What is baptism? Will it make any difference in our lives? Also, do we really need to be baptised if we were christened as babies?
Baptism is a fundamental step in the Christian walk which is very seldom properly explained. It is more than symbolism, it is more than a public confession of our faith in Jesus Christ – it is a spiritual watershed that will change the rest of our lives.
STRUCTURE OF THIS DISCUSSION
In this discussion we will take the process of being saved a step further. We start by looking at what baptism is, and why it is such an important step to take. Then we need to ask if infant baptism takes away the need to be baptised after we are saved. We end our discussion with the practical “how to” be baptised.
Section One: WHAT IS BAPTISM?
The very first sermon in the New Testament (given after Jesus was taken up to heaven), was made by Peter. He had just received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and as a result he had a new boldness to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with a crowd. When he did:
“Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, ‘what shall we do [to be saved]?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’.” – Acts 2:37b-38
Since that day, repent and be baptised has been the call to anyone who would come to Christ. We have already discussed the idea of repentance (a surrendering to God), in our previous discussion. If you missed that, please click here: SPIRITUAL BIRTH.
So what is baptism about?
A DEATH AND RESURRECTION
The clearest explanation of baptism in the Bible, is this passage:
“we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined Him in His death. For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead... now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with Him in His death, we will also be raised to life as He was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives... when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin... He died... to break the power of sin. But now that He lives, He lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.” – From Romans 6:3-11
So to summarise that, the Apostle Paul says here that we go down into the waters of baptism to be spiritually joined with Jesus Christ in His death. Then we come out of the waters of baptism again, and in the process we are joined into the resurrected life of Jesus Christ. His death on the cross broke the power of sin, so when we come out of the waters knit into His victorious resurrection, sin loses its power over us. As a result, we can now walk as those who are no longer held under the power of sin. In the simplest of terms, we could just say that through baptism we are saved from the power of sin. Paul uses another way to describe baptism. He says:
“as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” – Galatians 3:27
When he says we have “put on Christ,” it means we become knit with Christ in such a way that we now receive what He did on our behalf. So He overcame sin, and after we are baptised, we can now experience that victory over sin.
REPENTANCE VS BAPTISM
So when we are called to “repent and be baptised” God is revealing the two sides of His salvation. The first (repentance), saves us from the guilt of our sins, the second (baptism), saves us from the power of sin. We need to explain these words clearly:
Our sins: are the wrong things we have done, it is the guilt that we carry because we have sinned.
The power of sin: is something that tries to influence us to sin. Before we become Christians, that power of sin is our own sinful nature that is always pulling us towards the wrong things. After we are baptised, that old sinful nature has been put in the grave, and the nature which replaces it does not pull us towards sin anymore.
So baptism does not wash our sins away – no, that is the job of repentance. But once we are clean, baptism takes away that constant call towards new sins. So then:
Repentance: saves us from our sins, because of Jesus's death.
Baptism: saves us from the power of sin, because of Jesus's resurrection.
To put that another way:
Jesus's paid for our sins on the cross. As a result, His death made it possible to wash us clean of our guilt and therefore we can stand as pure and acceptable in the eyes of God. This happens through repentance.
After Jesus had died, He overcame the power of sin and death when He was resurrected back to life again. So the same power that gave Him victory over the grave, is now able to free us from the power of sin in our own lives. This happens through baptism.
Let's say this one more way:
Through repentance, the blood of Jesus washes us from our sins (the things we have already done wrong).
Through baptism, the water washes us from our sinfulness (the old life that loved to do wrong), and God resurrects us into a new life of righteousness (that loves to do good).
Both repentance and baptism have power because of Jesus Christ. So we would be perfectly correct to say that through Jesus's death and resurrection, we are saved from our sins, and also saved from the power of sin. Repentance is how we “get to heaven.” Baptism helps us to walk righteously here on earth. Let's use an example to make this practical: Before baptism, we might find it very hard work to read the Bible. But after baptism, the Holy Spirit brings the words to life for us, and we enjoy reading it so much that we miss it if we don't. In other words, after baptism the Christian walk is made easy to do. But before baptism, any spiritual task is done by effort and will-power – it is exhausting work.
