Exploring Baptism - Who? What? Why? When?

From the beginning of Jesus’s ministry before His death and resurrection till modern times, the ordinance of water baptism has been a consistent command and practice for all believers in Christ.  While the thief on the cross next to Jesus did not have opportunity, the fact is that the Bible does not present water baptism as ceremonial or optional.  Water baptism was the next step for all new followers of the Lord. 

By the very definition of the word “baptism,” this Biblical practice involves immersion or submersion; therefore, by virtue of logic and grammar, sprinkling or pouring of water upon an individual cannot technically be considered “baptism.”  Also, New Testament Christian baptism requires faith as a prerequisite which is why the practice of infant baptism is not supported by the Scriptural examples of water baptism.  This is why our church only practices baptism of believers by immersion in water.

The beginning of Christian baptism:  Way before His crucifixion, the Lord Jesus commanded that His disciples baptize His new followers.  They did so by His authority, or in His name.  Therefore, after Christ rose from the dead, the disciples simply continued doing what they had already been commissioned by Jesus to do prior to His death.  Christian baptism was not “invented” or begun after the resurrection.

John 4:1-3 NKJV - Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John [the Baptist] 2 (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), 3 He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. 

Water baptism was, and is still, expected for everyone who confesses the Lordship of Jesus Christ.   

Acts 8:35-36 NKJV - Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him [Ethiopian official]. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water.  What hinders me from being baptized?”

1 Peter 3:20-21 NKJV - …God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you -- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience -- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ  

Confessing faith in the deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is what validates one’s water baptism, demonstrating a true change of heart and a submission to the resurrected Christ.  Peter’s language even ties obedience to Christian baptism with our expression of saving faith.  Receiving the saving Gospel led to believers’ baptism in the name of Christ from the very beginning of the Church.

Acts 2:37-41 ESV - Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent [turn to God, away from evil actions and wrong beliefs] 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. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

1 Corinthians 1:12-13 NKJV - Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." 13 Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 

What answers were expected to the rhetorical questions asked in 1 Corinthians 1:13? 
Q: Is Christ divided?  A: No.   Q: Was Paul crucified for you?  A: No.  Q:  Who was?  A: Jesus Christ.  
Q: Were you baptized in the name of Paul?  A: No.  
Q: Into whose name were you baptized?  A: Jesus Christ.  

Even though the Apostle Paul’s main ministry to Corinth was not to physically do all the baptizing, his last question in 1 Corinthians 1:13 demonstrates his assumption that every believer in the Corinthian church had already been water baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  It was universally practiced once someone believed, turning from sin to Christ.

Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV -  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.  

The Great Commission of Jesus included the command to baptize new followers. To deny the importance of water baptism - or to refuse to practice it or participate in it - is to violate a clear command of Christ.  

In addition to the Scriptures we already read in Acts 2:37-41, let’s examine other accounts of the Apostles’ baptizing as recorded in the Book of Acts: 

Acts 8:12-16 NKJV - But when they [Samaritans] believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done. 14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  

Acts 10:43-48a NIV - All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.  Then Peter said, 47 "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  

Acts 19:1-5 NKJV - And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples 2 he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." 3 And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?" So they said, "Into John's baptism." 4Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

It is possible to deduce that all accounts of water baptisms in the Book of Acts involved invoking the name of (and identification with) the Lord Jesus. This is why we always call on the name of the Lord Jesus when baptizing a believer - because he/she is identifying with the Lordship of Christ as well as His death, burial, and resurrection.  The point is not to invalidate the genuine faith in Christ of those who may baptize differently but is our affirming the most consistent Biblical practice that the New Testament clearly records.  

Romans 6:3-5 NIV - Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.  

According to the Bible, Christian baptism declares a spiritual reality of a believer uniting and identifying himself/herself as belonging to Christ - as well as with His death, burial, and resurrection. 

Galatians 3:26-27 NASB - For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

According to Romans 6 and Galatians 3, a believer who is water baptized is not baptized into a specific local church assembly or into a religion or denomination but is literally baptized into Jesus Christ.

There are other Scriptures linking Old Testament examples that point to Christian baptism as well as how baptism indicates the ownership by Jesus of a believer; however, I simply close our study for new believers with the same question and command presented by a disciple named Ananias to Saul of Tarsus (who would later become the influential Apostle Paul):

Acts 22:16 NASB - "Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His [Christ’s] name.”