Q. What is the first sacrament?
A. The first sacrament is baptism, the way we identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
A sacrament is an outward sign that represents an inward expression. The Church recognizes two sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Baptism, then, is a symbol. It is not something done in order to be saved, but something done because we have been saved. Baptism was modeled by Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17), mandated by Paul (Romans 6:3-4), and was the mission of the early church (Matthew 28:19).
Peter referred to baptism as an antitype, meaning it is the completion of an earlier idea. Jesus’ burial and resurrection (the type) is what allows us to be saved, and baptism (the antitype) is a picture of what Jesus did. When the one being baptized goes under water and emerges again, he is identifying with Jesus being buried and rising again.
“There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
I Peter 3:21
Baptism doesn’t wash away the filth of the flesh—only Jesus’ blood can do that. Baptism doesn’t save us; we are saved by what baptism represents.
Paul taught in Romans 6:3-4 that we are “buried with Him through baptism” and that we are “raised to walk in newness of life.” Baptism is a symbol of our new faith in Jesus, and we publicly identify with Him when we are baptized. It is also a statement that we are dying to our old way of life and rising to a new one.