In the first post in this series on being Baptists, we looked at the differences between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant and how these differences show us that baptism is only for believers. This is because the New Covenant is a better covenant and many things changed when Christ started it. In this post, we are going to examine baptism as it was practiced and prescribed in the New Testament. We are shown two things about baptism in the New Testament: baptism is only for those who have repented and believed, and baptism is to be done by immersion (the complete covering of a believer under water).
So what is baptism? We are first introduced to baptism through the ministry of John the Baptist. In Mark 1:4 we read, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John was showing that baptism occurs as a sign of someone’s repentance. Those who partook in John’s baptism were forgiven not because they were baptized; rather, it was because they had repented. Baptism was a symbolic action which demonstrated their repentance and subsequent forgiveness. So John’s baptism was based around the necessity of repentance. This is the foundation of New Testament baptism, but this is also done before the fullness of Christ’s work was completed. Christian baptism upholds the need for repentance and it adds the need for faith in Jesus Christ.
We see this shift in Peter’s Pentecost sermon. In Acts 2 at the culmination of the sermon the Jews are “cut to the heart” and they ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter responds in verse 38 by saying, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins…” Peter adds to the requirement of repentance the necessity for belief or faith in Jesus Christ to atone for your sins. Both repentance and faith, which must occur together, are required before baptism is to occur. Repentance and faith come together, they are inseparable. In other words, you cannot truly repent if you do not also have faith in Christ, they are two sides of the same coin. In order for someone to qualify for baptism, he must repent of his sins by turning in faith to Christ as the only remedy for his condition.
So Peter teaches this necessity of repentance and faith before baptism, and Jesus does the same. In the Great Commission, Jesus commands the Church to evangelize the world and to baptize those who are converted. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Who is Jesus referring to as “them” that are to be baptized? It is those who have been made into disciples through the preaching and acceptance of the gospel. Jesus commands us to baptize only those who have repented and believed, those who are disciples of Christ. This obviously excludes infants since they cannot repent and believe in Christ.
So what about immersion? Why is immersion necessary? For starters, The Greek word used for baptism (baptizo) literally means “to dunk” or “to immerse in water”. Moreover, we see in Scripture that baptisms took place where water was plentiful (John 3:23). John baptized in the Jordan River, if immersion was not necessary why not baptize beside a local well and pour or sprinkle water on repentant individuals? Because that is not baptism. Baptism requires sufficient water.
Some may suggest that even though John baptized where water was plentiful, he could still have poured or sprinkled the water over someone’s head. It is possible, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Beside the meaning of the word baptizo meaning to immerse under water, we can also see that Jesus after being baptized “came up out of the water” (Mark 1:10) and then the Spirit descended on him. Jesus went down into the water, he was baptized (immersed), then as he comes up out of the water the Spirit descends on him.
This same reasoning is displayed when after Philip preaches the gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch. As they ride along the road, and after the Eunuch believes, they come upon some water that they both “go down into” (Acts 8:38). There was obviously a good amount of water there because both of them to “go down into” it. This is no puddle. When the Eunuch saw the water his reaction is instructive, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” The absence of sufficient water had prevented him from being baptized, but now that obstacle has been overcome so they enter the water together. Surely enough water could have been contrived in the traveling caravan to sprinkle or pour water over the Eunuch, but that is not what baptism is. Philip and the Eunuch needed enough water to “do down into” to immerse him. The Eunuch displays perfectly that both immersion and faith are necessary for a baptism to occur.
Beyond the grammatical arguments, there is also great theological meaning attached to baptism being conducted by full immersion. In Romans 6:1-10, Paul explains baptism is an outward sign which represents the spiritual reality of a Christian dying and being buried with Christ. In order for the symbolism of our death and burial with Christ to be achieved, we must be immersed as someone is fully covered in a tomb. As we come up out of our figurative grave, it symbolizes us being resurrected with Christ. A Christian who is baptized is thus representatively “buried” in the water in death with Christ and then symbolically rises out of the water as a new creation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:1-10).
The testimony of Scripture shows us that baptism is for believers only and is to be done in such a way that it preaches the gospel of our death and resurrection in and with Christ. For these reasons, it can only be done to those who have died with Christ and subsequently been raised again as a new creation through repentance and faith. And for this symbolism to fully come across we must practice baptism as we see it in Scripture, by immersion.