There are many differences in church traditions and practices of baptism. Godly men differ. Yet baptism remains a basic command of the Lord Jesus for all His followers. Baptize them “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” He said (Matthew 28:19 NASB). Believers are to be baptized when they are saved (Mark 16:16). The first Christians were faithfully taught this and regularly obeyed (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 36-39; 9:18; 10:47; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 22:16). It was their first step of obedience. New believers thus often exposed themselves to persecution. They had become Christians and were willing to take this step of public identification in response to the command of the One they confessed as Lord and Savior.
[Mat 28:19 NKJV] 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
[Mar 16:16 NKJV] 16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
[Act 2:38, 41 NKJV] 38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ... 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added [to them].
[Act 8:12, 36-39 NKJV] 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. ... 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, [here is] water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then 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." 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.
[Act 9:18 NKJV] 18 Immediately there fell from his eyes [something] like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.
[Act 10:47 NKJV] 47 "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we [have]?"
[Act 16:15, 33 NKJV] 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged [us], saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." So she persuaded us. ... 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed [their] stripes. And immediately he and all his [family] were baptized.
[Act 18:8 NKJV] 8 Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.
[Act 22:16 NKJV] 16 'And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'
The Scriptures listed above refer to what has been called believer’s baptism, the subject of this lesson. This is to distinguish it from other uses of the word baptism, such as these:
1. Jewish Ceremonial Purification (Luke 11:38-39; Mark 7:4; Hebrews 6:2; 9:10). In the Old Testament, priests were purified in this manner. Later, eating and drinking vessels were thus washed, and hands were ceremonially dipped before eating. Proselytes, who were converts from among the Gentiles, were baptized to cleanse from defilement.
2. John’s Baptism Of Repentance (Mark 1:2-4; Luke 3:3-4; John 1:31; Acts 13:24). This was Israel’s call to national repentance. As Messiah’s forerunner, John was to “prepare the way of the Lord.” This baptism was not the same as Christian baptism (Acts 19:3-5). It did require submersion in water (Matthew 3:16; John 3:23). The Lord Jesus was baptized by John, although He needed no repentance, that He might “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:14-15). Christ’s baptism by John launched His public ministry.
3. Christ’s Baptism Of Suffering (Luke 12:50; Mark 10:38-39; Matthew 20:22). He was afflicted with the judgment of God for our sins (Isaiah 53:4; 1 Peter 3:18). When He died on the cross for our sins He was submerged beneath the waves of God’s wrath (Psalm 42:7).
4. Spirit Baptism (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16). This was prophesied by John and initiated at Pentecost (Acts 2). Its purpose was to place believers in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Expressing it differently, it joins us in union with Him, placing us “in Christ.”
We will not attempt to deal with miscellaneous uses of the word “baptism” in connection with fire (Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 3:16-17), Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2) and the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29), as they are foreign to the purpose here.
There is no evident record of anyone in the New Testament receiving believer’s baptism apart from at least professing faith in Christ. Baptism prior to salvation is a practice in many churches, and has been for centuries, but one cannot find such a policy in Scripture. In the Bible the order is first faith, then baptism. We see this in Christ’s command: “Make disciples … baptizing” (Matthew 28:19 NASB); “believeth and is baptized” (Mark 16:16). At Pentecost Peter told those seeking salvation to “repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:37-38). The Ethiopian eunuch confessed his belief before Philip baptized him (Acts 8:36-37). The Corinthians believed and then were baptized (Acts 18:8). We are saved by believing the gospel (Ephesians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4) of which baptism is not a part (1 Corinthians 1:17). Repentance and faith in Christ must come first (Acts 20:21).
Although there is no explicit references to infant baptism in the New Testament, it has been the practice of many churches for centuries. Historically, these churches have baptized infants either (1) to secure the salvation of the infant from hell, (2) to begin the process of salvation which was to be “sealed” by “confirmation” at a later date, or (3) to impress upon the parents or “godparents” of the child, through the baptismal/dedication service, the importance of raising the child for Christ. The idea that the lack of baptism would condemn an infant to Hell is, of course, a horrifying thought about God. Moreover, the concept of infant baptism as a part of a salvation process whereby the infant obtains grace is equally indefensible from Scripture. The baptismal/dedication service, however beautiful, is also foreign to New Testament practice. Nevertheless, many arguments for infant baptism have been advanced from the Bible.
1. Proof Texts Often Cited. Mark 10:13-16 and Matthew 19:13-15 are often associated with infant baptism. The mothers brought their children to Jesus and He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Jesus did not baptize the infants, however. He blessed them. Had the disciples practiced, together with their Master, the baptism of infants for salvation, they would scarcely have been trying to drive them away. As someone has said, “We see Jesus here, but no water.” Matthew 18:2-6 is another favorite text. Jesus said, “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” His object lesson was a little child, whom He set in the midst. But the example was the necessity of lowliness, not baptism. Another text is 1 Corinthians 7:14. Children of believers (either or both parents) are here called “holy.” The word means “separated” and refers to the position of privilege in which a child of believers is placed. However, this position is not secured by baptism, neither does it require baptism. No one is said in Scripture to be “born into the church” because of Christian parents. Salvation springs from the new birth, not natural birth (John 1:13; 3:5-7).
