This study speaks to some of the questions people bring to us, as well as other matters that we encourage you to explore. In the Bible God has said very important things about this topic, which are not hard to understand. They’re things you’ll want to know.
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1. “Why is understanding baptism relevant and important at all?”
The Bible makes it clear that being baptized in water is part of becoming a Christian — not something to be done afterward. Without it your relationship with God will be incomplete. With it, God can give you the full blessing He wants to give to all who call on Him.
2. “What is your source of information about baptism?”
The Bible is our only authoritative source for God’s point of view on baptism. Ultimately we all must deal with God on His terms, not ours. He wants to help us to do this, and we want to receive His help. We work hard to understand the Bible accurately, in its original context, on its own terms, so that we can hear God’s terms and respond to Him.
Over the centuries many religious traditions have developed which do not accurately reflect the Biblical teaching. There is no guarantee that by simply going along with popular religion’s approach to baptism you will receive and act on accurate information. Fortunately, the Bible speaks quite clearly on this issue. Be sure to look up the references listed on this page, and at the end of this article. You might also want to read about the wider scope of “salvation” in our “Good News Is For Sharing” short study on the heart of God in the Bible.
There is also a lot of secondary information available to us through the historical writings of Christian people over the past 2000 years. While this information doesn’t have God’s authority for us, it does provide context that helps us understand the Bible — and what’s happened to faith since the early times. So from time to time I’ll refer to it in this article.
3. “What is baptism?”
In the original language of the Bible’s New Testament, the word literally means “immersion.” In the Bible, with very few exceptions, it always refers to an immersion in water. See Mark 1.9-10; John 3.22-23; Acts 8.36; Acts 10.47. The word also has connotations of being saturated, soaked, sunk, overwhelmed. In terms of faith, baptism always refers to a “new beginning,“ an “initiation.“
4. “What does being baptized into Christ mean?”
It basically means that the person being baptized is moving out of something old and being initiated into something new. Colossians 2.11-12 states that baptism is the time when the old sinful nature is “put off,” when one is “buried and raised from the dead with Jesus.”
Other ways of expressing this are found in Acts 2.38 (forgiveness of sins, receiving the Holy Spirit); Titus 3 (washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit); John 3.5 (born anew of water and Spirit); Romans 6.2-5 (baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection).
Baptism is the point at which a person leaves behind an old life and is initiated into new life, is “born from above,” is “saved,” and becomes a Christian. It is complete saturation with the Holy Spirit when one is saturated with water. See Ezekiel 47, Isaiah 35, John 7.37-39.
God has been working throughout history to prepare a whole new creation, where everything broken about this world is healed, comforted, repaired, made new, made right. He is reaching out to people from every nation and creating a new kind of humanity, people who will receive His blessing and share it with the rest of the world. Baptism is your personal entry into that greater thing that God is doing. That’s what it means to be “saved.”
5. “Aren’t we saved ‘by grace through faith in God through Jesus Christ’?”
Yes. The whole world is in serious trouble, and in its present form will not survive the times to come. Jesus Christ was sent by God to rescue humanity: to show us who God really is, to die for our sins on the cross, and to be raised from the dead for us. He did for us what no one else could do, what we couldn’t do for ourselves to bring us out of darkness and back to God. Baptism is the physical expression of our faith in God’s grace-gift of salvation in Christ. Baptism is the event, the time and place, where we “receive the gift.”
The core events of the Good News are that Jesus is God in the flesh, come to earth to live among us as one of us, showing us God’s heart and power. He died for us and was raised from death (1 Corinthians 15.1-4). In doing this He defeated every power in this world – visible and invisible – that opposes God and His gracious will for us all. As the first to be raised from the dead, Jesus heralds the new creation that God is bringing in – His resurrection is our guarantee that God will do it. Our response is to believe the Good News and act out that belief in what Jesus did for us by “dying with him, being buried with him, and being raised with him to walk in a new kind of life” in baptism. (Romans 6.3-4)
Baptism is very frequently directly connected with faith: see Colossians 2.11-12; Galatians 3.26-27; Mark 16.16; 1 Peter 3.21; Acts 8.12; Acts 16.31-34; Acts 18.8; Acts 19.4-5, etc. We’re not putting our faith in baptism – we’re putting our faith in God, in what He has done for us in Jesus. Baptism is the doorway into what He has done for us. It’s the defining event of putting our faith in God!
