We believers in Jesus Christ have been baptized in water (in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit). Why? Because Jesus Christ, before He was taken up into heaven, commanded His apostles: “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” (Matthew 28:19 – NKJV). Therefore we, as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, have obeyed a specific command of the Lord.
Now, since water baptism is a rite which was commanded by Christ Jesus, it must have a meaning and it must be important.
So let us see what the Scripture says about the meaning of water baptism and its importance.
The meaning and importance of water baptism
The apostle Peter says that water baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21 – NASB). Therefore, since he who believes in God, by accepting to be baptized, wants to have a good conscience before God, water baptism is necessary (on the other hand how could Jesus have ordained an unnecessary thing for those who would believe on Him?).
All of us, after we believed in the Lord, felt we needed to be baptized because we perceived in us by the Spirit that even though we were sons of God washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, we had to obey the Lord’s command concerning water baptism in order to have a good conscience before God. Of course, we were sure that we were both saved and forgiven, but, notwithstanding this, we felt we had to be baptized in water according to the order given by Christ, our Saviour. Therefore, according to the Scripture, by water baptism we obtained a good conscience before God.
At this point, someone may ask: ‘Does a believer have a good conscience before he is baptized? Or does the good conscience follow water baptism?’ Well, according to the Scripture, the conscience of a believer is cleansed from dead works by the blood of Jesus Christ and not by the water in which he is immersed after believing, as it is written: “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14 – NKJV). Therefore, it is when a man believes in the blood that Jesus Christ shed on the cross for the remission of our sins that his conscience is purified. In other words, it is by faith in Christ that a man receives the remission of his sins, not ‘by faith and water baptism’, but by faith alone. The apostle Peter said to Cornelius and his household: “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43 – NIV), and Paul confirmed this concept by the following words he wrote to the Romans: “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25 – NIV). Therefore, every believer has a good conscience before he is baptized. Why then does Peter say that water baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience? Because after one has believed in the Lord he must strive to have a clear conscience before God, that is to say, he must see that he keeps his conscience clear. How can he do this? Well, he can do it by keeping the commands of the Lord, and among His commands is the command concerning water baptism. The apostle Paul one day said before Felix: “I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16 – NKJV). He was an apostle of the Lord, thus He was a born again Christian, washed in the blood of the Lamb, his conscience had been cleansed from dead works by the blood of Jesus, and he had been baptized as well, yet he stated that he was striving to have a good conscience (or a conscience void of offense) before God and men. Therefore, no wonder that any newborn babe in Christ feels he needs to be baptized in order to keep his conscience clear before God. His conscience bears him witness in the Holy Spirit that he must be baptized. Let me tell you something that happened to me several months after my conversion. In 1984 I went to England and lived there for about six months. I worked for the C. L. C (Christian Literature Crusade). One day I was invited to a baptismal service which took place in a swimming pool; I was a born again Christian, I was sure that all my sins were forgiven, I was sure I was a son of God, however, I had not yet been baptized. During the baptismal service I perceived by the Holy Spirit that my conscience was telling me that I too needed to be baptized together with those people who were being baptized. I had not yet obeyed the Lord’s command concerning water baptism. I wanted to be baptized, but I wanted to be baptized before my parents and those believers who had known me for many years. So several months later, after I returned to Italy, I was baptized in the Lake Maggiore. The day on which I was baptized was a happy day. After I was baptized I perceived that my conscience did not rebuke me any longer.
In addition to this, by water baptism we were buried with Christ, as it s written: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). And since it is the dead who are buried and not the living, we can say that when we were buried through baptism into the death of Christ we had already died to sin, since we had repented of our sins and believed in the Gospel. In other words, we were already born again, thus, dead to sin, before we were immersed in water; and through baptism our old man was buried with Christ. Just as Christ was already dead to sin when He was buried (“for the death that He died, He died to sin once for all”, says Paul. Romans 6:10 – NKJV), so we also were already dead to sin through the body of Christ when we were buried with Him. We can express this concept also in this way: we were saved from our sins by faith, thus before we were baptized we were already saved (because faith preceded water baptism). Therefore we can call our water baptism ‘an act of obedience to God which sealed the justification we obtained by faith before water baptism’. We can compare it to the sign of circumcision Abraham received, as it is written: “He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith, while he was still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11 – NIV), because Abraham also was justified by God through faith before he was circumcised. It was not circumcision which was accounted to Abraham for righteousness but his faith, as it is written: “We say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness” (Romans 4:9 – NKJV). Likewise, it was not water baptism which was accounted to us for righteousness but our faith, which we had before we were baptized.
