Just a couple days ago, a middle-aged man who had recently trusted in Christ as his Savior asked me, “Do you think I should be baptized? If so, why?”
As a pastor of a church that practices believer baptism, the question was not a tremendous surprise. Not a week seems to go by without someone asking me, “what is baptism all about? What does it really mean? How do you baptize people? I was baptized as an infant, should I be baptized now that I’ve believed in Christ as my personal Savior?”
The men, women, and children I regularly speak with usually approach the who, what, why, when, and how of baptism with a note of seriousness, recognizing it’s no trivial matter. But many people have heard such a variety of opinions about baptism that they are left rather confused about the biblical meaning and pattern for this important ordinance Christ established for His followers.
Are you unsure about the meaning or practice of baptism? Have you not yet taken the step to be baptized as a follower of Jesus? Were you baptized as an infant, yet now wonder if you should be baptized as a believer?
I’d love to help you discover the answers to your questions. Below is a short walk-through on the meaning, biblical teaching, and reasons for baptism. Please comment below if you have any other questions or would like to be baptized as a follower of Jesus at North Park Baptist Church!
A New DNA
Baptizo (βαπτιζω) – “to baptize, dip, immerse”
New life in Jesus Christ comes through faith in His death, burial, and resurrection by the grace of God alone. This new life is eternal (John 3:16; 5:24; Romans 6:23) and transformational in the life of the believer. Those who have placed personal faith in Christ are now in union with Him (cf. Eph. 1) and have received a new identity (cf. Romans 6:1-13).
The apostle Paul shouts with joy about our new spiritual “DNA” in Jesus:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”(2 Corinthians 5:17)
There is something intrinsically different about those now in Jesus Christ, who have crossed over from death to life (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14). If you have been born from above (John 3:1-17) through the God-initiated process of the Spirit-drawing, Gospel-hearing, faith-receiving act of conversion to Christ, you are not the same man or woman you once were. You are part of a new family (Eph. 1:5; 2:19). You are completely righteous in God’s sight (Rom. 5:1). You are empowered to walk in a whole new way of life (Romans 6:1-12). You are free from condemnation (Romans 8:1). And you are commissioned for a new mission (Matthew 28:19-20).
The Picture Preaches
The ordinance of baptism is to be performed as an outward, visible sign of God’s indwelling Spirit and the conversion of the person to Christ – their new identity in Him – and should be performed by means of full immersion. It is a proclamation of the faith one has already placed in Christ and is intended to be a witness to the unbelieving world (see Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:38-42).
Why full immersion? First, lexically, the verb “to baptize” (from the New Testament Greek verb baptizo – βαπτιζω) was used only for “dipping, submerging, or immersing” in every context in the New Testament but also in other pieces of ancient Greek literature. Historically, Jewish proselytes also practiced baptism by full immersion long before John the Baptist and the later followers of Christ began baptizing. The immediate cultural setting of the early Church would only have understood the term ‘baptism’ to connote the act of immersion in water.
The gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism also clearly indicate He was fully immersed in water, not baptized by pouring or sprinkling as some might suggest:
“After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him.” (Matthew 3:16)
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him…” (Mark 1:10)
Second, theologically, baptism by immersion as believers in union with Jesus beautifully and creatively symbolizes our death, burial, and resurrection with Christ. The apostle Paul articulates the theology of our new identity with Christ and its real-life implications today:
“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:4-7)
What does this have to do with baptism by immersion (which, ironically, is actually like saying “baptism by baptism”)? The reason why the early church understood baptism in terms of its symbolism in death and resurrection was because the act of being laid down underneath the waters of baptism and then raised again above the waters was to be like a sermon in pictures – a live object lesson and proclamation of our belief in the Christ who was buried and raised for us and for our salvation.
The same is true today for followers of Jesus. The act of being lowered down into the water symbolizes dying to your old life of sin in separation from God. The act of being raised out of the water symbolizes receiving new and eternal life in Jesus Christ. The picture is meant to preach. Sprinkling, pouring, or other so-named modes of baptism fall short of all the brushstrokes intended for the portrait of Christian baptism.
New Testament Baptism Stories
The baptism stories in the first-century church show a clear pattern of one receiving Christ as Savior by grace through faith, followed by baptism as a public demonstration of their identity with Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection:
- People in Jerusalem who responded to Peter’s sermon by receiving the Gospel of Christ: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41)
- The inquisitive Ethiopian who received Christ as Savior through Philip’s ministry: “The eunuch answered Philip and said, ‘Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture [Isaiah 53:7-8] he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts. 8:34-39)
- The apostle Paul, following his conversion and the healing of his eyesight: “And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)
- The Philippian jailer and his family, through the ministry of Paul and Silas: “And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.” (Acts 16:29-34)
- The new Christ-followers in Corinth: “Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized.” (Acts 18:8)
- The new Christ-followers in Ephesus: “And he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 19:3-5)
Take time to prayerfully evaluate your desire to receive baptism in order to determine your reasoning and the biblical motivation for baptism.
Bad Reasons for Baptism
- “I think baptism will help me get saved.”
