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Basics of Believer's Baptism

People go public about a lot of things. Have you seen posts on social media of an engagement, a baby gender reveal for an expecting couple, or a new job? Baptism is exponentially more exciting and more important than any of those things. There is no better news to share than, “I have been forgiven and adopted into the family of God.” Baptism is a celebration. It is also a courageous declaration. “I have been delivered from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved son.” At baptism a believer says, “I am giving my allegiance to King Jesus who loves me and died for my sin.” This can bring rejection or even persecution. So, baptism also involves an earnest commitment.

On one hand, baptism is not a trivial ritual. On the other hand, it is not a rite of passage for the ‘super Christian.’ It is simply and profoundly what Jesus commands for a believer to make his faith public. Baptism is seen all over the New Testament. Jesus was Baptized (Luke 3:21). Jesus himself made disciples and had them baptized (John 3:22; 4:1). Jesus commands baptism (Matthew 28:19-20, and so did the Apostles (Acts 2:38). Baptism is for those who are already believers. There are no other examples of, or commands for making faith public in the New Testament. Here are the five things that are so important about baptism.

Identification: Jesus commands baptism because it is where a new believer identifies with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Saving faith involves knowing and confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior (Romans 10:9-10). This faith is accompanied by a repentance from sin and counting the cost of being a disciple. Jesus wants us to trust in him and love him more than anything. Jesus had love and compassion for sinners and was willing to suffer for us. The Christian must be willing to love and suffer like he did. This is what we confess at baptism. Jesus ties this identification to the Trinity “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20). Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” The phrase “in the name” means ‘into the ownership of.’ Without willingness to be baptized, there is always a question of whether someone’s profession is genuine. (Matthew 10:32). In a very significant way we are also identifying with the church. You can’t have Jesus the head without the body the church (1 Corinthians 12:13.) In Baptism, a believer declares that the church is our spiritual family and we are now members.

A Picture: Baptism has no saving effects. It does not make us more fit for salvation. Only those who already believe can be baptized. Baptism expresses outwardly what we believe inwardly. This shows our union with the death and resurrection of Jesus. When a believer is plunged beneath the water it pictures our death with Christ. When we are lifted out of the water it pictures our being raised with Christ. It pictures how we are cleansed from guilt and sin and are forgiven (Acts 22:16). It also illustrates how we are immersed into the Spirit of God who gives us a new heart and empowers us to obey (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Initiation: The ceremony of Baptism is where Jesus commands a believer to be publicly initiated into the Christian life and into the life of the church. At the moment of conversion, a person is joined to Jesus and the church spiritually and eternally. Baptism proclaims that glorious reality to the church and the watching world. Jesus gives it to us so the church can see and confirm the reality of the believer’s welcomed status as a member of the body of Christ.

At the beginning: This is tied to initiation. In Acts, Baptism was always done soon after salvation. In Acts 2:41 when the people heard, believed and repented they were baptized that day. The Ethiopian Eunuch was baptized right away upon hearing and believing the gospel (Acts 8:36). When Paul told his testimony in Acts 22, he recalled Ananias’ words. “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (v.16).

In all of these cases thorough teaching and preaching was done. The interaction was sufficient so that the one being baptized knew the full gospel. The person could articulate his repentance, and he could count the cost. He also knew the significance of baptism and be ready to participate in the life of the church. To be careful here, a person being baptized does not need to be a sophisticated theologian, have a sinless life or be a good public speaker.

In a future article we will give help for parents of younger children to know how and when to encourage them to go public in baptism. For now, think of it as the same as for an adult, but with concepts they understand. For instance, read the gospel of Mark over a few weeks and see if there is sufficient understanding of each of the concepts. For older children and adults, until the professing believer is willing to be baptized the church will not have confidence of the genuineness of the person’s conversion.

Immersion: It may be odd to put this last. But, the mode of baptism follows the very meaning of the word. It means to immerse, dip or dunk. Given what we have said so far. There is no other mode that is more fitting. At conversion one is spiritually immersed into Christ by the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13) and into the church. At conversion a person’s sins and guilt are washed away. At conversion one’s heart is cleansed and made new. What more perfect symbol is there than immersion in water?

Have you repented and trusted Christ as Savior? If you haven’t been baptized. Initiate the process today by talking to an elder/pastor or filling out the form here.