Matt 3:1-6

1     In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
2     And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
3     For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
4     And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
5     Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
6     And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

Baptism wasn't merely a new thing that was instituted in the New Testament.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, BAPTISM was required of converts to Judaism.
"Immersion (tevilah) is a religious act specifically undertaken to achieve the ritual purity required for participation in certain religious ceremonials. Thus not only did the High Priest immerse himself before conducting the service on the Day of Atonement, but each priest who participated in the Temple service was also required to undergo immersion, beside washing his hands and feet from the laver. [ABLUTION]
"The biblical statement "he shall bathe his flesh in water" (Lev. 15:16) and its variants refer to total immersion of the body in a ritual bath (MIKVEH) or flowing river water. Ritual immersion alone is effective in ridding one of ritual impurity. In all cases of the immersion, the body must be scrupulously clean prior to the immersion. In modern Jewish Orthodox practice, the only manditory bodily immersion is that of the menstruating woman (NIDDAH), and the Proselyte. [IMMERSION]

In some circles, baptism is frequently thought of as an act by which the believer enters the fellowship of the church, but in actuality it is an act by which one enters into covenant with the Living God.

To understand baptism, we need to understand the roots of this doctrine.
We can look at a number of passages to see that baptism is a form of cleansing.

We see that Naaman, a leper, underwent a sort of baptism to be cleansed of his leprosy:

II Ki 5:9-15
9     So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.
10     And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
11     But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.
12     Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.
13     And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
14     Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
15     And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.(KJV)

The Old testament law for the leper involved cleansing with water

Lev 14:4-7
4     Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop:
5     And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water:
6     As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water:
7     And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field. (KJV)

Num 19:17-22
17     And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel:
18     And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave:
19     And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even.
20     But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he hath defiled the sanctuary of the LORD: the water of separation hath not been sprinkled upon him; he is unclean.
21     And it shall be a perpetual statute unto them, that he that sprinkleth the water of separation shall wash his clothes; and he that toucheth the water of separation shall be unclean until even.
22     And whatsoever the unclean person toucheth shall be unclean; and the soul that toucheth it shall be unclean until even. (KJV)

The people had to wash their clothes in preparation for the coming of the Lord in the wilderness:

Exod 19:10-14
10     And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes,
11     And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.
12     And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death:
13     There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.
14     And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes. (KJV)

Baptism is a form of purification. According to the book of Acts, Baptism results in washing away our sins….

Acts 22:10-16
10     And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.
11     And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.
12     And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there,
13     Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him.
14     And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.
15     For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.
16     And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

How would baptism wash away our sins? Galatians 3:24-29 gives us an answer. It is because we PUT ON Christ, when we are baptized.

Gal 3:24-29
24     Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
25     But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
26     For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
27     For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28     There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
29     And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (KJV)

Acts 2:38
38     Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (KJV)

So we can see that although baptism is sometimes performed as a ritual of membership into a specific denomination, this is not what Baptism entails. It is not baptism into the catholic church, or the church of Christ, or the Baptist or Lutheran church…it is baptism into Christ, MAKING A COVENANT WITH THE TRUE AND LIVING GOD.

There are three major positions on the nature of baptism:

The sacramental view.
The Covenantal view.
The symbolic view.

Various denominations within Christianity hold to one or the other of these views.

The Sacramental view:
Both Roman Catholics and Lutherans hold this view, namely that the person who goes through this rite receives remission of their sins, and is regenerated or given a new nature and an awakened or strengthened faith. According to this view, a person is "Born again" when they are baptized.
According to Roman Catholicism, baptism is essential for salvation. Oneness Pentecostals as well as many other denominations also hold this belief. According to Roman Catholicism, it is the rite itself, that has the power to convey grace. It is not the water, but the sacrament as established by God and administered by the church that produces this change.
Lutherans maintain that it is the faith that is present in the person being baptized that saves him. Advocates of the sacramental view of baptism interpret John 3:5 as referring to water baptism.

