No religious topic generates more controversy than water baptism. The problem isn’t that the Bible hasn’t spoken clearly and plainly. The real cause for the difficulty is because so many have drawn conclusions from their own feelings and opinions without consulting the Bible to see what it says.
All religious people agree that baptism is a command but there are differences over who are subjects of the command and for what purpose it is to be obeyed. Maybe we can remove some of the difficulty if we approach the study of the topic from the negative standpoint and point out some of the things that baptism isn’t for.
1. Baptism isn’t for the untaught. Jesus told his disciples to go and teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Teaching was to precede the baptizing and each case of conversion related in the book of Acts shows that persons were taught before they were baptized. Since baptism isn’t for the untaught, it follows that babies and irresponsible persons are not subjects for baptism.
2. Baptism isn’t for unbelievers. While Philip was teaching the eunuch, they came to a certain water and the eunuch asked what hindered him from being baptized. Philip’s response was, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” (Acts 8:35-37). Jesus placed believing before baptism (Mk. 16:16). Since baptism isn’t for unbelievers, it isn’t for atheists or agnostics.
3. Baptism isn’t for the impenitent. Sometimes I hear people say, “If I thought one had to be baptized to be saved, I’d force that person to be baptized.” But, wait, friend, you’ve missed a point in Bible teaching. One must repent before he is baptized (Acts 2:38) and if you were to compel one to be baptized who has not repented, you would have forced him to submit to an act that isn’t for him.
4. Baptism isn’t for saved people. I know that many think that one is first saved, then baptized as a symbol or sign of his salvation but I want you to read carefully the following passages of scripture and take note of where baptism is placed in relationship to the blessing that is promised in each of them.
a. Mk. 16:16 – Baptized—saved.
b. Acts 2:38 – Baptized—remission of sins.
c. Acts 22:16 – Baptized – washing away of sins.
In fact, in every passage of Scripture in which baptism and a word corresponding to forgiveness appears, baptism always comes before that word, never after it. There is but one conclusion that can possibly be drawn and that is baptism isn’t for saved people.
5. Baptism isn’t for Christians. Some talk about baptism being a “Christian rite” or the “Christian ordinance” of baptism. Baptism is a command so in this sense it is a rite or ordinance but it isn’t one for a Christian to obey. Let me show you that this is so. One does not become a Christian before he enters Christ for it is in him that he becomes a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). But he does not into enter Christ until he is baptized into him (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27). Therefore, it follows that one is not baptized as a Christian, one already in Christ, but in order to get into that One in whom he becomes a Christian.
6. Baptism isn’t for the sins of a child of God. Often when I point out that baptism is for the remission of sins, I am asked, “Does this mean that a child of God must be baptized each time that he sins?” The answer is, “No, baptism isn’t for the sins of the child of God.”
Look at a Bible example that proves this. In Samaria, Simon heard Philip’s preaching and was baptized (Acts 8:13). Later, Simon sinned in trying to buy the power to impart miraculous gifts of the Spirit but he wasn’t told to be baptized again. He was told to repent and pray that the thought of his heart might
be forgiven (Acts 8:18-23). Baptism isn’t a command given to children of God for remission of their sins.
7. Baptism wasn’t for Old Testament Characters. “If Abraham, David and Moses were saved without baptism, does not that prove that I can be saved without it?” is another question that I have had asked. Again, the answer is, “No, Christ gave the command to baptize just before he returned to heaven.” Old Testament characters who had lived and died before it was given were not subject to obeying it. The same is true of the thief on the cross. He had been dead more than forty days when Christ gave this command (Acts 1:1-3).
Baptism is a command now for us and we must obey Christ if we are to be saved (Heb. 5:9). It is for those who gladly receive the word (Acts 2:42) and show such by believing in Christ (Jn. 8:24), repenting of their sins (Lk. 13:3) and confessing their faith in him as the Son of God (Matt. 10:32-33). If you are willing to do this, baptism is for you. If you aren’t willing to do this, baptism isn’t for you!
Lowell Blasingame / Guardian of Truth – October 7, 1993