In our lesson last week we talked about the what and how of baptism, and we concluded from God's word (and the Greek language) that Bible baptism is immersion in water. It's not sprinkling or pouring; rather it's a complete burial in water. Having answered the questions what and how, there is still much more that needs to be considered on this important subject, and today we'll ask two more journalistic questions pertaining to baptism: where and why.
First, WHERE SHOULD A BAPTISM TAKE PLACE?
This is a fairly simple question that will not require much time to answer. Since we know that Bible baptism is immersion in water, then baptism must take place where there is enough water for a person to be completely submerged. Aside from this, there are no Biblical restrictions so far as where a person should be immersed. Does God care if one is baptized in a lake or a stream? Does He care if one is baptized in the ocean or in a baptistery? Does He care if the water is running or still? Does He care if the water is cold or warm?
No, God does not care about these details. How do I know? Once again, let's look to the Bible. The New Testament records individuals being baptized in different places, and it never restricts the place to a specific type of location. That is, Jesus never commanded His disciples to specifically go and baptize people in rivers. If such a statement was contained in the Bible, then we would be obligated to baptize in rivers. However, since the matter is only addressed in general, it is a matter of human judgment as to where a person should be baptized. Whatever is most expedient or most convenient for the circumstances is what should be used. If a baptistery is most expedient, then use it. If it is more convenient to baptize in a lake, then do so. The Lord does not care, or else He would have specified His preference on the matter. As long as you have enough water to immerse a person, the location of that water is irrelevant in God's eyes.
Now, let's consider our second question: WHY SHOULD A PERSON BE BAPTIZED?
Right now, our definition of Bible baptism is not complete. We've learned that Bible baptism is immersion in water, but there has to be more to it than that. There has to be a reason why a person should be baptized. Otherwise, every time someone went completely under water, we'd have to call it Bible baptism even if they were only swimming or scuba diving! There is more to being baptized than merely being completely immersed in water. There is a purpose for being immersed in water that the Bible clearly explains. There is a reason why a person should be baptized. Let's examine what God has said on the subject.
Please open your Bibles to Acts 2. In verse 37, we find that many who heard Peter speak were pricked in their hearts. Peter told them in verse 36 they had crucified Jesus whom God had made both Lord and Christ, and the people believed what Peter said. They believed that Jesus was Lord and Christ, and that is why Peter's words bothered them. They knew they committed a terrible wrong by murdering Jesus--the Messiah and the Son of God.
So, they asked Peter and the rest of the apostles in Acts 2:37, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" They believed what Peter told them, and they wanted to know what could be done about their tragic mistake. Peter answered them and said, "Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Peter told them to do two things: (1) Repent and (2) Be baptized. Stephen, why didn't he tell them to believe in Jesus Christ? He did not have to! At this point in time, they already believed in Christ! Otherwise, they would not have inquired about what they should do about their sin of crucifying Jesus! These people believed and Peter told them to repent, that is, to turn from their sinful ways, and he wanted them to be baptized, that is, immersed in water. Why? Why did he want them to be immersed in water? Is it because they smelled bad and needed to freshen up a bit? No! Peter told them why they should be baptized! Did you catch it? He told them to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins! They were to be immersed in water for the forgiveness of their sins! Such is plainly taught in Acts 2:38.
Do you need more proof? There is plenty more for us to consider, but, before we do, let me digress for a moment. How many times does a truth need to be stated in God's word before we believe it to be true? You know the answer: one time! Of course, if we can find a particular point made in the Scriptures over and over again, then we can know without a shadow of a doubt that our interpretation is correct and that it is an exceedingly important matter with God. Friends, Acts 2:38 ought to be enough. The words are not complicated. Those who believed in Jesus were asked to repent and be baptized in order to have their sins washed away. Why should a person be baptized? To have his or her sins washed away! That's the simple truth of God's word!
