By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
One of the most important questions we can ask is the one that serves as the title of this article.
According to Scripture, baptism is an immersion (Romans 6:3-4) in water (Acts 10:47-48) for a believer (Mark 16:16) who has been taught the Word of God (John 6:44-45).
It is in this action that a person’s sins are forgiven (Acts 2:38) or washed away by the blood of Christ (Acts 22:16).
As Noah and his family were saved through the waters of the Great Flood-by being set down from a sinful world into a new cleansed state-so we are saved through the waters of baptism (1 Peter 3:20-21).
Considering the seriousness of the plan of salvation, we are tasked with examining the very important question: when is a person ready to be baptized?
In the religious world, there is a great deal of controversy over this subject.
For example, when studying with members of various denominations, it is common to hear the following mistaken notions made about when a person is ready to be baptized:
You are ready to be “baptized” as soon as you are born, in order to remove the stain of “original sin.”
You are ready to be baptized when are are saved, as a demonstration of this salvation to your peers.
You are ready to be baptized as soon as you realize that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
There are many other suppositions in the religious world regarding this important subject.
What’s more, there are related questions that are raised by this important subject.
In order to examine these subjects, we will turn to a passage of the New Testament where this question was asked. We know him as the Ethiopian eunuch.
We are introduced to him in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts. There we read that he was a man of great authority from the land of Ethiopia, and that he was returning from Jerusalem (Acts 8:27).
While journeying, he was studying from the Book of Isaiah (Acts 8:28). The Lord had instructed Philip to go and teach the eunuch about the Lord Jesus. So beginning at the Scripture the eunuch was reading, Philip taught Jesus to him (Acts 8:35).
It is at this point that we read the following:
Acts 8:36-Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
Here is where the eunuch asks the same question that we are asking and studying in this article: what hinders a person from being baptized?
At what point may a person be Scripturally baptized?
The answer of Philip is quite illuminating:
Acts 8:37-Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
From this simple answer, Philip shows us the two basic requirements that are necessary for a person to be baptized into Christ: faith and repentance.
First, notice that the text is clear that a person must “believe.”
In Scripture, the condition of ‘belief’ as a condition of salvation suggests three elements: a knowledge of God’s Word, a trust in God’s Word, and an obedience to God’s Word.
All of the examples of “faith” in the New Testament (and really, all through the entire Bible) make it clear that all three of these elements are present.
This tells us some important facts about the person who is ready to be baptized.
He must be one who has been taught the Word of God. Christianity is a religion that is taught (Matthew 28:19; John 6:44-45). While many teach that Christianity is a religion “better felt than told,” the New Testament is clear that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
This also demonstrates to us that infant baptism is not in harmony with Scripture, since a person must first be able to comprehend the Word of God before he can be baptized into Christ.
This makes sense also, since the Bible teaches that we are not born with sin. While this is also a famous religious doctrine, the Bible clearly opposes it. Children do not inherit the sins of their fathers (Ezekiel 18:20).
We are perfect in our ways from the time we are created, until iniquity is found with us (Ezekiel 28:15). We are alive spiritually until we choose to sin (Romans 7:9).
We also see from this that persons who are mentally challenged and unable to understand the Word of God cannot be baptized; indeed, lacking the ability to understand the Scriptures, they have no need for salvation.
Because the person who is unable to comprehend God’s Word or sin is not held accountable for sin before God (John 9:41; 15:22-24).
We also realize that the Object of belief centers around Jesus Christ.
The passage that the eunuch was studying (Isaiah 53) dealt specifically with the atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day from the dead.
This coincides with what Jesus said in Mark:
Mark 16:15-16-And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
Not only the work of Jesus, but His identity as the Son of God are part of the belief which a person must have in order to be Scripturally baptized.
Throughout the Book of Isaiah, we are told about the “Servant of the Lord” and are reminded of the Divine identity of this Being (cf. Isaiah 48:16).
Other Old Testament passages bear out that this Messiah is God, although not identifiable as God the Father (cf. Psalm 45:6-7; 110:1; Isaiah 9:6-7).
Will misunderstandings that we have about God’s Word negate forgiveness on the part of the one who is baptized as he is believing in Jesus Christ?
It is important to realize that nearly all of the New Testament passages in the Epistles of Paul and the General Epistles dealing with baptism were written to baptized believers who needed further instruction about baptism.
