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Does salvation require water baptism? If so, how should it be done? Sprinkling? Pouring? Immersion? What about infants and children? Who should baptize—an ordained minister or may others do it? Is re-baptism necessary? What part does repentance play? How does the Bible answer these questions?
Millions of people become Christians every year around the world. Some are baptized babies, others are young adults joining the church of their choice—and still others are adult converts reached by missionaries. Of course, many “believers” are never baptized. Most of the rest are not correctly baptized.
On Pentecost, in AD 31, the day the New Testament Church was created, the apostle Peter gave a powerful sermon to many listeners. His message was so convicting that 3,000 were baptized. Before their baptism, many asked him, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter’s answer? “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (vs. 38).
This verse is God’s plain command to “be baptized”! Not only is this instruction in your Bible, but the Bible also says repentance must precede baptism or one will not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Most believe there are no requirements—no conditions—to being saved. This is untrue and Acts 2:38 proves there is at least one condition that must precede baptism itself—repentance! Some who teach there are no conditions for salvation quote Romans 10:9: “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” Verse 13 appears to make it even easier: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
What could be simpler for would-be Christians? How often have you heard that all one must do is “believe in your heart”? But is there more to this verse than meets the eye?
Many speak of having had a “religious experience” that instantly turned them into Christians. I once lived next door to a woman who told me that she “just knew” that she was a Christian because, as she put it, “I locked Jesus and the Bible up in my heart when I was nine years old.”
So many believe this is all that is necessary for conversion to occur. Others believe, “Christ did everything on the cross for me,” or “I am saved by grace alone without conditions.” What about the millions who believe these ideas? Is this all there is to salvation? Are Romans 10, verses 9 and 13, the only verses that should concern you? Important background is required to set-up the method of proper biblical baptism.
The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23), and, “[Christ] only has immortality,” (I Tim. 6:16) as well as, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). These three verses prove that no human beings have immortal life inherent within them. God told Adam, “…dust you are, and unto dust shall you return” (Gen. 3:19). Human beings are made of simple dirt—earth—and nothing more. This is what they will return to after death.
Notice this: “And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life” (I John 5:11-12).
Unless human beings have a Savior—One who pays the penalty for their sins—they are headed for death, not immortality! The good news is God—and only God—does hold the power to grant the “gift” of eternal life (John 5:26). Make no mistake! It cannot be earned—it is a free gift. But it is a gift given with conditions—to those who qualify!
Most Christians believe they are “saved by the blood of Christ.” This is not true. The Bible says we are “saved by His life” (Rom. 5:10), while we are “reconciled to God” and “justified by His [Christ’s] blood” (5:9). Also see I Corinthians 15:17-18. This is vital to understand and requires some explanation.
Consider! If Christ is not risen from the dead, then He cannot send His Holy Spirit to beget Christians. Recall that Peter said repentance and baptism would lead to the receiving of God’s Holy Spirit. A Christian is one who is led by the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). It is this same Spirit in Christians that God will use to eventually change them into sons of God composed of spirit—resurrected spirit beings. It is this Spirit in them that, when they are changed, makes eternal life—salvation—possible. If Christ had not been resurrected, He could not have gone to heaven where He could send His Spirit to Christians. Without this Spirit living in the mind of a Christian, there is no hope of eternal life.
Romans 8:11 says, “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwells in you.” At the Resurrection, one previously begotten of God will have become born of God. Prior to this new birth (John 3:3-6), a Christian is merely an heir—and not yet an actual inheritor (of eternal life). In this life, a Christian is like an impregnated egg in the womb. The baby’s birth comes nine months later. In this same way, a Christian’s birth into God’s kingdom comes well after the time of begettal and conversion.
Paul wrote, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear [timidity]; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7). A true Christian is actively working on all three of these qualities, which spring from God’s character and Spirit. He is striving to develop the love of God. He regularly asks God to give him a sound mind and the power to grow, change and become more like Jesus Christ in word, thought and deed! It is the Christian’s goal to grow in every possible way. Peter wrote, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18). If Christianity were merely a single moment of decision to call on Christ’s name, then why does the verse say to grow? What would be the point of this instruction?
Jesus said, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13). Here is another verse showing that for one to be saved, there is more required than to “just believe.” There is a need for endurance—a need to stay the course when it is not easy! And it is not always easy to obey God’s Law and yield to the government of God in one’s life.
True Christianity is not a “cakewalk.” It is not taking the path of least resistance, with no need to grow, change or endure difficult challenges and tests! Christ said, “Enter you in at the strait [difficult] gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leads unto life, and few there be that find it [Greek: are finding it—present progressive tense]” (Matt. 7:13-14).
