Should I Be Baptized?
Prior to His ascension into heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ left two very distinct ordinances, clear and specific commands given to His church with the command that all believers, everywhere, do them. The first we celebrate here the first Sunday of every month, the Lord’s Supper, also called communion. That command, the Lord told us clearly to do often, 1 Cor 11:26 saying “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”
The second command, however, receives much less attention, I believe, for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it is something done really only once in a believer’s life, there’s not the constant and continual reminder in our own lives.
That very real and theologically rich lack of repetition, coupled with the very many unbiblical teachings regarding baptism from a wide variety of opinions on the subject, have resulted not only in a great deal of confusion on baptism, but may largely contribute to a lack of clarity on the subject even among those who attend Hickory Corners Bible Church regularly.
And so, having broached the subject by way of the language Paul chose to use in the first 14 verses of Romans 6, now on the basis of our fuller understanding of that portion of Scripture, it is incumbent upon me as a teacher to deal with the subject of baptism more directly, lest by my silence related to water baptism I add to that confusion, after having taught clearly that these verses do not speak of water baptism, but rather a spiritual immersion into Christ Jesus.
In particular, we read in Romans 6:3-4 stating, “Or do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
So we are in the process now of answering the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” questions related to baptism. And last week, you will remember, we looked at what it is not in order that we may more clearly understand what it is without confusion.
And most of our focus is on answering the first basic question of who is to be baptized in a negative sense, establishing for us based upon the clear meaning of Scripture that Jesus Christ was not referring to infants when He commanded in Matthew 28:19-20,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
We today are indebted to the handful of men who, in purposeful violation of a law passed earlier that same day by the city council of Zurich requiring they conform, leave, or be imprisoned, dared to gather together, believing that neither prudence nor fear should prevent obedience to Christ. That evening of January 21, 1525, they rejected the council’s determination that baptism was a civil issue which created a “seamless Christian society”. Departing sharply from the guidance of Ulrich Zwingli, these men, which included his former students Felix Manz and Conrad Grebel, baptized each other and pledged themselves as true disciples of Christ to live lives separated from the world, to teach the gospel, and to hold the faith.
These people were a threat to the medieval order of society which united church and state, by insisting that a child could not be made a Christian even if an ocean of water were poured on its head. Despite what they called themselves, the derisive “Anabaptist” name stuck, and when more people from the villages of Zurich joined them in refusing to have their children baptized, that persecution turned harsh, being considered a serious offense by the Roman and Zwinglian churches because of their faulty belief that the salvation of the infant’s soul was denied salvation, and also by the State due to their rebellion against the rule of the State’s jurisdiction over baptism.
Now, to be clear, the soul of babies and even those whose minds are infantile, have never been in danger; Job 3, 2 Samuel 12, Jeremiah 19, Jonah 4, Romans 1, and others all make it clear that the unborn, babies, young children… in other words, those who are unable to understand sin and law and salvation at their death are, by the grace of God, taken to heaven just as we who are saved by grace through faith. But this is a subject for another time.
But the message these people carried, each one a missionary to their neighbors and to the towns and villages they visited, spread like wildfire. And the persecution of these people spread nearly as quickly. They were harried and harassed, they were hated by the established churches of their day. They were burned at the stake, they were drowned, they were hunted by nearly every significant denomination of the day - Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Zwinglians alike hated them and what they represented. And yet, still the movement spread.
Why? Why was it that these people were so adamant in their beliefs, not recanting or backing down in the face of certain, painful death? Because they understood the reality expressed in 1 John 2:3, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” They took the command of Christ in Matthew 28, to make disciples and to baptize those disciples, seriously.
In studying the New Testament over the months preceding that January evening, these men had realized that over the length and breadth of the New Testament, biblical baptism of believers was completely and utterly divorced and separated from any prior religious condition. Let me show you what I mean from the history book of the church, turn to Acts 2:38-42
“And Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly bore witness and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this crooked generation!”
Now note this next verse:
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”
Now, let us not forget that these were Jews, and the men among them would have been circumcised according to the Law, and even with that circumcision according to the flesh they were not only commanded to be baptized, but they were baptized.
Now, it’s important that we recognize there is an order within these verses. Receiving of the word preceded baptism.
And it’s important that this receiving the Word is far different than simply listening to it, and is far more than simply accepting that it might be true. No, to receive here means to consider consider the message as an obligation that is right and proper, which you willingly receive!
In other words, the people heard the message preached by Peter starting in verse 14, they accepted it as being true and faithful, and they repented of their sin, placing all of their hope, both in this life and in eternity, in the truth of the message Peter gave to them.
Now let’s be clear: they didn’t look to their Jewishness, they didn’t look to their circumcision, they didn’t look to the temple; all of these things that the Jews had looked to as the things which defined their national relationship with God, and even that national relationship itself, they rejected in favor of this new, personal repentance leading to the promise of forgiveness of sins.
And only then, were they baptized - 3,000 that first day, reasonably using the several hundred mikveh pools like this one that were located near the temple, these were stepped immersion baths already well-known and long-established as as being used for purification purposes by the Jewish people, so using them for baptismal type purposes would have been natural to these folks.
