Water Baptism – 6 Key Questions Asked And Answered
Fundamentally, there are two commands/ordinances that every Christian must follow after accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The first is Water Baptism. And the second is participation in the Lord’s table, also referred to as the Lord’s Supper or Communion. One differs from the other because Water Baptism is a one-time act and participating at the Lord’s table is an ongoing act. This brief overview will attempt to answer a few basic questions concerning the subject of the first ordinance, which is water baptism.
Water Baptism is the first and foremost command after one becomes a believer—i.e., after repenting of their sins and placing their faith in Jesus Christ. Even though the Bible is clear on this subject, there is still much disobedience to this straightforward command. According to one bible teacher, the following are the primary reasons for this failure:
a. Ignorance: People do not clearly understand this subject because this command has not been taught to them.
b. Spiritual Pride: To be publicly baptized after a long period indicates a lack of understanding or signifies disobedience for an extended period. Since acknowledging this disobedience can be a very humbling experience, many don’t want to be baptized for that very reason. Unfortunately, people who remain in this category would rather be ashamed before the Lord Jesus on the day of judgment than before the world now.
c. Casual Attitude: Many have a casual attitude toward baptism. Such people are not against baptism as such. It’s just that they don’t see it as a priority. It’s the attitude that says, “There are other pressing issues to deal with at present. Maybe someday, when I can get around to it, I can deal with the baptism issue.”
d. Fear of Confession: Some people fear publicly confessing their faith because they are courting sin in their lives. And by making a public acknowledgment, they feel they are portraying themselves as hypocrites. Some also fear what “People might think” (family, society, etc.). In particular, where there may be a risk of family alienation due to baptism, people often refrain from baptism.
e. Not a genuine Christian: In some cases, the person is not a believer at all. They do not have the Holy Spirit, and that’s why there is no conviction or compulsion to obey this command. They may still come to Church and even participate in the Lord’s table. However, they do not genuinely belong to Christ.
I am sure one could add other reasons as to why people refrain from getting baptized. However, the focus of this post is to address the first reason—Ignorance. By asking and answering 6 basic questions from the Scriptures, this post will hopefully shed clear light on this subject. It is the responsibility of the reader to prayerfully consider these truths and act accordingly.
Let’s start with the first question.
1. Why do we have to undergo Water Baptism?
First, we read in Matthew 28:19 the words of Jesus commanding the Church to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The phrase “in the name of” is used in a singular sense [not in the “names” of]. This singular use of the word “name” shows the equality of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is not a formula to be repeated at baptism. But it means that the believer is spiritually identified with the one God who exists in three persons.
Second, we read in Acts 2:38 the command that applies to every individual: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The command is clear: An individual must “repent of their sins” [because of hearing and responding to the gospel by faith]. Then, they must “be baptized.” The sequence is clear: Baptism must follow genuine repentance and faith in Jesus. Therefore, we must undergo water baptism because it is a command and not an option!
2. What is the significance of Water Baptism?
Water baptism is an outward and visual representation of the inward new birth that happened at the time of conversion. It is a physical expression of an inner spiritual reality.
In Romans 6:3-5, we are told these truths, “3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.” These inner spiritual realities that occur at the time of conversion are best illustrated outwardly through water baptism.
Water baptism is a visual picture of our spiritual unity with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. It also signifies the hope we have: Just as Jesus was raised to live after death, we, who are united with him, will also be raised to live in the future.
3. What is the significance of Jesus’s Water Baptism?
The baptism of Jesus [Matt 3:13-17] was a public picture of his identification with sinners for whom he would die on the cross and be raised later. Jesus fulfilled “all righteousness” [Matt 3:15] by not only going to the cross for our sins but also by living a perfectly obedient life that we could never live. That is why true biblical faith teaches about salvation being by grace alone since Jesus is the only One who fulfilled all righteousness. We do not get saved by our works, but only by trusting in Jesus, who has done it all for us.
Therefore, Jesus’s water baptism was a symbolic representation of a reality yet to come at the time of his words (but has now been fulfilled): His death on our behalf and his resurrection as proof of God accepting his sacrifice.
It is also interesting to note that Jesus showed the importance of obeying all the Father’s commands by getting baptized. Jesus did not pick and choose what to obey and what not to obey. He willingly and joyfully submitted to all his Father’s commands as a part of his perfect life.
4. What is the mode of Water Baptism?
Here is where there is much confusion and division. There is much inconsistency in the method of baptism (i.e., is it by immersion only, or can a person be sprinkled, etc.). However, to get a clear answer to the mode of baptism, let us look at the Bible itself for how people got baptized.
