The practice of water baptism is one of much contention among those who profess Christianity. Some contend that infants are in need of baptism, others say that baptism is an “outward showing of an inward faith” and is to be done after an individual is already saved. Some contend that baptism is not necessary at all. With all of the man-made confusion surrounding a biblical principle, the best way to get the answer is to go to the source of truth—God’s word.
If several different groups claim several different stances on baptism, they cannot all be true. Logic tells us that truth must be consistent and cannot contradict itself. In Ephesians 4:4-6 we read that the true perspective on baptism is unified: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
With the confusion surrounding baptism noted, let’s look at some common stances that appear as misconceptions when we examine the Scriptures.
“INFANTS MUST BE BAPTIZED”
There are those who practice the baptism of small children and infants. Often the belief behind the practice is that these small children are in the need of being cleansed of the sin with which they were born. However, the view that children are born corrupted goes against the words of our Lord. In fact, Jesus told His disciples that unless they become like children, they will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, also that the kingdom of God belongs to children (Lk. 18:16): “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:2-3).
Why would Jesus tell us to become like a child, if children are still stained with the sin of Adam? How can the kingdom of God belong to children, if children are still in their sins? Not only do children have no need to be cleansed via baptism, but they cannot fulfill the biblical prerequisites for being baptized. When we read about most conversions in the book of Acts (see Acts 2:29-47, Acts 8:12, 26-38; Acts 16:14-15), we read that individuals heard the gospel, believed the message which they heard, repented of their sins, then made a conscious decision to be baptized. Yet, an infant cannot comprehend or believe the gospel, nor make a conscious decision to be baptized, nor has any sins to repent of. In addition, there is not a single example in the New Testament of an infant being baptized for the remission of their sins.
“I WAS SAVED, THEN I WAS BAPTIZED”
Many believe they are saved (maybe at the point of belief, or saying a prayer), then they get baptized to be added to their local congregation. But what is the purpose of baptism? Salvation is not obtained prior to baptism, but rather after. While baptism does add one into the Lord’s church (Acts 2:41, 47), baptism is the point at which our sins are forgiven. Why be baptized? For the forgiveness of sins:
And Peter said to them, ‘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 2:38).
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:21).
The Bible describes baptism as the point in our walk of obedience at which we acquire newness of life, not before (cf. Rom. 6:3-7).
“I’M SAVED BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH, NOT BAPTISM”
Everyone who is saved is saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-10)! In no way are grace/faith and baptism mutually exclusive. In fact, the Bible tells us that our faith by itself cannot save us (Jas. 2:17-26). Jesus said that “he that believes and is baptized will be saved, he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16 emp. added). The idea that baptism is somehow a “work” and that those who say that baptism is necessary for salvation are contending that salvation is something to be “earned” are incorrect. I don’t believe that anyone in their right mind would say that somehow by being submerged in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that an individual “earns” an eternity in heaven with God.
There is however an aspect of obedience. When Jesus says that we have to do something to go to heaven, do we have to do that thing? A genuine faith yields obedience. Notice that in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 all of the individuals commended for their faith did something because of their faith: “By faith Noah … constructed an ark … By faith, Abraham obeyed … And he went out … By faith the people crossed the Red Sea” (Heb. 11:7-28 ESV).
Faith and baptism are both needed to be heirs with Christ (Gal. 3:26-27). When I obey the gospel (2 Thes. 1:6-9), by doing what the Bible says I need to do to be saved, then truly I can enjoy fellowship with God through His grace.
“THE POWER IS IN THE WATER”
While baptism is a faithful and obedient response to God’s grace, the power is not in the mere water into which an individual is immersed. It’s Jesus’ blood which holds the power to remiss sin (Mt. 26:28; Heb. 9:13-14) and baptism is the point at which we access that soul-saving blood (Acts 22:16; Rev. 1:5; Rev. 7:14). Sure, Jesus said that it is impossible to see the kingdom of God unless we have been born of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:3-5), but there is nothing magical about two atoms of hydrogen covalently bonded with an atom of oxygen. Being immersed in water without faith or repentance means absolutely nothing. That water can’t save us—but Christ’s blood can, and when we are obediently baptized we can rise to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-6).
“IT DOESN’T EVEN MATTER”
Baptism is an extremely important aspect of Christianity. With how often baptism is mentioned as a pre-requisite for salvation, it’s definitely not an area of Bible study that we want to blunder. Jesus saves—and Jesus tells us the necessity of baptism in salvation (Mk. 16:16; Jn. 3:3-5).