It is also connected with repentance (see Acts 2.38); “calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22.16); washing sins away (Acts 2.38, 22.16, Titus 3.5); entry into Christ (Romans 6.3-4; Galatians 3.27).
Baptism is more than “one command among many to be obeyed,” more than a “symbol of salvation”: it’s the time and place where everything Jesus did for all creation in His life, death and resurrection happens to you.
6. “Who should be baptized?”
Everyone who has decided to believe the Good News of Jesus Christ, wants what He has done for them, and is willing to let God be their Director (the meaning of “repent”). Notice the “every one of you” and “all” of Acts 2.37-41. Baptism is not presented as something optional. The first believers understood it as a command for everyone who “received the word.” (Acts 2.41)
This was also the belief and practice of the ancient believers for the first several centuries. Everyone understood that the “normal birth into Christ” always included faith in the Good News, turning away from the old way of life, and baptism into Christ. The writers of the New Testament would never have understood baptism as optional, and would not have considered one a Christian without it.
7. “When and where should a person be baptized?”
As soon as you decide that you believe in the Good News of God’s gift of salvation in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and that you want to leave your old life and live a new life in obedience to God, you are ready. Our church building has the facilities and is available any time — there are no “designated times or places.”
8. “Should my baby be baptized?”
No. God loves your baby, and specially cares for him or her already. Since baptism is always connected with believing, repenting, etc., and babies are simply incapable of this, it is not necessary. Your child needs to be raised in an environment where he or she can hear the Good News, so that when they become capable of believing and repenting, they’ll have the opportunity to make their own informed decision about being baptized and develop their own walk with God.
Your baby is important to God. Part of our aim as a church is to help you provide a nurturing environment which supports the development of informed faith. Also, we are pleased to provide special prayer for your child and for you as a parent wishing to raise your child in a way that will help them come to know God when they are older.
The idea that babies should be baptized doesn’t show up in the Bible at all. This practice began in the late 2nd century, more than 100 years after the New Testament documents were written — and it only slowly became a common practice by the late 4th century. For people who grew up in “the Church” infant baptism had the unfortunate effect of separating them from the dynamic power of normal experience with God. It separated the Good News from baptism, faith from baptism, forgiveness from baptism, and the Holy Spirit from baptism. In short, infant baptism did exactly the opposite of what it was intended to do. God doesn’t want this to happen to your baby. Neither do we.
So our practice as a church is to follow the most ancient way: we raise our children with the information and love they need, encouraging their faith in God, so that when they know they have their own faith (not merely ours) they too can be baptized and experience His conversion of their lives!
9. “How perfect must I be before I’m baptized? How can I be good enough to be baptized?”
“Being good enough” isn’t a requirement for baptism! None of us is good or perfect enough to earn God’s gifts, and so we trust in God’s goodness to us – not in our own goodness. Jesus Christ died for us so that we can know God as a Father and be helped by Him. As we grow in faith He will help us become more like Him. As part of this faith community, you’ll grow into greater maturity in Christ.
However, since in baptism you will be making God the Director of your life, it makes sense for you to begin now to make lifestyle decisions to obey Him. Since in baptism you are formally becoming His child, it makes sense for you to pray to Him now, to read the Bible and learn from Him now. This doesn’t qualify you for baptism, but it shows God — and you — that you’re serious about wanting to live in Him, and it builds faith for your new life with Him after you’re baptized. (See Luke 3.8)
10. “I was baptized as a baby. Do I need to be baptized again as an adult?”
No one ever asked Jesus or any of the inspired apostles this question – because in the first few centuries, babies were never baptized. Our answer, based on Biblical study, is Yes. God wants you to have your own faith in Him, so that you can have your own experience of forgiveness, your own sharing in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. No one else’s decision in your place can generate that.
11. “I was born in a Christian country/Christian family. Do I need to be baptized?”
Once again, no one ever asked Jesus or any of the inspired apostles this question – because in the first few centuries, there were no “Christian countries” or “Christian cultures.” Our answer, based on Biblical study, is Yes. God’s call to people is personal. Sometimes one’s country or family can be very helpful in creating a supportive environment for informed faith — sometimes they are a hindrance. God’s love, forgiveness, and Spirit are personal gifts from Him — not inherited from one’s family heritage or nationality.
