To be eligible for water baptism a person must receive proper instruction, repent, believe, and have a good conscience toward God. The length of time it takes to meet these requirements will differ depending on the individual.
Some churches require those who desire baptism to take long periods of instruction lasting weeks or months. But the Bible says that on the day of Pentecost three thousand people were baptized. A few hours before they were unbelievers who rejected Jesus to be either the Messiah of Israel or the Son of God. From the end of Peter’s sermon to their baptism, the time required to give necessary instruction could not have exceeded a few hours:
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:41)
Philip baptized the Ethiopian the same day he preached the Gospel to him.
The practice of the early church in relation to baptism was as follows:
- Before baptism they taught the basic facts of the Gospel centering on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- They related these facts to the act of baptism.
- They verified understanding, repentance, and confession of faith in the new believer, then baptism in water followed immediately.
- After baptism the new believers received further instruction for spiritual development.
SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRISTIAN BAPTISM
The following text reveals the spiritual significance of Christian baptism:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?
Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death; That like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4)
When you repent and accept Jesus Christ as Savior, death to sin and the old life occurs. There is creation of a new life of righteousness lived for God:
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey the lusts thereof…
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:11,12,14)
Christian baptism in water is a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It symbolizes death to sin as you are immersed in that “grave” of water and resurrection into a new life lived for God in righteousness as you come up out of the water.
The believer who is raised up out of the water to live this new life does not do this in his own power. The new life is lived by the power of God, the same power that raised Jesus from the grave. (We will learn more about living the new life in Chapter Eleven). The effect of water baptism depends on the repentance and faith of the one being baptized. Without this, baptism is of no value.
True Christian baptism means we are baptized into Jesus Himself, not into a particular church or denomination:
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
BAPTISMS: A CONTRAST
Both John’s baptism and Christian baptism occur by immersion in water, but there is a difference between the two. When Paul visited the city of Ephesus he found a group of people who were disciples of John the Baptist. They had heard John’s message of repentance and been baptized, but had heard nothing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?
And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.
Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
After Paul explained the Gospel, these people accepted it and were baptized again. This time they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. This example shows that the baptism of John and Christian baptism are different. John’s baptism was no longer accepted after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those who had received John’s baptism were baptized again in Christian baptism.
John’s message prepared the hearts of the people of Israel for the revelation of their Messiah, Jesus Christ. By baptism they outwardly confessed repentance of their sins and their belief in the coming Messiah.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, people were then baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. By doing so they outwardly demonstrated their acceptance of the Gospel message and the fact that it had changed their lives. Jesus commanded this baptism:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 28:19)
The difference between Christian baptism and the baptism of John is that Christian baptism is to be done in the full authority of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
John’s baptism could not be done with this same authority. It was only a baptism of repentance and confession of belief in the coming Messiah. Christian baptism is a baptism confessing acceptance of the completed redemptive plan of God.
WORDS SPOKEN AT BAPTISM
We have discussed the requirements to be met before baptism and confirmed that it is to be total immersion in water. One question remains: What are the words that should be spoken at the time of baptism?
Jesus said to baptize in the name of “the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Many ministers choose to use these exact words when baptizing and this is acceptable according to Scripture. But it is also acceptable to use just the name of the Lord Jesus. The Bible records that the disciples did this:
…They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 8:16)
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.
When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Jesus did not command His disciples to baptize in the names [plural] of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, but in the “name” [singular] of the persons of the Trinity of God.
The name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is the name for “Lord Jesus Christ” because…
In Him the whole fullness of deity [the Godhead] continues to dwell in bodily form, giving complete expression of the divine nature. (Colossians 2:9, The Amplified Bible)
The Bible teaches we are baptized into Christ:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death. (Romans 6:3)
Some denominations have had much controversy over the words to be spoken at the time of baptism. They claim one wording is right and the other is wrong. But according to the Bible, baptism “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” or in the “Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” are both acceptable to be spoken at the time of Christian baptism. There is no conflict between either wording. Both refer to the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
To be consistent with the Bible and at the same time bring unity in this area, the following wording is suggested:
“Upon the basis of the confession of your faith, in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I baptize you into the Lord Jesus Christ.”