Are you considering being baptised, or simply want to understand for yourself the importance of Baptism. This resource is here to help, read on.
Before continuing please read: Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 8:26-38.
These passages confront us with the fact of ‘baptism.’ Jesus placed the command to baptise right alongside of the call to make disciples and before the instruction to teach. “Go and make disciples, baptising them … and teaching them …”
Philip and the eunuch enact what Jesus commanded. After a short time of discussion, the eunuch knew that he too should be baptised and asks Philip to baptise him.
Baptism in the New Testament is always connected with conversion. It is inconceivable that a person could become a Christian and not be baptised.
We read in Acts 16:25-34 when Paul and Silas are in prison when suddenly there is an earthquake and their chains fall off. The jailer fearing the worst is about to kill himself when Paul intervenes and with Silas talks to him about the Lord Jesus Christ. It was after midnight nevertheless the jailer takes them home. Everyone gathers and after hearing the good news of Jesus the jailer and his household are immediately baptised. Likewise Paul himself was baptised only 3 days after his experience of Jesus on the Damascus road.
Another amazing account of conversion and baptism is found in Acts 2:1-41, a large crowd has gathered and Peter preaches to them. Then we learn that about 3000 accepted his message and were baptised that same day.
There is a great variety of baptisms in Acts: individuals, families, crowds. Possibly there is even variety in the manner of baptism – the accounts are unclear on this point. However, what all have in common, is that they took place soon after conversion.
Question: Who should be baptised?
Answer: Anyone who believes in Jesus. Acknowledging who he is and receiving his love.
In summary this means that Christians must acknowledge the need of their Saviour: Jesus the Christ.
Romans 3:23 all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These verses tell us that each of us sin and that due to our sinful behaviour we bring upon ourselves the penalty of death. But God has provided a way to appease justice while offering us mercy. The way is provided by the gift of eternal life made available in Jesus. Therefore we need to acknowledge that Jesus is the Saviour from death that we need.
Romans 5:8 …God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus who had no sin died for us who continually sin. He took our penalty so that we could receive the benefits of having no sin.
2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus who was without sin, took on himself our sin, replacing it with His righteousness, making us acceptable to be in a relationship with God.
John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
This verse says that to become a child of God we must believe in Jesus and receive Him into our lives. We need to accept Jesus for who He is, the Son of God, the one who offers us salvation from sin.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.
This passage goes on to say that we are saved by the grace of God and our own faith. God’s grace was necessary because to be saved from the penalty of sin required us to receive something we did not deserve. Salvation is available to all but only when we turn from our sin-filled life to Jesus and invite him into our life. God gives this grace gift of forgiveness of sin and eternal life, to those who in faith have asked him.
We enter a new relationship with God and receive salvation from the penalty of our sin by trusting that Jesus died in our place to forgive us of all sin in order to make us acceptable to God. This is not a matter of trying to be good enough for God, as no matter how hard we try we can never be good enough. Rather it is a matter of accepting the gift offered us through Jesus Christ.
What is Baptism?
Typically ‘baptism’ is spoken of as a sign (also called ‘sacraments’), as is communion or the Lord’s Supper. These ‘sacraments’ are signs of the wondrous and undeserved love of God. Sacraments do not in and of themselves confer the love of God but they are a God-given means by which we celebrate this love: remembering, sharing in the present, and anticipating that day when we will be with our Lord for eternity. The sacraments are also a means by which we proclaim the Word. We tend to understand proclamation as the spoken word, i.e. preaching or maybe the giving of a personal testimony. But in the sacraments of communion and baptism we enact the Word: the enacted Word which sets forth Christ and proclaims the event of his life, death and resurrection as an event ‘for us.’ A common danger is that we read the act as something we do. So that rather than recognising what God has done for us we use these sacraments to declare our act, our faith, our goodness.
Hence the baptising of infants, which should be a sign of the joy of a new birth and of God’s gracious salvation achieved for the child, becomes a sign that we as parents want our children to grow up to be nice people. It also becomes a sign that we like a little ritual in our lives – and that while we may be uncertain about this God business we’d better have the child done just in case.