Through water baptism we told the devil and his ministers (as well as the people who were present or heard about our baptism) that we have become disciples of Jesus Christ, and that we do not want to live for ourselves any longer, but we want to live for Him who died and rose again for us. So we proclaimed that we have decided to deny ourselves and the pleasures of sin, which the devil offers us through this evil world. For we should always remember that when we were born again we were delivered from this present evil age, which lies under the sway of the wicked one and we were conveyed into the kingdom of the Son of God; and also that before our new birth we used to serve sin but after the new birth we begin to serve righteousness. Water baptism, therefore, is an act through which we proclaimed that we died to sin and to the world. Just as through the Lord’s Supper we proclaim the death that the Lord died to sin once for all, so through water baptism, which one undergoes once during his life, we proclaimed that we died to sin and to the world. And keep in mind that just as the Lord’s Supper is not the repetition of the Lord’s death, so water baptism was not an act through which we died to sin because our death to sin took place before we were baptized. Consider that in some countries to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ means to be condemned to death by one’s countrymen: this is why many of our brothers in these countries have been killed after water baptism, for thus they proclaimed publicly their decision to follow Christ. That shows that in these countries, according to the enemies of the Gospel, everyone who decides to be baptized has decided to proclaim that he has denied his former religion and embraced a new religion, and thus he deserves to be put to death for he is a traitor or apostate.
Water baptism is an act through which we declared that we are not ashamed of Christ, but we are willing to bear His reproach in this world of darkness. Therefore, the fact that many believers, before their water baptism, have met with strong opposition on the part of their unbelieving parents and relatives is due to the fact that the devil, through those who are under his power, tried to induce them to be ashamed of their Saviour. For the adversary knows that Jesus said: “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
At this point, someone will say: ‘If it is not by water baptism that we have been saved (because we have been saved by faith), why then does Peter say that baptism saves us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21)?’ Well, because that’s the truth. However, I want you to know that Peter did not mean that water baptism has saved us, because it is not water baptism that saves a man from the bondage of sin but his faith in Christ Jesus. It is not water baptism that saves a man from hell but his faith, and we can see this in the story of the conversion of one of the thieves who were crucified with Jesus, for Jesus said to him: “Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 – NKJV). As you can see, that man could not be baptized, yet he went to heaven. To confirm what I said before, I point out to you that Peter did not say ‘baptism has saved us also through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’ because if he had said that he would have said that a man is born again when he is baptized (this doctrine is called baptismal regeneration) and not when he repents of his sins and believes in the Son of God. But he said that water baptism “doth also now save us … by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21), that is to say, the baptism into His death saves us from the wrath to come. How does it save us? Through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, for Jesus said: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16); therefore it is faith that saves us from the wrath to come. That does not mean that we have been regenerated by water baptism, for Peter himself wrote at the beginning of his first epistle: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Do you see that? Peter did not say that God has begotten us again by water baptism, but by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that is, by faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul also confirms that it is by faith in the resurrection of Christ that we have been born again and not by water baptism when he says to the Colossians: “Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12 – NIV); please note the expression ‘through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead’ for it clearly shows that we were regenerated through our faith in the resurrection of Christ and not through water baptism. And so Paul also preached to men that they could be born again through faith in Christ and not through water baptism. This is why he said to the Corinthians: “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel ….” (1 Corinthians 1:17 – NKJV), because in the sight of God to preach the Gospel is more important than to baptize; this was confirmed by Jesus Christ in the days of His flesh, in that Jesus preached the Gospel but He did not baptize anyone. Therefore, to sum up, by faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have been saved, regenerated, and cleansed from our sins; by water baptism we were buried and it saves us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that is to say, if we hold firmly till the end our faith in the resurrection of Christ. In other words, we will be saved from the wrath to come if we hold firmly till the end the confidence in God we had at first; but if we cast away our faith, the water baptism which was administered to us after we believed will be useless. I explain this concept giving you some examples. If Noah, or one of the other people who were in the ark, while the flood was coming upon the earth, had thrown himself out of the window God had commanded Noah to make for the ark, he certainly would not have escaped the flood rather he would have died with the wicked. Likewise if one of the Israelites who had just passed through the Red Sea had gone back into the midst of the sea (before God said to Moses: “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen” Exodus 14:26 – NKJV) he certainly would have died together with the Egyptians. In the same way, we who are in Christ through our faith must see that we abide in Christ in order to be saved from the wrath to come. Therefore we must keep believing in Him and see that we do not cast away our confidence, for such an act would be a spiritual suicide.
