The Baptism of water is one of the foundations of the Christian faith because it is an ordinance formulated by Jesus in a clear and precise manner. In Matthew 28:19, He says, “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” By this instruction, we understand that water baptism is not a recommendation, but a commandment that everyone must observe.
So, how to define water baptism? What is the meaning of water baptism? Who should be baptized? How to be baptized? Why do we need to be baptized? Is it obligatory to be baptized? These are the questions that will be the subject of our teaching on water baptism.
1 – What Is Baptism of Water?
The Bible presents two kinds of baptisms, one before Jesus (under the old covenant), and the other after His baptism (under the new covenant).
The Bible mentions baptism for the first time in stories about John the Baptist. It was under the old covenant when baptism was destined for the remission of our sins. The Jews baptized the proselytes to show that they had been cleansed. John the Baptist also baptized people even before the arrival of Jesus, to convince them of sin”. I baptize you with water, to bring you to repentance; but he who comes after me is more powerful than me … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3: 11). However, this baptism, which represented repentance, is not the same as baptism imposed by Christ. The meaning of the latter is greater.
With the institution of the new covenant, through the death of Jesus on the cross, baptism now means more than the forgiveness of sins; it is a commitment to live a life of discipleship before God. Peter compares baptism to the flood of Noah’s time (1 Peter 3: 18-21). The Bible says of Noah’s time: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of men was great on the earth and that all the thoughts of their hearts were daily only toward evil”. (Genesis 6: 5). Just as the waters of the flood put an end to this wickedness in the Old Testament, baptism represents the end of a self-centered life where one makes one’s own will. It’s the beginning of a new life where God’s will is done in the New Testament.
A baptism is an act in which the Christian is immersed in water to symbolically represent the end of an old way of life and a new beginning. In other words, baptism is a rite which consists to duck the whole body into the water (by immersion). This act symbolizes the new birth of the Christian.
2 – What Is the Meaning of the Baptism of Water?
In the definition of water baptism, we find the very meaning of water baptism, which we can summarize as follows: The Bible compares baptism to a “burial” (Romans 6: 4, Colossians 2:12). In fact, the baptism of water symbolizes the death of a person as to his past life, and the beginning of a new life as a Christian dedicated to God. Baptism and the stages that lead to it are a divine disposition that enables a person to obtain a pure conscience based on his faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21). Therefore, Jesus taught that baptism is a Christian obligation (Matthew 28:19, 20).
The Christian water baptism symbolically represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6: 3-11). Immersion in water also represents the death of our “old us”, and the exit of water, the renewal of our nature. After being baptized, we enter a new life of sanctification and light alongside the Lord. As the apostle Paul says, a new kind of life is coming to us. It is also the means by which a person publicly testifies of his faith and his decision to be a follower of Jesus Christ. In summary, baptism is an outward testimony to the inner change that has occurred in our lives.
3 – Who Can Be Baptized?
A person who is committed to life to follow Jesus, who obeys the Word of God and lives a new life, can be a candidate for baptism. Such people are repentant and want to be freed from their sins.
This was the case with the Jews who crucified Jesus when they heard Peter speak. “After hearing this speech, their heart was deeply touched, and they said to Peter and the other apostles,” Brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2: 37) . These were people whom Peter exhorted to be baptized. (Verse 38).
As with the Jews mentioned above, there are many people today who regret their ancient sins and who set themselves the goal of living a life pleasing to God. Although it is obvious that certain maturity is necessary to make such decisions, it is the attitude of the heart itself which is the main criterion when one decides to be baptized, at any age whatsoever. The words that Jesus addressed to his disciples confirm that such people must be baptized: ” Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ” Matthew 28:19. At no time does the Bible refer to a child being baptized.
The question of Who Can Be Baptized wisely leads us to ask the following question: Does the Bible teach the baptism of newborns?
No. Baptism of newborns is not mentioned in the Bible. Some churches perform a ceremony to baptize a newborn baby (by pouring water on his head or by sprinkling him) and to name him. But Christian baptism is reserved for those who are old enough to understand ” the good news of the kingdom of God ” and to believe in it (Acts 8:12). It requires to have heard the teaching of God, to have accepted it and to have repented – actions that a child cannot accomplish (Acts 2:22, 38, 41).
In addition, the Bible shows that God sees young children as “holy,” that is, pure in his eyes, because of the faith their parents’ practice (1 Corinthians 7:14). If infant baptism was valid in the eyes of God, these children would not need to take advantage of another person’s merit.
We want to clarify the subject of infant baptism by illustrating with points on which those who practice it rely on it.
First, the story of the conversion of the jailer indicates that those who were baptized understood ” the word of God ” and rejoiced greatly (Acts 16:32, 34). Since a newborn cannot understand the word of God, it can be concluded that no newborn has been included in the baptism of the jailer’s household.
Secondly, when Jesus affirmed that the kingdom of heaven belonged to children (see Matthew 19: 13-15, Mark 10: 13-16). When he said these words, Jesus was not talking about baptism. Instead, he was showing that to enter the Kingdom of God, one had to be like children: humble and willing to learn (Matthew 18: 4, Luke 18:16, 17).
4 – How to Be Baptized?
To be baptized is to be immersed in the water and come out again. This is why Jesus was baptized in a rather important river (Matthew 3:13, 16). For the same reason, it was on arriving at “a certain water point” that an Ethiopian asked to be baptized (Acts 8: 36-40).
5 – Why Be Baptized?
Our perfect model is Jesus, and if we are to be baptized, it is first of all to follow his example. Indeed, Jesus Himself received baptism by John the Baptist! It is obvious that He did not need it: John the Baptist himself seemed perplexed by this act of the Lord. Yet Jesus said to him, ” Let it be done now, for it is fitting for us to do all that is right.” We understand that He was baptized to show us that it is the duty of each one of us. He later confirmed it by making the baptism of water an ordinance (John 4: 1-2), and by baptizing the people himself (John 3: 22-23). We baptize ourselves by obedience to the Lord.
We conclude this teaching on Christian water baptism by answering the following question: Is it obligatory to baptize?
To baptize is not an option. It’s a command. We must, therefore, go through the waters of baptism. Many, who say it is not mandatory, take the example of the thief on the cross. The latter asked just before dying if Jesus was willing to take him to heaven, and the Lord accepted, while the latter was not baptized. Let us note here the context: there was urgency, and to consider the baptism was absolutely not possible. If this thief could have baptized, he would have done it. But this possibility was not offered to him. Unlike this thief on the verge of death, we have no excuse for not taking baptism. So let’s do it to formalize our commitment to God.
Warning! Although water baptism is proof of our commitment to God, it does not guarantee us a place in heaven. If you baptize in the optics of continuing to live afterward, do not think of inheriting paradise. As said in the Word, we are saved by our faith and not by our actions.