The bad news is there are many opinions on the subject of baptism. It is one of the most fiercely debated issues within Christianity. The good news is it doesn’t have to be. The scriptures are very clear on the subject of baptism.
BAPTISM IN GENESIS
Baptism first appears in shadow in the Old Testament. The sixth chapter of the book of Genesis tells us the story of Noah and the flood. God judged the Earth in Noah’s day because of man’s wickedness. He allowed waters to cover the earth and destroy every living thing except for that which was in the Ark which God instructed Noah to build. In that way, by passing through the waters, the earth was cleansed and those who came out of the waters through the Ark were saved from the penalty of man’s sin (1Peter 3:20-22, ESV).
BAPTISM IN EXODUS
In Exodus we see Moses, Aaron & Miriam leading the Israelites out of Egypt after the plagues. In Exodus 14 we read how God instructed Moses, with Pharoah’s army pursuing after them, to lead the people to the Red Sea. While Moses stood with his arms outstretched God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through on dry ground. When Pharoah’s army arrived God closed the parted waters and they drowned in the sea. Knowing that Egypt represents the world’s system and sin it was a shadow of baptism. The righteous pass through to new life, impossible to return to the old, while the sin that pursues us is washed away by the water (1 Corinthians 10:1-6, ESV).
Also, in Exodus 30:17-21, we see Moses relaying the pattern for the laver of washing, or the Brazen Laver, that would stand in the Outer Court of the Tabernacle and later the Temple. It was the place of washing before proceeding in worship and atonement in sacrifice. The Priest had to wash for cleansing in order to approach God any further. If he were to bypass the laver of washing and try to approach God without cleansing the promise was that he would die. As long as he had washed in the water he was welcomed to continue into the holiness of the tabernacle of temple and worship God in covenant. This was a shadow of the washing of baptism that puts us in right standing with God (Eph. 5:25-27, ESV) and that we can approach God because we’ve been washed clean by Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:22, ESV).
BAPTISM IN LEVITICUS
In Leviticus 14 we read the law of Moses, given to him by God, regarding the cleansing of lepers. If someone had leprosy they could go to the Priest. The Priest was to make a sacrifice over a bowl of water. He was then to sprinkle the blood and the water on the leprous individual. The leper was then to go and burn his old clothes, shave his head and submerge himself in a bath of water for cleansing. Only after this blood and water application was he declared clean and welcomed into the company of those in covenant. Leprosy was a type of sin and the blood and the water baptism of the leper was a shadow of New Covenant baptism (Heb. 9:8-15, ESV).
BAPTISM IN NUMBERS
In Numbers 19 we read of the ceremonial laws of purification. If a person touched anything that was dead they became ceremonially unclean. The way to be cleansed from the uncleanness of death was to be washed by water that had the ashes of a blood sacrifice in it. Only after a clean person, untouched by death, had washed the unclean with the sacrifice water, were they counted as clean again and welcomed back into their company. These were symbols and shadows of the cleansing baptism would bring through Jesus Christ and how it would welcome us into His covenant community (Gal. 3:22-28, ESV).
BAPTISM IN DEUTERONOMY
Deuteronomy 21:1-9 details the law concerning unsolved murders. If a person was found dead in a field, and no one witnessed the death or knew who was responsible, they were given instructions for cleansing. They were to measure the distance to the nearest city. The people of the nearest city were held responsible, in the eyes of God, for the unknown man’s death. The elders & leaders of the nearest city were to come and bring a sacrifice to a place that had running water, such as a stream or a river. They were to sacrifice the animal there and was their hands asking God to see that they didn’t know who was responsible but they both mourn and cleanse themselves from this death. This was a shadow of what Paul spoke of to the Romans that we have all sinned but the washing of the blood of Jesus Christ has saved us from our sins (Rom. 3:21-26, ESV).
JESUS WAS BAPTIZED
Matthew, Mark and Luke all record that Jesus was baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist (John 1:29-34). His baptism was important as an example for us and as the moment when the Spirit signaled the approval and anointing of the Messiah upon Jesus Christ. Jesus said that He was baptized in order to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:13-15). His baptism also signaled His approval and acknowledgment of the ministry of John. If Jesus found it appropriate to be baptized we ought to as well.
