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* Some churches baptize babies but others baptize only those mature enough to make the choice based on their personal faith.
* Some sprinkle or pour for baptism, but others say baptism must be an immersion.
* Some churches say baptism is necessary to receive forgiveness of sins, but others say baptism is just an outward sign that one is already saved or to join a particular denomination.
What does the Bible say about proper baptism? Understanding Bible teaching will help people decide how, why, and when they should be baptized.
We begin with an important basic principle:
2 Timothy 3:16,17 – The Scriptures provide us to all good works. So, if a practice is not authorized in the New Testament, then it is not a good work.
Matthew 15:9 – Man-made practices that differ from the gospel make our service vain.
(2 John 9; Galatians 1:6-9; Proverbs 14:12; Colossians 3:17)
Acts 19:3-5 – Men who received an incorrect baptism had to be baptized properly.
Please consider this overview of Bible teaching about baptism. (Specific questions in some areas may require additional information.)
In order for baptism to be proper, there are certain things a person must do first.
Mark 16:15,16 – The gospel must first be preached and believed before one can be baptized.
John 6:44,45 – No one can come to Jesus until he has been taught from the Father. He must learn and understand the message being taught. (Compare 1 Corinthians 14:20.)
Acts 2:36,41 – In the first gospel sermon Peter taught the people they were guilty of sin, then gave evidence that Jesus is God’s Son so they would “know assuredly” that Jesus is Lord and Christ (verses 14-36). Those who gladly received this message were then baptized (verse 41).
Mark 16:15,16 – Every creature who is baptized must first believe the gospel. The command to be baptized applies only to those who hear, understand, and believe the gospel.
Galatians 3:26,27 – All people, who are baptized, must do so by faith.
Acts 8:12 – The Samaritans were taught then were baptized when they believed, not before.
People should be baptized only when they personally possess faith based on their own understanding. No one else can believe for us, just like no one else can be baptized for us.
James 2:24 – A man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Proper faith must produce proper actions, including baptism. Faith that does not lead to proper conduct, is not a saving faith.
(See also Acts 8:36-39; 18:8; Romans 1:16; 10:13-17.)
Acts 2:38 – Before baptism, “every one of you” must first repent. Repentance is a change of mind: one must realize he stands guilty before God and choose to turn from sin and live for God (Matthew 21:28,29). This requires personal conviction. No one else can make this decision for us.
Acts 26:20 – Repentance requires doing works befitting repentance. Proper repentance requires a proper response. This involves a commitment to put God first in our lives, living all our lives faithfully serving Him. We will see this will lead to baptism and a proper life after baptism.
(See also 2 Corinthians 7:10; Mark 1:4,5.)
Romans 10:9,10 – To be saved, one who believes must confess Christ with his mouth.
Acts 8:35-39 – Here is an example of confession. The one who wants baptism must state that he believes so the witnesses understand that he is being baptized based on his personal faith.
We have learned four things that every individual must personally do before baptism: he must hear and understand the gospel, believe it, repent of his guilt of sin, and confess Christ. One should be baptized only after he has properly done all these. God is no respecter of persons, so these are required of everyone (Acts 10:34,35; Romans 2:11).
Note that little children cannot do any of these things. So, the command to be baptized is not addressed to them. Likewise, if anyone was “baptized” without meeting these prior requirements, he/she needs to be baptized Scripturally like the men in Acts 19.
Click here to learn more about infant baptism.
Consider the gospel teaching about the action involved in baptism. Baptism requires:
Acts 10:47 – Peter commanded Cornelius and his household to be baptized saying, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized…?”
Baptism in the name of Jesus (verse 48) requires water.
John 3:23 – John baptized near Salim because there was much water there. So proper baptism involves the use of “much water.”
Acts 8:38 – Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and he baptized him. This shows why baptism involves “much water”: it must be enough for a person to go down into!
Acts 8:39 – After the eunuch had been baptized, he came up out of the water. In order to come up out of the water, he first had to be down in the water.