It should now be clear that receiving God’s Spirit is not an end in itself, but rather the beginning—the start—for a newly begotten Christian. Compare Romans 8:7 with I John 5:12 and two things become indisputable. A person must belong to Christ, and he cannot belong to Christ unless he has been begotten by God’s Spirit.
But how does one reach the point when the Spirit of God is given?
The first words the Bible records from Christ’s mouth during His ministry are, “Repent you, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). It has been made clear that repentance is tied to baptism and conversion. But it is also tied to believing the gospel of the kingdom of God. Both of these represent commands—requirements—conditions—for one to become a Christian!
The world is ignorant of the true gospel. It is preoccupied with the Person of Jesus Christ instead of the message that He brought. He spoke continually about the kingdom of God that is soon to come to this world!
The word repent means to change—to stop sinning! But what is sin? The Bible answers, “Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4). While many have heard of sin, almost no one understands what it is—its definition. There is no misunderstanding what is meant here.
The command to “believe the gospel” means to believe the good news of the coming kingdom of God. The word gospel comes from god spell, meaning good news. God’s government coming to earth is good news. Those who yield to God must be willing to believe the gospel. With this soon-coming government will be the institution of God’s laws all over the Earth. Peace, abundance, happiness and joy will “break out” everywhere. No wonder Christians are instructed by Christ to regularly pray, “Thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10)!
The two conditions for salvation described in Mark 1:14-15 are the same as in Acts 2:38—repent and believe! Again, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” God’s Spirit cannot be given unless there is absolute belief (faith) in the sacrifice—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptism represents—symbolizes—complete faith (or belief) that Jesus’ sacrifice applies to each person who exercises this faith.
When Philip the deacon was counseling the Ethiopian eunuch for baptism, the eunuch asked, “What does hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, I believe…” (Acts 8:36-37). Philip then baptized him.
God has promised that where there is repentance and faith—belief—He will give His Holy Spirit. When God promises something, He keeps His word. He does not compromise or forget. But He makes clear there are conditions to receiving this gift.
Therefore, water baptism, symbolizing repentance and belief, is a commanded condition to receive salvation!
What was Jesus’ example in regard to baptism? Since He had no sin to repent of, He certainly did not need to be baptized. Peter was inspired to record, “Christ…leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (I Pet. 2:21).
Notice Matthew’s account of Christ’s example. Christ came to John the Baptist “to be baptized of him,” it says (Matt. 3:13). Verse 16 states, “Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water.” And a voice from heaven said that God was “pleased” with His “beloved Son.” True Christians are also God’s sons.
We have established that Peter commanded repentance, followed by baptism. Now notice: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). This point must be made. God commands repentance, and repentance precedes baptism. Therefore, it could just as surely be said, “God commands all men everywhere to be baptized” or it could say “to repent and be baptized.”
Jesus commanded His disciples to baptize people so they could be saved. He tied salvation directly to baptism. He made it a condition to receive eternal life. His disciples always practiced baptism when new disciples were being converted. The book of Acts records, “Then they that gladly received His word were baptized” (2:41), and “Then Philip went down to…Samaria…But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God [notice the message new converts must come to believe], and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized…” (8:5, 12).
There are those who will say this was merely “baptism by the Holy Spirit.” Verses 15 to 16 make this explanation impossible because Peter and John “…when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: (for as yet [it] was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)”
If the baptism of these converts was merely “by God’s Spirit,” then how could it say they had been “baptized”? God’s Spirit had, as of yet, “fallen upon none of them”!
When the gentile Italian, Cornelius, and his family were baptized in Acts 10, a direct statement is made about the need for proper baptism. Peter was used by God to give the first sermon to the Jews discussing baptism (Acts 2). Ten years later He also used Peter to be the first apostle to preach the gospel to the gentiles. It says Cornelius’ family received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (10:45). In this unique circumstance, now that they had received the Holy Spirit in advance of baptism, Peter’s immediate response was: “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized…And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (vs. 47-48).
This is a plain command to be baptized in water!
As stated, Christ directly commanded His disciples to baptize. Notice Mark’s account of Christ’s Great Commission to them: “…Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel [of the kingdom of God] to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned” (16:15-16). Belief without baptism is not sufficient to be saved!
Matthew 28:19-20 also records this instruction, but adds some points that Mark does not cover and excludes others. (This is the same commission, so both accounts must be taken together.) Matthew states, “Go you therefore, and teach all nations…” This had to include teaching the gospel of the kingdom because Mark mentioned this. The verse continues, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”
In His Great Commission to His disciples, Scripture states plainly that Christ commanded baptism!