Alternately, in the case of adults the baptism becomes a sign of our belief, of our faith, of our commitment to Christ. It becomes a sign that whatever it is I need to do in order to be ‘right with God’ then it’s done. However primarily baptism is not about us.
Baptism is first a sign of what God has done for us in Christ. Note that baptism is administered in the name of God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit (The Trinity). The Trinitarian history of God is the history of God’s seeking out humanity by sending Jesus in order that we may be found and restored to relationship with God. The realisation of this in our own lives is an event of the Spirit, not by our intellect, faith or anything else – but by the Spirit we are drawn to God.
Karl Barth tells the story of a lady who once asked an evangelist: ‘Tell me sir, when were you saved?’ The evangelist replied, ‘Madam, I was saved nineteen hundred years ago when Jesus Christ died on a cross for my sins and rose again.’
Like that evangelist the decisive act in salvation is not any decision we make, important though it is, but the commitment God has made to us in Jesus. That commitment is a commitment even until death. This is the first thing signified in baptism.
Secondly, baptism is a sign of the covenant of grace. It is the new covenant established by God in Christ. It is not dependant upon our doing or achieving something, rather it was guaranteed in Christ’s blood 2000 years ago. We are summoned by Christ to now live by the Spirit and to confess our faith that it is in Christ and not by our own efforts that we are saved.
Thirdly, baptism is a sign of the baptism of Jesus. It signifies our sharing in his life, death, and resurrection. Dying with him, we are also raised to new life with him. In baptism we signify that we belong to Him and through Him to the community of the baptised. The community – the Church – that is dedicated to proclaiming Jesus in worship and service.
We are privileged to share in the celebration of baptism. It is not a celebration of our faith or what we have done for ourselves. It is a celebration of God’s love within which we are held forever. This is not to say that our response is unnecessary. Rather we recognise that it is the embrace of God’s love that makes our response possible.
Baptism celebrates the grace of God – yet we also need to take seriously the gift of his grace and the vows we make. Before coming for baptism, or before presenting your child for baptism, you need to ask yourself “Have I ever trusted Jesus to forgive my sin and give me the gift of a new relationship with God through him?” Yes/No
If no but you realise this is the life you want then do so now. Say this prayer (or something similar in your own words) and then go and tell someone what you have done.
“Lord Jesus, I recognise that you are God and have the right to govern my life. I know that I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed – sometimes unconsciously, often deliberately – I reject the power of sin in my life and turn from it – please forgive me.
Please Jesus strengthen me as I turn from my previous life, so that I can follow Your way. I believe that by your death on the cross you have paved the way for me to be united with my creator God – enter my life and set me free from the bondage of sin.
Fill me with your Spirit so that I may be lead closer to you and enable me to learn to live in your world as a member of your family.
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Why should a Christian be Baptised?
Obedience to Jesus
Scripture indicates that all believers should be baptised. We recall that just before Jesus left the earth after his resurrection he gave some final instructions to the disciples.
‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising then in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you… .’ (Matthew 28:19-20)
Here Jesus is commissioning his disciples to go and firstly invite others to followers of his and then to baptise them. Later we see the disciples carrying out that commission by insisting new believers be baptised.
‘So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.’ (Acts 10:48)
Following the example of Jesus.
“As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dive and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17)
Following the example of the early Christians.
“Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:41)
Because of the challenge it brings …
to you and to others. Baptism is a powerful testimony of the change that God is bringing in your life. In baptism, you are publicly declaring your love for God, your willingness to die to self and to live for Jesus. In addition going public about your faith means that you have the challenge of keeping to your commitment of living for Jesus.
Baptism is an invitation to grow in faith and to share fully in the life of Christ’s local church your ‘faith family’. In addition to the gift of physical life, God offers the gift of new life. This new life is eternal as we dwell with God and are made whole as God originally intended. This new life requires a dying to the old life, a dying to self, and a rising to life in Jesus Christ.
Baptism is also an expression of our unity with Jesus. We remember Jesus’ baptism which marked the beginning of his public ministry. We are invited to live the life of Christ and so continue his ministry in this world. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ gift to us to strengthen and help us in this task.
