Baptism: Answering Common Questions

Mystery, confusion, and error abound when the subject of baptism arises in conversations. Perhaps a few straightforward answers with ample evidence from Scripture to answer common questions regarding this ancient and beautiful, ordinance and ceremony. 

What is baptism?

Baptism is one of two ordinances (commands) that Jesus established for the church to obey. Water baptism is a ceremony the Lord Jesus commanded his church to perform, the other is the Lord’s Supper. The Lord demonstrated both of these ceremonies in the gospel accounts. His baptism is illustrated in all four gospel accounts.

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17

What is the significance of baptism?

Water baptism is a visual and symbolic demonstration of a person’s union with Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection. It is an outward sign of the inward reality of the believer being in Christ as the result of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. It signifies that a person’s former way of life has been put to death and depicts a release from the mastery of sin.

If baptism is a symbol, what does it represent?

1. Baptism represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Romans 6:3-4

2. Baptism represents the death, burial, and resurrection of the believer with Christ through faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The ceremony of baptism itself depicts the death, burial, and resurrection of the believer through faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. There is a clear distinction made by the New Testament authors that faith in Christ alone brings salvation (Ephesians 2:8). Baptism, as the apostle Peter declares, is salvific in its “appeal to God for a good conscience” through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and not because of dirt removal from the body (1 Peter 3:21-22).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Colossians 2:11-12

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”

1 Peter 3:21-22

3. Baptism depicts safe passage of the believer through the waters of judgment.

Water has played a significant role in enacting God’s judgment of sinful mankind. God used water to judge the earth in the days of Noah (Genesis 7:6-24). Jonah attempted to escape from the Lord over sea until God sent a great storm (Jonah 1:4), and Jonah was eventually flung overboard into the ocean. The Egyptian army pursued the Israelites across the Red Sea until God caused the waters to collapse around them (Exodus 14:26-29). Baptism correlates to this depiction of judgment when Paul declares we are baptized into Jesus’ death and burial (Romans 6:3-4). 

4. Baptism is the immediate symbol of our salvation in Christ.

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Mark 6:16

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.”

Acts 8:35-39

“And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.”

Acts 16:31-33

5. Baptism is a symbol of having our sins washed away through our faith in Christ.

“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 2:38

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9

“he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,”

Titus 3:5

6. Baptism is a symbol of the union a believer has with Christ.

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being[d] might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:28-31

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

2 Corinthians 13:5

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

Galatians 3:27

7. Baptism is a symbol of the believer’s new creation in Christ.

There is a spiritual rebirth that happens through our faith in Christ. One is born again, and this rebirth is symbolized in baptism.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again[b] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:3

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

John 3:5

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corinthians 5:17

8. Baptism is the symbol of our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John 3:5

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,”

Ephesians 2:19-20

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Philippians 3:20-21

Why should a person be baptized?

1. To obey the commands of Christ.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

John 3:5

2. To follow the example of Christ.

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17

“So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

Acts 9:17-19

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

1 Corinthians 11:1

Who should be baptized?

Baptism is intended for those who give a mature and credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Only those who have themselves believed in Christ should be baptized. This is because baptism is a symbol of beginning the Christian life and should only be given to those who have in fact begun the Christ life.

When should a person be baptized?

A person should be baptized when they are ready to make a mature, individual, and credible confession of faith that Jesus Christ is their Lord and savior. Baptism and membership are closely connected in Scripture, and baptized believers should be ready to submit themselves further to their Lord, His Word, and their church leadership.

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Ephesians 4:4-5

How should a person be baptized?

The New Testament teaches baptism by immersion is the only mode or procedure of baptism. The Greek word baptizo means to plunge, submerge, or immerse. This definition is the commonly recognized and standard meaning of the term in Ancient Greek (Systematic Theology 967). Wayne Grudem notes that if any New Testament author desired to indicate that people were sprinkled with water, the Greek word rhatizo (to sprinkle) would have been used (Hebrews 9:13, 19, 21, 12:22). The representation of union in Christ’s death and resurrection is also best expressed through immersion.

“And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

Mark 1:5

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water.”

Mark 1:9-10

“John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized

John 3:23

“And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.”

Acts 8:38-39

“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Romans 6:3-4

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