For example, the Romans needed to told that their baptism into Christ was to lead to a new life of abstaining from sin (Romans 6:3-4).
The Galatians were taught that their baptism into Christ had made them part of the seed of Abraham so that they were now the chosen people of God (Galatians 3:26-29).
The Colossians needed to be informed that their baptism into Christ had not only brought about forgiveness of their sins, but that their union with Christ in baptism had freed them from the Old Testament Law since Jesus’ death had taken it out of the way (Colossians 2:12-17).
Paul instructed Titus to teach the brethren that their baptism into Christ had brought about not only regeneration but also many other undeserved blessings (Titus 3:2-8).
In all of these cases (and others could be cited), the misunderstanding on the part of these disciples did not negate their baptism. They were not instructed to be “rebaptized” because they had misunderstood some element of baptism or Christian living.
Instead, they were to learn and apply these things to their lives and grow (2 Peter 3:18).
In some cases, this meant relearning what they had been taught and forgotten (Jude 17-18; 2 Peter 3:1-2).
In fact, the only case of “rebaptism” in the New Testament was in the context of persons who had been baptized with the baptism of John after Jesus had already come, and about whom the disciples had no knowledge (Acts 19:1-6).
This of course raises the question of denominational baptism.
Some maintain that a person must have a perfect understanding of baptism in order to be baptized into Christ; yet as we have seen, this is clearly not the case.
It is also helpful to recognize that throughout Scripture, there have been several occasions when people obeyed God even when they did not fully understand what God commanded or the reasons behind it; nevertheless, when a person thus obeyed God, the Lord accepted his service (cf. Hebrews 11:8; 2 Chronicles 30:17-20).
With that being said, it is also important to consider that there is much to be said for encouraging people in certain circumstances to consider the subject of “rebaptism.”
In fact, nearly every person that I study with from a denominational background has been baptized formerly.
Usually, when they learn that baptism is a part of God’s plan of salvation and that they were incorrectly taught, they normally wish to be rebaptized (and I encourage them to be).
If they choose not to be, however, I encourage them to renounce denominationalism and to continue to study these important matters (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; John 17:20-21).
Second, the passage also clearly teaches us that a prerequisite to baptism is repentance.
The word “Christ” was actually a title, and had reference to the character and authority of the Messiah. When a person thus confessed their faith in the Messiah as the eunuch here does, we see that he is thus demonstrating his intention to turn from sin and to turn to the Lord.
Jesus had taught that repentance is necessary for salvation (Luke 13:3). He told His followers that it is pointless to call Him Lord and not do the things which He says to do (Luke 6:46).
Paul had taught that God commands all men everywhere to repent since there is a Day of Judgment coming (Acts 17:30-31).
One who wishes to be baptized into Christ must therefore determine that he is renouncing sin and is putting the Lord first and foremost.
When a professing disciple thus makes the “Good Confession” that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (cf. 1 Timothy 6:12; Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 10:32-33), he therefore is acknowledging both his faith in the identity and saving work of Jesus Christ, as well as his intentions to turn from sin to righteousness.
We see from this that baptism is therefore inappropriate for young children if they cannot understand the dimensions of sin and repentance.
Baptism is a commitment, a pledge, to God as much as it is an appeal to Him for forgiveness (1 Peter 3:21).
If a person is unable to understand the commitment of repentance and baptism, then they are not ready for baptism into Christ. Many teach that a person should be baptized as soon as they believe in Jesus Christ; yet if they are unable (or unwilling) to repent of sin, they they are not therefore ready for baptism into Christ Jesus.
This was an important part of the discussion of baptism in the second and third century church, when some began trying to introduce “infant” baptism and the baptism of young children.
Several of the early Christians opposed these innovations on Scriptural grounds, and we would be wise to likewise consider their argumentation.
I ask you today: are you ready to be baptized into Christ?
Those in the first century who heard the Word of God obeyed immediately (cf. Acts 2:41; 8:12-13; 16:30-33; 18:8).
The Son of God loves you and died for you on Calvary to pay the price for your sins (1 Timothy 2:6). He was buried, and arose from the dead on the third day after His death (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
Why not today repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38)?
If you are an erring child of God (2 Peter 2:20-22; Revelation 3:20), why not immediately repent and return to the Lord and His church (1 John 1:9; James 5:16)?
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.