John 3:5
5     Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Context of scripture is important to proper interpretation.

John 3:1-9

1     There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
2     The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
3     Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
4     Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
5     Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
6     That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7     Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
8     The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
9     Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

It has been said that Jesus completely sidestepped the statement that Nicodemus made when he came to Him, but I don't think that is the case. Jesus tackled Nicodemus' statement head on.  Nicodemus was admitting that Jesus had to be from God, because He had done so many great miracles. What follows is Jesus' instruction to Nicodemus as to how a person can " see" the Kingdom of God.
Remember that Jesus once taught that the Kingdom of God is nothing that comes from observation…but that it is a Kingdom that is established IN us.

Luke 17:20-21
20     And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.(KJV)

From careful study of scripture, we can see that the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom which is to come, but we also see that the Kingdom of God is God's Rule established in us. Jesus taught the disciples to pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven”. This is a prayer of willing subjection to God to rule in our daily affairs, just as He rules in Heaven. The early church used to pray this prayer three times a day.
How is the Kingdom of God established IN us? Through faith, and inviting the One True God to have His Way in our lives.
So Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born from above to enter into the Kingdom of God. “How can this be?” Nicodemus wonders. The subject at hand is BIRTH.
Nicodemus grapples with the concept of flesh being reborn. It is impossible, he says. He envisions a birth from the womb, and then wonders how a person could enter a second time into the womb. This is so foreign to a man who understands only the natural aspect of life.
So, Jesus instructs Nicodemus in what it is to be born again.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Here is where I believe many people lose sight of the context of the conversation. They say that Jesus is speaking of water baptism here, when he spoke of being born of the water. I believe Jesus is explaining the difference between the first birth, and the second birth.
Everyone knows that the natural baby is in a water bag in the womb. Nicodemus was well aware of this, as well. Jesus is saying, first we need to be born naturally, and then we need to be born spiritually. I believe that verse 6 reiterates this point, when Jesus refers to the first birth (flesh) and then to the second birth (spirit).

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Next, we see that Jesus tells Nicodemus, “don't be surprised that I said you need to be born again”.

7     Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

The next verse is a clear giveaway. You can see a natural birth. But you can't see a spiritual birth.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

Remember here the passage we looked at in Luke 17:20

Luke 17:20-21
20     And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
21     Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Nicodemus was still struggling with trying to comprehend a spiritual Truth from a carnal viewpoint.

John 3:9     Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

Then Jesus spoke about the catalyst of being born again…Belief in Jesus.

John 3:14-21
14     And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15     That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
16     For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17     For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18     He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19     And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20     For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21     But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

This is in accordance with John 1:12, which also describes the New Birth:

John 1:11-13
11     He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12     But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13     Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

So we see that it is faith which is the instrument whereby we are Born Again, and not baptism.

Acts 8:36-38
36     And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
37     And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
38     And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

Eph 2:8-9
8     For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9     Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Notice that the formula is that He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved…but he that believeth not shall be damned…it is faith that saves us. Baptism is the seal of that faith; the proof of one's embracing that faith - the act of cutting a covenant with God.

Titus 3:4-7
4     But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,
5     Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6     Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7     That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

To believe that it is the act of being immersed in water that saves us would put a "works oriented salvation" in the gospel. The act of obedience to the Word is what circumcises us to Christ or is a seal of the covenant that we have made with God the Father through Jesus Christ.

Covenental view:
But as we have seen, baptism does wash away our sins, but only if our heart is right when we are baptized. How? Because we are cutting a covenant with God, declaring that we have put our old man to death, and are living a life of separation toward God. Baptism serves the same purpose for New Testament believers that circumcision did for Old Testament believers.

Colossians 2:11-12: "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."