BAPTISM IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Baptism occurs on several occasions in the New Testament. It is clear, even with a cursory reading of the Epistles, that the disciples and Apostles understood the necessity, importance and implications of baptism in regards to obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is always important to remember that we will be judged not by our intellectual apprehension of the Gospel but by our obedience to the Gospel.
The word Baptism is found over 100 times in the Bible and has three basic meanings. It means to submerge, to cleanse or wash by submerging and to overwhelm or metaphorically completely cover. This is consistent with the witness of the New Testament in regards to baptism. In Acts 2:38-41, Acts 8:16-36, Acts 9:18, Acts 10:48, Acts 16:5-33, Acts 19:5 and Acts 22:16 all indicate baptism was done by all believers at their conversion, and that it was done by immersion in the name of Jesus.
WHO SHOULD BE BAPTIZED
Anyone who desires to have their sins washed away and be in right standing with God should be baptized. Scripture has no category for an unbaptized believer because what baptism does you cannot be saved without. It is the moment of faith, displayed in our works, that God has chosen to wash away our sins. We identify with the gospel and are buried with Him in baptism (Col. 2:11-12).
It is inconsistent with scripture to relegate baptism to simply an outward symbol of an inward reality. It is more than a symbol. A wedding ring is a symbol of marriage yet if one removes their wedding ring they remain married. Baptism is not like that. Without baptism one cannot call themselves a Christian. Again, Scripture has no category for an unbaptized believer. Faith that produces action is the goal of the Gospel, not mere mental assent. We cannot be acknowledged as a believer until we are baptized. Acts 18:8 says Crispus, his family and many other Corinthians heard Paul preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and when they believed they responded by being baptized.
We see a consistent witness in the New Testament that a person will first put their faith in Jesus Christ and then be baptized. Baptism is a response to the faith we have that we can be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8). It is the response of the heart to the gospel (1Peter 3:18-22). Every baptism in the New Testament is preceded by repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ as the only Lord & Savior (Acts 2:38–41; 8:12; 9:18–19; 10:44–48; 16:14–15, 29–36; 18:8; 19:1–7; 22:16). As such, only those who are able to understand both sin and the gospel should be baptized. This would preclude both infant baptism and baptism for the dead.
HOW SHOULD YOU BE BAPTIZED
The Bible only records one consistent method of baptism; total immersion in water. Nowhere in the New Testament do we read of sprinkling, ritual bathing or pouring in baptism. Baptism always included the individual being baptized having been completely submerged and rising again out of the water.
WHEN SHOULD YOU BE BAPTIZED?
Now! Right now (see Acts 8:36 & 2Cor. 6:2). The moment you see the truth of the Gospel and your necessity of baptism you should be baptized in Jesus name for the remission of sins!
WHO CAN BAPTIZE?
Anyone! As long as they call on the name of Jesus Christ in baptism anyone can baptize a person in Jesus name. Fathers can have the happy priviledge of baptizing their children in Jesus name. Husbands and wives could baptize each other. Anyone who believes can and should be baptized and anyone who believes can and should be a baptizer!
SCRIPTURES ON THE PURPOSE & IMPLICATIONS OF BAPTISM
Mark 16:15-16 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” [coupled with believing: to be saved]
Acts 2:38 “Peter said unto them, Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” [coupled with repentance: to receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit]
Acts 2:41 “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousands souls.” [to be added to the body of Christ]
Acts 22:16 Ananias told Saul, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” [to wash away sins]
Romans 6:3-5 “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death. Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.” [to be buried into Christ’s death and be raised to a new life; to be resurrected with Christ]
1 Corinthians 12:13 “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” [to be added to the body of Christ]
Galations 3:27 “All of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” [to put on Christ]
Colossians 2:11-13 ” 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. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…” [to be buried with Christ and raised up; to be made alive in Christ; in order to be forgiven of all transgressions]
1 Peter 3:20-21 “In the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” [to be saved; to appeal to God for a good conscience]