What is Baptism?

Baptism is an important issue for Christians as well as for those considering accepting Christ as their savior. Unfortunately, there are differing opinions on the matter, depending on what particular denomination one is involved with. This is unfortunate because there really should be a consensus on the matter. After all, baptism plays a key role in one’s acceptance of Christ. In general, here are the following main stream views regarding baptism:

1: Baptism is not necessary, one only has to accept Jesus into his (or her) heart to be saved.

2: Baptism is a requirement for salvation.

3: Infant baptism is acceptable, and the baptized infant receives the gift of salvation.

4: Similar to infant baptism, some believe that baptizing someone simply out of tradition (for example, having your children baptized because you think they should be) is legitimate.

The method of baptizing a prospective Christian is not without some controversy either:

1: Sprinkling water upon ones head or pouring water onto.

2: Full immersion of the body.

Perhaps this discussion should begin with an overview of the purpose of baptism. It is important to realize that the baptism we are speaking of here is Christian baptism. The purpose, then, is explained best by the New Testament itself:

Acts 2:38-39

38 Peter replied, “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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (New International Version)

This one short passage explains it plainly and the message is consistent throughout the New Testament. The purpose of baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. It is so you may receive the Holy Spirit. Here, we also see a prerequisite: repentance. After all, is there any point to accepting Christ if you do not have a repentant heart? One must be sincere about accepting Christ, otherwise there is no meaning and no gift.

So, we have disclosed the purpose of Christian baptism. To my knowledge, this purpose is generally accepted throughout most Christian groups and organizations. However, my concern isn’t with who or who does not accept this but rather with telling the truth.

Now let us consider whether baptism is optional or whether it is a requirement for salvation. Perhaps we have all heard “…accept Jesus into your heart and you will be saved…”. Of course, there is no doubt in my mind that if you mean it, our Lord will come into your life and help you. He is, after all, God. This doesn’t get you off the hook though, you must take responsibility for yourself. Absolutely, do accept Jesus in your heart, but you are not done. Even though your salvation is a gift to you (to us), which is what we mean by “Grace”, you must take obedient steps to accept the gift of salvation as the New Testament explains.

As mentioned, Peter says in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized..”. It does not say “…if you want to…”. There are a lot of passages that mention baptism in the New Testament and when quoting any verse, one must take caution not to take anything out of context. On a side note, one should take care when listening to bible quotes. Texts can and are often taken out of context. This is why bible study is so important. Do not allow yourself to be misled by anyone! That doesn’t mean do not listen..

From Peter’s statement, we would conclude that baptism is in fact necessary. He didn’t say this because of what he decided, but rather what he had learned from Christ. Christ himself was baptized:

Luke 3:21

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too… (New International Version)

Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (New International Version)

Mark 16:15-16

15 He (Jesus) said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (New International Version)

From these verses, I can confidently say that baptism is a requirement. Belief in Christ is not enough. Baptism is your first step in saying to the Lord, “I humbly accept your gift and ask for forgiveness.” If you mean it, if you are sincere in your actions, you will have your forgiveness and the Lord will give you the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I have heard some people make the argument, “What if I die before I am baptized? Will I go to hell?” Well, I have heard plenty of devout Christians answer this with a resounding “Yes”. However, the answer is not that simple. The Lord God is in fact God! He is an all knowing and compassionate God who knows who you are. My answer to this question is, “You will not necessarily be condemned”. I am not at all contradicting the point that baptism is required for salvation. It is! But what if?…. you have come to the realization that Christ is the savior of the world. You are cut to the heart, and decide to accept him. Perhaps you have been praying about it and studying the scriptures. You now have a deliberate plan to accept him as you should, but you are killed in a car crashed the day before you are baptized. Will you lose out on salvation? I doubt it. You would certainly be saved, assuming that you were actually going to follow through as intended.

There could be other circumstances as well. What if someone lives in a area that has not been exposed to the gospel (gospel means good news) of Jesus Christ? Remember, God is a just God. Consider what the apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 2:

Romans 2:12-16

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (New International Version)

It should be clear, baptism is a necessity but not being baptized is excusable when it is beyond the control of the individual. I think it can be said then that we are without excuse. So what about the baptism of infants? What if someone is baptized just because his or her family did it? Are these people saved? Do these types of baptisms count? The answer is no.

Let us reflect back on what Peter said in Acts 2:

38 Peter replied, “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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

And also what Christ said in Mark 16:

15 He (Jesus) said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Consistent through the New Testament, baptism’s key components are repentance, forgiveness, gift of the Holy Spirit and salvation. We can see the problem already. How does an infant repent? What does an infant need forgiveness for? Nothing. The infant is completely innocent. Baptizing an innocent infant is meaningless. Certainly one would think that our loving God would not condemn an innocent child should he or she pass away having never known about Christ. No one, though, can go through their life ignorantly believing they are saved because someone told them “You’re saved, you were baptized when…”. We must accept Christ at a personal level, there must be sincerity and conviction. There must be repentance. The decision belongs wholly to the person being baptized! Please don’t be fooled on this matter, without ignorance as t o what they are doing.

So then, how does one get baptized? Some Christian groups sprinkle water, some pour water and some immerse you in a pool. There may be some confusion on this matter because most of the verses on baptism do not explicitly describe the method. Fortunately, there is are many writings throughout the New Testament that allow us to put together a meaning. Here, let us refer to several passages:

Matthew 3:11: “I baptize you with water for repentance…”

Matthew 3:16: As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.

Mark 1:10: As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw…

John 3:23: Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized

Acts 8:36: As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

Acts 8:38-39: 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

There are more references than these, but the point is that as we search the New Testament for baptism, it becomes apparent that the early Christians immersed people in water. In nearly every example of baptism, those being baptized were fully aware of what they were doing, having made the choice themselves.

Finally, consider also a representation of the life of Christ: Death, burial and resurrection. Baptism reflects this life in the following way. When we choose to accept Christ as our savior, we repent. Thus, we “die” to our old life. When baptized in the water, we then are buried, which represents having laid down the old way. Finally, we come up out of the water, being born into a new life. I’ll close this discussion with the apostle Paul’s words:

Romans 6:1-4

1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 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. (New International Version)

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