Mark 1:9,10 – Jesus was baptized “in” the Jordan River, then came up from (“out of” – KJV, ASV, NASB, ESV, LEB, MEV) the water.
Colossians 2:12 – In baptism we are buried with Jesus and raised with Him.
Romans 6:4 – We are buried with Him by baptism.
In baptism we are buried (completely enclosed and surrounded) in water, as Jesus was buried in the earth. (Matthew 12:40; 27:60,66)
The same passages that say we are buried in baptism also say we are raised in baptism.
Colossians 2:12 – Buried with Him in baptism in which you also were raised with Him.
Romans 6:4 – Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Hebrews 10:22 – We have our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Note the contrast between sprinkling the heart and washing the body.
The blood of Jesus is sprinkled on the heart to cleanse us from sin. This must be spiritual since it cannot be physical. (Hebrews 9:14) But what is washed with water? The body! Clearly, this refers to baptism.
2 Kings 5:10-14 – Elisha told Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan River to be cleansed of his leprosy. The passage says that Naaman “dipped” in the river and was cleansed.
This example shows that, when God commands a person to wash his body in water to be cleansed, the command is obeyed by dipping in the water. Likewise, when Hebrews 10:22 instructs us to wash our bodies, this is done by dipping the body in water: a complete immersion.
Many denominations sprinkle or pour water on a person’s head. But proper baptism requires much water, one goes down into the water, is buried, his body is washed in the water, then he is raised and comes up out of the water. Only immersion fits the Bible descriptions of baptism.
One who received sprinkling or pouring needs proper baptism like the men in Acts 19.
Click here to learn more about the proper action of baptism.
Romans 6:17,18 – To be freed from sin, one must obey from the heart.
Acts 2:40,41 – Those who gladly received the message were baptized.
The decision to be baptized cannot be made for a person by parents, spouse, loved ones, or friends. Each individual must freely make his own choice in his own heart. The purpose matters. Since God is no respecter of persons, the purpose of baptism must be the same for all.
(Compare Romans 2:28,29; 1 Peter 1:22; 3:21; 2 Corinthians 8:5; Revelation 22:17; Philippians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.)
Mark 16:16 – He who believes and is baptized will be saved.
Acts 2:38 – Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.
Acts 22:16 – Be baptized and wash away your sins.
Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27 – Be baptized into Christ, into His death.
1 Peter 3:21 – Baptism also now saves us.
John 3:3,5 – One must be born again by the water and the Spirit to enter the kingdom.
So each person must be baptized to be forgiven or saved from sins. That is the proper motive and purpose for baptism as taught in the gospel.
As an illustration, in the Lord’s Supper each person must do the right action, but it must be done for the right purpose. God is displeased even if one does the right actions but his reasons are wrong (1 Corinthians 11:23-29). Likewise, if a person is baptized but not to receive forgiveness of sins, then the baptism is not right and needs to be done properly.
This would include people who were taught they were saved by “faith only” before baptism, people who were baptized as an “outward sign they were saved,” people who were baptized to join a denomination, or anyone who did not understand that baptism is necessary to receive forgiveness. Such people need to be baptized properly like the men in Acts 19.
Since baptism is for the remission of sins, do babies have sins that need to be forgiven?
Ezekiel 18:20 – Some say babies should be baptized for forgiveness of sins inherited from Adam. But Scripture says no one inherits guilt from ancestors. Each of us will be judged for the things we do in this life, not for what others do (2 Corinthians 5:10). So infants must be innocent. (Psalms 106:37,38; Jeremiah 19:4,5)
Matthew 19:14; 18:3 – To enter the kingdom, we must be converted and become like little children. If conversion makes us like little children, then little children must be innocent.
Since baptism is for the remission of sins, and since babies have no sins, it follows that babies do not need baptism. Children are in a safe condition, not accountable for sin until they are old enough to be able to understand and accept the responsibility to dedicate their lives to God.
If people were baptized as infants or were baptized without properly understanding the purpose of baptism, those people need to be baptized properly like the men in Acts 19.
