Baptism is like a precious jewel, set apart by itself, it is nice and appealing but has nothing within to compel. But place baptism against the backdrop of our sin and turn on the light of the cross and the jewel explodes with significance. Baptism at once reveals the beauty of the cross and the darkness of sin. As a stone has many facets, baptism has many sides: cleansing, burial, resurrection, the death of the old, and the birth of the new. Just as the stone has no light within it, baptism has no inherent power. But just as stone prisms the light into many colors, so baptism reveals the facet of God's grace.
Baptism is the immediate step of obedience by one who has repented and declared his faith to others. So important was this step that, as far as we know, beginning at Pentecost (Acts 2), every single convert in the New Testament was baptized.
1. Baptism was part of trusting in the blood of Christ just as repenting of sins and confessing the name of Jesus were part of that trust. (Luke 13:3, Romans 10:8-10). Faith that does not commit this way falls short of trust. (John 12:42, James 2:19) Saving faith, trust, includes all that one does in committing to Christ. When the Philippian jailer believed, it included baptism, (Acts 16:31-34). "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved...and the whole family was filled with joy, because they had come to believe in God."
What did believing in God include (see vs. 33) “At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds: then immediately he and all his family were baptized."
2. When baptism and salvation were mentioned together, baptism always preceded and was a condition of salvation.
a. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)
b. Peter preached baptism for remission of sins in the first gospel sermon. (Acts 2:38-39) “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.”
c. “...Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away.” (Acts 22:16)
d. “...This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you.” (1 Peter 3:21)
3. Baptism is an integral part of the gospel.
a. " Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19)
b. Peter preached baptism for remission of sins in the first gospel sermon. (Acts 2:28-39) “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.”
c. Philip preached Jesus, which obviously included baptism. (Acts 8:34-36) “Philip...told him the good news about Jesus.” They came to water and the eunuch (who previously did not know about Jesus or baptism… (vss. 30,31) said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” Philip taught and practiced baptism in water.
d. Baptism is a participation in the death of Christ. (Romans 6:3-4)
4. A helpful verse to understanding baptism is 1 Peter 3:21. “And that water is like the baptism which now saves you—not the washing of dirt from the body, but the promise made to God from a good conscience. And this is because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.” This promise is vital. In the New Testament, baptism was no casual custom, no ho-hum ritual. Baptism was, and is, a pledge made to God from a good conscience. Baptism is not to be taken lightly. The event is a willing plunge of the body and soul into the promise and power of Christ. The washing signifies our admission that apart from Christ we are dirty, but in Christ we are pure. The burial says that we are willing to die to sin and self and that we can be made alive again because of him. (Luther referred to baptism as death by drowning.) Baptism effectively seals our salvation, uniting us to him and his body. Christ’s death becomes my death. Christ’s resurrection becomes my resurrection. There is no indication of an unbaptized believer in the New Testament church. Let us now turn our attention to specific questions that have been raised in regard to baptism.
a. Is it appropriate to baptize babies or people who are not old enough to make a personal decision? Obviously there are bright, godly people of both persuasions. But it seems clear that in the New Testament, baptism is a willing pledge made by those who are old enough to recognize their sin, mature enough to comprehend the significance of the death of Christ, and independent enough to commit themselves to him. It is important to note that there is not a clear reference to a baby being baptized in the whole Bible. Almost every time baptism is mentioned, it is preceded by some command for belief or repentance. A good example is Acts 2:38 “Change your hearts and lives and be baptized, each one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.” This calls for a significant level of maturity.
b. What if I was baptized as infant? What should I do? I have been baptized but not by immersion. First, you should be grateful that you had parents who cared enough about you to set you apart for God. Because of their devotion, you have an opportunity to complete their prayers by willingly submitting to adult baptism. Adult baptism is not a sign of disrespect for what your parents did. In fact, it can be seen as a fulfillment of their prayers. Be thankful for the heritage of concerned parents but don’t be negligent of your responsibility as an adult to make your personal pledge toward God in baptism. All the Greek dictionaries of the New Testament define the Greek word baptizo as immersion. Its likeness to the burial and resurrection of Jesus is compelling: just as a person lowers you into the water, Christ lowers you into the pool of his grace, covered from head to foot with God’s love, you are washed clean by the blood of Jesus.
c. How much do I need to know in order to be baptized? You need to realize only that you are a sinner and that Jesus is your Savior. As you grow in Christ, you’ll learn more about baptism. You’ll learn that embodied in baptism is forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38), commitment to the church (I Cor. 12:13), being clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:26), to name a few.
