Some Thoughts on Baptism

An area newspaper recently included a “public invitation to be baptized” at a special event during Easter weekend. The event, sponsored by a group of Polk County churches, was slated to take place in Winter Haven. The advertisement invited all who “wish to be baptized, be a witness, or volunteer” to attend, even offering free transportation for those who needed it. It also listed a website where people could register to be part of the occasion.

But what I noticed most about the announcement was that it didn’t say a single word about why anyone should need or want to be baptized in the first place. Ditto for the website: it included information about the “baptism event,” but no information about baptism.

To recap: a group of churches issues a public invitation for people to be baptized, but offers no explanation whatsoever as to what baptism is all about.

Did first-century preachers invite people to be baptized? Yes, they did. But unlike that newspaper ad, those men explained what baptism is and why it’s important. Among other things, their words reveal that…

♦ Baptism is the response of faith in Christ. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). That belief is produced by hearing the gospel (Mark 16:15; Romans 10:17). When the Ethiopian treasurer wanted to be baptized, Philip (who had just been teaching him about Jesus) told him, “If you believe with all your heart, you may” (Acts 8:37). Baptism is for people who have heard the message of salvation in Christ, believe in Him, and want to be saved from sin through Him. The Bible gives no basis for baptizing someone who is not capable of faith (a baby, for instance). It gives no basis for baptizing someone who has not yet come to faith (say, someone who hasn’t yet heard and understood the gospel). To do so would be pointless. A person without faith in Christ is not ready to be baptized.

♦ Baptism must follow repentance. Peter told the crowd at Pentecost, “Repent, and each of you be baptized 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). Repentance is not just sorrow over sin, but a commitment to leave it behind. It is a change of thinking and conduct. And just as baptism is pointless apart from faith, it is empty apart from repentance. A person who is not ready to accept Christ as his master is not ready to be baptized.

♦ Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. That’s what Peter told those people at Pentecost (Acts 2:38). “For” in this verse means “unto, with a view toward, in order to.” That is, Peter was telling his audience that they must repent and be baptized in order to be forgiven. Likewise, Ananias told Saul, “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). Remission of sins is as clearly connected with baptism as it is with belief and repentance. Scripture never describes baptism as “an outward sign of an inward grace” or as something done to show that one’s sins have already been forgiven. Instead, it identifies baptism as the point at which one dies to sin and is freed from it (Romans 6:1-7). As such, Peter calls baptism “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).

♦ Baptism unites us with Christ. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death? 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” (Romans 6:3-5).

♦ Baptism is essential to salvation. What else could we conclude, given what these God-directed preachers said about it? What else could we conclude, given that baptism is specifically mentioned in nearly every case of conversion in the book of Acts? What else could we conclude, given that there was such an obvious sense of urgency about baptism in cases such as the Jews at Pentecost (Acts 2), the Ethiopian (Acts 8), the jailer at Philippi (Acts 16), and Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22)? And why else would Peter say that, just as Noah and his family were saved from the flood in the ark, “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:20-21)?

As I think about that announcement in the paper, it occurs to me that we need to be careful as we talk to our neighbors about baptism. Should we tell people they need to be baptized? Absolutely. But in most cases that’s not where we need to start. And I fear that some well-meaning Christians make that mistake: they tell their friends and relatives they need to “get baptized” instead of telling them they need to be saved in Christ. Without faith and repentance, without a heart that genuinely seeks forgiveness and salvation in Jesus, without an understanding of what baptism is for, “getting baptized” will make a sinner nothing but a wet sinner. New Testament preachers explained what men must do to be saved, and they explained baptism’s role in salvation. Let’s make sure we do the same.

Have you been baptized into Christ? If you believe that He is the Son of God who died for your sins and rose again, if you’re ready to let Him be Lord of your life, and if you understand what you need to do to be saved, then what are you waiting for? And if you’re not sure and want to know more, then let’s talk.