DOES BAPTISM SAVE US?
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:16
In the verse we have just quoted, Jesus says that it is both belief in Him (which leads us to repent), and baptism, which together save us. We can understand Jesus's command this way:
If we do not believe in Jesus Christ, we are condemned (this means we are not saved, we still belong to the darkness).
If we do believe in Jesus Christ, we are saved (this means we are bought back from darkness into God's kingdom).
And if we believe and we are baptised, we have been completely saved (this means we are bought back from darkness and freed from its power to try and pull us back down).
We become completely saved through both steps – repentance and baptism. So in a sense, baptism does save us. But we must be very careful how we understand the word “save” here. We don't mean baptism gets us to heaven. You see, the Bible uses the same word “save” in two different ways (here is the definition of the original Greek word used): Save = Sozo in the original Greek (Strong's reference number: G4982)
to save, keep one keep safe and sound, from injury, peril or the danger of destruction.
to save in the technical biblical sense, thus to deliver from judgement or the evil that leads to it.
Baptism saves us in the first sense of the word – from the dangers of sin. So when we are baptised we are set free from sin's hold over us, and can walk as Christians. Repentance is the thing that saves us in the second sense of the word – from the judgement we deserve because of our sins. So when repentance washes us, we are considered as sinless before God and we say we “are saved,” meaning we become children of God headed for heaven. Let's look at another version of the same thing. In Peter's first sermon (which we quoted earlier), he said:
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 2:38
He says baptism is able to give us remission of sins. Remission, in the original Greek text, just like the word “save” has two meanings: Remission (link) = Aphesis in the original Greek (Strong's reference number: G859)
release from bondage or imprisonment
forgiveness or pardon, of sins
Peter is using the word in the first sense, by saying that baptism releases us from the bondage or imprisonment of our sins. Which is just another way of saying what Paul said earlier, that it frees us from the power of sin. It is clear then, that baptism has to happen after we repent, since baptism is the watershed between the life we used to live and the life we will live. Baptism, “shakes off” or “washes away” the life we had before.
WHAT KEEPS US FROM BEING BAPTISED?
There can be a few reasons we struggle to take the step of baptism. One is the fact that it is a public event, not a quiet prayer we say in the privacy of our hearts. So we can have fears about what people will think seeing us get baptised. There is a beautiful story about Charles Spurgeon. Many will know that name because he is widely regarded as the most anointed preacher of the last few centuries. He said that he was a very shy teenager when he got saved and he didn't have the courage to tell anyone about it. He was especially scared because his whole family were Christians and for the longest time, he had been pretending to be a Christian too. So after he got saved (privately), he wrestled with the thought of a public baptism. But he did go and when he came out of that water, all his shyness and fear were gone. From that very day he could not stop talking about his wonderful God. More than forty years later, all of England mourned at his death, because of how they loved him for the genuine way he shared about his God.
But probably the more common reason why people choose not to be baptised, is because they were christened as babies. Let's take a look at this.
Section Two: WHAT ABOUT INFANT BAPTISM?
Many of us were christened or baptised as infants by our parents. The argument then goes that because we have been baptised already, there is no reason to do so again. Or the stronger version of that argument goes that to be baptised again is an insult to God, because it denies the value of our infant baptism.
THE ARGUMENT FOR INFANT BAPTISM
The reason many churches do infant baptism in the first place, is because they argue that in the New Testament, baptism takes the place of Old Testament circumcision. And since circumcision was done to infants, therefore baptism should be done to infants as well. The text they reference comes from Colossians which says: “you were ‘circumcised,’ but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision... when you were baptized.” So as you can see, it does say in the New Testament that baptism is a new kind, a spiritual kind, of circumcision. But let's read the whole passage to see what that means:
“When you came to Christ, you were ‘circumcised,’ but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with Him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” – Colossians 2:11-14
So this passage is teaching us that we become spiritually circumcised when we come to Christ. It says baptism raises us to new life because we trust in God. Because we came to Christ in repentance, we have been forgiven of our sins. As a result, when we now get baptised Christ cuts away our old sinful nature, through a kind of spiritual circumcision. New Testament circumcision then, is not to have a part of our flesh cut away, but to have our sinful nature cut away. In other words, this passage is simply telling the same thing we have been saying all along, only this time by using circumcision as an analogy to tell the story. So then, this passage actually doesn't support the idea of infant baptism at all. Why? Because this whole idea of a spiritual circumcision is a result of our coming to Christ (something an infant simply can't do yet).