Baptism and Children.
Sometimes people talk about being ‘Christened’ as if this was a separate act to baptism. This is not true: ‘Christened’ merely means ‘in Christ’, and is another name for baptism. Baptism, whether administered to those who profess their faith or to those presented by their parents, is the same sacrament.
The baptism of children demonstrates the grace of God whose love reaches out to people before they are able to respond, in this we are reminded that God claimed humanity as God’s own “before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4)
Baptism, therefore, can occur during infancy, though a person may be baptised at any age. Parents bring their baby to church, where they publicly declare their desire that he or she be baptised. When an infant or child is baptised the congregation and the parents commit themselves to nurture the child in faith.
The baptism of those who enter the covenant upon their own confession of faith demonstrates the grace of God whose love claims people and calls for fulfilment in a response of faith. Again the congregation should commit to nurturing that persons faith.
One Baptism Once.
Baptism should be received once – to repeat a baptism is like saying that God’s grace has not been present, or that God has in some way failed. However there are many opportunities in worship, when it is appropriate to acknowledge the grace of God continually at work. As believers participate in the celebration of another’s baptism, as they experience the sustaining nurture of the communion meal, and as they reaffirm the commitments made at baptism, they confess their ongoing need of God’s grace and pledge anew obedience to God’s covenant in Jesus Christ.
Sometimes it’s also appropriate to re-enter the waters of baptism as an act of re-affirmation of your baptism. This is especially common where a person has been baptised in the past but never really lived the life, and now they may have come to a personal or renewed understanding and wish to acknowledge that before God and the congregation.
Those seeking baptism shall make vows that…
- acknowledge what Jesus has achieved for them
- profess their faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour
- renounce sin and the power of evil while affirming their reliance on God’s grace.
- declare their intention to participate actively and responsibly in the worship and mission of the Church Universal.
Likewise those witnessing shall…
- Profess their faith
- Voice their support of those baptised
- Express a willingness to take responsibility for the nurture of those baptised.
What Baptism is Not
- Baptism does not produce salvation. In the Bible baptism comes soon after someone comes to Christ, but the Bible never suggests that baptism earns or makes us more acceptable for salvation. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation or get in good with God.
- Baptism does not get us ready for heaven. The only thing that gets us ready for heaven is forgiveness. This we receive when we trust Jesus to forgive us as he has promised – not by doing good things or observing rituals. We can never be more ready for heaven than when we first become a Christian and receive forgiveness.
- Baptism does not make us acceptable to God. Being baptised pleases God as he has asked Christians to publicly identify with Him in baptism. Nevertheless, pleasing God does not make us any more acceptable to God.
- Baptism is not experiencing holy water. Sometimes we place extra significance on the water, but remember the water we use is ordinary H2O. There is nothing mystical or special about the water.
How Should I be Baptised?
This has become a matter of confusion and controversy in the church. In the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, the norm has been sprinkling, especially of infants. However, increasingly people are not baptised as infants and the question of baptism is left to the individual to decide. Consequently today within the Presbyterian Church people are baptised in a variety of ways.
Some argue that immersion was the method employed in the early church but the evidence is not conclusive. For example when converts to Judaism were ‘baptised’ the water was poured or sprinkled, as an act of cleansing or purification.
However in Romans 6:3-5 Paul suggests that there is a connection between how baptism is administered (one is lowered into the water and then raised out of it) and what it signifies (death to sin and new life in Christ).
Immersion is not the only valid mode of baptism but it does appear to be the form that most completely preserves and depicts the meaning of Baptism.
Whatever mode is adopted, baptism is not a matter to be taken lightly. It is of great significance, for it is both a sign of the believer’s union with Christ and, as a confession of that union, an additional act of faith that serves to cement our walk with Christ.
Remember baptism is not a matter to be taken lightly. It is a sign of what God has done for you, a sign of your union with Christ and, as a public confession of that union, an act of faith that serves to cement your walk with Christ.
To know more or to talk with someone about baptism please contact the church.