It is helpful to read the book of Acts and try to determine what the candidates in the first century knew before they were baptized. In each case there was an innocent faith and an immediate response. Let’s take a quick look at each of the events:
What did they understand at Pentecost? (Acts 2)
“God has made Jesus—the man you nailed to the cross—both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36)
How did they respond?
“Those who accepted the message were baptized and about three thousand people were added to the number of believers that day.” (Acts 2:41)
What was the message of Philip to the Ethiopian? (Acts 8)
“Philip began to speak and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35)
What was his response?
The officer said, “Look here is water. What is stopping me from being baptized?...Both Philip and the officer went down into the water and Philip baptized him.” (Acts 8:36,38)
What did the jailer understand? (Acts 16)
“(Paul and Silas) said to him, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and all the people in your house.'" (Acts 16:31)
How did he respond?
“At that hour of the night the jailer took Paul and Silas and washed their wounds. Then he and all his people were baptized immediately.” (Acts 16:33)
What did Saul know before he was baptized? (Acts 9; and 22)
“(Ananias) stood by me and said, ‘Brother Saul...the God of our ancestors chose you long ago to know his plan, to see the Righteous One, and to hear words from him…Now why wait any longer? Get up be baptized, and wash your sins away, trusting in him to save you.’” (Acts 22:14-16). “Then Saul got up and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)
Do you see similarities? The message and the response are consistent. The message is Jesus and the response is voluntary. A simple faith in Christ and an immediate response of trust in baptism.
Does it matter where I was baptized?
No. What is important is that you knew that you were a sinner, that Jesus was your savior, and that trust in him included baptism.
Does baptism, by itself, have the power to save people?
The answer is “no”; no more than faith by itself or repentance by itself can save. Scripture is abundantly clear that Jesus saves. The work of salvation is a finished work by Christ on the cross. Our faith is not in faith or repentance or baptism but a savior.
What if a person is not baptized. Can he be saved?
This question may best be answered with a question. Why isn’t the person baptized? There are a couple of answers that come to mind:
I never understood baptism.
Perhaps you were never instructed to be baptized. Maybe you’ve never been challenged to consider this important response. That is entirely possible. If this is the case, we urge you to give thought to what God says about baptism. This doesn’t negate your faith up to this point. Part of maturity is an openness to understand new areas of the Christian walk
A second reason for not being baptized is, “I don’t want to”
Let’s analyze this response for a moment. God humbles himself by leaving heaven and being born in a feed trough. The God of the universe eats human food, feels human feelings, and dies a sinner’s death. He is spat upon, beaten and stripped naked, and nailed to a cross. He takes our eternal condemnation on himself in our place. He then offers salvation as a free gift and asks that we say “yes” to him in baptism, but someone responds, “I don’t want to.” Such resistance spells trouble of the soul. It reveals a problem of the heart. Such a person does not need a study of baptism. He needs a long hard examination of the soul. The incongruity puzzled even Jesus. “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things I ask?” (Mt. 7:21) True believers not only offer their sins, but they also yield their will to Christ.
Don’t allow baptism to be something it is not. Apart from the cross it has no significance, nor does faith, nor repentance. Baptism is trusting in the blood of Christ for redemption. If you are trusting in a plunge in water to save you, you have missed the message of atonement and grace.
Don’t prevent baptism from being what God intended. This is no optional command. This is no trivial issue. It is a willing plunge into the power and promise of Christ. If it was important enough for Jesus to command, isn’t it important enough for you to obey? And if it was important enough for Jesus to do, isn’t it important enough for you to follow?
In baptism God signs and seals our conversion to him. For all we may not understand about baptism we can be sure of one thing: it is a Holy moment.