In the New Testament, the word Baptism is often indicated by two Greek verbs (actions): bapto and baptize. According to one dictionary of Old and New Testament terms, Bapto means “To dip” and was used by the Greeks to signify the dyeing of a garment or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another vessel that is full of water. The other word Baptizo means “To Baptize” (i.e., to dip completely, to drown), and it occurs several times in the New Testament.
The word baptism requires or signifies “Immersion, Submersion, Drown, Plunge” in the New Testament. Also, water is never said to be baptized on anyone (such as sprinkling or dotting the forehead with water). The reference is always to a person being baptized into water.
The Lord Jesus himself underwent baptism by immersion! We read in Matthew 3:16, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.” The phrase “up out of the water” clearly indicates that he was baptized by immersion, and that too when he was an adult!
The people that John the Baptist baptized “were baptized by him in the Jordan river“ [Matt 3:6]. John 3:23 gives another reference to John administering baptism by immersion. We read, “Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized.” There would be no need for “plenty of water” if baptism were by any other means other than immersion!
The early Church also practiced water baptism by immersion. In Acts 8:38, we read Philip, one of the twelve apostles baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch, and the words read, “both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.”
Just looking at the few verses, one is compelled to acknowledge that immersion was the practice of New Testament examples of undergoing water baptism. Only immersion fits the reality of the spiritual truth, which is at the time of salvation, the believer is immersed with Christ, specifically into his death, burial, and resurrection.
Sprinkling or dotting the forehead with water is not the biblical way of water baptism. It originated from the Roman Catholic Church. However, even the Roman Catholic Church was practicing immersion as the method of baptism until about the 13th century. Unfortunately, some Protestant churches later inherited the Roman Catholic practices of sprinkling (e.g., Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, etc.).
5. What is the relationship of Water Baptism to Salvation?
Is water baptism necessary for salvation? When we look at the overall teaching of the New Testament, one thing about salvation is clear: Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus alone when a person repents of their sin and turns to Jesus alone for salvation (see Mark 1:15; John 3:16; John 5:24; Acts 20:21; Romans 4:5; Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). Trusting in Jesus alone as Lord and Savior saves a person. Public confession through water baptism confirms the reality of genuinely believing in Jesus.
However, water baptism is closely linked to salvation in some passages because true salvation always produces obedience. And the first step of obedience for a Christian is to be baptized, i.e., make a public profession of their faith in Christ. Below are some examples of people obeying this command without delay, as found in the book of Acts:
A. Day of Pentecost when the Church was born:
Acts 2:41 says, “Those who accepted his [i.e., Peter’s message of salvation] message were baptized… that day.”
As you can see, there was no delay in terms of baptism after accepting the salvation message. The very same day, they were baptized.
B. Response of Samaritans to Philip’s preaching:
Acts 8:12 says, “But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”
Baptism occurred immediately after they “believed” the message Philip preached: the “good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”
C. Baptism of Cornelius and his family
When Peter preached the gospel to Cornelius and his family, they were immediately baptized after accepting the gospel message. Acts 10:47-48 gives Peter confirming their need for getting baptized since they accepted the gospel message,
“47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
D. Baptism of Lydia and the Jailer at Philippi
We read in Acts 16:14-15 how God saved a woman named Lydia and how she submitted to baptism right away:
“14…The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.”
Notice the text clearly says that her baptism occurred after she responded to Paul’s message.
Later in the same chapter, we read how God saved the Jailer responsible for guarding Paul while he was in prison and how he got baptized after responding to the gospel message. The entire incident is recorded in Acts 16:16-34.
First, the Jailer asked Paul and Silas, “30 Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” for which, “31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.” The text clearly says Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord “to him and to all the others in his house.”
Second, we read the following: “33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.”
One could ask, “The text does not say they believed before they were baptized.” But if we look closely at the next verse, we get the answer that they did believe before their baptism. “34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.” Not only did the Jailer believe, as indicated by the phrase, “he had come to believe in God,” but the text also says, “he and his whole household” believed!
So, once again, we have evidence of baptism after believing in the gospel message! Interestingly, a few verses earlier, we are told that it was “midnight” [Acts 16:25] when these events occurred! They got baptized in the middle of the night! But that did not matter to Paul or the Jailer’s household. True faith always wants to respond to God’s commands, and that too without delay!
E. Baptism at Ephesus
Acts 19:1-7 gives us the record of the last baptism that is recorded in the book of Acts. In Ephesus, Paul preached to a group of men who were followers of John the Baptist. Upon hearing the salvation message through Jesus Christ, they responded and showed their obedience by testifying through the waters of baptism—“On hearing this [i.e., the message of salvation through Jesus], they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” [Acts 19:5].
