This is an important question for Christians to answer. From the early days of the Christian church, baptism was the foundational step of faith universally observed by believers immediately after salvation (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 38).
The outward act of being immersed symbolizes the inward change that occurs in the life of every believer at salvation. It shows that the old way of life has ended and that a new life of faith in Jesus Christ has begun (2 Corinthians 5:17). Baptism is important because it is a visual testimony—a public declaration to the world—that symbolically identifies the new believer with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Bible provides a number of reasons why baptism is an important step in Christian life:
Baptism is an expression of the saving faith of God. Like a stamp of approval, baptism represents our experience of salvation and the magnificent work of Jesus Christ in dying for our sins and rising for our justification: "For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ. And with him you were raised to a new life, because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead" (Colossians 2:12, NLT).
Baptism is God-ordained and is commanded by Jesus. As part of His Great Commission to the Church, Jesus gave these instructions: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). Baptism is an integral part of Christian discipleship and is meant to be a ongoing practice of the Church.
Baptism is an act of obedience to our Savior, an expression of our desire to please God. The word "Christian" means "Christ-follower." Since Christ called us to baptism and set an example by being baptized Himself (Matthew 3:16), neglecting to be baptized is disobedience to the command of Christ.
Baptism unites us to Christ by identifying us with His death, burial, and resurrection: "Or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life" (Romans 6:3-4). When we repent of our sins and come to believe in Jesus Christ, baptism bears witness to our union with Him.
Likewise, baptism represents our death to the old life of sin and our new birth into resurrection life and freedom from bondage to sin: “Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful self was crucified with Christ, so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We're no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ, we were set free from the power of sin" (Romans 6:5-7, NLT).
Baptism also identifies us with the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). It is an emblem that says that we now belong to Jesus Christ and His people: "For by faith in Christ Jesus you are all children of God. And all who were united with Christ in baptism put on Christ like new clothes" (Galatians 3:26-27, NLT).
Baptism gives public witness to the inward work of the Holy Spirit to wash away our sins: "And that water is a picture of baptism that now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective for the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21, NLT; see also Acts 22:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11).
Correct understanding of baptism means understanding that it is more than a religious ritual or a religious tradition. The meaning of baptism stems from the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died in our place to pay for our sins, and who triumphed over death through His resurrection, securing for us a new life in the Spirit and eternal life with God forever.