“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
For over three years in which Christ dwelt with His disciples, He taught them about His eternal Kingdom, gave them commandments, and also gave them power over evil spirits, sicknesses, and suffering. Before He left this world, He gave them the great commission to preach the gospel and baptize believers. The apostles highly valued these commands. Jesus Himself placed great importance on baptism, for He Himself was baptized, and the Father gave His seal of approval on this event.
In most cases, the new converts were urged by the Apostles to be baptized without delay. We read about the Philippian jailer: “And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:33).
In the Great Commission, as reported by Mark, baptism is placed in conjunction with faith: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” Christ, as well as the first Christians, recognized the importance of baptism, and there was no delay in responding to this clear-cut commandment.
Who should be baptized?
Our scriptural text enlightens us as to who should be baptized. It says: “He who believes.” In Acts 16:31, Paul says to the Philippian jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Therefore, belief in Christ is a requirement of salvation and a necessity for baptism.
The person who believes in Christ and whose sins have been washed by the reconciling blood of the Lamb is now a true candidate for baptism. This pertains only to those who are capable of understanding the teachings of Christ, for how would it be possible for them to believe in Him if they can’t understand Him? Hereby, we discern that an individual who is living in sin simply cannot receive the blessing of baptism, even though he may have a religious affiliation. Likewise, it is of no use to baptize young children who are not yet old enough to be aware of sin.
What is the significance of baptism?
If Jesus and His early followers placed such importance on baptism, then it must have a special significance.
Ananias remarked to Paul in Damascus: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). How does water wash away sin? John writes in 1 John 1:7: “…and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Therefore, applying water cannot have the same effect. Baptism is only a visual symbol of the salvation from sin. As Noah being saved by the ark (1 Peter 3:20-21) is a symbol of salvation through Christ, so also is baptism a symbol. This outward washing with water does not change the soul. Baptism is not a prerequisite for forgiveness, since Paul and Cornelius both received the gift of the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. The criminal on the cross was never baptized at all.
Symbolically, we can say that baptism is an outward sign of an inward work. As the blood of Jesus has washed away our sins, so the washing in water becomes an outward testimony of a experience that has taken place in our heart. Furthermore, it is of great value to testify to the world that we have died to sin and now live a new life. In other words, we no longer live to walk in our old sinful life, but rather, we now want to follow on the path of righteousness.
If we follow Christ in the ordinance of baptism, we also reveal a humble, submissive, and obedient spirit. Obedience is an absolute necessity for a child of God to be a good example, and it is a testimony to the world.
Which manner of baptism is correct?
Much has been written about styles of baptism. Differing opinions about this exist. However, in light of the New Testament doctrine, the practice of Christ and the Apostles, and the records of the early Christian church, only one form of baptism seems valid. Repeated testimonies as recorded in the New Testament, as well as in historic accounts, speak recurrently in overwhelming clarity that baptism by immersion is the correct practice. No trace of any other manner has been found up until the third century.
Let us examine a few New Testament examples: When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, “…Jesus came up immediately from the water” (Matthew 3:16). There would have been no need for Jesus to be “in” the water if John had used the method of sprinkling or pouring. Therefore, we must assume that Jesus had been immersed in the water.
We also read in John 3:23 that John the Baptist was baptizing in Aenon because there was much water there. That requirement would not have been necessary if any other form of baptism but immersion had been used. Luke’s account of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:38) tells us that both men, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and both men came out of the water as well. This clearly means a baptism of immersion.
The Greek word from which “baptism” is derived means to “immerse,” while other words are always used to define “sprinkling” or “pouring over.”
In Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12, Paul speaks of baptism as a burial. No other form of baptism could be described as such. In light of all these testimonies, we cannot draw any other conclusion that Jesus and the Apostles, as well as the first Christians, were baptized in any other manner than immersion. Since Jesus was immersed in water, would it not be the desire of a child of God to follow in His footsteps? It is the way of humility, and Jesus was the best example of humility throughout His life.
We must conclude from all of this that Christ and His Apostles understood the importance and significance of baptism, and practiced it according to the example of Jesus Himself. As the Spirit proclaimed at Christ’s baptism, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” He will pour out His blessings upon those who obey His commands and imitate His example.