Baptism: What It Is And Is Not

Originally published as Baptism part one 3/11/2012 (Revised)

Water Baptism

Baptism, a much contested subject within the church. What is it, at what age should it be done, what about infant baptism, how should it be done? There are many questions about the subject of baptism.

As you read this series please realize that what I am saying is based on what the bible says, and I will provide bible verse references. This is meant to be informative and thought provoking, I am trying to be as honest and forthright as I know how here without falling into overt speculation, nor am I looking to argue or offend anyone. Still, this is my teaching on the matter of baptism, and I certainly can’t claim to have all the answers. This is my interpretation from what I have studied in the bible. With this in mind, lets proceed.

Just what exactly is baptism anyway? What does it signify when one is baptized? When we are baptized, it is a public affirmation of our faith in God. Or even better than that, through baptism we are identified with the Triune God.

Matthew 28:19 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.

Through baptism, (often referred to as the believers baptism) we are expressing our willingness to be forever more associated with God. We claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior not in private, but before other witnesses. Water baptism is the outward sign of what is happening on the inside. We are being made spiritually new, we are reborn, not by the baptism itself but by what has transpired spiritually between ourselves and Christ, of which the water and the baptism are symbols.

1 Peter 3:21 And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So if baptism does not really accomplish anything really meaningful, then why do it?

As outlined above, it is a symbol of what we believe, what or more appropriately Who we have committed to. Water baptism is also an important first step of obedience.

Acts 2:38 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.

Acts 9:18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.

Acts 8:12, Acts 8:36-38, Acts 16:15

The above verses all clearly show that we are to be baptized. Obedience is very important to God and so should be to us as well. Keep in mind that Jesus Himself was baptized, if Jesus was baptized, we need to be as well.

Matthew 3:16-17 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 lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

There are many theories as to why Jesus was baptized, and I’m not going to  delve into that here. What I do see as of utmost importance here is this; Jesus says to follow Him, the Apostle Paul said to follow (Paul) as he followed Christ. Following in this instance means to emulate, to do as they are doing. As Christ was baptized, Paul was baptized…so we need to be baptized.

Baptism as referred to in 1 Peter 3:21 is a symbol of what has occurred. Baptism does not save us; the resurrection of Jesus Christ saves us, as we believe in Him and His finished work. Baptism is a symbol, an important one, but nonetheless a symbol. It signifies our proposed intent, which is to be committed to God, to let Him take first place in our lives, to obey God and His calling on our lives. To commit to living a life defined not by sin, but by the absence of constant sin in our lives. Therefore obeying God and what His Word says about baptism is very important. It is one of our first opportunities to obey what we are called by God to do.

Acts 2:38 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 above verse seems to say that we need to be baptized in order to receive salvation; this is taught by some but is unbiblical. We need to remember that biblical doctrine is not taught by one verse alone and that we must be careful to take verses in context. We are saved by Christ alone, adding any requirement to that including baptism is legalism and taking away from what Christ accomplished on the cross; setting us free from the law that does not save and purchasing our forgiveness with His own blood. In Acts 10:44-48 we see that people were saved first and then baptized after the Holy Spirit had come upon them. Rather than go into all the specifics here I have referenced a very good article on this.

Baptism and Acts 2:38

Next time we will look at what exactly Baptism is.

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8 replies

  1. It would seem that if a Bible verse seems to teach something, then that teaching would be biblical. In the overall biblical context that Romans 6:1-4 and 1 Peter 3, it would seem that we follow Christ’s example in repenting (dying) and being baptized (buried and arising from the dead), and that baptism is how we say yes to God’s invitation. Then there is Ananias’ troubling requirement of Saul, who has been, we might assume, praying as well as fasting based on faith stemming from an undeniable encounter with the risen Jesus: “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16) If requiring baptism in Acts 2:38 is legalistic, then what of faith and confession in Romans 10:9,10? Colossians 2 seems to bring sanity to the process, teaching that it is God’s power that saves through baptism, not our passive “work” (baptism is something that is done to us, not by us). I appreciate the hard work you have spent in studying God’s word.