But what they weren’t used to, what wasn’t normal to them, was that they would be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ! These were public and well-known baptismal pools which were already frequently used, so to use them was itself a declaration of confession that Jesus was indeed God’s Christ, the Messiah, in a manner and place which could not be mistaken for anything other than what it actually was.
And we should be clear again that the baptism was done on account of, and in gratitude for, the forgiveness of sins, which in turn came on account of repentance, the for the forgiveness of your sins in Acts 2:38 is not a “for” meaning “in order to cause”, but rather “on account of”!
And Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So here in Acts 2, we see that baptism does not cause anything to be done, but is rather something that a new believer asks to be done to them on account of something already done to them, for the purpose of declaring and confessing in a public manner the change which has already taken place, namely the forgiveness of sins.
Nowhere is this amazing truth, that belief alone saves, rather than belief plus baptism, illustrated than in
And one of the criminals hanging there was blaspheming Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for what we have done; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
The men between whom Jesus hung were themselves likewise under penalty of death, they were likewise duly condemned, they were likewise considered cursed by God, for they, too, hung on a tree. But the difference was that unlike Jesus of Nazareth, they were justly and rightly condemned.
What an illustration in itself of the state of every man and woman outside of Christ!
And so while the man on one side joined the crowd in humiliating Jesus, the one we are interested in turned to his fellow criminal and effectively said, “just shut up, even now that your fate is clear and certain, you just don’t get it, you just don’t understand. We deserve what we get, He doesn’t!”
And in what can only be described as faith unto salvation, the justly condemned man turns is focus to Jesus of Nazareth, and confesses Him as Lord; “Remember me when You come in Your kingdom” is nothing less than acknowledging and putting his trust in not only the fact that this gruesome death they were about to share would not be the end of Jesus, but also that Jesus would triumphantly return as King!
And those who believe that it is baptism which saves, or even is a necessary prerequisite to salvation, must launch into mystical explanations and mental gyrations so as to suggest that this particular salvation is unique, in light of Jesus’ clear statement - “today you shall be with Me in Paradise!”
Taken together, these verses in Luke 23 serve to confirm this understanding of baptism as being separate from salvation as we turn our minds back to Acts 2:41
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
Baptism, then, is a command regarding obedience following belief, rather than a necessary predecessor to salvation.
It was this truth which drove men like Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and even the former Roman Catholic priest George Blaurock, who joined them, to reject the tradition of infant baptism in favor of what most people call believer’s baptism, or more formally called credobaptism. And it is vital that we realize they did so out of conviction that this is what God demanded in His Word, knowing ahead of time that it would cost them dearly. They and those like them were expelled from cities, imprisoned, and put to death in barbaric ways because of their belief that it was more important to obey God than the traditions even of the churches of the day.
And it’s important that we understand exactly what we’re meaning here by “believer’s baptism”. This baptism in not performed within the realm of absolute certainty that a person believes, but rather on account of their profession of faith.
Turn with me to Acts 8, starting in verse 9.
Acts 8:9-12, “Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astounding the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, “This man is what is called the Great Power of God.” And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astounded them with his magic arts. But when they believed Philip proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, both men and women.”
Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly astounded.
So, belief first followed by baptism is again the picture we have, let’s go on:
Acts 8:14-17 “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 8:18–21 (LSB)
Now when Simon saw that the Spirit had been bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you supposed you could obtain the gift of God with money! “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.
Was Simon baptized? Yes!
Why was he baptized? On account of his profession of belief! No extra test, no delay to see if it was real; he proclaimed his belief in the message of Philip regarding the good news of Jesus Christ, and so on account of that he was baptized!
And, to make it clear, this speed in baptizing was typical throughout Acts, in Acts 2, they were baptized the same day, here in Acts 8 Philip’s preaching of Christ in Samaria they believed the good news and were baptized, the eunuch on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza believed and was baptized the same day, in Acts 10 the household of Cornelius believed and was baptized the same day, in Acts 16 Lydia and her household believed and were baptized the same day.
In all of these cases, there was no waiting to catechize, or ensure strong doctrine, or proof of salvation. No, the model is belief, followed quickly by baptism.
Was Simon’s salvation real? Sadly, no. Peter made it clear - “you have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.”
Simon’s heart was not right before God, Peter rightly called Simon to repent, and Simon on his part confirmed his rejection of God in his bitter answer, “pray for me yourselves” in verse 25.
I can make it no clearer than this, that baptism does not save a person. Neither is it a pre-requisite for salvation.
The Anabaptists, in this, give us great guidance and precedent – these men had undoubtedly undergone what their churches had called “baptism” as infants, and they universally rejected that as valid biblical baptism, just as those in Acts completely and utterly divorced any prior religious ceremony from their new lives as believers in Jesus Christ.
Baptism as an infant means nothing other than you got wet, and looking to that as valid, biblical baptism is to reject the clear teaching of Scripture.
But believers baptism is still a command of our Lord; the evidence that I am truly saved is that I obey His commands, putting into practice His words, 1 John 2 declares. To delay or refuse baptism as a believer, however, takes the command which is clear and un-cluttered, and treats it as an option which may be ignored. It is a sin which ought to be confessed and repented of, just as any other sin.
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, and have not been baptized after becoming a believer, I would urge you today to speak to one of our pastors and request to be baptized in believer’s baptism.
Let us Pray!