What Is Baptism?



What is Baptism?


There are probably as many views of baptism as there are denominations that practice it and so the question is raised, what is biblical baptism and what significance does it play in the believer’s life? Lets begin by examining what it is not.

First of all, baptism is not for infants. Those who practice infant baptism do so because they believe that water baptism brings the child into a covenant with God. For some it brings the infant into the body of Christ and thus is an act of salvation (Roman Catholic). Others believe it guarantees the child will someday be saved while others see it as not a guarantee of salvation but rather of a special work of God in the life of the child that in most cases will result in salvation. 

Whatever their view of infant baptism, one can not find any passage in all of the New Testament that mentions the baptism of infants or that such an act will put a child in a special relationship with God. When I was in college, for Bible Seminar their a fellow student chose to do a paper on the biblical proof for Infant Baptism. He became obsessed with his task and spent literally days pouring over all the resources of the library only to finally give up in utter dismay.

Where then does infant baptism come from. It was adopted by the church when it began to form into what is know today as the Roman Catholic Church. The church had come to believe it had replaced Israel and thus if circumcision placed infants under the Old Testament Covenant, then infant baptism would do the same under the New Testament Covenant. Therefore infants baptism is not only absent from the Bible but even goes so far as to undermine the very purpose for which baptism was commanded. Baptism is not for those who may believe some day but rather for those who have believed already. An infant can not do this. More on this later.

Secondly, Baptism has never saved anyone. Let me explain that I am talking here of water baptism not Spirit baptism. Spirit baptism takes place at the moment salvation begins as the Spirit baptizes the sinner into the saving work of Jesus Christ. All who put there trust in Christ are baptized by the Spirit in the Body of Christ. As Paul writes:

Acts 1:5, “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."

Acts 11:16-17, “Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Rom 6:3-4, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

1 Cor 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free “ – “and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”

Col 2:11-12, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” – note that the work here is not physical “made without hands” but through “faith in the working of God”

Water baptism on the other hand has nothing to do with saving the Saint. Let me give you some biblical reasons for believing this:

1) The statement of Peter indicates that it is not water baptism that saves.

1 Peter 3:21-22, “here is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.”

2) Most references that deal with salvation never mention water baptism. If baptism is truly necessary to be saved then it would be listed with every mention of the gospel. However, Baptism is rarely mentioned along with salvation. Check out just a few of the many gospel passages that do not include baptism as part of salvation. John 3:16-18; Rom. 5:9-10; 6:23; 10:9-13; 1 Cor. 1:18-25; 15:2; Eph. 1:13; 2:1-10; Titus 3:4-7 (Spirit baptism here); 1 Thes. 5:9-10

3) All references that deal with salvation from the beginning of the church always speak of Baptism as something that takes place as a result of and after salvation. For example:

Acts 2:41, “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” – baptism comes after they received the gospel

Acts 8:12-13, “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, - baptism comes after they received the gospel

Acts 8:35-37, “And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" [And 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." – salvation is a prerequisite for baptism

Acts 9:17-19. “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he arose and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened.” - Baptism took place after Paul (Saul) had believed as noted in the phrase “brother Saul”

Acts 10:47-48, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.” - baptism came after they had received the Holy Spirit (salvation)

Acts 16:14-15, “And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.” – baptism came after Lydia responded to the gospel

Acts 16:31-34, “So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.” – notice here that Paul puts the emphasis on believing in Christ as the means of salvation. The fact they were baptized is evidence they believed and were saved

Acts 18:8-9, “And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. – once again baptism follows believing

Acts 19:4-5, “Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” – once again baptism follows believing

1 Cor 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” - though Paul feels that water baptism is important bit the gospel is even more important. You can be baptized and go to hell but you can trust in the gospel and not be baptized and make it to heaven like the one thief on the cross 

4) Those who believe baptism is necessary usually also believe that one can loose their salvation and must regain it again. If one can loose one’s salvation than one has lost it for all eternity. Once salvation is lost there is no regaining it back. The writer of Hebrews explains why, because if we are able to loose our salvation because of sin committed since our salvation, then it means Christ’s work of the cross was not all sufficient to cover all sin and therefore He would have to go back to the cross to cover our most recent transgressions. To do so is to put Christ to open shame. The writer goes on to emphasize that Christ did cover all sin and thus once we are saved, we are always saved.

Heb 6:4-6, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

5) Finally, the verse often used to support water baptism as necessary for salvation does not teach it when looked at closely. Peter is addressing the Jews in the Temple when he says,

Acts 2:38-39, “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.”

The preposition “for” in the Greek can mean either “purpose” or “basis or ground” Thus it can either mean that they need to be baptized with the purpose of remitting sins or they need to be baptized on the grounds that their sins have been remitted due to their faith in Christ. The immediate context puts “repentance” first but this does not tell us which use of the preposition is correct. One must appeal to the other passages of Scriptures as we have done and since water baptism is the result of salvation in all other passages, then the correct interpretation is “because of the remission of sins” speaking of water baptism as the result of a person being saved.

Thirdly, water baptism is not sprinkling or pouring. The word translated “baptism” is the Greek word Baptizo. When the translators of the KJV came to this word they were confronted with a major problem. Many of them represented churches that practiced pouring and sprinkling, but the translation of baptizo is “immersion.” To translate the word would be to stir up no small controversy and so they chose not to translate the word but to transliterate it into English by changing the last letter to “e” and thus make “baptize”. The problem is that baptism in John and Jesus day was always by immersion as well as in the early church. This is evident in John 3:23 where John baptizes in the Jordan because there was “plenty of water there.” One does not need much water to sprinkle or pour. 

Now that we have explored what it is not, let us answer the question of what it is.

Baptism is a commandment. In Matt. 28:19-20, our Lord commissioned all believers, the Church, to go forth and evangelize the world, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our Lord in essence commanded that all believers be water baptized after their salvation and it is only natural for the believer out of love to want to obey his Lord by being baptized

Baptism is a testimony. Baptism by immersion is a open testimony to all who witness it that one who is baptized has put their faith or trust in Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins and eternal life. It thus symbolizes the work of the Holy Spirit when He baptizes the believer in the death burial and resurrection of our Lord at the moment of salvation (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:11-12)

Baptism is an association. The baptism of John did not save or wash away sins, but was merely an outward testimony that the participant was in agreement with what John was declaring. John was sent to prepare the people for the coming Messiah. Thus when Jesus was baptized, he did not do so to wash away sins but rather to identify with John and His message. When we are baptized, we are publicly identifying ourselves with the work. Message, and ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Have you put repented of your sins and put your trust Christ as Savior? If you have, then you should be baptized. If you haven’t, you are not following one of the basic commands of our Lord to all the members of His body the Church.