I want to emphasize the fact that both Peter and Paul (I cite them because I have cited their words concerning water baptism) did baptize immediately those who believed in the Lord; I remind you of this so that you may understand that for them water baptism had to follow faith immediately and it was not to be administered after weeks or months or years. Their behaviour shows that even though they did not teach baptismal regeneration they considered water baptism an important rite which according to the words of Jesus was to be administered immediately. However, today their example is not followed by most Churches; and the reasons why believers are not baptized immediately are not confirmed by the Scripture. As you know, many pastors want to baptize believers only during spring or summer, or when there is a substantial number of people who need to be baptized (so they refuse to baptize only one person or just two persons), and it grieves our heart to see such things.
I say this: if the priests of the roman catholic church command parents to have their infants ‘baptized’ a few days after their physical birth for they think that through the ‘holy water’ sprinkled on them they will be regenerated and thus they will become sons of God (which is not true); how much more must the ministers of the Gospel command the spiritual infants to be baptized immediately, knowing that water baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience” and not the means by which men are regenerated and become sons of God!! Why should a dead man, that is, a man who has died with Christ, be buried after days, weeks or months? What hinders him from being baptized immediately? Is it not true that when Christ died, He was buried immediately? Why then shouldn’t a man who has died with Christ be baptized immediately? If when a person dies his relatives decide to bury him as soon as possible, why shouldn’t a person who has died to sin (because he has accepted Christ as His personal Saviour and Lord) be baptized as soon as possible?
Therefore, ministers of the Gospel, do not delay in baptizing those who have really believed in the Gospel.
I want to take the opportunity to exhort also those who have believed but they delay in being baptized. I say to you: ‘Why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized’. See that you are not ashamed of water baptism because it is an order given by Jesus Christ and you must obey it. Do not be deceived by the devil, who tries to deceive you into believing that you do not need to be baptized or that water baptism is not important. Submit yourselves to Christ, and resist the devil with the shield of faith.
Who must be baptized and how water baptism must be administered
According to the Scripture, water baptism must be administered to people who have repented of their sins and have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore infants must not be baptized, for they do not distinguish right from wrong and they are not able to believe with their heart in the Lord.
The following verses of the Scripture show that those who are to baptized must first repent of their sins and believe in the Gospel which is preached to them, so infants cannot be baptized.
● “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, …. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:37-38, 41).
● “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).
● “Many of the Corinthians who heard him [Paul] believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8 – NIV).
As you can see, in the above mentioned verses the following expressions “they that gladly received his word”, “when they believed Philip” and “believed” precede the expression “were baptized” , and thus they show clearly that in ancient times water baptism was administered only to those who had believed in the Gospel. That is in agreement with the following words of Jesus: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). So only those who have believed can be baptized. But in order that they may believe, they must first hear the Word of Christ, for Paul says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ, and he says also: “And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14 – NKJV), therefore there must be those who preach Christ, as Paul says: “And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14 – NKJV). And that is in agreement with the following words of Jesus: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16), and also with these other words of Jesus: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them ….” (Matthew 28:19), for the preaching and the teaching must precede water baptism because the apostles had to preach the Word first, and then they had to baptize those who believed in it. This is what happened on the day of Pentecost, for after the apostle Peter preached the Gospel, those who heard him accepted his word and the apostles baptized them, as it is written: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). This is what happened also at Philippi in the case of Lydia and her family, as it is written that Paul and his fellow workers “sat down and spoke to the women who met there” [out of the city on the riverside]” (Acts 16:13 – NKJV), and after the Lord opened the heart of Lydia to heed the things spoken by Paul, “she and her household were baptized” (Acts 16:15 – NKJV); this is what happened at Philippi in the case of the jailer and his family, as it is written that Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:32 – NKJV), and then “he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:33 – NKJV); and this is what happened at Corinth, as it is written that “many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8 – NKJV). And since the Gospel could not be preached to infants (nor could infants accept it), because though they could hear they were not able to understand what was spoken, thus in them faith could not come, we infer that infants were not baptized in the early Church. We have seen, therefore, that in ancient times water baptism was administered only to those who believed in the Gospel, which excludes infant baptism since infants are not able to believe.