Take a look at the people of Jesus’ day: John the Baptizer and Jesus taught crowds of people who were raised in the old Jewish culture: these were God’s Chosen People, by history, culture, national identity, heritage. Yet still, John and Jesus called them to repent and be baptized, just as if they had not been raised with Judaism, as if they were non-Jews coming into the covenant for the first time. See John 3.22-4.2 for a window into what was going on. See Luke 3: in fact, even Jesus Himself was baptized as a believing adult, and received the Holy Spirit! The same thing occurs in Acts 2, as the Good News is proclaimed: people who were “God’s people” by the old history and heritage were baptized into God’s new covenant – and so were the non-Jews throughout the story. Baptism as believers in the Good News of Jesus unites us all, no matter what country or culture we’re from!
The Good News of Jesus Christ is “new” for every generation: He is always welcoming people into His “new creation,” the “new covenant people.” Ultimately, your decision “to become part of God’s new work through the Good News of Jesus Christ” is the only one that really matters for you. Whatever other people think about it, for better or worse, is ultimately irrelevant. God has already decided that He wants you: the only question is whether you’ll answer His call. To believe in Christ and be baptized is the most important choice you will make in your entire life. He created you with the capacity to respond to Him. Growing up in a Christian family, or being baptized as a baby, is the result of someone else’s faith and good intentions for you. However, what God’s interested in for you is your faith and your decision to be baptized into Christ. He values and respects you too much to allow someone else to make that choice in your place.
12. “I was baptized as an adult in another church. Do I need to be baptized again?”
That depends: Was the “Good News” you believed and your previous baptism the same as the ones described in the Bible? See Ephesians 4.4-6. See also Acts 19.1-6 for an example of people as adults being “baptized again.” In our experience, some do need to baptized, and others don’t. If you are uncertain about this, you’re welcome to ask us for help in finding out.
About our answers for questions 10, 11, and 12: as followers of Jesus Christ, His life lives in us! He is bringing our lives into “conformity with His” – He helps us obey His words and follow His example of walking with God and loving people. So it makes sense that the story of our conversion should line up with His, and with the stories of His earliest followers. We strongly recommend that you clear up any confusion in your story by acknowledging the Biblical teaching on conversion to Christ and telling your story according to the New Testament way from now on, or completing your conversion by being baptized now by immersion as a believer in Christ “into Christ, into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” according to the NT way. The Lord delights in helping us complete what He started.
13. “Does being baptized mean that I’m joining the church?”
Yes. Specifically, you are “baptized into Christ” (Galatians 3.26-28), into the “body of Christ.” God adds you to this local gathering of believers, and other Christian communities all over the world (Acts 2.41,47; 1 Corinthians 12.13). (This doesn’t mean that you should consider yourself a part of organized religion generally.) God puts us into His faith communities so that we can experience Him, grow, and serve Him in a dynamic way.
See the “About Us” tab for more information about the South Burnaby Church of Christ.
14. “When am I baptized in the Holy Spirit?”
The Biblical evidence indicates that being “baptized in the Holy Spirit” is an experience that is given to everyone who is baptized into Christ in water — see Mark 1.8; Luke 3.16; 1 Corinthians 12.13. “Baptized in the Holy Spirit” appears to be the same thing as initially “receiving the Holy Spirit, and is related to the Spirit “coming upon” a person (Acts 2.38; 8.15-17; 10.47; 11.15-16, etc.) Jesus gives the Holy Spirit at the time when one is baptized in water. This does not appear in the Bible as a normally separate experience, either before or long after water baptism. See John 3.3-5; Titus 3.3-7 — though in unusual situations it did occur at different times.
In the normal “new birth” you receive forgiveness (release) from sin, and the presence and power of God for your new life through the Holy Spirit. You will grow and change as you mature in Christ, and God may sometimes give you specially blessings and “gifts.” But you are “born complete,” with everything you need provided by God through His Spirit, the message of the Bible, fellowship with other Christians, and His new purpose for your life.
Your initial reaction to being baptized in the Holy Spirit often depends on expectations learned from others. Your experience may range from a calm, quiet assurance to exuberant, overwhelming joy. You may feel a strong desire to pray, sing to the Lord, or talk to people about what God has done for you – and you may find new words and “focus” as you speak. You may find that God answers your prayers in unusual ways. If these things don’t happen at the time of your baptism, they’ll occur later as part of your growing up in Christ with us.
