When you hear the word baptism, what image or thought comes to your mind? Usually, the focus is on someone being dunked in water before a crowd of people. Sometimes the word baptism brings to mind the benefits of such an action. However, sometimes the word baptism can become a source of tension, fear, and even guilt in the heart and mind of a person who has had a bad experience with the word and ritual. Let’s explore some of the more common misconceptions of the word and then the truth about baptism.
Some of the more common teachings on baptism include the idea that in order for a person to become “right with God” that person must be baptized. Sometimes baptism is said to “wash away original sin” and therefore is essential to becoming “clean before God.” The ritual of baptism is performed on infants or young children in many areas for this reason. Those who hold to this view claim that the act of baptism “makes the person a Christian.”
Others claim that the Bible records only the baptism of adults who made a profession of faith in Jesus and therefore infants should not be baptized since they are unable to make such a profession of faith. Some would even claim that when a person who is contaminated with sin is plunged beneath the water during a baptism ceremony, they come out of the water cleansed of all their sins by the ritual of water baptism.
Many times the ritual of baptism is associated with membership into “the church.” Some would promote the idea that a person must be baptized in order to become a member of “the church”. Some would even go as far as to say that water baptism is a sign of the New Covenant just as circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant. Those who are really focused in this way sometimes even require the ritual of baptism to be performed by the pastor of the local church as a requirement of membership into that specific local body of believers.
Different people or groups of people sometimes stress not only the importance of who performs the baptism ritual, but how the ritual is performed. Some people place major importance on whether the water was applied to a person by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion. It is true that the word baptize is translated from the Greek word baptizo which means “to immerse, or to place into.” The idea is that when a piece of white cloth is “baptized” it is placed into or immersed into a vat of dye, thus completely changing the white cloth. However, when the method of water application is of major importance, the focus is taken off of the true meaning of ceremony. I will explain later.
On the other end of the scale are those who claim that water baptism is not what is important but “the baptism of the Spirit.” This part is true, however, what usually follows is a distortion of the truth which is just as distorted as those who claim that water cleans a person from sin. Most of the time the phrase “baptism of the Spirit” is associated with speaking in tongues. Once again, for someone to claim that anyone who has been baptized by the Spirit should give evidence by speaking in tongues is a complete distortion of Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul focuses on the fact that all believers have been baptized by the same Spirit but have different gifts. In verse 30, he says, “Not all speak in tongues, do they?” 1 Corinthians 14:22 makes the purpose of the gift of tongues clear: “So then, tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers. Prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers.” Paul makes clear that the gift of tongues is not given to believers in order to authenticate their salvation, but should be used as an evangelistic tool in order to preach the gospel to unbelievers who cannot speak the same language as the believer.
And now the truth about baptism. One thing must be kept in mind when trying to discern the truth about baptism or any other hard to understand aspect of Christianity. Always remember how a person is saved or made right with God. According to God, there is one and only one way for a person to be saved or made right with God, and that way is through Jesus. In John 14:6 Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except by me.” Ephesians 2:8-9 provides the clearest example of how salvation in the New Testament, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”
No one is saved, made right with God, or cleansed by water baptism, since baptism is a human work. No one is made right with God by faith, since even faith is “the gift of God.” Faith is how people access God’s grace. People are saved by God’s grace, which is defined as unmerited favor on God’s part. Baptism would fall into the category of “good works” which is mentioned in verse 10. God wants His children to be baptized and to baptize all those who place their faith in Jesus as Savior. Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, He left His disciples with these commands as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Just as a married person wears a wedding ring to publically identify themselves as married, every person who is a believer and follower of Jesus should be baptized in order to publically identify with Jesus and His message. The ritual of water baptism is a way to physically illustrate what has been done internally in the life of the believer by the Holy Spirit. When a person is plunged beneath the water, the person’s death to sin is illustrated along with the fact that they died with Christ. Romans 6:3-5 explains, “Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection.”
While under the water, the person illustrates the fact that they were buried with Christ. When the person is raised out the water, they are illustrating that they were raised with Christ and now have new resurrection life, Christ’s life, living in them. Colossians 2:12-14 says, “Having been buried with him in baptism, you also have been raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead. 13 And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions.”
Baptism is a beautiful picture of what God, through His Holy Spirit did in the life of the believer. However, the ritual of water baptism has no effect on whether a person is saved, clean, or right with God. Getting saved or being right with God has nothing to do with anything that a person can do, but is completely dependent upon what Jesus did. He shed His blood on the cross to cleanse you of all your sins. Hebrews 10:10-18 explains, “By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again—sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy. 15 And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,” 17 then he says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.” 18 Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”
Are you relying on His blood and His perfect performance or are you relying on a man-made ritual and your imperfect performance to be right with God?