By Dr. Henry Holloman
(modified by Rev. Scott Harris)
The word baptize is almost like the Greek New Testament word baptizo (baptivzw) when written with English letters. To baptize means literally to “dip” or “Immerse” (baptizo translated “dipped” in John 13:26; Revelation 19:13). The baptized object (or person) becomes identified with whatever it is “dipped” or “immersed” into. For example. a piece of cloth “immersed” into indelible dye will always be identified with that dye. When the Bible teaches that the Christian is baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27), it is showing that the Christian is spiritually identified with Christ in death (Galatians 2:20), burial (Colossians 2:12), and resurrection (Colossians . 2:12; 3:1). Romans 6:4 states that “we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life.” The word baptism is sometimes used in the sense of “washing” with water. Therefore, Christian baptism also includes the idea of spiritual cleansing or forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16, cf. Titus 3:5). The spiritual, inward, and personal change experienced by the believer in Christ is pictured in a physical, outward, and public way through water baptism.
Baptism and Christian Living
All Christians have been spiritually baptized into Christ’s death (Romans 6:4), and so Scripture commands Christians to “consider yourselves to be dead to sin” (Romans 6:11). People stop sinning when they die! Christians do not become sinless in this life (1 John 1:8,10), but the more we count ourselves dead to sin through our death with Christ (Romans 6:4), the less we will sin. Believers are also spiritually risen with Christ “so that we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Baptism, then, shows two very basic principles for spiritual living: (1) the Christian’s death to his past life of sin is pictured when he goes into the baptismal waters, and (2) the Christian’s new life of righteousness for God is pictured when he comes out of water (Romans 6:13; Galatians 3:27). Through baptism, the Christian is testifying that he has turned his back on his former life of sin and has begun to walk in a new life of righteousness for God.
Requirements for Christian Baptism
The New Testament teaches that only true believers in Christ should be baptized. Christ commanded that people are to be baptized after they have become disciples (Matthew 28:19, “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them. . .”). In the book of Acts, people expressed repentance or faith before they were baptized (Acts 2:28,41; 8:12; 16:14,15, 31-33; 18:8) with some specific examples of them receiving the Holy Spirit before baptism (Acts 9:17,18; 10:47-48). A person baptized before salvation becomes just a wet unsaved person instead of a dry one.
Water baptism is reserved for believers because only believers have been spiritually baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body”). Spiritual baptism must be a reality through trusting Christ as personal Savior before water baptism can have its true scriptural meaning for us.
Infants should not be baptized since they cannot understand how to receive Christ as Savior and what Christian baptism really means. Also, the New Testament does not give a single clear example of infant baptism. Baptism should be limited to people who are old enough to know Christ in a personal, saving way. It is true that infant males in the nation of Israel were circumcised on the eighth day (Genesis 17:12), but Christian baptism is not the same as circumcision was to Israel. Actually, there are more differences than similarities between Christian baptism and circumcision.
While infants should not be baptized, we must recognize that even small children can understand that they have sinned against God and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior from their sins. Jesus Himself spoke of “these little ones who believe in me” (Matthew 18:6). If a child gives clear testimony of saving faith in Jesus Christ and shows a basic understanding of Christian baptism, then such a child is eligible for baptism (cf. Acts 16:31-33).
The basic principle to remember is that genuine belief in Christ must precede Christian baptism if baptism is to be scriptural and meaningful.
Motive for Christian Baptism
Why should a Christian desire to be baptized? True Christians have a genuine love for Christ which motivates them to obey their Lord’s commandments (1 John 4:19, cf. John 14:21, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who love Me.” Christians should be baptized as an act of obedience to express the reality of their love for Christ (Matthew 28:19, cf. John 14:15). Christ’s own baptism “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15-16) gives an example of obedience for the believer to follow in Christian baptism.
A person should not be baptized as an effort to gain or to keep salvation. Water baptism does not save! Salvation is completely by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9) and not by good works such as water baptism (Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us”). So baptism is not a requirement for salvation, but it should be a result of salvation (note the order in Acts 18:12, “when they believed . . . they were baptized” cf. Acts 16:31,33; 18:8). It is a demonstration of the fruit of repentance (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20). Those who professes Christ yet remains unbaptized can continue in that state only if they are ignorant or rebellious. If rebellious, then the continued disobedience is a cause to question the genuineness of the profession of faith (Matthew 28:19,20; John 14:23; 2 Corinthians 13:5). There are no examples in the Scriptures of people remaining unbaptized after coming to faith in Jesus Christ, and the Epistles assume believers to be baptized (Romans 6, etc.). .
