Baptism is one of the ordinances that Jesus has called the church to continue to practice on an ongoing basis. An ordinance is something that Jesus has ordained for the church to keep observing until His return. Communion is another ordinance given to the church as well. In His Great Commission right before His ascension to heaven, Jesus commanded the church to “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, teaching them to keep all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Baptism is a crucial component to our making of disciples and discipleship in general. If a church is not baptizing new disciples and disciples are not getting baptized, then, simply put, they are being disobedient to the Lord who says that we should do so. Because of this, the Reformers went so far as to say it is only where the Word of God is being preached and baptism and communion regularly practiced that constitutes a church. Any group of people gathered together without such taking place on a normal basis can be called anything else but not rightly a church of believers according to God’s Word.
It is important to stress that the act of baptism in no way saves someone. Paul could not be clearer that our salvation is fully and entirely a result of God’s grace alone and not dependent on any work of our own whatsoever. He writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no one may boast.” The thief on the cross is the prime example of someone who makes it to heaven without ever having his head dipped under the waters of baptism. All he had was faith and that was enough. Nothing more was needed for him to receive the promise of being with Christ in paradise.
Contrary to Carrie Underwood’s song, there is not “something in the water” that changes and transforms us. The change and transformation has already happened. What transpires in the water just shows it. Baptism is a sign or symbol of our salvation. It is an outward expression of an inward spiritual reality that has taken place within us. We could call it a living parable or picture of God’s grace in our lives. In the act, we publicly signify our being united with Christ through our faith in Him. Paul points out in Romans 6 that our baptism communicates our sharing in Christ’s death. “We were buried with Him through baptism into death” (v. 4). The being dunked under the water visibly portrays this. That we have died with Him, putting our old self to death, which is who we were before Jesus came into our life. In coming up out of the water, we show that we have risen with Christ to new life. (“so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”) We are no longer the same person we once were. I heard about a rich business man who was all about driving the fanciest most expensive cars available and wearing the top of line suits that money could buy. His life centered on material things. After coming to faith in Christ, he began going to church and went up to the pastor to talk about being baptized. On the day of his baptism, to his pastor’s surprise, he comes wearing one of those Armani suits that he had been known for. The pastor told him that he didn’t want to be baptized in that. It would ruin such a good suit! The man assured the pastor that he absolutely wanted to go into the water with it on and that he was fine if it messed it up. He saw that suit as recognizing his old life in sin that is no more and was in his past now. He clearly understood the picture baptism is designed to convey.
When it comes to who should be baptized, Scripture is clear on this point as well. Only those who have been born again by the Spirit of God and as a result of such are trusting Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. In every single case of baptism that we have in the New Testament, we always see that baptism follows faith. There is not one clear instance anywhere in its pages of someone being baptized who was not a repentant believer in Christ. In Acts 2:41, it was “those who had received the word” who were baptized. It was when the Samaritans “believed Philip proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” that “they were being baptized” (Acts 8:12). Many of the Corinthians we are told “were believing and being baptized” (Acts 18:8). This is the reason why we do not baptize infants or even recognize those who were baptized as such as ever having really been baptized. Babies do not have the capacity to understand the truths of the gospel and exercise saving faith. Therefore, they should not be baptized. I also think that a church should be cautious when it comes to baptizing young children. We need to be sure that they really do believe and are not just simply parroting their parents’ faith or seeking to please them with it. That they have truly been converted and have a real faith in Jesus all their own. It is wise to take some time to evaluate to see such fruit demonstrated before moving forward with baptizing them. Much harm has been done in baptizing some too soon who had not been born again where they grow up thinking that they are okay due to the fact that they have been baptized when they have yet to repent and truly trust Christ for their salvation. And how many were baptized as a small child who have absolutely nothing to do with Christ and the church today?
Baptism was seen to be so important as an expression of one’s faith in Christ that it is often coupled with the calls to repentance and faith. This is why when those who had heard Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost and were “pierced to the heart” by it asked what they should do in response to it were told to “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Someone belonging to the church apart from being baptized or being baptized without becoming an active part of a local congregation is foreign to the New Testament yet unfortunately is all too common place today. That needs to change if churches today want to be biblical in all that they do.
Are you a believer who has yet to be baptized? If so, what is holding you back from it? Why do you continue putting off this essential proclamation of your faith? Why don’t you want to follow Christ in obedience? If you need to be baptized, I encourage you to consider attending the membership classes coming up to learn more about it. Or if you have any questions about this, please talk to me. There is such a beauty with baptism not in the event itself but in what it conveys and every believer should desire to display their faith in this tangible way. Those who have been baptized can look fondly over the memory of that special day and the picture that it paints of what the Lord has done in their life.
Love in Christ,