Christian Articles Archive

Tell Me About Baptism

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

Note to the Reader. Christians disagree about some aspects of Christian baptism, while at the same time we agree very strongly that Christ is our Savior and Lord. Please don't e-mail me seeking to debate the subject. This is to help and instruct new believers, not to argue about it. If you disagree, I understand.

Detail of Harry Anderson (American illustrator, 1906-1996), 'John Baptizing Jesus.' © Image copyrighted.
Detail of Harry Anderson (American illustrator, 1906-1996), "John Baptizing Jesus." © Image copyrighted. Framed works available.

Baptism is a sacred Christian ceremony in which believers are immersed in water as a sign their commitment to Jesus as their Lord and Savior and of the forgiveness of their sins.

Do I need to be baptized in order to become a Christian?

No, baptism isn't what makes you a Christian. Your trust in Jesus and your commitment to be His disciple is what makes you a Christian. The Bible teaches, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) Remember the thief on the cross next to Jesus? When he called out to Jesus in faith, Jesus promised him, "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). He didn't have time to be baptized, and yet he was forgiven and offered eternal life with Jesus. Faith makes us a Christian.

Then why should I be baptized?

Baptism is the Bible way of responding to Jesus' call for you to become His disciple. Faith saves you; baptism is your first step of obedience to your new Master, if you will.

Jesus' Ascension and Great Commission  

Notice Jesus' last words to His followers: "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15). Pretty strong, isn't it? "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations," Jesus told His disciples, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).

While faith is what saves you, baptism is pretty closely associated in the Bible. Except for the thief on the cross, there is no record of an unbaptized believer anywhere in Scripture. So if you want to be a follower of Jesus, then baptism is the first step after praying to give your life to Him. If you claim to be a follower of Jesus but have put off being baptized, how do you know you aren't fooling yourself? Jesus' disciples put the highest priority on doing what He said to do.

What is "believer's baptism"?

Some churches baptize babies and children who aren't old enough to place their own faith in Jesus, where their parents take vows on their behalf.  In this congregation we encourage that parents dedicate their young children to the Lord, and we have a special service for this called Dedication of Children.

While children who are very young can begin to trust Jesus and have a growing spiritual life, we have found it is best to wait until children are older before they are baptized. This way, when they look back on their baptism in later years, they can see it as a genuine act of commitment and faith.

What's the difference between immersion and sprinkling?

Immersion is a translation of the Greek word baptizo which means "to dip" or "to immerse." In Bible days this is how they baptized people, in rivers and pools and streams. You read about John the Baptist, that he "was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water" (John 3:23).

"Sprinkling" probably came about the Second Century in response to the need to baptize elderly and infirm people who might not survive immersion in a cold lake or stream. It spread due to convenience. But sprinkling as a means of baptism loses the rich symbolism of washing and burial and resurrection (Romans 6:4) which comes with immersion. We baptize by immersion because it is the Bible way and it brings out the full meaning of baptism, though the amount of water doesn't make the baptism "valid" one way or another.

What does baptism mean?

Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. In other words, baptism is a symbol of what God has already done in our lives. These are some of the things that baptism signifies:

Bathtub symbolizes cleansing pictured by baptism by immersion1. Cleansing. In the same way we wash away dirt from our bodies, God cleanses us from our sins. Baptism is a way of saying publicly that we are turning from our sins and receiving Jesus' forgiveness (see Mark 1:4-5 and Acts 2:38). In the New Testament, this is the instruction to a new believer: "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name" (Acts 22:16).

2. Faith. Baptism is also the Bible way that people identify themselves as Christians. When people put their trust in Jesus, immediately they were baptized. They didn't wait for a month or two. If they could, they went right out and were baptized that very day.

3. Union with Jesus. The Apostle Paul speaks of "being united with Him" by baptism (Romans 6:5).. "All of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ," the Bible says (Galatians 3:27), much like you might put on a new set of clothing. When we are immersed in water and feel the water all around us, we experience something of this sense of being "united" with Jesus. By baptism we are also united with all other true Christians as part of Jesus' Church (1 Corinthians 12:13), and with all Christians we celebrate "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5).

4. New Life. The Bible also refers to baptism as a symbol of dying to the old life and burying it when the believer goes down under the water. When he or she comes up out of the water after baptism, the Bible likens it to rising from the grave with Christ to a new life (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12).

You will be baptized with the holy Spirit and with fire.5. The Holy Spirit.  Immersion in water is also a sign of how we are immersed by Jesus in the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist prophesied, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 3:16). Peter also instructed new converts, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). When we are Christians, the divine Holy Spirit is in us, around us, over us, and throughout our beings. We are immersed or baptized in the Spirit.

Questions and answers about baptism

Question: I was baptized when I was a baby. Do I need to be baptized again?

Answer: If you were baptized as a baby, your parents dedicated you to the Lord, as a wonderful expression of their commitment to God on your behalf. However, many believers in your circumstance feel the need to express their own trust in Jesus and their own commitment to Him by being baptized as a believer, and we respect that.

Question: I'm afraid of the water.

Answer: Don't worry. If you need to, you can hold your nose when the pastor baptizes you. The pastor will just dunk you down quickly and then lift you out of the water. Nobody has drowned yet being baptized, and you're not likely to be the first.

Question: What should I wear?

Answer: If the church has a white baptismal robe, plan to wear that over your underwear. For an outdoor baptism you might wear a bathing suit with a white T-shirt over it. Make sure you bring a towel and a change of clothes, comb, blow dryer, etc. I wonder how people in Jesus' day could be baptized without their blow dryer handy?

Question: Will this mean I am baptized into a certain denomination?

Kneeling in a prayer of dedication

Answer: No. You are baptized "Christian." Whatever Christian church you may attend in the future will recognize your baptism as a genuine expression of your faith in Christ.

Question: I want to be baptized. What do I do next?

Answer: Tell your pastor you want to be baptized. There is probably a class for you to attend to learn more about what this commitment means. Then the church will schedule a baptism and celebrate with you as you show your faith in Jesus by baptism. And congratulations! This is a very significant step in your spiritual life.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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