    • Hi Michael,

      Romans 6:1-4 1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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.

      Note in verse 3 it says we are baptized into Christ, not baptized into baptism. Paul here is relating what baptism means, each step as it were relates to a part of our rebirth, yet it is still a symbol. We are not saved by the power of God through baptism, we are saved by the power of God through Jesus Christ who is God as well. Baptism is an action, action does not save us Christ does.

      Note as well when Jesus speaks of what saves…He speaks of Himself with no mention of baptism at all. Read John 12:36 & 44-47, obviously speaking of salvation, no mention of baptism. ,em>John 11:25-26…no mention of baptism.

      Note also Paul’s words on this in Ephesians 2:8-9, Acts 16:30-31, and Acts 10:9-10 no mention of baptism when asked what must be done to be saved. Yes you will often read of baptism after these verses but when directly asked what needs to happen to be saved baptism is not quoted as a requirement.

      Mark 16:16 is pointed to as a proof text that baptism is required to be saved, but that is not the case. Note that the passage does not say those who are not baptized will not be saved…only those who do not believe. As well these passages that seem a little confusing (and they are) do not line up with the majority of teaching in the Bible which says belief in Jesus is what is required to be saved. We must go with what the entirety of the Bible teaches and not a passage or 2 alone. When taken in proper context these passages do not teach what they seem to at times. The very wording makes a difference as I’m sure you know.

      Colossians 2:12 does not teach baptism is needed to be saved. Rather it is teaching what happens when you invite Christ into your heart and are saved. Obviously we cannot be baptized with Christ nor can we be baptized into His death when it happened as we were not there. This is speaking of the moment you accept Christ as Lord. Your Old Man is buried with Christ in death to be left behind, powerless. Your New Man, freed from the constraints of the Old Man who was bound in sin rises with Christ from the dead…you are reborn through the power of Christ.

      To say that we must be baptized to be saved is adding to the Gospel of Christ and that we must not do. Baptism is a command we are to follow, it is however not a requirement to be saved and never was…that was the addition of man. Lastly…remember the people in Acts 10 received the Holy Spirit first and were baptized after, that would never have happened had there been a requirement of baptism first.

      God bless

  2. We are baptized into Christ; that was my point, as it is in Romans 6 and 1 Peter 3. Since baptism is the biblical response to the invitation of Christ (it was Peter’s response in Acts 2:38, and if Mark 16 reflects accurately the teaching of Jesus, his own), than it simply is incorrect that we are adding to the gospel by saying “yes” in a method that reenacts the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, as the Nicene Creed indicates, baptism for the forgiveness of sins is the ancient teaching; “inviting Jesus into one’s heart” is the recent innovation. Cornelius’ household is significant in Acts because it is exceptional; it links back to chapter 2’s beginning and reveals that Gentiles are genuine recipients of the gospel. As you point out correctly, baptism is not always mentioned in what we read about conversion in the Bible; however, as you note, it then somehow follows as the response despite that lack of mention. For example, the eunuch in Acts 8, after hearing the gospel preached from Isaiah by Philip, notes that water is nearby and asks what hinders him from being baptized? Even if not recorded, a response of baptism had apparently been included in Philip’s message, since the eunuch introduces it. Remember my point as well: the saving power is not in our submission through baptism, but in God’s saving us through the resurrection of Christ.

    • Hi Michael,

      Perhaps I misunderstood you. Some teach that baptism is required to be saved and it most certainly is not which is what I meant by saying that baptism as a requirement for eternal life is adding to the Gospel.
      baptism is a command from God but not required to be saved.

      God bless


  1. Baptism: What It Is And Is Not – Part 2 | Inspirational Christian Blogs
  2. Baptism: What It Is And Is Not | The Olive Branch Report
  3. The work of the Lord in our spirit, soul and body | daily meditation
  4. Baptism: What It Is And Is Not – Part 3 | Inspirational Christian Blogs

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