People should not be baptized simply to imitate the baptism of other people. Of course, when a Christian wants to be baptized in loving obedience to Christ’s command, it is good to be encouraged by the baptism of other Christians.
Christian baptism is like a soldier who puts on his uniform, not to become a soldier, but because he is a soldier and wants to publicly identify himself as a soldier. In Christian baptism the believer publicly identifies himself with Jesus Christ and His people (cf. Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
Method of Christian Baptism
The three main ways of baptizing practiced in church history are immersion, pouring, and sprinkling. Most professing Christians in the organized church practice baptism by sprinkling. However, immersion was evidently the mode of baptism practiced in the New Testament church. Baptism by pouring was used in the second Century, but only when water was scarce. Clear proof for the practice of sprinkling does not appear until the Middle Ages. Even so, the question of how a Christian should be baptized is not finally decided by a popularity poll or church history, but by Scripture (cf. Acts 17:11, “for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.”)
Baptism by immersion best agrees with the primary meaning of baptize (“dip” or “immerse”). There are words for “sprinkle” and “pour” in the Greek language, but they are never used in the New Testament in relation to Christian Baptism. The idea of going “into” and coming “out of” the water clearly points to baptism by immersion (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Acts 8:38-39, cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13). Also, immersion best pictures the idea of spiritual baptism which identifies the Christian with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12). Going into the water (immersion) presents the death aspect; under the water (submersion) points to the burial idea; and coming out of the water (emergence) shows the resurrection phase.
Conclusion About Christian Baptism
Christian baptism is Christ’s command for all true believers and only for believers (Matthew 28:19). Therefore, let us consider two important personal questions. First, have you trusted Jesus Christ as your own personal Savior? God’s Word states that you have sinned (Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned”) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But God also loves you, and He has offered Jesus Christ as the substitute sacrifice payment for your sins (Romans 5:8, “but God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”) God promises “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9). If you are truly saved, then consider a second question: Have you been baptized since you believed in Christ for salvation? In obedience to Christ as a believer, you should be baptized by immersion and show (1) that your life has been changed through faith in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17); (2) that your sins have been forgiven through the cleansing blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7); (3) that you are spiritually identified with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4); and (4) that you intend no longer to live a life of sin as before salvation, but to live a new life of righteousness of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-11).
Special Note Concerning Acts 2:38
Several groups teach that a person is not saved until they are baptized based on Acts. 2:38. Below are 6 reasons that conclusion is not correct.
1. The preposition used there to link forgiveness of sins to repentance and baptism that is translated as “for” (eijV / eis) can mean either “for the purpose of” or “because of” or “on the occasion of.” The text does not require this to be “baptized for the purpose of forgiveness.” It can just as easily mean “baptized because of” or “on the occasion of forgiveness of sins.”
2. Forgiveness of sin is linked with repentance independent of baptism even in the preaching of Peter (see Acts 3:19; 5:31; 10:43).
3. Acts 10:44 says the Holy Spirit came upon the other Gentiles at Cornelius’ home while Peter was still preaching. They were baptized after that. It is baptism with the Holy Spirit that places you into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), and the presence of the Holy Spirit was a sign that they were saved (Acts 11), and it is the Holy Spirit that is the seal of a person’s salvation (Ephesians 1:13).
4. Requiring baptism for salvation would be contradictory to the many passages in the Epistles which give clear gospel presentations but do not include baptism. These include passages such as Romans 3:21-30; 10:9,10; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:1-10; Philippians 3:7-14. Baptism is not even mentioned in several books including 1 John which was “written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you might know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). If it was necessary for salvation, then it would have been included in those passages and books.
5. How could Paul make the statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” if baptism is necessary for salvation?
6. Those in Acts 2 would have understood Peter’s call to repent and be baptized to be the same as or similar to John’s earlier call for the baptism of repentance which was a ceremonial cleansing to reflect and demonstrate an inward reality. It may therefore even be significant that the place these people eventually were baptized was probably the ceremonial baths that were located at the base of the temple mount.
While baptism is extremely important and should be one of the first acts of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, our salvation comes only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by any works or righteousness we have done. It is in Jesus Christ alone that we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin (Ephesians 1:7).