Christ’s command is to teach new believers. They are to be taught before and after baptism. Sinners must first hear and obey the Gospel to become true believers:
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized. (Acts 2:41)
When they heard this, they were baptized… (Acts 19:5)
A certain woman named Lydia…attended unto the things that were spoken of Paul…and she was baptized. (Acts 16:14-15)
Before baptism, believers should receive enough teaching to understand its meaning. After baptism, they should continue to receive instruction in order to become mature Christians. Paul calls this “going on to perfection” (Hebrews 6).
The second condition for baptism is repentance from sin. Peter stressed this during his sermon on the day of Pentecost:
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:37)
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)
Note that conviction of sins is not enough. Action must be taken. The two commands Peter gave were repent and be baptized. Repentance comes before baptism.
The third condition for baptism is believing [faith]:
And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:15-16)
This requirement of believing is illustrated by the story of Philip and the Ethiopian man who he met on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8). Philip heard the Ethiopian read from the book of Isaiah. He joined him in his chariot to explain the Gospel. As they continued on their journey the road led past water. Upon the Ethiopian’s request and his confession of faith, Philip baptized him:
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip said, if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
And He commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
Philip said to the eunuch: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest be baptized.” The eunuch replied: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son God.” A person who desires Christian baptism first must confess to faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
A GOOD CONSCIENCE TOWARD GOD:
A fourth condition for Christian baptism is a good conscience toward God. Peter compares Christian baptism in water to the experience of Noah and his family who were saved from judgment as they entered into the ark:
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us [not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God] by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 3:21)
Peter dismisses any idea that the purpose of baptism is any kind of cleansing of the physical body. He says the condition of Christian baptism is the inner relationship of the believer’s heart toward God. He calls it “a good conscience toward God.”
THE TIME OF BAPTISM
To be eligible for water baptism a person must receive proper instruction, repent, believe, and have a good conscience toward God. The length of time it takes to meet these requirements will differ depending on the individual.
Some churches require those who desire baptism to take long periods of instruction lasting weeks or months. But the Bible says that on the day of Pentecost three thousand people were baptized. A few hours before they were unbelievers who rejected Jesus to be either the Messiah of Israel or the Son of God. From the end of Peter’s sermon to their baptism, the time required to give necessary instruction could not have exceeded a few hours:
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)
Philip baptized the Ethiopian the same day he preached the Gospel to him.
The practice of the early church in relation to baptism was as follows:
- Before baptism they taught the basic facts of the Gospel centering on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- They related these facts to the act of baptism.
- They verified understanding, repentance, and confession of faith in the new believer, then baptism in water followed immediately.
- After baptism the new believers received further instruction for spiritual development.SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRISTIAN BAPTISM
The following text reveals the spiritual significance of Christian baptism:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?
Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death; That like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4)
When you repent and accept Jesus Christ as Savior, death to sin and the old life occurs. There is creation of a new life of righteousness lived for God:
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey the lusts thereof…
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:11,12,14)
Christian baptism in water is a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It symbolizes death to sin as you are immersed in that “grave” of water and resurrection into a new life lived for God in righteousness as you come up out of the water.
The believer who is raised up out of the water to live this new life does not do this in his own power. The new life is lived by the power of God, the same power that raised Jesus from the grave. (We will learn more about living the new life in Chapter Eleven). The effect of water baptism depends on the repentance and faith of the one being baptized. Without this, baptism is of no value.
True Christian baptism means we are baptized into Jesus Himself, not into a particular church or denomination:
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27)
A Couple Questions
What about Baptism of Babies?
Jesus was not baptized as a baby. When He was an infant His parents brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, but He was not baptized. Jesus was not baptized until He knew what He was doing and the reason why He was doing it.
Babies should not be baptized. Children can be presented to the Lord for dedication and blessing by the laying on of hands. But they should not be baptized until they understand the meaning of the act and have met the Biblical requirements. There is no set age at which this understanding comes. It depends on the mental and spiritual development of each child.
Sprinkling or Immersion?
Some churches baptize by sprinkling with water. Others totally immerse in water. When Jesus was baptized He went down into and then came up out of the water. Considering this and the Biblical meaning of the word “baptize”, we must conclude He was fully immersed in the waters of Jordan.
In allowing Himself to be baptized, Jesus showed outward obedience to the will of God. Through this act of obedience He fulfilled the plan of God. When believers are baptized, this outward act symbolizes the inward righteousness which they have received by faith.