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The Doctrine of Christian Baptism

Baptism is considered to be very important by almost everyone in the church today. Yet at the same time there are several extremes concerning baptism which we should be aware of. There are some who believe that baptism is necessary to salvation.  There are others who remove the biblical meaning of baptism by downplaying the importance of the mode and subjects which Holy Scripture have established. There are even a few who ignore it all together.

It is obvious that the saved follow the Lord in baptism! We are not given a choice in this matter if we are obedient to God. Therefore, let’s consider the teaching of God’s Word on this vital subject.

The Definition of Baptism

The Greek word for baptize means “to dip, plunge, immerse, or submerge in water.” A fair and honest reading of the New Testament reveals that all who were baptized were immersed in water in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Some of the Scriptures which illustrate baptism as being by the mode of immersion are Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:5, 9-10; John 3:22-23; and Acts 8:38.

Baptism is an ordinance of the church. It is an ordinance because it is symbolic of a spiritual reality. It is an ordinance of the church because it was given to the church by the Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:40-42). 

With the previous information in mind we can construct a definition of baptism as follows. It is a symbolic act whereby one is immersed in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit after they have given a credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism is an ordinance of initiation into the church and it requires the one being baptized to commit themselves to love, serve, worship, and obey the Lord in the fellowship of the local church.

The Symbolism of Baptism

Baptism was designed by God to symbolize the means of our salvation. We are not saved by ourselves or any religious acts (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-5). We are saved by the Lord Jesus Christ who died upon the cross of Calvary, was buried, and rose again from the grave proving that the Father accepted His death on the cross as a sufficient payment for the debt of our sin (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:9-11; 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:1-4).

When a believer is baptized he is put down into the water symbolizing the death of Jesus and then lifted out of the water symbolizing the resurrection of Jesus. By going through this symbolic act, the one being baptized is saying that they have accepted the work of Jesus upon the cross as the payment for their sins and that they intend to live for and serve Jesus for the remainder of their lives. After coming up out of the water of baptism we are symbolizing that we have been separated from the world and consecrated unto God. Some of the passages which establish these truths are: Romans 6:1-6; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12; and 1 Peter 3:21-22.  It is very obvious that this symbolic act of baptism loses its symbolic meaning if it is not performed by immersion in water. 

In addition to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus being symbolized in this ordinance, it also symbolizes the washing away of our sins. In Acts 22:16 we are told that Ananias said to Saul, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”  Our sins are washed away in baptism, in the same sense in which we eat the body and drink the blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16), in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. Salvation is also spoken of as a washing in 1 Cor. 6:11, therefore baptism which is a symbol of salvation can be spoken of as a washing. The water of baptism does not wash away sin but it symbolizes that our sins have been washed away by Christ and we are beginning a new life with Him.

The Testimony of Baptism

Baptism is an initiation rite into the local church. When one believes on the Lord Jesus as his Savior, in saving faith, he is immediately baptized into the body of Christ which is invisible and spiritual (1 Cor. 12:13). But entrance into the local church which is visible and physical requires a credible profession of faith in Jesus (Matt. 10:32-33; Luke 12:8-9; Rom. 10:9-11) and baptism in water (Matt. 28:19; John 3:22-23; Acts 2:38, 41) which is a testimony of the saving relationship which that person is professing to have with Jesus (Acts 8:37-38; Gal. 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21-22). The person who is being baptized is saying to all, “Jesus is my Lord and Savior.”

Baptism is a testimony of our death to sin and our pledge to live a new life of obedience to God because of the salvation we have experienced in Jesus Christ. Throughout the book of Acts everyone who experiences salvation makes a public profession of faith and submission to Jesus by following Him in baptism. Baptism is a new believer’s first major step of obedience to the Lord.

The Subjects of Baptism

Only those who have committed their lives to Jesus Christ are to be baptized.  They must understand the gospel and have received it as their own without reservation (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38-41; 8:12, 37-38; Acts 18:8; Gal. 3:27).

None of the Scriptures which speak of children ever speak of baptism. All the Scriptures which speak of baptism define those who are baptized as believing the gospel and repenting of sin.

What about those passages which say that whole households were baptized?  Were little children included who did not believe the gospel? No. The following Scriptures clearly point out in the context that those who were baptized, believed and were making a profession of their faith in Jesus by the act (Acts 10:47-48; 16:15, 40; 16:30-34; 1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15-16).

In a nutshell, the prerequisites for baptism are faith or belief in the gospel (Acts 2:41; 18:8), repentance (Acts 2:36-38), confession of that faith and repentance (Rom. 10:9), and fruits or evidence of that faith and repentance (Matt. 3:7-8; 2 Cor. 7:8-10).  Are these prerequisites found in your life?

The Necessity or Command to be Baptized

Baptism is commanded by Jesus for all who have believed on Him as their Savior and Lord. It does not save but it is an evidence that we love Him and are willing to obey all His instructions for our lives. Some of the references which teach the necessity of being baptized are: Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-17; John 4:1-3; Acts 2:38; 8:35-39; 9:17-19; 10:44-48; and 22:16.  We must be careful to point out that this ordinance does not save but is a symbol of the reality of salvation which the one being baptized professes to possess.

If we love Jesus, that love will produce obedience. The importance of obedience to the commands of God are seen in John 14:15 when he says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” It is impossible to love God supremely without a supreme desire to please him in all things. If we say we love Him and refuse what He has called upon us to do, are we not self deceived (1 John 2:3-6)? One very powerful motive to love and obey Christ is drawn from the love which He has manifested by dying for us. Paul expresses perfectly how this love should effect us when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  See also 2 Cor. 5:14-15.

Jesus confirmed all of this for us by submitting to the ordinance of baptism Himself and setting an example which we should follow (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11: Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34).