What We Believe about Believers Baptism
As our society becomes more secular and post-Christian we will have people coming into our church with progressively greater non-biblical perspectives and lifestyles. Many of these people will accept Jesus and be saved and the question comes up, when will they qualify for believer’s baptism? For that matter, what is believer’s baptism all about?
In short, believer’s baptism represents conversion (or justification) and not Christian maturity (or sanctification). As soon as someone is saved he or she is a candidate to be baptized. Just as there is no moral bar to get over to accepting Jesus, there is no moral bar for being baptized. Therefore, it is proper to baptize any person who genuinely accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior regardless of their current sins or sinful lifestyle. This means any “sinner” that accepts Jesus is saved and can be baptized at Ridge Point or any church that follows the New Testament teaching on this.
What is the biblical support for this position?
When Peter stood up and gave the first post-resurrection message of salvation recorded in Scripture we note the response of the people. “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 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 2:37-38) With that, three thousand people accepted the message, were baptized and the church was launched.
We learn a lot about believer’s baptism with this first example of baptism in the church. For instance, this is the first of many baptisms in Acts. In fact, a pattern of conversion followed immediately by baptism is common.
- The Samaritans, Simon (Acts 8)
- Saul (Acts 9)
- Cornelius and his household (Acts 10)
- Lydia and her household; the Philippian jailor and his household (Acts 16)
- Crispus and his household (Acts 18)
- The disciples in Ephesus (Acts 19)
Why does believer’s baptism follow conversion? Baptism is a symbol of conversion. Literally, it mimics Jesus’s death and resurrection. First we go under the water (death to the old life of living independently from God), and then come out of the water (resurrection to a new life of living with God in his Kingdom).
Romans 6:3-4 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.
It is interesting to ask the question why Jesus was baptized. He certainly did not need to repent or be cleansed. He didn’t need to die to his old way of life. Jesus was baptized, at least in part to identify with humanity – the people he was going to save. Another reason was that he was modeling to us the importance of baptism. But not only does Jesus identify with us through his baptism, we identify with him. For instance when Jesus is baptized, which is recorded in all four of the Gospels, what the Father tells Jesus is also something that is applicable to those of us who are saved. In Mark’s account we read…
Mark 1:9-11 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
N.T. Wright says of this passage, “The whole Christian gospel could be summed up in this point: that when the living God looks at us, at every baptized and believing Christian, he says to us what he said to Jesus on that day. He sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus Christ. It sometimes seems impossible, especially to people who have never had this kind of support from their earthly parents, but it’s true: God looks at us, and says, ‘You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you.’ Try reading that sentence slowly, with your own name at the start, and reflect quietly on God saying that to you, both at your baptism and every day since.”
Believer’s baptism also symbolizes that we have become part of God’s community.
Galatians 3:27-28 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
“From very early on, Christian baptism was seen as the mode of entry into the Christian family, and it was associated with the idea of being born again.” (Tom Wright, Simply Christian, p. 183). Because we are a family of adopted children, family members come from every conceivable ethnicity, social status, moral standing, lifestyle and religious background. Also, as in every family, there may be those who live more in the spirit and behavior of the family and those who don’t, but they are none-the-less family members. As brothers and sisters, we enter into a journey as a family giving support, encouragement and accountability to each other and, most importantly, striving for unity (John 17:20-23).
We see in Acts 2:38 that repentance is to precede baptism. How does repentance tie into baptism? This is actually a very important question. Does repentance have to do primarily with repenting from specific sin and, if so, what sins need to be acknowledged and repented from before being baptized?
The Greek word for “repent” is metanoia. It literally means a change of mind or a change of direction. The context of the passage determines what the change of mind or direction refers to. For instance, there are times it clearly refers to moral actions (Acts 8:2, 2 Corinthians 7:9, Revelation 2:5). However, in passages when salvation is in view, it is equivalent to believe or trust in and involves a change of mind about any form of self-trust in human works, good deeds, religious tradition, etc. followed by a trust in the finished work of Christ which alone has the power to save us. It means a turning from self-trust to trust in Christ.
Repentance, meaning change of belief, is the intent of Acts 2:38. Peter has just finished a sermon explaining how Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s plan, and how “Israel” crucified him. In other words, you have not believed in Jesus and you need to repent (change your mind) and believe in him. In this context, believe and repent are synonymous. In fact, there are several other examples of baptism in Acts where the word “believe” is used instead of the word “repent” (Acts 8:12; 16:15, 31-33; 18:8).
Why is this important? Ultimately it comes down to the question of whether people need to morally make a change in their lives before they accept Jesus and are saved. Let’s say someone is living with his girlfriend, or cheating in business, or living with bitterness and hears the message of salvation. Does that person have to stop their sinful behavior before being eligible for conversion? The answer is no.
-Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
-Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
-See also Romans 4:24-25; 5:8-9, 23-24, Galatians 3:10-14
Salvation is a matter of faith/belief/trust in Christ and not, in anyway, the reward of a work. This means that repentance, in the context of conversion, has to do with the inward change to have faith in Christ… this change of heart and new life in Christ is expected to lead to a change of behavior (Luke 3:8) There is no moral cleaning up that is necessary for conversion.
But what about baptism? Does baptism require getting over some moral bar? Here, too, the answer is no. In every example in Acts (and actually in all the New Testament), conversion is immediately followed by baptism. There are no NT examples of people who have genuinely converted needing to be vetted, taught or to mature in their walk between conversion and baptism. “In baptism,” writes Will Willimon, “the recipient of baptism is just that—recipient. You cannot very well do your own baptism. It is done to you, for you.” It’s an adoption, not an interview. First comes conversion and baptism (the symbol of conversion) and then comes a lifetime of learning to obey Jesus.
Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
While there is no moral bar for conversion or baptism there is an expectation, once saved, to move in a direction of becoming more Christ-like. What about a person who accepts Jesus with no intent to follow him? This is not possible because Jesus invites us into a relationship with him as both Savior (save us from sins) and Lord (the leader of our life). In fact, baptism is a pledge of allegiance to Jesus as King. The New Testament does not give us the option to accept Jesus as Savior alone; we are only offered a full relationship with Jesus Christ.
At conversion, God the Father has adopted us into his family, given us the Holy Spirit, changed our identity and given us a position of righteousness. That is all based on Christ’s work. We now join God in his work of changing us on the inside to become more like Jesus and to work through us to bring God’s truth and love into the world. Admittedly, we do this imperfectly and on different schedules (it is dangerous for us to judge other’s commitment to Christ based on what we see outwardly), none-the-less, this partnership with Jesus as Savior and Lord is at the foundation of conversion.
Romans 10:9-10 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For is it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
While there is no vetting for particular sins or sinful lifestyles at conversion or baptism, people accepting Jesus do so with the understanding that Jesus now is their Lord and has a right to their lives and obedience.
Finally, What if I was baptized before I could believe in Jesus? We know that a lot of people in our area and church were baptized as infants. Should they be baptized as a believer? First, it is not required for salvation, but it seems to be the symbol God has installed for conversation and it can be a very meaningful experience as a believer. Second, nowhere in the NT does it say you can only be baptized once. While it shouldn’t be a regularly repeated sacrament like communion, many Christ followers have been baptized more than once. We welcome anyone who has been baptized as infant or child and has since accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord to be baptized.
Baptism participants are encouraged to read our Baptism booklet and to attend our Baptism Class on November 6, 11am
For more information and to sign up, contact Baptism@ridgepoint.org.