Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Baptism Primer

This is a handout that I wrote this morning for our church. Any feedback as to how I can improve it would be appreciated, though I do want to keep this one short.

Question and Answers about Baptism*

Edson Baptist Church

What is baptism?

Baptism is an English word taken from the Koine (common) Greek word baptizo (Koine Greek is the language in which the New Testament was written). Baptism means to dip or immerse. We know this by comparisons with the common usage of the word in Greek from the time the Bible was written and from the context of the New Testament itself.

Baptism is the step of obedience commanded by Christ for believers who have experienced regeneration (new life) from God. Jesus said,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20

Baptism of disciples (those who follow Jesus) is assumed in the New Testament. When people repented of their sins and confessed Christ as Lord and trusted Him as Saviour, they were baptized (compare Acts 2:37-41, 8:12, 19:5, etc.).

What purpose does baptism serve?

  • Obedience / Submission to Jesus Christ: Jesus said that His disciples were to baptize disciples. Jesus Himself submitted to baptism in order to identify with sinful people, even though He Himself is without sin (see Matthew 3:13-17). Christians submit to baptism out of reverence for Christ. This reason alone should be enough of a motivation for a believer to be baptized.
  • Testimony to God’s salvation: Baptism is a physical picture of a spiritual reality. It speaks of what God has done for sinners in Jesus Christ. The New Testament uses spiritual language to describe baptism by the Spirit of God: For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and all were made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13, compare Matthew 3:11). Baptism is a physical act of obedience to and identification with Jesus Christ that illustrates a prior spiritual work of God in the heart and mind of the believer. One of the messages of baptism is washing, the cleansing of sin. Note the Apostle Paul’s testimony to his own experience of baptism. He was told, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” Acts 22:16. Baptism says, “I am changed because of what Christ has done for me.”
  • Identification with Jesus Christ. Examples of the principle of identification through baptism:
    • When the Children of Israel went through the Red Sea with Moses at the time of the flight from slavery in Egypt, they identified with God’s message through Moses that they would be delivered to the Promised Land. See 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 (note phrase “baptized into Moses”).
    • When the Jewish people heard John’s call for repentance in preparation for the coming of the Promised Deliverer (Messiah), they identified with his message by being baptized by him in the Jordan River. See Matthew 3:1-6.
    • Christian Baptism is identification with Jesus Christ and the reality of His death and resurrection for our salvation and eternal hope. Read Romans 6:3-5. When we are baptized, we are saying, “Jesus died to purchase my forgiveness with His blood, Jesus rose so that I might live a new life forever with Him.”

When we identify with the work of Jesus through baptism, we are demonstrating what the Christian message is all about. Baptism is like a sermon written in water. It tells the story of what God has done for sinners. Sinners who repent and believe may have their sins washed away, die to their old futile lives and live forever in joy.

  • Christian Love and Unity: Baptism is entrance into unity with Christ and unity with Christ’s people in the church. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6 (see also 1 Corinthians 12:13 quoted above).

Must a person be baptized to be saved?

Water baptism is a work that we may perform. As such, it is inconsistent with biblical teaching to say that you cannot be a Christian unless you have been baptized. Salvation (being forgiven and counted righteous through faith in Christ’s finished work) is by grace through faith, not works. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

When Peter preached the Gospel to Cornelius and his household, they were baptized by the Holy Spirit before they were baptized in water (though they were baptized immediately afterwards). By this, the Holy Spirit is pointing to the fact that salvation is a sovereign act of God, not a reward for obedient behaviour (compare Acts 2:37-38 and Acts 10:43-48).

There are some passages that appear to point to the necessity of baptism for salvation:

  • Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” Acts 22:16
  • Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ 1 Peter 3:21

Note that in both of these passages baptism is connected with an appeal to Jesus Christ (his name and his forgiveness, that is, a good conscience before God on the basis of Christ’s work). As a bare act, baptism does not save. Water baptism is a demonstration of the believer’s appeal of faith to God for salvation.

Who should be baptized?

Baptism is for those who believe the gospel. The gospel is the good news that God’s Promised Deliverer has come to bear the penalty for our sin (for all have sinned). Jesus died in our place so that we might have peace with God. Jesus demonstrated his power over death by His bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). This resurrection is a pattern for us. We who have faith in Christ’s promise of eternal life, secured by His righteous death and bodily resurrection, will be raised to live with Him one day (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

What about infant baptism? Is that a legitimate form of baptism?

Though we rejoice in the common ground that we share as Baptists with many believers in other denominations that practice infant baptism (Presbyterian, Reformed, etc.), we only recognize believers’ baptism as legitimate baptism.

The reason for this is our conviction that the New Testament teaches that baptism is for disciples alone. If you have more questions regarding infant baptism, we recommend that you read an online document entitled “A String of Pearls Unstrung” which is available online at

*All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.


ntutak said...

I think this is a really good overview. In light of this I have a question which pertains to my current situation - would your church recognize believer's baptism which was non-immersion? Thanks.

stauf46 said...

Hi Ntutak, thanks for the comment.

The official position of our church is constrained by our statement of faith to recognize immersion only.

As for my opinion? I'll have to plead the fifth there (even though I'm Canadian). Pretty wimpy, eh?

Garry Weaver said...

Quite a thorough overview. I think you did well.

ntutak said...

Definitely wimpy! Thanks for the response though. Same response I am getting over here.

Laura said...

What would you do in the case of a person who is obviously a believer but who received infant baptism only? How would you characterize such a person? Is he or she living in disobedience?

(Just curious -- some friends in college, who were baptized as infants, were often attacked by our dear Baptist brethren, who insinuated that they were not truly believers because they "refused" to follow Christ in baptism.)