See our “Growing Spiritual Roots” course Lesson 5 “Saying Yes to the Holy Spirit” for more detailed information about this.
15. “I’ve experienced a deep sense of personal closeness to God/unusual spiritual events/answers to prayer/major life changes because of my present faith in God. Should I still be baptized?”
Yes. Many of these things do happen to some people before they are baptized. God loves you and is using these ways to reach to you. His plan is for you to have a full relationship with God via the Good News, faith and baptism into Christ and faith community — not as evidence that one is already a Christian.
See Acts 10 for a Biblical example of Cornelius, who was devoted to God “as he understood Him” and had very unusual experiences. His response to these events was to seek out God’s Good News (10.33), to believe and to be baptized — rather than to assume that he already had everything from God that he needed.
God gives all kinds of blessings to everyone, in order to draw attention to Himself and initiate relationship (Acts 14.16-17; 17.25-31). We want to allow His blessings to fulfill their function of leading us to Him — not to become an end in themselves. Jesus warns that misreading unusual spiritual manifestations as evidence of right standing with God is potentially deceptive and dangerous — see Matthew 7.21-23.
As we said earlier, the Bible is our authoritative source of information — our experiences are not. Regardless of special experiences (or the lack of them), God builds genuine relationship with people who have obedient hearts, who want to do whatever He wants. That’s ultimately the attitude that water baptism expresses: “dead to self, alive to Christ.” (Romans 6)
16. “What happens at a baptism? What’s the ceremony like?”
Baptism can be done anywhere there’s enough water to immerse someone – lakes, rivers, swimming pools, etc. Our own church building has a small tank located at the front of our auditorium, which you can see and use any time.
The ceremony is quite simple. (For ease of description, we’ll assume that “I’m” the one doing the baptizing, and “you” are the one being baptized.) You and I both enter the water up to about our waists. I’ll ask you if you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Once you say it, I’ll say something like “I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” or “I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ.” Then I’ll help you go fully under water and back up again. Sometimes afterward, while we’re both still in the water, I’ll also pray for the Holy Spirit to come to you. Other times, we might wait until you’ve had a chance to dry off and be greeted by your friends first – then we’ll all pray for you together.
Anyone can do the actual baptizing – there are no Biblical restrictions on that. What makes baptism effective is that you do it because you believe in God through Jesus Christ. You can be baptized privately at any time or at a pre-arranged time with friends and relatives there to witness it. You can also be baptized during our Sunday assemblies, with the rest of the church present. We especially encourage this, because part of the blessing of being baptized is being incorporated into God’s new community.
You might want to consider wearing old clothes for your baptism — bring dry clothes you can change into afterward. If you’re being baptized at our church building, we also keep a supply of coveralls of various sizes which you can use if you prefer.
Being baptized is a deeply joyful experience! God responds to your faith, forgives your sin, and comes to live in you through His Spirit. It’s like you were dead, but you’ve been made alive again (Romans 6), a whole new beginning. It’s the faith-doorway into new life with God now, the promise of permanent life with God at the End, and a new family of people to encourage you and be blessed by you. God will instill a new sense of meaning and purpose in your life as you live with Him every day.
17. “Why don’t you use ‘the sinner’s prayer’ in leading people to Christ? Can’t you simply pray the prayer and be immediately forgiven and saved?”
For our readers who don’t know, “the sinner’s prayer” is a custom of some churches which is thought to lead people from a state of being “lost” to being “saved.” The “sinner’s prayer” is a kind of confession of sin and “inviting Jesus into one’s heart to be one’s personal Lord and Saviour,” or words to that effect.
There are many significant theological problems with this custom, as a formula for pre-Christian people to enter into becoming Christians. Most importantly, it’s not in the Bible, anywhere. For that reason, no one for many centuries of Christian history knew of it or used it. There is no “connection” with the death and resurrection of Jesus and leaving an old life and entering the new life, etc. To use a word-picture, trying to follow Jesus on this custom causes one’s “spiritual compass” to be improperly aligned, leading to a whole host of other big problems in faith.
“If it’s not in the Bible and not in early Christian history, then where did it come from?” It seems to have originated in the religious revivals of Dwight Moody, an American preacher in the mid-1800’s, and was popularized in the 20th century by American churches and organizations, and in a lot of radio and TV religious programming.
