Baptism has been a practice of the Christian church from the first day, but is now practiced in a variety of ways, based on various interpretations of church doctrines. Baptism is a sacrament, which means it has been commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself as an outward expression and testimony of the new birth experience in your heart. This spiritual reality runs deep, much deeper than the religious ritual so many Christian movements make it to be.
A good understanding of the true meaning of baptism will, inevitably, lead to a more solid Christian life. Since baptism follows repentance, it has little to no meaning to those who request it without a true conversion.
Two water baptisms are mentioned in the New Testament, namely the Baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist called for repentance toward God, and faith in the coming Messiah:
And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:10,11
John’s baptism was widely known in the early days of the New Testament, even as far as Turkey, as mentioned in Acts 19:1-3, while Jesus only commanded His baptism after His death and resurrection. He did baptize while John was still alive, but we have no information on how it was done. We assume it was the same as John’s baptism, as it was, at some point, seen as competition with John:
Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. John 4:1
Jesus Himself was baptized by John before the beginning of His earthly ministry, and because He commanded the sacrament that we have today after His resurrection, one can assume He baptized with John’s baptism in the beginning. However, His baptism has greater meaning because of His death and resurrection.
Scripture often mentions baptism in the name of Jesus, leading to various interpretations and practices, some even in support of the denial of the Triune God. The right answer lies in the full context of the Bible concerning this sacrament, and not in a carefully selection of verses. Three things stand out here:
- The Lord’s command
- The complete context of the topic
- The law of first mention — a well established guide to Bible study: the command came from Jesus Himself, and not apparent practices of the apostles
All these points are found in Jesus’ last command before His ascension:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:19,20
The fact that we see the apostles baptize in the name of Jesus doesn’t mean they ignored Jesus’ command; it is simply a way to distinguish it from John’s baptism. One can safely assume that the apostles (and others) were careful to follow all Jesus commands very carefully. Remember how He told the disciples that they would be His friends if they obeyed His commands:
You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. John 15:14,15
It is hard to imagine that they would jeopardize their friendship with the Lord by making up their own formula for baptism. A clear example happened in the ministry of Paul:
And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples 2 he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Acts 19:1-5
Because these men were disciples, Paul did not preach the gospel to them as his custom was; instead he only wanted to know if they had received the Holy Spirit when they first believed. They answered that they had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Why did Paul ask that question? Because they should have heard about the Holy Spirit at their baptism — as Jesus commanded. They replied that they were baptized with John’s baptism. After Paul explained the difference to them, they were baptized in the name of Jesus — to make a distinction between the two modes of baptism of that time.
Since those men were already saved by their faith in Jesus Christ, they only needed to be baptized in obedience to the Lord’s command. Their baptism didn’t save them — their faith in Jesus did:
…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” Romans 10:9-11
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:4-9
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:23-27
If baptism is required for salvation, it would constitute work on our part, which then nullifies faith, and the gift of God’s grace would be earned, and not free. The criminal on the cross next to Jesus (Luke 23:43) will testify of this free grace. Also, if sinners get to hear salvation is in baptism, some might request it and continue with their sinful lives, believing they are saved because they were baptized.
- Baptism is:
- A burial (Romans 6:1-7, Colossians 2:11-12)
- Identification with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:4-11)
- A symbolic washing — sin is spiritual and can therefore not be washed from your body (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16)
- An answer of a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21)
- An act of obedience to the Lord’s command (Matthew 28:19)
- Who must be baptized?
- Believers — those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord (Acts 8:12, Acts 8:37, Acts 10:1-5, Acts 16:31-33)
- Disciples (Matthew 28:19)
- Those who have repented (Acts 2:38)
- Those who have heard and believed the gospel (Acts 2:41; Acts 16:14,15)
- How do we baptize?
- John baptized where there was much water. (John 3:23)
- Jesus came up from the water. (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10)
- Both Philip and the Ethiopian went down into and came up out of the water after he baptized the Ethiopian. (Acts 8:38,39)
- As baptism is a symbol of a burial, the person to be baptized is to be lowered into and covered by water as, if in a grave. (Romans 6:4)
- The original Greek word translated by ‘baptize’ (baptismo) means ‘to immerse.’
- Baptism can be done in a river, pond, lake, swimming pool or even a bathtub, or, where facilities exist, in the church — wherever there is enough water.
Note that Jesus’ command was to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, because God is one, yet three. This is a hard concept that we can only embrace by faith. The spiritual dimensions of unity is hard to grasp mentally, but it must be embraced in faith, and in the light of the verses below. God is one, Jesus calls for us to be one with Him and the Father, and it is also expected of believers to be one:
Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. John 17:11
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. John 17:20,21
If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.”John 10:37,38
Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. John 14:10
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:16-17
You cannot separate Jesus from the Father and the Holy Spirit since they are one. Unity is a mystery to the carnal mind because it is a spiritual concept, but, as Jesus said in John 17:21, it is what brings the world to believe that God sent Him. This level of unity cannot be understood mentally, but it is no reason to reject it. Scripture is filled with such examples that we must accept as truth, instead of trying to explain it away with carnal reasoning.
With this in mind, let us look into the command Jesus gave for baptism. Baptism is an immersion, and according to Jesus, it must be done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Matthew 28:19 (NKJV)
Different translators chose different words to convert the original language of the text into modern languages. The original Greek used the word into instead of in. (Strongs # G1519) Some English translations indeed use into:
Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… (ASV)
…having gone, then, disciple all the nations, (baptizing them — to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit… (Young’s Literal Translation)
Go then and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… (AMPC)
This deepens the meaning of the command, and enforces the concept of intimate unity with the Godhead as we see elsewhere in the Bible.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God… Romans 8:14-16
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:14
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:26,27
Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:23
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Galatians 4:6
It seems it has been God’s purpose all along to have us immersed into our Father Who adopted us as His children, to care for us throughout our stay in this hostile world, into Jesus our Lord and Saviour who gave Himself for us, and being indwelled by the Holy Spirit to guide us in all truth. Jesus said the Holy Spirit will be with us, in us, and upon us — and that sounds like an immersion!
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. Colossians 2:8-10