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST INFANT BAPTISM
There is no text in the Bible which teaches that infants should be baptised. Churches have chosen to baptise babies, not because the Bible tells them to, but because of assumptions they have made. One example of this we have already mentioned – that because babies were circumcised (in the Old Testament), therefore babies should be baptised (in the New Testament). Another example is two cases in the Bible, where a family got baptised together. The assumption is that infants must have been involved – but the children of those families could just as easily have been over the age of 8, or 12, and more than capable of repenting and choosing Christ for themselves. It is a very dangerous thing to build our doctrine on things the Bible does not say. Many, many mis-doctrines are built on the foundation of an assumption. By that we mean adding our own ideas to fill in gaps between the text. Everything that we need to know as Christians is written in the text. Every single brick in our belief system must have a verse we can point to and say, “There it says in plain black and white exactly what we believe”. For example, here it says in plain language that we have to put our faith in Jesus Christ before we can get baptised:
“Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What keeps me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”... and he baptized him.” – Acts 8:36-37, 38b
Infant baptism turns the order of events around – baptising us before we ever have faith in Jesus – and by doing that it completely removes the purpose of baptism. How can baptism wash away our old lives, and raise us into the new life – only a few days after we are born? We haven't even begun to sin yet, we haven't even heard of Christ, and we are hardly capable of coming to Him in repentance. Infant baptism is like washing a car before you drive through mud. And then arguing (after you have made the car dirty) that it doesn’t need to be washed because you already did that in the beginning. The washing has to come after the dirt. The Bible does not teach the doctrine of infant baptism. As a result the baptism our parents chose for us as babies, does not fulfil God's command to us: “repent and be baptised”.
A STEP OF OBEDIENCE
Baptism is something we have to chose for ourselves. It is our first step of obedience in the Christian walk. It is the place we draw a line and say we are never turning back to the old life. We wash away the old us, bury that sinful self and never return to the filth we used to live in. We are not insulting God when we get baptised – instead, we are obeying Him – letting Him save us completely.
HOW TO BE BAPTISED
How should we be baptised? The meaning of the word “baptism,” is to fully immerse a thing under water. Baptize (link) = Baptizo in the original Greek (Strong's reference number: G907)
to immerse, to submerge
to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water
Completely dipping people in water is how it was done by John the Baptist and the apostles of Jesus in the Bible. The very early church (before 180AD), followed that Biblical model as closely as possible. For them that meant their first choice was to be baptised by being fully dipped in a river. If that was not possible (because there was no access to a river), then their second choice was being dipped in a body of standing water, like a lake. If that wasn't possible, they would be dipped in a bath of collected water, like a swimming pool. So the practical way we suggest for all new believers to be baptised, is to allow a proven man of God, to fully submerge us under water in the name of, “the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Those are the words Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:19). The man of God we ask to do this for us, should be full of the Holy Spirit (the reason for this will become more clear in the next phase of our discussion). We will be able to recognise who is full of God's Spirit by the following traits:
“the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23a
As a side note: remember that when clothes become wet, they also become see-through, so take care to wear enough layers, or a thick enough fabric during baptism to avoid that. Also, we do not need to spend time under the water, we simply go under and come back up.
If we choose not to get baptised, God will not reject us. Baptism does not get us into heaven, nor keep us out of it. But our disobedience will make us miss out on the extraordinary experience of God’s power living and moving through us. We will struggle through our Christian walk and wonder why it has to be so hard. It doesn't have to be. This unnecessary struggle is something we are desperate to spare every child of God from experiencing – true Christianity is so much more than that!