The Old Testament Covenant was this:

Gen 17:10-14
10     This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
11     And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
12     And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.
13     He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
14     And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

In the covenantal view, baptism serves the same purpose for New Testament believers that circumcision did for Old Testament believers. For the Jews, circumcision was the external and visible sign that they were within the covenant that God had established with Abraham. The cutting of the foreskin was the most expressive way of declaring to the Lord that we were not going to be led by the lusts of our flesh, but rather, we would
As we have seen earlier, converts to Judaism (or proselytes) also had to undergo this rite. But now under the new covenant, baptism instead of circumcision is required.
Circumcision refers to a cutting away of sin and a change of heart :

Deut 10:16-20
16     Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.
17     For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward:
18     He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.
19     Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
20     Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.

In being baptized, the believer must understand what this act is. Romans 6 clearly explains to us what baptism is:

Rom 6:4-23
4     Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5     For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
6     Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
7     For he that is dead is freed from sin.
8     Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
9     Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
10     For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
11     Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
12     Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
13     Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
14     For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
15     What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
16     Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
17     But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
18     Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
19     I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
20     For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
21     What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
22     But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
23     For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The fact that the believer needs to understand the principal behind baptism in order to cut a covenant with the Lord negates the idea of infant baptism.

Matt 28:19-20
19     Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20     Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

You can't teach an infant.

A covenant is made between two parties. Mere intellectual assent is not enough… The one who makes a covenant needs to have a sincere heart. The Bible tells us of a sorcerer named Simon, who believed, and was baptized.

Acts 8:13-24
13     Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
14     Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
15     Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:
16     (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
17     Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
18     And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,
19     Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
20     But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
21     Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
22     Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
23     For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
24     Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.

Obviously the baptism wasn't what saved Simon. Salvation comes from a heart-felt desire to change the way we live, and to turn from our wickedness…we need someone to save us from our wicked desires, and the only One Who can save us is Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

Acts 2:38-39
38     Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.(KJV)

          The symbolical view-

 This view stresses the symbolic nature of baptism by emphasizing that baptism does not cause an inward change or alter a person's relationship to God in any way. Baptism is a token, or an outward indication, of the inner change which has already occurred in the believer's life. It serves as a public identification of the person with Jesus Christ, and thus also as a public testimony of the change that has occurred. It is an act of initiation. It is baptism into the name of Jesus.
     According to the symbolic view, baptism is not so much an initiation into the Christian life as into the Christian church. A distinction is drawn between the invisible or universal church, which consists of all believers in Christ, and the visible or local church, a gathering of believers in a specific place.
     This position explains that the church practices baptism and the believer submits to it because Jesus commanded that this be done and He gave us the example by being baptized Himself. Thus, baptism is an act of obedience, commitment, and proclamation.
     According to this understanding of baptism, no spiritual benefit occurs because of baptism. Rather than producing REGENERATION of faith, baptism always comes after faith and the salvation that faith produces. The only spiritual value of baptism is that it establishes membership in the church and exposes the believer to the values of this type of fellowship.
     There is a controversy which rages among Christian circles as to “what Name we are to be baptized” into:
     I believe one would be best served by being baptized in obedience to the Words of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Matt 28:18-20
18     And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
19     Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20     Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

For the purpose of this study, we must draw the conclusion that the act of baptism is an act of entering into covenant with the One True God.
It is sacramental in that Jesus Christ commanded that it be observed.
It is symbolic in that we are symbolically buried with Christ under the water, and are raised up out of the watery grave to live with Christ.
But the true essence of baptism is that it is covenantal in nature. We are declaring to the Lord and to the world that we are putting an end to the old man who was lost in sin, and we are serving the One True God from now on.

Baptism is a form of __________________________________________
When we are baptized, we put off the ____________________, and put on _____________________
How is the Kingdom of God established IN us? ______________________________________________
Baptism is an outward demonstration of making a ____________________ with God.
What passage of scripture explains the doctrine of baptism? ____________________________