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I would say that, although baptism as such was not practiced in the Old Testament, it was prefigured there in a sense by the various prescribed rituals and requirements for washing and immersion prescribed for priests (as illustrated by passages such as Exodus 40:12-15 and Leviticus 16:4). Although the New Testament practice of baptism (as introduced by John the Baptist) had a spiritual cleansing component (as indicated by John's words in Matthew 3:1-12) from the standpoint of repentance and forgiveness of sins, it also had a symbolic significance representing death, burial, and resurrection in connection with being "born again" (John 3:3), as well as specifically prefiguring the coming death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (in which He Himself participated when John baptized Him). Baptism has continued to have the same significance for Christians up until the present day, representing the superseding of the inborn sinful nature by the granting of the new birth spoken of by Christ. Although the New Testament records instances of individuals being saved without it, it is a sacrament that believers should make every possible effort to participate in at the earliest opportunity after coming to faith in Christ, in obedience to Christ's own command (Matthew 28:19).
Baptism is the public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ and of allegiance to his local church as the body of Christ. Baptism is an outward physical sign of the inward spiritual transformation that takes place the moment a person believes in Jesus and receives his salvation. Here are some verses that testify to these truths. Mark 16:15-16 Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore 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 everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age. Romans 6:3-5 Or don’t you 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 in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. Colossians 2:11-12 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Acts 18:8 Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Galatians 3:26-27 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. I would also like to address 3 issues which, in my view, represent false teaching about baptism that is not supported by the truth of scripture. Baptism and Original Sin In this teaching believers are instructed to have their babies baptized with water because they were sinful from birth and would be condemned if they died. However, baptism does not save us. We are saved by the grace of God, as a gift from God, which we receive by faith in the saving work of Jesus upon the cross (Ephesians 2:8-9) Only Faith Alone, Baptism Not Essential In this teaching baptism is taught as a non-essential ritual of the church that has no spiritual significance. I believe the passages quoted in this answer clearly teach that people believed and then were baptized. I would further say that we are commanded by Jesus to be baptized. Refusing to be baptized is rebellion against Jesus and demonstrates a lack of genuine faith for salvation. Water Baptism and Baptism of the Holy Spirit In this teaching believers are required to be baptized by water, as explained in the scriptures listed here, and separately to be baptized by the Holy Spirit, which will be evidenced by the ability to speak in tongues. However, believers receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of their salvation, guaranteeing their inheritance in the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit may then fill the believers at various times, such as their water baptism and when they are prayed for with the laying on of hands. This infilling is not a singular event that somehow makes us a complete Christian, rather it can happen many times in the life of every devoted Christian.
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