That Looming Question of Baptism
How do you know if you should be baptized? Or baptized again? When is the appropriate time to be baptized? This is the first of a series on baptism.
It's Sunday, and you have just grabbed your coffee (duh), and you make your way into the sanctuary WITH your coffee, because you go to a church that allows coffee in sanctuary (hello, 2018), and as you get to your seat, the worship band strikes up and it's early, but it's looking like a promising morning of grace and truth. And then it happens. The pastor starts talking.
Collective gasps fill the air. Suddenly, your pulse begins to spike, you begin sweating, and every decision you've ever made is surrounded by doubt.
Ok, maybe it's not that bad, but there is no question that the topic of baptism makes people nervous. Not nervous like like, "there is a spider on my shoulder and I need help getting it off," but more like, "you didn't read the book for class and the teacher might call on you to answer a question about it." It's not that you are scared necessarily, you just simply don't know the answers, and you don't want the rest of your classmates to know that you don't know the answers. Sound familiar?
Baptism is such a misunderstood practice and for good reason. When one surveys the many denominations present in the world today, the practice and purpose of baptism takes many different forms. While there are many methods and modes of the practice of baptism, those questions won't be answered today. Today, we will examine the question of when it is appropriate and when it is not appropriate to be baptized.
The Biblical Command and Example
Before we begin the discussion on when it is appropriate to be baptized, it might be helpful to determine why it is important in the first place. What does the Bible tell us about the necessity of baptism? The most common passage quoted is usually Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus, after the resurrection, says to the disciples:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of call the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, NASB)
Jesus establishes (once again) His authority, and then the command is given: "Go! Make disciples!" In what way are they to make disciples? By baptizing them and teaching them obedience to Christ. The book of Acts chronicles several examples as well, one of them being Acts 2. Right after the Apostle Peter's sermon on the Day of Pentecost people responded by being baptized:
41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41, ESV)
This pattern continues throughout the book of Acts. As people come to faith in Christ, they are immediately baptized and added to the church. The theological importance of it is emphasized in Paul's writings as well. Paul tells both the Colossian believers and the Roman believers that baptism connects us and identifies us in Jesus' death (Colossians 2:12; Romans 6:3-4). He writes in 1 Corinthians 12:13:
13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free... (1 Peter 3:21, NASB).
In other words, baptism is a means by which we come into the church. It is also a pledge to God (1 Peter 3:21). In fact, according to the Apostle Peter, the waters of baptism are a symbol of the flood during Noah's day that represent God's judgment against sin, and he says that it is Christ that is our ark (1 Peter 3:18-22). It is not a question of whether or not someone should be baptized when they come to faith. The Scripture is very clear. So the next question is, when is it appropriate?
Should I Be Baptized?
This is the big, important question. Before we can answer that, there are a few additional, qualifying questions that need to be asked.
Question #1: Are you born again?
The most important question is, have you believed the Gospel? This is what the Apostle Paul calls the thing of, "first importance."
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
This is the Gospel. That Jesus, "became sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). If you have repented of your sin, believed the Gospel, the Scripture's promise is that you will have eternal life, and thus, you should follow the Lord's command to be baptized. If the answer to this question is, "yes," then proceed to question 2. If not, then you should not be baptized. To be baptized prior to believing the Gospel (a common problem with people who were baptized as children or babies) is incongruent with the overwhelmingly clear teaching of the New Testament.
Question #2: Have you been baptized before?
Another common desire among believers is to see baptism as a sort of restart to their Christian walk. Perhaps you genuinely were born again, and lived a life of obedience to God, but at some point you began to walk out of step and before you knew it you were in the deep end of trouble. Maybe it was months or even years, and now God has grabbed a hold of your heart and brought you back into the fold, and you are wrestling with shame and regret over your past choices you've made. And then you have this idea: "I need to be baptized again, so I can feel good about my walk with Jesus." It's like a reset button. Just push it, and everything goes back to the beginning.
It's not uncommon to end up here, and while not biblically correct, I can certainly understand the thought process. As mentioned above, baptism is a pledge or an appeal of a clean conscience towards God (1 Peter 3:21), but that is only one of the many things it represents. If that were all it represented, perhaps multiple baptisms could be considered, but it's not. Baptism is only meant to be done once.
Beyond that, in looking to baptism to cleanse you from your shame and guilt, you are actually denying the saving and effective power of Jesus' blood that can wash away your sin once and for all. It's as if to say, "Jesus blood was good the first time, but I need something more this time." You don't need to be, "resaved," nor, "rebaptized." Jesus blood is effective to cleanse you fully the first time. If the answer to question #2 is, "no," then proceed to question 3. If you have been baptized after you understood, believed, and received the Gospel, you do not need to be baptized (again).
Question #3: Are you a member of a church?
This is an important question, although there is no clear command from the Scripture to be a member of a church prior to baptism. The reason for this, however, makes a lot of sense. In every single context of the New Testament with the exception of one (the Ethiopian eunuch), all works of ministry including baptism are done under the authority of a local church. It would have been virtually unheard of to not be an active member in a church. Much of the early church modeled itself off the Jewish practice of worship in the Synagogue. Paul, in every missionary journey, would begin in the Synagogue and then, from that point on, minister to Gentiles (Acts 17:2). So, the reason there is no command to be a member of a church before baptism is the command would have been unnecessary. It was assumed everyone understood this. So, if the answer to question #3 is, "yes," then talk with a pastor in your church about how to be baptized. If you are not a member of a church, you should not be baptized yet. First, find a good local church close to you and begin to attend it. If you need help, message me. I'd love to connect you to a local church near you.
At my home church, City On a Hill, we have a process by which we sit down and ask a lot of these same questions with everyone who desires to be baptized. We also explain the meaning and method of baptism, which will be explored in future entries. We take baptism seriously and desire to do it in a way that honors the Word of God. If you answered all three questions correctly, the only thing you have left to do is actually be baptized. Will you walk in obedience to the Lord's command?