Baptism in Water
The subject of water baptism (baptism in water) has been historically perhaps one of the least understood doctrines of the New Testament. Much false teaching based on the traditions and reasonings of men has obscured the meaning of this important doctrine. Some teach that water baptism is really not important at all. According to Hebrews 6:2, the doctrine of baptisms is part of the foundation which must be laid in the Christian life. We will therefore take time to see what the Bible has to say on this matter.
WHAT IS WATER BAPTISM?
The word "baptism" is in Greek "baptisma" while "to baptise" is in Greek "baptizo". It is obvious that this word has not really been translated but simply copied into the English language. In Greek "baptizo" means "to immerse, cause to be dipped, to submerge, to overwhelm". To baptise something in water means to put it under the water. Therefore in the Biblical sense, to baptise a person in water literally means to put that person wholly under the water.
Water baptism for the Christian symbolises and appropriates our death, burial and resurrection with Christ. It means identification with Christ.
"Therefore we were buried with him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4).
It is clear then that the tradition of sprinkling people or pouring water on them is true neither to the clearly understood meaning of the Greek Word, nor to the symbolism of burial. Only immersion in water shows a burial.
The practise of water baptism appears in the Bible first with the appearance of John the Baptist. "John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism for the remission of sins. And all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." (Mark 1:4,5)
Baptism in those days was understood to be a rite of initiation into something new. To be water baptised was a sign of adherence to the teachings of the respective teacher. John taught repentance for the remission of sins. Those who received his teaching had to repent (turn from sin), confess their sins (Mark 1:5) and "bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Luke 3:7,8). Their had to be a change of heart before John would willingly baptise the people coming to him for baptism.
Christian baptism is a dedication to follow the Lord Jesus Christ and to be His disciple. (Mathew 28.19). To be baptised you must do something practical. You must humble yourself. In Christian baptism you must identify yourself with Jesus Christ. As He dedicated himself "thus to fulfil all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15) so must you when you are baptised in water. You make a covenant with God to submit yourself to obey the Spirit of God to the point of death, dying to the deeds and lusts of the body and all that is old, to let the past be buried and to rise up to live to fulfil all righteousness - not through your old life but in the new life given by God.
In order to make this dedication, it is obvious that first there must exist real repentance in your heart. You must also have confessed your sins to God. With this baptism you commit yourself through the power of the new life of Jesus within you to "bear fruits worthy of repentance".
WHO IS WATER BAPTISM FOR?
Baptism is for those who have now come to a place where they have repented of their sin and believe with all their heart in the Lord Jesus Christ. We see this clearly both from the teaching and the example of the New Testament.
"Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptised?" Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." (Acts 8:36,37).
Baptism is not for those who believe half-heartedly the gospel. To believe with all the heart implies firstly sincerity. To be baptised simply to please a priest or a preacher is not what God wants. God only wants baptised those who have a sincere trust in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, who really want to die to the world, the flesh and the devil and live for God. Before baptising people, we must be confident that this is their desire.
However, this does not mean we should be so cautious in baptising people that we refuse to do it until a person's character in Christ is well proven. No. Even Simon the Magician was baptised by Philip the evangelist and continued with Philip for some time until Peter, to whom God gave greater discernment, rebuked the foolishness of the magician, who wanted to buy the ability to impart the Holy Spirit with money (Acts 8:13, 19-24). Simon still needed to repent, to humble himself more deeply. Church history tells us that he did not do this - but rather became the author of many heresies which plagued the church in the years to come.
Nowhere in the book of Acts is it recorded that people were made to wait or to sit through week-long courses before they were allowed to be baptised. Wholehearted faith, genuine repentance and the intention to live for Jesus was all that was required. It was not the understanding of the doctrines of faith or repentance that was required, but the real presence of faith and repentance that was necessary in the hearts of those who were to be baptised.