[Mar 10:13-16 NKJV] 13 Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought [them]. 14 But when Jesus saw [it], He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." 16 And He took them up in His arms, laid [His] hands on them, and blessed them.
[Mat 19:13-15 NKJV] 13 Then little children were brought to Him that He might put [His] hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." 15 And He laid [His] hands on them and departed from there.
[Mat 18:2-6 NKJV] 2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 "Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 "Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. 6 "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
[1Co 7:14 NKJV] 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.
[Jhn 1:13 NKJV] 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
[Jhn 3:5-7 NKJV] 5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'
2. Argument From Circumcision. Jewish children were circumcised on the eighth day after birth (Luke 1:59), initiating them into the Jewish nation. Hence it is argued from this that Christians have a right to baptize their infants. Colossians 2:11-12 is cited, which refers to the circumcision of Christ. Yet this is a reference to His death, whereby He was able to remove sin. There is no authorization to baptize an infant in this passage.
3. Argument From Household Baptism. The salvation of Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:30-33), Crispus (Acts 18:18), Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16; 16:15) are occasions where households are said to have believed and been baptized. It is supposed by some that “there must have been infants” in these homes, or those too young to believe. Moreover, it is supposed that such were included in the baptisms, although there is no statement to this effect in the passages. It is just as reasonable to suppose, however, that only those of sufficient age to understand and believe the message of Christ were baptized (as in Acts 16:34).
Water sometimes is associated with cleansing, but the believer can only be cleansed by the blood of Christ. The significant likeness or figure in baptism is death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5). Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification. In salvation, God reckons all this to our account and places us “in Christ.” We have died with Him and have been resurrected with Him in the eyes of God (Colossians 3:1-3; Romans 6:6-11). Baptism then is the figure or illustration of what has already taken place as far as the believer is concerned. The believer symbolically passes through death, burial and resurrection in the waters of baptism. Thus the believer is identified with Christ, whose death, burial and resurrection were on his behalf. He thereby confesses that he is one with Christ. Baptism is called an “appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21 NASB). The believer is publicly saying, “Christ did all that was necessary for my salvation on the cross. I have believed it in my heart. I am expressing it outwardly in this way as He commanded. I identify with Him.” This identification should carry with it the commitment to live what might be called a “baptized life,” one in which we walk with Him.
We need not debate words which are not used in Scripture about baptism, but which have often been used by men. These include “sacrament, rite, ceremony, initiation, ordinance, seal of grace, purifying symbol, pledge.”
A tremendous number of churches teach what is called “baptismal regeneration,” meaning that baptism in water actually regenerates (causes the new birth) and brings remission of sins. What Scriptures do they use?
1. JOHN 3:5. The expression “born of water and of the Spirit” might suggest that regeneration came from water baptism. First, note that the word “baptism” is not mentioned. Water does not always mean baptism. In John 7:38-39 it is used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The connective word between water and the Spirit (kai) is not an ordinary connective and can properly be translated “even.” Thus, it would read “water, even the Spirit.” John 3:6, 8 clearly indicates that one is “born of the Spirit.” Others believe that water refers to the Word of God. John 15:3 speaks of cleansing by the Word. Ephesians 5:26 speaks of the water of the Word and 1 Peter 1:23 says that the new birth is by the Word. Another use is when the Lord speaks of the water of eternal life (John 4:14). Two descriptions of the new birth in John 3 mention the wind and the serpent of brass. Neither is like water baptism. The wind in its blowing is invisible, unpredictable and intangible. Nothing in this suggests a baptismal service.
2. TITUS 3:5. This verse refers to “washing of regeneration,” but again the word “baptism” is not used. The parallel expression is “the renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Further, the word “washing” is not from the Greek word baptismos, but rather from loutron, used of bathing.
3. 1 PETER 3:21. The statement, “even baptism doth also now save us,” seems to support salvation by baptism. The following phrase weakens this idea by adding that it does not cleanse but is rather a response of conscience. The setting of the verse speaks of the waters of judgment in Noah’s day destroying the earth and lifting the ark of safety (v. 20). In the illustration, Christ is the ark of safety. He went through the waters of death in our place and we pass through the same with Him. Thus He is the figure, likeness or picture of safety and salvation from judgment. We are safe in Christ, not in water baptism.
4. MARK 16:16. The expression “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” seems to make baptism an essential for salvation. Yet this would ignore the next phrase, “he that believeth not shall be damned.” It does not say “he that is not baptized shall be damned.”