In addition to this, we must say that the baptism of which the above mentioned Scriptures speak consisted in immersing believers in water and not in sprinkling some water on their head. On the other hand the Greek word baptizo means ‘to immerse’, ‘to dip’, and not ‘to pour out’ or ‘to sprinkle’. The following passages of the Scriptures state that water baptism must be ministered by immersion and not by sprinkling.
● John the Baptist baptized people by immersion (even though his baptism was just a baptism of repentance) as it is written: “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5-6 – NKJV) and also: “Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there” (John 3:23 – NKJV).
● Jesus was baptized at about thirty years of age; he was immersed in water by John, as it is written in the Gospel according to Matthew: “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water ….” (Matthew 3:16 – NKJV), and also in the Gospel according to Mark: “It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove” (Mark 1:9-10 – NKJV).
● The eunuch was baptized by immersion, as it is written: “And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more ….” (Acts 8:38-39 – NKJV).
What shall we say then about the following arguments in support of baptism by sprinkling or pouring, ‘on the day of Pentecost about three thousand people were baptized and we know that there is no river near Jerusalem in which all these people could be baptized’ and ‘the jailer and his family were baptized in the prison and there was no river or swimming pool in which they could be baptized, therefore in those cases water baptism was administered by sprinkling or pouring’? We shall say that they are just empty words used by many theologians to deceive people. God was not bound to move Luke to write down how and where all those who accepted the Gospel were baptized. One thing is certain, every time God did not want Luke to write down how and where water baptism was administered to the believers, it was not because that baptism was administered to them by sprinkling or pouring! In addition to this, if we follow this way of reasoning we should say that every time it is not written that some believers were baptized in water – as in the case of those people who believed the words of Peter after the healing of the lame man which occurred at Jerusalem (Acts 4:4), those who believed at Thessalonica, and those who believed at Athens – those believers were not baptized at all, thus water baptism was not necessary!! However, if we came to such a conclusion we would cause the Word of God to state a thing which it does not state and which is contrary to the Word of God.
So we have demonstrated that the baptism established by Christ is to be administered to those who have repented of their sins and believed, and that it is to be administered by immersion. Therefore, when a Roman Catholic or a Lutheran or a Methodist or a member of the Reformed Church repents and believes with his heart in the Gospel of the grace of God he must be baptized; I do not say that he must be baptized again because as a matter of fact the water baptism which was administered to him when he was just a child (or even when he was an adult) is not a baptism at all but just something which is falsely called baptism.
As for the baptismal formula, he who baptizes should say to the person to be baptized: ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ for Jesus said to the apostles: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). In the name of the Father because the Father drew him (that is, the person to be baptized) to His Son (John 6:37,44,65); in the name of the Son because the Son received him and revealed the Father to him (Luke 10:22); and in the name of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit convicted him of sin, and of righteousness and of judgement (John 16:8).
Water baptism does not regenerate man
According to the doctrine called baptismal regeneration, when a man is baptized he experiences the new birth, that is to say, he is regenerated through water baptism. This doctrine is taught not only by the Roman Catholic Church but also by some Protestant Churches.
Those who hold this doctrine, support it citing the following words spoken by Jesus: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5), and also the following words written by Paul: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration ….” (Titus 3:5). However, both the words of Jesus and the words of Paul, quoted by those who affirm that water baptism is able to regenerate man have another meaning. Let me explain their meaning to you.
When Jesus said that a man must be born of water in order to enter into the kingdom of God he meant that a man must be regenerated by the Word of God because the water represents the Word of God (Isaiah 55:10-11), Surely He did not mean that water baptism regenerates or that it is able to regenerate a sinner because this is not true; it is the Word of God that regenerates men, for the apostle Peter says: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23 – NIV). Furthermore, if the doctrine of baptismal regeneration were true, it would follow that the thief on the cross who turned to the Lord could not have entered the kingdom of God because he had not been born again of water, that is to say, because he had not been baptized. How is it then that Jesus said to him: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 – NKJV)? The answer is simple: because before he breathed his last, he experienced the new birth, that is to say, he was born of water and of the Spirit.
As for the above mentioned words of Paul, the washing of regeneration is not the regeneration worked by water baptism but the purification worked by the Word of God in the heart of those who have believed, for the apostle says to the Ephesians that Christ “loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). In order to confirm that Christ washed and cleansed us through the Word of God, and not through the water baptism which we underwent after we believed on Him, I remind you of the following words Jesus said to His disciples on the night He was betrayed: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3 – NKJV). Notice that He did not say to them that they were clean because of water baptism, but because of His word, which was the Word of God, as Jesus said: “The word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me” (John 14:24 – NKJV).