Having said that, let's consider some other passages in the book of Acts that emphasize this truth. How about Acts 22:16? This context records the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Prior to verse 16, he had already shown belief and repentance (cf. Acts 9:9,11 - he had been praying and fasting), but he was not saved yet! Some preachers will tell you that Saul was saved on the road to Damascus. I challenge anyone to find a verse in the Bible that states that. I know for a fact that Saul was not saved on that road. How do I know? By what Ananias said to him. Ananias asked Saul a question in Acts 22:16: "Why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Even though Saul had already come to believe in Jesus Christ and was no longer persecuting the church, he was still in his sins! They had not been forgiven yet, and Ananias told him how to remedy the situation. He said: Saul, you need to be baptized to wash away your sins. Ananias understood that baptism was for the forgiveness of sins, just like Peter did in Acts 2. Ananias understood that although Saul had talked to Jesus on the road to Damascus and was now a penitent believer, he still needed to have his sins forgiven through baptism.
So, what did Saul do? Did he say to Ananias: Why do I need to get baptized? Can't I just pray Jesus into my heart and be forgiven? Saul said nothing of the sort. He obeyed God and was immersed in water just like the 3000 people were on the Day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:41; 9:18).
Now, let me make one point clear here: Just because a person is immersed in water does not necessarily mean they've been Biblically baptized. Did you understand that? Let me say it again: Just because a person is immersed in water does not necessarily mean they've been Biblically baptized. Why is that, Stephen? Well, because Bible baptism is immersion in water that is done for the remission of sins! That must be the person's purpose in being baptized: to have his or her sins washed away. If a person is immersed in water but their purpose in so doing is not to receive the forgiveness of their sins, then they have not been baptized Biblically! They have not been baptized like Saul was or like the Jews to whom Peter preached in Acts 2. If a person is immersed in water, but their purpose was not to have their sins washed away, then all they have really done is gotten soaked!
This is a difficult point for many in the religious world to understand. Obviously, as we learned last week, sprinkling and pouring are not proper forms of Bible baptism. However, not all forms of immersion are proper either. If the person being baptized is not being immersed for the forgiveness of their sins, then they have not been properly baptized according to the Bible pattern. The purpose in being baptized is just as important as the physical act itself.
There are some denominations that practice immersion, but they do not baptize for the remission of sins. What generally happens in these denominations is that a person will come forward at the end of a service and say the "Sinner's Prayer." They are led to believe they have been saved at that point in time in which they confess their belief and ask Jesus to come into their life. Then, a few days or weeks later, they are immersed in water. But, do you see the problem with this? It teaches something that the Bible clearly does not teach. A person is not saved until after they have been immersed in water for the remission of their sins! There are many in the denominational world, however, that think they are saved long before they are immersed. But where do we see that ever happening in the book of Acts? Nowhere! We can know without a doubt that when a person is baptized and it is not for the forgiveness of their sins, it simply is not a proper baptism!
Are you a bit skeptical of this? Do you want some more Bible proof that it is indeed possible to be immersed incorrectly? Here's your proof: Acts 19:1-7. In this passage, Paul encounters a dozen men who had been immersed, but their baptism was not valid! It appears that they had been baptized into John's baptism when it was no longer valid (cf. verse 3). What do I mean by that? Simply this: John's ministry and baptizing were preparatory for Christ's ministry and His baptism. Before Christ ascended into heaven, He told His apostles to "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" (Matt. 28:19). At this point in time in Acts 19, John's baptism was no longer valid. Christ had commanded that men and women be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Evidently, these twelve men that Paul encountered had been immersed in John's form of baptism when they should have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Their baptism was improper!
Now listen carefully, this is important. What did Paul do with these men? Did he say to them: "Oh, it really does not matter for what purpose you were baptized. God really does not care. As long as you were immersed in water, that's good enough"? Did he say that? No! He told them that they needed to be properly baptized! Some people say that these men were rebaptized. You could call it that, but I think it is better to simply say they were then baptized properly. You see, baptism is something you only do one time; that is, if it is done correctly. And how is it done correctly? Well, let's put all the pieces together that we've discussed so far: Bible baptism is immersion in water in the name of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit for the remission of sins. Anything less than this is not Bible baptism! The location in which a baptism takes place is unimportant. We will conclude this study of Bible baptism next week when we consider "The Who & When of Baptism." Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.