Many of us have come out of the “sinner’s prayer” style of faith to our present understanding and experience of following Jesus. We’re grateful that God helped us continue to learn from the Bible, and helped us follow Jesus more directly. We encourage everyone who has thought that they’d already become a Christian via the “sinner’s prayer” custom to complete the process of becoming a Christian by being “baptized into Christ,” to use the Biblical expression. We encourage you to continue to grow and follow Jesus, as you’ve started to follow, but to leave this custom behind. Instead, actively connect your life with the teaching and custom of the people who followed Jesus in the Bible. This will set your compass properly, and help to produce a much healthier faith and life in Christ.
We encourage pre-Christian people to pray to God! It’s just that praying doesn’t bring you into Christ, nor bring Christ into you – no matter what you might feel about it. We encourage everyone to trust in God who blesses us all, and to obey God in every way, before and after we are baptized into Christ. Just make sure that you have a clear grasp of where the doorway is, and what’s involved in going through it.
18. “Can a person be ‘saved’ without being immersed in water?”
No one in the Bible ever asked Jesus or any of the inspired apostles this question – no one in the first several centuries of our faith shared the modern religious confusion about the place of baptism in the process of conversion to Christ. But certain things are quite clear ……
We gladly affirm that God Himself is the final Judge regarding who is “saved” and who is not. After all, He made us, and Jesus has lived here among us and understands our condition by firsthand experience! We trust God’s heart to be generous as possible, and as fair as possible, to every human who has ever lived. Everyone who is saved at all is saved by His graciousness, not by any good we have done, nor any perfect understanding we might have.
However, to insist that “Yes, a person can be saved without baptism, so there’s no need to do it” presumes too much: it is to disagree with the clear teaching of the Bible that baptism in water is part of becoming a Christian. It is much better to trust God’s Word and obey Him than to deliberately test His willingness to grant an exception for you at the Judgment.
We believe that the best way to deal with this question is to determine to trust and obey God as He has expressed Himself in the Bible, whatever past experiences you might have had and regardless of what anyone else says or does – and to encourage others to seek the same clarity of faith and obedience. (Romans 1.5; 16.26)
This honors God’s authority by upholding Biblical teaching, and by recognizing God as the final Judge. It puts God in His place and keeps us in our place of receiving His blessing.
As we said at the beginning of this article, the Word of God on baptism isn’t hard to understand. To believe the Good News of Jesus Christ and to “repent” (making God the supreme authority of your life) are His requirements to “qualify” to respond to Him in baptism. Grace, the Holy Spirit, a new community of friends, and the destiny of eternal life in a new creation – His reply to our response of faith in Jesus and baptism – are well worth whatever it takes for us to come to Him.
In the Good News of Jesus, God has paid every price, He has endured every assault, He has torn down every barrier between people and Himself because He wants to be with us. He hopes you will want to be with Him enough to trust and obey Him.
A CLOSER LOOK
This is a straightforward, more literal look at some of the New Testament verses mentioning baptism, referring to the original language.
Matthew 28.19: “baptize them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit …”
Acts 2.38: “… be baptized, every one of you, upon the name of Jesus Christ, into the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 8.16, 19.5: “… baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus …”
Romans 6.3-4: “… baptized into Christ, baptized into His death? … buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as He was raised … we too may live a new life.”
1 Corinthians 12.13: “… for in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body …”
Galatians 3.27: “… for as many of you as were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ …”
Colossians 2.11-12: “… you put off the sinful nature, having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him …”
1 Peter 3.21: ” … [the water of Noah’s ark] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also … It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ …”
If you’re interested in being baptized, let us know. We’ll be glad to help you deal with any other questions you might have, so that you can make an informed choice about it.
Baptism in water is ultimately about living with God. It’s very important to study the Bible to know more about Him and what He wants to invest in our lives. As you explore questions like the ones in this article, we especially recommend that you take a look at some of our other Bible study materials, too. “Good News: What We Need to Know” is our basic 3-part introduction to the heart of God in the Bible, which might help you to get a better idea of who God is, and why it’s so worthwhile to believe and obey Him.
“Roots” is our special 9-session course, designed to help people who have no background with the Bible, to understand what it means to follow Jesus. You’re welcome to check this out as a way of becoming better informed before you decide to be baptized.
Thank you for taking the time to read this material. The best news imaginable is that God we’re all looking for is looking for us! May He bless your search and help you find Him, too!