Click here to learn more about the proper purpose of baptism.
Here are a few of the many responsibilities that God requires of all baptized people.
Romans 6:3,4,11-18 – When a person is baptized, he rises to walk in a new life. He dedicates himself to live the rest of his life – all aspects of his life – according to the Bible. He must use his body, not as an instrument of sin, but as an instrument of righteousness. Each person should be baptized only when he/she is able and ready to accept this responsibility from the heart.
Romans 12:1,2 – Those who are “brethren” (God’s family, baptized people) should present their bodies as living sacrifices to God, not being conformed to the world. Every person must make this commitment before he can be baptized.
1 Corinthians 15:58 – Brethren (i.e., children of God) should be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work. One should be baptized only when he personally chooses to be steadfast in working for the Lord.
Matthew 28:19,20 – Baptized people should be taught to obey all Jesus’ commands. S0 people need not know all God’s commands at the time they are baptized. But they must have a heart capable and willing to learn and accept and obey everything Jesus says to do. These commands include proper family relations, moral conduct, treatment of others, etc.
Matthew 6:33 – S eek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
This is simply a fuller explanation of what it means to have proper faith and repentance. When one truly believes and repents, he determines to turn away from sin and serve God faithfully all his life. One should be baptized only when he/she has fully repented and determined to live a lifetime of faithful service putting God first in His life.
John 3:3,5 – When one is born again in baptism, He enters Jesus’ kingdom. The new birth makes one a child of God, a member of God’s family, the church. Baptized people are members of Jesus’ body which is His church (1 Corinthians 12:13,25,26; Ephesians 1:22,23; 5:23). This is not a denomination but just the body or kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13,14).
Acts 2:38,41,47 – When a person is baptized, he is saved from sins and the Lord adds him/her to His church. One should be baptized only if he/she is ready to accept the responsibilities of membership in Jesus’ true church. This involves both individual and group responsibilities.
Acts 2:38,41,42 – Baptized people then continued in worship: breaking bread, prayer, the apostles’ doctrine, etc. They should diligently study the word of God and pray as individuals. They should also assemble with the church to sing, pray, study, contribute financially, and have the Lord’s Supper. All this should be done with understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15-20).
1 Corinthians 10:16,17; 11:23-29 – All members of the body should eat and drink the Lord's Supper understanding, remembering, and discerning the meaning of Jesus’ death.
1 John 1:8-10 – The fact a person sins after baptism does not necessarily mean he was not baptized properly or needs to be baptized again. All of us do sin. If so, we are not baptized again but must repent and confess our sins in prayer. (Acts 8:22)
If before baptism we truly determined to strive to serve God faithfully all our life, that would be proper repentance. If we then sin again after baptism, we must again repent, pray for forgiveness, and correct our lives. But if before baptism we did not truly commit our lives to serve God, then we failed to repent. And like the men in Acts 19, we need to be baptized properly.
We have learned what God says people must do before they can be baptized, during baptism (the proper purpose and action), and after baptism. When people have received a baptism that was not Scriptural, like the men in Acts 19, they still need to be baptized properly. This would include the following people:
* Those who were baptized as a baby or otherwise did not properly understand and believe the gospel teaching about salvation through the death of Jesus.
* Those who were “baptized” by sprinkling or pouring.
* Those who were “baptized” without understanding that baptism is necessary to receive forgiveness. They may have believed they were saved by “faith alone,” or that they were saved before baptism, or that baptism is just a sign they were saved, or they were baptized to join some denomination, or for any reason they did not understand that the purpose of baptism is to receive forgiveness of sins by the blood of Jesus.
* Those who did not truly repent. Repentance requires a commitment to live the rest of our lives in faithful service to God. Anyone who did not make this determination before baptism did not truly repent. Such a person needs to properly repent and be baptized.
Like the men in Acts 19, anyone who was not baptized properly needs to fulfill the Bible teaching. Have you been Scripturally baptized? Are you living the faithful life that your dedication to God requires?
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2022; gospelway.com
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.