus, are called to obey Him. We hold that scripture teaches us only to baptize those people who have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Some denominations practice infant baptism, also known as paedo-baptism. But since babies have not come to a personal faith in Christ, baptism is not for them. Again, those churches which baptize babies teach either that by baptizing the baby they are washing away its original sins or that they are initiating the child into the community of faith, thus enabling it to get into heaven should they somehow die before making a decision for Christ on their own.
As Baptists we don't hold to infant baptism because we cannot find anywhere in scripture where it was practiced or prescribed. To the contrary we find that baptism is reserved for those who have made a conscious decision to allow Jesus Christ to be the Lord of their lives.
Furthermore, we don't believe baptism has anything to do with your salvation; it is merely a step of obedience for those who have already been saved.
There are some who believe what is called "baptismal regeneration," that is, they hold to a belief that the act of baptism somehow works hand in hand with our faith and is a necessary step to complete our salvation. But scripture teaches in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved by grace through faith, and that it is a gift of God, not of works, so no one can boast about having helped in their own salvation. Baptism does not save us; to the contrary, it is an act of obedience on the part of those who are already saved.
Thus believer's baptism is something which is reserved for believers.
Baptism is a public statement of faith, that is, baptism is a public way of giving testimony to the fact that you have chosen to follow Jesus Christ. While actions do speak louder than words, truthful words are always followed up with faithful actions. If a person is truly a follower of Jesus Christ they will not be ashamed of Him or of identifying with Him and His body, the Church. Baptism is a public statement of our faith in Christ.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:32-33,
"Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge Me before me, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before me, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven."
Many people in our country are afraid to stand before the church and be baptized because they are shy or uncomfortable in front of people. For Christians in many parts of the world the stakes are much higher. Publically professing Jesus in some countries can cost a person their home, their job or even their life. As American Christians we should keep this in mind when we find ourselves squeamish about taking a public stand for Jesus.
I like to remind people that Jesus was put to public shame and humiliation on the cross, His asking us to take a public stand for Him in the baptismal waters is a small thing by comparison.
Finally, baptism is a perfect symbol of death, burial and resurrection. It symbolizes our death to our self, our burial or immersion in Christ, and our resurrection to walk in a new way of life. That's one of the reasons that baptism by immersion makes so much sense, it symbolizes the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord.
Furthermore, the Greek word from which we get our word Baptize, the word, baptizo, literally means "to immerse." And being people of the book we believe this to be the proper method or mode of baptism.
Romans 6:4 says that,
"We are buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life."
That's what Baptism is; it is a personal step of obedience, a public statement of faith, and a perfect symbol of death, burial and resurrection.