Some might assume that anyone who wants to be a church member should be baptized. This is the wrong answer, however. According to the Scriptures, only those who believe in Jesus Christ should be baptized. We need to be careful with the word “belief,” however. When we say that we believe in Christ, we are stating more than mental affirmation of His existence. The Bible’s idea of “believe” involves action. If we believe in Jesus, we do something about it: we confess, repent, and live in a new way. Philip told his Ethiopian friend that baptism was available if the man believed with all his heart. (Acts 8:37) In Acts 16:31-34, Paul and Silas baptized a whole household after the family began to believe in Christ. Only an individual capable of placing his or her faith in Christ is eligible before God to be baptized.
Christians throughout the world recognize three methods of baptism. The first of these involves the pouring of water, generally over the head of the new believer. The second involves sprinkling the water. The final version of baptism is full immersion into the water. Our word for baptism comes from the Greek word which was used to describe such things as ships sinking. The Greek words for “pour” and “sprinkle” are never used in the New Testament in reference to baptism. We baptize by immersion simply because that procedure fulfills the most precise understanding of the command of Jesus in the Bible
Baptism is symbolic. The procedure of momentarily being immersed and being lifted, presents a simple picture of the actions of Jesus Himself. He was killed, buried, and resurrected from death. When we trust Him as our Savior, we die to the old life, and raise to walk in newness of life. Baptism shows how the “old” has been buried, and how the new has risen from the depths. It also suggests that one day we will rise from death itself, to live eternally in heaven.
At Pentecost, when three thousand people were saved after Peter’s sermon, there was immediate baptism for these new believers. Philip’s Ethiopian friend was baptized without delay as well. We see from many accounts in Scripture that the time for baptism is immediately after conversion. When we procrastinate in following this command, we break the commitment we have made to follow Christ. Why was Jesus baptized? He asked John to baptize Him as a way of identifying with sinful humanity. We seek baptism because we are following Him in obedience, and that obedience should never be delayed.
In the New Testament, it was the disciples who baptized new believers. (John 4:1-2) Philip baptized the Ethiopian, and Peter and his fellow apostles baptized thousands of converts at Pentecost. John 4 mentions that Jesus Himself did not baptize. We also know that in the New Testament church, pastors baptized new believers. The pattern from Scripture, then, is that this Christian practice is the duty of the pastor. Is it possible for anyone other than a minister of the Gospel to perform a baptism? The answer is that yes, in certain instances, a godly, Bible-believing person can perform baptism.The wisest policy, however, is for baptism to be the work of the pastor.
The Word of God does not teach that baptism is a requirement for salvation, nor that the act itself saves us. The clear and consistent teaching of Scripture is that we are saved through the grace of God when we believe in Christ and place our trust in Him. (Ephesians 2:8-9) The thief on the cross beside Jesus was saved without baptism. Salvation precedes baptism and never depends upon it. Baptism is the obedient response to our salvation by Christ. Acts 2:37-38, John 3:1-6, and Mark 16:12-16 are often used to argue for a salvation that comes through baptism, but the context of these passages shows that this is not true.
The first reason we should be baptized is that Jesus commanded us to do so. Second, He was baptized Himself. Jesus loved us enough to identify with us. Why would any believer not want to follow Him into the baptismal waters? Third, baptism is a picture of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Fourth, it is also a picture of our experience in salvation—that of dying to the old, sinful self and rising to walk in the new life of the Holy Spirit. Fifth, baptism identifies us with the body of Christ. A church celebrates together the baptism of a member. Finally, baptism declares our faith in a future bodily resurrection. For all these reasons, Christian baptism is a joy, a privilege, and a pleasure for the children of God.