What does baptism mean? 

In Scripture, we see that believers are called to be baptized (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16) but what does baptism mean? First, let’s consider the etymology; where the word came from and what it means. The English word “baptize” comes from the Greek word baptizo. Many believe that this word is correctly translated as “immerse” or “dip.” That is, in part, why we practice baptism by immersion. Also, submersion under water and raising out of it best pictures what baptism represents. What does baptism represent? Let’s look at Romans 6:3-8:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” 

Baptism is a proclamation of the believers union with Christ, in His death and resurrection. When the believer goes under the water it shows that in Christ they have died to sin. When they raise out of the water it shows they have been resurrected to a new pure (Acts 22:16; 1 Cor. 6:11) life in Christ. Baptism is an outward sign of an inner reality. Baptism pictures many things.Screen Shot 2019-10-10 at 11.41.43 PM

  • Death with Christ, death to sin 
  • Union with Christ
  • Identification with the body of Christ, the church 
  • Proclamation of the work of the Trinity (“In the Name of…” cf. Matt. 28:19) 
  • Purification, the washing away of sins
  • It looks forward to the resurrection, new creation, and going through the waters of judgment and being raised to new life justified

Should I be baptized? 

Like many areas of baptism, there has not been uniform understanding on who should be baptized. We believe, however, that a clear case can be made biblically and historically for believer’s baptism. “Believer’s baptism” means only those who believe in Jesus and repent of their sins should be baptized (i.e. credobaptism instead of paedobaptism).

We see no scriptural support leading us to believe that non-believers were baptized. On the other hand, we have clear scriptural support to baptize believers. Peter preaches in Acts chapter two and says, “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… So those who received his word were baptized” (38, 41 see also 8:12-13). 

Does baptism save you? No. Well then, is it necessary for salvation? Yes and no. No it is not necessary because it is the work of Christ on the cross that saves us and nothing we do (Titus 3:5). However, yes, it is necessary in a sense; because a good tree bears good fruit and baptism is a command of God and so those that are saved should want to be baptized if they are physically able. Notice I said “physically able,” the thief on the cross was not baptized because  he was not physically able but Jesus said, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” We are not saved by baptism, and you can still go to Paradise without being baptized, but it is very important because it is commanded by the Lord Jesus. 

Who should be baptized? Only those that have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation should be baptized. This is clear from reading Screen Shot 2019-10-10 at 11.45.33 PMvarious passages (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13; 36-38; Eph. 4:5).

How should I be baptized? 

We have seen the answer to the question above. The Greek word “baptizo” first off means “immerse” but perhaps most importantly it is immersion that best pictures the reality of what has happened to us through faith in Jesus Christ (see Rom. 6:4-6) (Also see: “in” the “water,” “Jordan,” etc. Matt. 3:6; Mark 1:5, 9; John 1:33 see also Acts 8:36. Notice further that in Matthew 3:16 it says, “he went up from the water.” Some churches practice sprinkling however sprinkling only gets part of the rite right). We also see that Jesus Himself was baptized by immersion (Matt. 3:16).

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When should I be baptized? 

How do you know when you’re ready to be baptized? Baptism is for those who have trusted Jesus as their Savior and Lord, and repented of their sins. Baptism is only for those who are truly new creations in Christ. Of course, we cannot know exactly where someone is spiritually. Pastors, however, have the responsibility to shepherd the flock and protect the sheep as best that they are able. Because baptism is for believers, pastors have various marks that they look for in a candidate for baptism. 

Anyone professing Jesus Christ as Lord should be able to:

  • Communicate the content of the gospel as well as an expression of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.
  • Evidence godly sorrow over sin, followed by repentance which leads to the fruit of the Spirit.
  • Have the ability to examine himself and the condition of his soul (1 Cor. 11:27-32). 
  • Have demonstrated a willingness to turn away from the world and instead live a life keeping God’s commands and loving God’s church (1 John 2:15- 17; 5:1-5). 
  • Exhibit fruit in his life which proceeds from regeneration (Gal. 5:22-23).

Someone might say: “In Acts people were baptized right away. They didn’t wait for fruit. Why are you looking for fruit?” It is helpful to realize that baptism in the early church was sometimes dangerous. Baptism in the early church was a public identification with Jesus Christ. Yet, just years earlier, Jesus was crucified. And people that followed Jesus were often persecuted. Thus, those who were baptized really had to “count the cost” (Lk. 14:25-33). Knowing that trials awaited those who were baptized would deter most false followers. 

As pastors who will give an account to God, we want to ensure, as best we can, that false followers are not getting baptized. This is important for the individual as well as for the church. And so, we look for indicators that the candidate for baptism truly knows the Lord. 

Who should baptize me? 

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The church. The church, we see in Matthew 18, is given the “keys of the Kingdom” and baptism symbolizes entrance into the Kingdom. Plus, when someone is baptized part of what it is representing is being joined, connected with, Christ and the body of Christ. Therefore, it would be a shame and not the design of the church, the body of Christ, if we’re not there to celebrate. Further, to whom would the baptism declare if no one else was present? When John the baptizer baptized, there were other people present. This is the rule, though there are exceptions in extreme cases (Acts 8:35-38). Notice, we understand that it is to the church that Jesus gave the Great Commission to, “Go therefore and make disciples baptizing them.” It is the church that is to baptize, not isolated members of the church. Baptism is to be done with the whole body.


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*The Apostles’ Creed

The Apostles’ Creed is given it’s name not because it was produced by the apostles but because it contains a summary of their teachings. It gives us their  doctrine briefly but powerfully. 

The Apostles’ Creed has been used for centuries to teach people what one needs to believe in order to make a believable profession of faith. It is thus helpful to read over and ensure you understand and believe the foundational tenets of Christianity. 

“I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      He descended to hell.
      The third day He rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the
      Father almighty
From there He will come to judge the living
and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.”


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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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