5. ACTS 22:16. This verse says “be baptized and wash away thy sins,” seeming to teach that remission of sins is by baptism. If this were true then it would deny that remission is only by the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:22). The verse is part of Paul’s account of his conversion. Ananias exhorted Paul to be baptized but also told him that he was to call on the name of the Lord (cf. Romans 10:13). Baptismal waters do not wash away sins (Revelation 1:5).
The Bible teaches that water is not our savior as can be seen in the following examples: (1) The thief on the cross was saved without water (Luke 23:43). (2) Paul did not always baptize those he led to Christ, an inexcusable lapse if this brought new birth (1 Corinthians 1:14-17). (3) Jesus Himself did not baptize, though He was the Savior (John 4:2). (4) The Gentiles received salvation and the Holy Spirit before they were baptized in water (Acts 10:44-48).
1. Mode. The first Christians baptized by immersion (submersion). The practice of pouring or sprinkling seems to have arisen in the second century and to have become widespread about the thirteenth century However, the practice of baptism in Scripture points to immersion as seen in the examples of John (Matthew 3:16; John 3:23) and Philip (Acts 8:38-39). The symbolism of baptism likewise demands immersion. Burial with Christ (Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:4) is better reflected by going totally beneath the waters than by sprinkling a few drops on the head. “A drop is as good as an ocean,” it is sometimes said, but a drop hardly signifies a burial. The meaning of the word baptism implies immersion or dipping beneath the water, since the root meaning is simply “to dip.” Had the Spirit of God intended to indicate sprinkling, another word (rhantizo) would have been used. Thus, practice, symbolism and meaning point to baptism by immersion.
2. Formula. The formula or pronouncement at baptism is “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19 NASB). The words “in the name of Jesus” or “in the name of the Lord” (or variant forms) are used in Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48. They seem to be an abbreviated reference, especially to distinguish it from John’s baptism (Acts 19:3-5).
3. Baptizer. The baptizer should come from the ranks of the believers, representing the Lord and then the church. No qualifications are given. Ordination of clergymen as a class of persons differing from the so-called “laity” was not practiced in the New Testament.
We may ask ourselves at this point, “If baptism does not wash away our sins, or join us to the church, or secure our salvation, then why is it so important?” Consider the following:
1. Baptism Is An Inseparable Part Of The Great Commission. Personal obedience to the Great Commission dictates that we obey the Lord in baptism and that baptism be taught and practiced among our disciples. We thus obey the injunction to teach “all things whatsoever I [Christ] have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
2. Baptism Is A Witness To The World. Baptism is one of the most effective witnesses of our faith to family and friends.
3. Baptism Is A Witness To Other Believers. Since baptism is an outward and public demonstration of the believer’s identification with the person and cause of Christ, it is thereby also an identification with other believers. In some countries where believers are persecuted severely for their faith, believers are wary of a Christian who is not willing to make a public stand through baptism.
We are commanded by Christ to be baptized. From the first days of Christianity, believers in Him have submitted to baptism. As we are commanded to lead a moral life of good works, to remember Him in the Breaking of Bread, to witness to our faith in Christ and to meet with fellow believers, so we are to be baptized. It is not necessary for salvation, but it is necessary for obedience. We should further demonstrate the reality of our confession of faith by leading a “baptized life.”
1. What value did Christ place on baptism (Matthew 28:19-20)?
How does John 14:21 relate to the above passage?
(Read Acts 2:41; 8:12, 36-39; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 30-33; 18:8 for questions 2-4.)
2. In New Testament times what was the normal response of a new Christian?
3. What commitment is required prior to believer’s baptism?
4. How soon after conversion were believers baptized in New Testament times?
For what reasons might a person delay his response of baptism today?
5. Countless arguments have been waged as to the mode of baptism (immersion, pouring, or sprinkling) to be followed. From the context of Acts 8:36-39, what mode of baptism was commonly used in New Testament times?
6. According to 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, what is the basic message of the Gospel?
Comparing this passage with Romans 6:3-6 and Colossians 2:12, how does the rite of baptism portray the basic message of the Gospel?
7. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) Galatians 2:20. What does this verse say about living the “baptized life”?
8. From questions 3 and 6, would baptism of an infant or an unbeliever have any value? Why or why not?
Look up the word “baptism” (or variant forms) in a concordance. Is “baptism” ever used in reference to infants?
If a person was baptized as an infant or prior to receiving Christ, should he be baptized as a believer? Explain.
9. Some groups teach that believer’s baptism is necessary for salvation, quoting Mark 16:16.
How would you refute that teaching using Acts 10:44, 47-48 (cf. Romans 8:9)?
What alone washes away our sins (Hebrews 9:14, 22; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5)?
10. Check one of the following responses:
a. I have been baptized since I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
b. I have not been baptized since I became a Christian, and I would like to talk to one of the
church leaders about being baptized.
c. I still have some questions about believer’s baptism and would like more information.
d. Other comments: