Water Baptism: Five important questions
What is the meaning of water baptism?
Baptism is an outward manifestation of an inward reality. In Romans 6:3-5 Paul says, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” When a person trusts Jesus as Savior, they also become an immediate participant in the death, burial, and resurrection life of the Lord. The old person they were before trusting Christ (i.e., dominated by the sin nature) has died and they have been raised as a new person with new life (i.e., with a capacity for spiritual things and a permanent relationship with God). The external act of water baptism pictures the internal spiritual “baptism” by the Holy Spirit, which occurs at the moment of salvation. It is a public declaration that a person has become a part of the body of believers. At salvation, the Holy Spirit joins the believer to the body of Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, Paul says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
In order to receive salvation, is it necessary both to believe in Jesus personally and to receive water baptism?
Absolutely not! The New Testament clearly teaches in over 200 instances that salvation is based on personal faith in Jesus Christ apart from any other action. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us what is essential to salvation: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” Water baptism does not contribute to personal salvation, as stated above; it represents what has already occurred at salvation.
Why should a person receive water baptism?
First, because Christ commands it. Following his resurrection from the dead, Jesus told the eleven disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20a). While this command was initially directed to his disciples, it seems evident that Jesus intended that all who would subsequently believe in him should receive water baptism. Clearly the apostles understood him, because water baptism immediately became the public sign of every believer’s entry into the Christian community (see Acts 2:41, for example). Second, because Christ exemplified it. Jesus himself was baptized, giving it special significance. One of the basic meanings of the Greek word translated ‘baptism’ is that of “identification” or “association.” Jesus’ own baptism served as his public identification with the heavenly Father, as well as his association with the message of John the Baptist. As we follow the example of Christ in baptism, we identify ourselves with the one in whose name it is done. 1 John 2:6 says, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” Third, because Christ is honored by the clear testimony of belief and submission to him. There are many illustrations of this in the Book of Acts. Following Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, about 3,000 Jews believed and were baptized as a symbol of their new commitment to Christ (see Acts 2:37-41). This was no small thing in their case, since it often meant disinheritance from their families and ostracism from the Jewish community. This event truly signaled a new way of life for the converted Jew. And finally, because it has been practiced since the beginning of the church. In the early church, baptism and belief were so closely tied together that the references don’t always say that converts believed, but simply that they were baptized (Acts 8:12 is an example). In that day and time there was no separation of the two, because no one would consider being baptized unless there was a solid commitment to his or her belief. It should still be the same today.
Should infants receive water baptism?
No. Since water baptism pictures a spiritual relationship which begins at salvation, and since salvation occurs through personal faith in Jesus Christ, no person should receive water baptism until they are able to understand and respond to the gospel. Christian parents have a natural desire for their children to receive salvation, but water baptism cannot bring about salvation.
What is the proper method of water baptism?
In New Testament times, total immersion seems to have been the common practice, although there may have been a few exceptions. At Springdale, we practice baptism by total immersion because this method most clearly illustrates the meaning of baptism as identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. It represents the death of the old sin-filled person and the birth of the new person in Christ. The pastor and spiritual leaders of Springdale believe that all who have personally trusted Christ for salvation should receive water baptism. If you as a believer have never done this, we encourage you to contact one of our pastors, elders, or Life Group leaders to discuss being baptized. Your public expression of faith will certainly encourage other believers in our body and may even be used by God to help someone else find salvation in Jesus Christ.