- “I believe baptism is necessary for my salvation.”
- “Everybody else is getting baptized…”
- “My parents really want me to be baptized.”
- “I want to become a church member and baptism is required.”
The Real Reason for Baptism
Christ’s final words before His ascension call every follower to be baptized in the name of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who are all together as One, active in drawing the lost to saving faith:
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Therefore, your baptism is a response of joyful submission and loving obedience to Christ’s command, in light of the great salvation you have received by grace, through faith, on the basis of His death, burial, and resurrection. Baptism is a public proclamation that you are a follower of Jesus Christ and a wonderful moment for the church to rejoice in what God has done in your life.
If you have trusted in Jesus as your Savior, the only Way to be rescued from sin and death, and have not yet obeyed His command to be baptized as a believer, we invite you to take this important step. It will be a day of celebration you’ll never forget!
Here’s a short video of me baptizing a man “first century” style in the Grand River (in downtown Grand Rapids, MI):
Further Information (for the extra curious)
“…born of water and the Spirit” – John 3:5
Edwin Blum outlines 5 major views on this rather difficult passage to interpret:
- The ‘water’ refers to the natural birth, and the “Spirit” to the birth from above.
- The ‘water’ refers to the Word of God (Eph. 5:26).
- The ‘water’ refers to baptism as an essential part of regeneration (This view contradicts other Bible verses that make it clear that salvation is by faith alone; e.g. John 3:16, 36; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
- The ‘water’ is a symbol of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39).
- The ‘water’ refers to the repentance ministry of John the Baptist, and the “Spirit” refers to the application by the Holy Spirit of Christ to an individual,” (John 3:5). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament edition, pg. 281.
“John the Baptist had stirred the nation by his ministry and stress on repentance (Matt. 3:1-6). ‘Water’ would remind Nicodemus of the Baptist’s emphasis. So Jesus was saying that Nicodemus, in order to enter the kingdom, needed to turn to Him (repent) in order to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.” (Blum, TBKC, pg. 281)
While numerous interpretations of this verse have arisen, the most probably meaning, in keeping with other relevant passages, is the fifth view presented by Blum.
“…Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you…” – 1 Peter 3:21
Some have claimed that this singular passage teaches “baptismal regeneration,” namely that the act of receiving water baptism is necessary for salvation. There are three key problems with this view:
- The entire message of the New Testament points toward salvation in Christ as completely separate from any human works, including the physical act of baptism. The work of Christ alone, in His sinless life, death, burial, and resurrection, is salvific, not any of our good or righteous-looking deeds.
- Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace [the unearned, unmerited favor/kindness of God] you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Paul repeats the same pivotal idea in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And in Paul’s letter to Titus he again affirms salvation by grace alone: “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit…” (Titus 3:4-5). Jesus continually points to the salvation gift as received only through the God-initiated response of faith – belief that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, who has come to save us from our sins: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) And again: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24) See also: John 6:47-51; 12:36; 14:6; 20:31.
- Peter’s own Spirit-inspired writings, in the immediate context, clearly point to forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation as a gift received only through the work of Christ alone, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” (1 Peter 3:18)
- The “baptismal regeneration” view ignores the Old Testament parallel drawn by Peter and the analogical picture of what baptism theologically signifies. Peter is giving us a picture illustration (because he’s a preacher): As (type) God provided the ark for Noah and his family so that they could be rescued against the flood of God’s righteous judgment, so in a much greater way (the antitype) God’s provision of Christ the Savior is our rescue from the just wrath of God against sin. How do we receive God’s rescue? Through believing in Christ’s victory: His death, burial, and resurrection (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3; 3:18, 22). When Peter uses the phrase “Corresponding to this, baptism now saves you,” he is referring to the meaning behind the symbol, the symbolic significance of baptism. And he makes it clear he is not talking about literal water, “not the removal of dirt from the flesh (your physical body)” (v. 21b). Instead, he relates it to the act of repentance – turning to God in Jesus Christ for salvation: “but an appeal to God for a good conscience” (v. 21c). And how is our salvation ultimate possible? Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead (v. 21c). The “appeal to God for a good conscience” is the response of faith to God’s message of rescue and forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ. And this is precisely what is theologically proclaimed when a believer is baptized. So just as God’s rescue provision for Noah and his family was the Ark through the waters of judgment, so God’s ultimate rescue provision for humankind is Jesus Christ (in His death, resurrection, and ascension), who took all our judgment upon Himself so that we could receive His righteousness.
 Meaning the union/identity we have in Christ, e.g. Paul is explaining the symbol theologically not literally about the actual act of baptism.
 “Peter is using the flood and deliverance of Noah and his family as a loose analogy or type of what is portrayed in Christian salvation and baptism. Just as Noah passed through the floodwaters into salvation from God’s judgment, so believers pass through baptism into salvation from God’s judgment. But, before you leap to wrong conclusions, Peter clarifies – it is not the act of baptism which saves (“the removal of dirt from the flesh”), but what baptism signifies – the appeal to God for a good conscience.” – Steve Cole