It is key to note that this scripture explains that baptism is done “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The word “in” here should be properly translated “into.” While Acts 2:38 says to be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ,” Matthew’s account uses the longer phrase. Does Scripture ever contradict itself? Can it be broken or invalidated—sometimes by another scripture? John 10:35 says it cannot. This is impossible. The Bible never contradicts itself. If it did, it would not be worth the paper it is written on!
Baptizing in Jesus’ name and being baptized into the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are two entirely different points. The first speaks to the issue of authority to baptize on behalf of Christ—in His name, by His authority. One either has or does not have the authority to baptize. The latter speaks to the issue of being baptized into the Family—the Godhead of the Father, Son and (power of the) Holy Spirit.
(Though this Personal is not intended to address this issue, it must be noted that this is not referring to the unbiblical trinity doctrine, which denies the very meaning of the kingdom of God. God is a Father who is reproducing Himself—adding many children into His family. He is not “three persons in one,” forming a closed Godhead. The trinity first appeared as a teaching in the great, false “Christian” church in the third century AD—over 200 years after Jesus had built His Church. It was imported into the church as a counterfeit to replace the truth that God is expanding His Family.)
What is the proper form of baptism? Is it sprinkling, pouring or immersion? Not only must one follow God’s command to be baptized but it must also be done in the manner—the method—He commands. Otherwise, the baptism is invalid. It is as if it had never occurred.
We must ask what the word baptize means. Does it mean to sprinkle?—or pour? The answer lies in the meaning of the particular Greek word used wherever the words baptism or baptize are found in the New Testament.
First, it is vital to recognize that baptize is actually a Greek word, not an English word! Most probably know that the New Testament was written in Greek and translated into English. When the translators came to the word baptizo, they chose to leave it untranslated as “baptize.” The question of which is the proper method would have been eliminated had they properly translated it into its true meaning, and here it is: immerse, dip or put into! The English word “pour” derives from the Greek word cheo and “sprinkle” derives from rantidzo. God chose the word baptizo because He did not want sprinkling or pouring to represent conversion!
Second, consider the matter in this way. One cannot be immersed by pouring or sprinkling—one can only be poured or sprinkled by pouring or sprinkling. Likewise, one can only be immersed by being immersed. God says what He means, and means what He says!
It is no wonder then that when John the Baptist was baptizing people, he chose locations where it says, “because there was much water there” (John 3:23). This would not have been necessary for sprinkling or pouring. It is also no wonder when Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch it states, “they went down…into the water…and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water” (Acts 8:38-39), and the verse continues. This does not fit with merely using a little water to sprinkle or pour over a person’s head. Finally, Matthew 3:16 records that after Jesus was baptized, He “went up straightway out of the water.”
The clear Bible pattern is that baptism requires a lot of water, because people go into it and then come up out of it.
There is an all-important reason that God does not accept sprinkling or pouring. While it should be enough that He commands us to do it and obey without question, it can be important to understand why God says to do something His way. This is true of baptism.
The symbolism of being completely immersed in water has great meaning. Baptism symbolizes death, burial and a rising, or resurrection, from a grave. This is exactly the pattern of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Neither sprinkling nor pouring reflects this symbolism. Consider: “Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we [Christians] have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:3-5).
Now that’s plain! True Christians will be resurrected at the time of Christ’s Return to Earth.
Also, they are “crucified with Him,” and are “dead” and “freed from sin” (vs. 6-7). There can be no mistaking the death, burial and resurrection symbolism of immersion—baptism—in water.
Paul also recorded, “Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also you are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who has raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12) and “You, being dead in your sins…has He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses [sins, I John 3:4]” (Col. 2:13). A baptized person is a forgiven person—freed from sin and “walk[ing] in newness of life.” This is the plain truth from God’s Word!
A Christian has started his life over. His old life is dead and gone. He is a changed person whose past is wiped clean—buried in a grave—“for you are dead…hid[den] with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). What a wonderful, inspiring truth for those who choose to walk this path. God commands baptism so people can recognize they have begun again, and that they have a Savior—if they express faith in Him and accept His sacrifice. Jesus, as Savior, will then send His Holy Spirit and help Christians grow and change.
Our goal is to become like God in character now so that we can rule with Him later in His kingdom—thus fulfilling our incredible human potential!
To learn much more about the subject of baptism read What Do You Mean “Water Baptism”? It answers such questions as “When is a person ready for baptism?”, “Should baptism ever be delayed?”, “When and how should one counsel for baptism?”, “Is one being baptized into a church or denomination?”, “Who is authorized to perform baptisms?”, “Should children be baptized?” and much, much more.