While the verse may not explicitly say that they accepted the gospel message, the fact they did positively receive the message is implied in the phrase, “On hearing this.” So, once again, baptism occurred after people heard and accepted the gospel message.
From all the 5 examples above, it is clear that baptism followed genuine acceptance of the gospel. While baptism does not save anyone, it always follows true saving faith! So, that is the relationship of water baptism to salvation.
6. What about Infant Baptism?
Since the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that one must personally repent and believe in Christ before being baptized, the entire process of infant baptism is unbiblical. How can a child repent and believe? There is nowhere in the Bible even a single command to baptize infants or a single clear record of infants being baptized!
Some interpret infant baptisms in the New Testament as the sign of being in the covenant family, as circumcision was in the Old Testament. The problem with such a view is this: It is nowhere stated in the Bible as such.
On the other hand, the Bible clearly says that water baptism is only for those who have understood and accepted the gospel by repenting from their sins and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins. And those who have done so, water baptism by immersion is the first command to be followed. And it should be done without delay! That’s the overwhelming evidence from the Scriptures, which we have seen in this post.
I hope the reader can see the importance of the significance of water baptism. Satan wants to confuse this simple issue. Why? Because from the start of the Christian life, Satan wants believers to disobey. If he cannot prevent salvation, he weakens believers by tempting them to disobey God in this first and fundamental command. And if he can cause believers to disobey in this area, he can easily cause them to disobey in other areas as well! That’s his scheme!
Also, baptism is a good test to see if the new believer is willing to count the cost of following Jesus. If a person refuses to proclaim in public “Jesus as Lord” through the waters of baptism, there is a possibility that the person did not truly repent and turn to Jesus. Therefore, baptism could prove to be an excellent test to see if the heart has been truly transformed, i.e., if the person is truly a Christian, one who is genuinely born again and has turned from sin to Jesus.
Some who were baptized earlier in their life struggle to know if they had genuinely repented and believed in Jesus before getting baptized. It’s a common struggle, especially for those born and raised in Christian homes. They know that they believe in Christ at present, that he is the Lord of their lives, and that they belong to him.
However, they are not sure about the genuineness of their repentance and belief at the time of their earlier baptism. The reason behind that uncertainty could be living a sinful life for years, and now they are walking in obedience to Jesus’s commands. Rather than just calling the years of disobedience “backsliding,” I would urge such a person to evaluate their earlier baptism. It may very well be that there was no genuine work of salvation before the previous baptism. It was perhaps an emotional decision or a decision that arose due to the pressure of family, Church, seeing friends getting baptized, etc.
The question in such cases is: Should I be rebaptized? The answer is, “If you have not been baptized according to New Testament baptism, which is after professing genuine repentance and belief in Christ, then you must be baptized again, and that by immersion. Your previous baptism, even if it was by immersion, means nothing.”
You see, water baptism is not a simple process of dunking in water. Yes, water baptism can be treated as a ritual/tradition. However, that’s not the intent of our Lord to have instituted this sacred command. Every command of the Lord is to be obeyed with a glad heart, not with reluctance. It is good to remember the words of the Lord to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7, “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” It is a joyful thought to know that the Lord looks at the heart. But it’s also a fearful thought to know that he knows the intent of our hearts [Rev 2:23].
If our faith is genuine, our repentance would also be genuine. False repentance fears only the consequences of sin, whereas true repentance fears the sin itself. True repentance hates sin for what it is—an offense against a holy God. Knowing that sin is evil and that God hates it motivates the genuinely repentant person to forsake it. Genuine repentance thus gives up sin and turns in total commitment to Jesus.
In closing, let me quote two verses from the lips of Jesus himself for our reflection regarding this significant subject:
Luke 6:46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
Matthew 10:32-33 “32 Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
These are powerful and profound words from the lips of the Lord Jesus himself. I would encourage all of us to follow the lead of the Psalmist, who said in Psalm 119:60, “I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.”
Dear Reader, If you need to be baptized biblically and correctly, don’t delay. There is no evidence in the New Testament of any believer delaying or waiting for an occasion to be baptized. It must be done and encouraged to be done immediately.
Remember, the valid proof of genuine repentance is obedience to God’s commands, not only in the issue of baptism but in all areas of life. And baptism is a good place to start! Let’s remember: Water baptism after genuine conversion is not an option but a command that’s to be obeyed without delay!
Don’t let pride [what people might think if I get baptized after such a long time], fear [what might my family say or do], or any other reason prevent you from obeying Jesus. Do it to please the Lord Jesus and him alone! Obey him because you love him. He is the One who took your place on the cross to free you from eternal hell. He deserves your joyful, wholehearted, and prompt obedience!
And may the good Lord enable all of us to walk in all his commands for, “Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in obedience to him” [Psa 128:1]!