I have put together a brief FAQ on baptism. I have used this over the years in talking with candidates for baptism, and I thought I would share it has a helpful resource for you. It relies heavily on Grudem’s Systematic, but I hope to update it further with other sources. So be sure to check back at hobotheology.com/baptism for updates.
What does it mean to “baptize”?
The word baptize comes from the Greek word, baptizo, which means to dip or immerse.
Who do we baptize?
We baptize believers, upon their profession of their faith.
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:38)
“And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
Why do we baptize?
We baptize because Jesus commanded that we should baptize his disciples. For this reason, we refer to baptism of one of the ordinances.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)
What is the significance of baptism?
Baptism identifies us with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
Romans 6:3-5 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Colossians 2:12 “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Baptism is symbolic of our cleansing from sin.
Titus 3:5 “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,”
Acts 22:16 “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
Baptism is a public identification with the people of God. (Consequently, we may also view baptism as a public declaration of our faith.)
1 Corinthians 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
Bonus: Baptism identifies us with God’s act of re-creation, passing through the waters of judgement (a la Noahic and Mosaic traditions, etc.)
Is baptism necessary for salvation?
Jesus commands baptism, but baptism is not necessary for salvation.
Here are a few lines of thought to confirm this conclusion:
We are saved by grace through faith alone. If we add anything to this formula, we are no longer saved by faith alone. Instead, we would be saved by faith and the work of baptism. This is the very kind of addition Paul condemned when he criticized the Galatians for adding circumcision (an outward sign) to faith.1
Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise that very day (Luke 23:43). Obviously, the man had no ability to receive baptism as he was hanging on a cross. Nonetheless, Jesus promised him salvation.2
Scripture clearly teaches that justification comes at the moment of faith. As a declaration, it is instantaneous.3 We need no additional work or act to be justified. Paul writes in Romans 4:5, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” So faith is contrasted with works, and faith is immediately linked with justification (i.e. being counted righteous).
So how do we understand a verse that commands baptism? Theologian Wayne Grudem offers a helpful reply:4
But the very evident answer to this is simply to say that the verse says nothing about those who believe and are not baptized. The verse is simply talking about general cases without making a pedantic qualification for the unusual case of someone who believes and is not baptized. But certainly the verse should not be pressed into service and made to speak of something is it is not talking about.
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
- Grudem notes that for those who argue the thief died under the old covenant, which did not require baptism, Jesus died before the thieves and his death ushered in the new covenant (Heb. 9:17). Therefore, the thief was in fact under the new covenant, showing the new covenant does not require baptism.
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 723.
- Ibid, p. 983.