Water baptism is for those who believe. "He who believes and is baptised shall be saved." (Mark 16:16). No promise is made to those who are baptised without believing. Many people are "baptised" as babies, by immersion in the Orthodox Tradition or by sprinkling in the Catholic, Anglican and Reformed traditions. However, there is no example in the New Testament of babies being baptised.
A baby, as yet without understanding, cannot believe the gospel, cannot repent, cannot confess its sin. It is not yet responsible for its actions, and God, who is infinitely just, does not condemn to damnation babies who die. "Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 19:14). Innocent babies and very small children belong to God. "Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 18:10).
Some argue that sincere Christian parents should have their babies baptised, since God's covenant extends to natural families. But Jesus said, "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." (Mark 3:35). Jesus did not even recognise his own natural family at that time, since they did not have faith in Him at that time.
But what about the Philippian Jailor? He was baptised with all his family! Yes, but from a careful examination of the passage (Read Acts 16:30-34) we observe the following:
1. Paul's instruction was first, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household". (Acts 16:31). Believing on Jesus had to precede water baptism.
2. Paul then preached to the whole household the word of the Lord. (Acts 16:32). There had to be a foundation for faith in Jesus. All the household heard the word of the Lord.
3. There were fruits of repentance. "And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes." (vs 33)
4. Next they were all baptised. It says nothing of babies here. Rather, in verse 34, it says, "having believed in God with all his household." It is clear then that ALL BELIEVED before they were baptised. Since babies cannot believe, it is clear that here is no example of the baptism of babies. We see rather a model for the salvation of whole households. This is the way God would like to work today!
In the first and most significant day of the church, Peter, having preached the gospel to the people, was asked, "What must be do?" And the response?
"Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of the Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38). Repentance had to precede baptism. And clearly, faith in Jesus also preceded this baptism, since no-one would have allowed himself to be baptised in the controversial name of Jesus if he did not indeed believe the message of Peter and put his trust in Jesus for salvation.
Once again we see that repentance and faith preceded baptism. The same thing can be seen in all the following passages from the book of Acts:
Acts 8:12,13: The conversion of the Samarians.
Acts 8:37 The Ethiopian eunuch
Acts 9, Acts 22:8,16 The conversion of Saul (Paul).
Acts 10:44-48: The conversion of Cornelius, his relatives and close friends. *
Acts 16:31-34 The conversion of the Philippian jailor and his household
Acts 19:1-6 The case of the Ephesian disciples.
* In the case of Cornelius, we can know that these people believed the message of Peter about Jesus, since God sovereignly poured the Holy Spirit out upon them and they were baptised in the Holy Spirit. These people, especially Cornelius were already god-fearing people and obviously God had prepared their hearts to receive the Holy Spirit. Other Jewish believers recognised what God did as proving that these Romans had been granted "repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). It is clear from this passage that someone who is genuinely baptised in the Holy Spirit is a candidate also for water-baptism. The order of baptisms is not consistent in the Bible. It is possible to be baptised in water before being baptised in the Holy Spirit. The reverse is also possible.
WHAT DOES WATER BAPTISM MEAN?
As we have begun to see, Christian water baptism means a dedication to fulfil all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). It is the biblical expression of a commitment to die to the world, the flesh and the devil and live for God alone.
It is a death, burial and resurrection. (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:11,12). Death to the old nature, the old ways, habits and lifestyle. Burial of all these things. A new life in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what baptism is about.
It is identification with Jesus Christ, and a recognition of Him as your master and you as his disciple (Matthew 28:19). It means you commit yourself to obey Jesus Christ.
( Water baptism doesnít save us or get us to heaven. It doesnít make one a better Christian, but itís a start. It shows others publicly that we believe in Christ, and marks a determination in our life to live as Jesus would want us to, as best we can. As an act of humility and identification it is important, and of benefit to oneís Christian walk, but of course it needs to be followed up with a lifetime of spiritual growth Ö Keygar )†