It’s as clear as anything in Acts 2: baptism singled out those who had repented and believed Peter’s words about Jesus the Christ. There was no way to “follow” in secret or “sign off” privately. And that was exactly the point! Peter no doubt knew baptism was the outward sign of inward faith, and he considered it the obedient next step for all who were saved by “calling on the name of the Lord” (2:21).
This is exactly why biblical baptism still matters greatly today. Not only are we obeying Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20), but we are identifying with him as well, (Acts 2:41). And with his people! Like I taught Sunday, while it’s not essential to the saving work of Jesus, it shouldn’t be considered optional to the saintly walk of the believer.
It is to this end—that more people will identify blatantly with Jesus in baptism—that I address a few questions about this topic.
Q: Do you think full immersion is the only way to be baptized after you have been saved? What if you were sprinkled after salvation with the full intent of following Jesus?
A: What I think is not as important as what the Bible teaches. And the only pattern we see in Scripture is immersion. This is how people were baptized by John the Baptizer, this is how Jesus was baptized, and it is how the early believers were baptized. In fact, immersion is even seen in the Old Testament analogy of Israel’s baptism through the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:3); it was a picture of “going under.” Add to this the linguistic fact that the Greek word “baptizo” means “to dip,” and what you find is that the body of evidence leans mightily towards full immersion as the biblical manner of baptism.
So does sprinkling count? Maybe that’s the wrong question. If the overwhelming model and mandate speaks to immersion, why not jump in and get dipped completely?
Q: I was baptized as a child, then saved later in life. Does it still count?
A: Again, all we have to go on that really matters is the Bible’s accounts. And in Scripture, the pattern is consistently belief then baptism. There isn’t a single incident of baptism prior to belief, not even including John the Baptizer’s type. It, too, signified you were believing in the One who was to come after John, meaning Jesus (Acts 19:4). And that’s the whole point of baptism—to show outwardly what you have believed inwardly. Instead of asking if it “counts” now, ask yourself, “What did it show then?” As you ponder that, you’ll find much greater motivation to follow the biblical pattern of baptism, publicly identifying yourself as a follower of Christ now that you have believed.
Q: What do you mean when you say it isn’t optional?
A: Simply that identifying with Jesus openly and publicly is a command, not a suggestion. In fact, it’s the first one we’re told to obey in the disciple-making process, and leads the list of “everything Jesus commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The real issue people wrestle with is consequence — what if I don’t get baptized? I’d suggest you ask yourself the same question, but insert any of the other commands of Jesus in the place of baptism. “What if I don’t give?” “What if I don’t pray?” “What if I don’t serve?” “What if I don’t live purely?” While there isn’t a list of specific punishments that happen as a result of these decisions, we can say confidently that known sin, at the least, blocks our fellowship with God (1 John 1), hinders our witness to the world (2 Cor. 4), and undermines our ability to live in full faith (Rom. 14). In other words, the result of disobedience is weakness in our spiritual walk. Such is the case, I believe, with those who refuse to be baptized and identify outwardly with their Master. Often they remain spiritually weak and vulnerable to the enemy and, unfortunately, somewhat unknown to their real family of brothers and sisters in Christ.