The topic of baptism is very controversial in Poland, because in the tradition that we live, 90% of people are christened as babies. When we explain to others that it clearly states in the Bible that we should be baptised as believers and by full immersion, emotions begin to rise. Our normal has been established by tradition rather than the Word of God.
Here is a quick story of Tomek from our church. For 5 years at university I was involved in a ministry as a full time missionary. The main scripture of our organisation was Matt 28:19 ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations’. This motto was written at the top of all our letterheads. We spoke constantly about Jesus and about making disciples. But when we look at the whole verse you can see that we were actually ignoring 75% of it, as the whole verse reads, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.
In this verse, Jesus is about to be taken up to heaven, and He’s sending out His disciples. He then gives them this command which states exactly what they need to do.
When we look at the Bible, people were baptised immediately after they became believers. Although this scripture was the motto of my organisation, it actually took me 10 years after I became a believer to get baptised. There are many reasons we give for not getting baptised when we first believe. Maybe it’s not a priority for us, maybe we’re too busy, or maybe it’s through lack of biblical teaching. But it’s important for us to study this topic to see what God has to say on the subject.
What does the Bible say about baptism?
Jesus starts His public ministry with baptism.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”Matt 3:13-16
The baptism of Jesus was an incredible event. He went into the water, was filled with the Holy Spirit and affirmed by God the Father. He then began His public ministry. He also completed His earthly ministry by commanding us to also be baptised. He does not indicate it is an optional extra, but clearly commands us to do it once we believe.
What does baptism mean?
We get the word baptism from the Greek word baptiso. Baptiso means to fully immerse, to completely submerge. Greeks most commonly used the word when they were dyeing material. They would take the cloth, completely soak it in the water and dye, and then the material would come out a completely different colour. Christian baptism is about us dying to ourselves, being submerged into Jesus, and then rising up as Jesus rose again.
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 6:4
Baptism represents death to our old life, going down into the grave, and then rising in a new birth for God.
How were people baptised?
All examples of baptism in the Bible and the early Christian literature show that the early church baptised by immersion. The believers went to a body of water, and were completely immersed in the water as they were baptised. The symbolism of being united with Christ in death and resurrection requires immersion as the water symbolises the grave and coming up out of the water – the resurrection.
Is baptism essential for salvation?
Peter replied, “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 SpiritActs 2:38
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemnedMark 16:16
At first glance it seems baptism forgives our sins. In Mark we can see that we are condemned if we do not believe. Therefore we can conclude that we are saved if we believe. Other Scriptures also confirm that forgiveness of sin is through the name of Jesus, and does not include the act of baptism.
so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal lifeJohn 3:15
Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sinsActs 10:43
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”Luke 23:40-43
The criminal on the cross believed moments before his death in Jesus, and had no opportunity to be baptised. Yet Jesus confirms that they will see each other in paradise.
The baptism itself does not wipe out sin. Faith in Christ does that. Baptism is a symbol of what is happening in our lives. A wedding band is a good example. The fact that I have a wedding band doesn’t make me married. But it’s a symbol to the world that I’m taken. Baptism is the same. It’s a sign to the world that we belong to Jesus. It’s also a symbol that our sins have been washed away. The ritual itself does not remove sin. It’s an external symbol of internal change.
In 1 Cor 1:17 Paul says ‘he did not come to baptise but to preach the good news’. If baptism was essential, Paul would not have written this.
Although baptism itself does not save us or wash away our sins (we are saved by repentance and faith and not by ceremonies), it is an essential first step of obedience on the road to following Christ, who commanded us to be baptised.
What about children being baptised?
Peter replied, “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”Acts 2:38-39
Some people argue that as children are mentioned in this Scripture, that children can also be baptised. We can see in the latter part of the Scripture however, that it was those who accepted Christ that were baptised. So they must have been old enough to be aware of the decision that they were making.
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.Acts 16:31-33
It is also argued that as the jailor’s whole household was baptised, there must have been children included as well. However, no children are mentioned, and the Scripture also states that they spoke the word to everyone in the household. So this would indicate that all who were there and baptised were old enough to listen and participate in what was going on.
When were people baptised?
In the early church, we see from the very beginning that believers were baptised straight after they accepted Christ. They did not wait for many years. They believed and then were baptised.
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.Acts 2:41
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptizedActs 16:31-33
And we see that the New Testament order is always the same – they believe and then are baptised.
But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized.Acts 8:12-13
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.Acts 8:34-38
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
Saul meets with Jesus and is blinded for 3 days. Immediately after he receives his sight, he is baptised:
And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.Acts 22:16
Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.Acts 18:8
In the New Testament we see that baptism was:
- very important in the ministry of Jesus
- Jesus gave the command to be baptised
- happens after you accept Christ and become a believer
- happens by full immersion
- is a symbol of death to our old life and resurrection with Christ into the new life
In communist times in particular regions, the penalty for confessing Jesus was 3 years, for baptism it was 14 years. The communists realised the importance of baptism. For us in Poland today it’s not a big sacrifice. We are not persecuted. It’s more about what our families think, or what other people may think. Don’t let what others think stand between you and what God has asked you to do.
Are you a believer and have you been baptised as described in Scripture? If not, then why not?