Where it all begins
Every family has its own way of doing things. Some of those ways may seem strange to people outside that family; but to the family itself, they are an important part of who they are and how they operate.
The Christian family is no different. One of its ‘strange’ ways is baptism. From the very beginning of the church, this was the way that a person marked their new birth into the Christian family. In this booklet we are going to look at why this was, and why it is still so important. Thinking this through will help you...
- If you have recently become a Christian. You know Jesus has forgiven all the things you have done wrong and that you have started a new life with him. Baptism is now about completing that process and nailing your colours to the mast in the way the Bible tells us to.
- If you have been a Christian for some time – perhaps even for many years – but, for some reason or other, have never got round to being baptised. Perhaps you were never told about it or were in a church that does not practise baptism in the way that the Bible talks about it.
So, before we go any further, let’s start by reviewing your journey of faith. How did you come to this point? If you are studying this in a group or with another person, then why not share – briefly! – where it all began for you and the journey that brought you to be reading this today.
Whatever your background and history, we want to help you look at what the Bible says about baptism to help you determine your next step.
Where ‘baptism’ comes from
The word baptism is exclusively a religious word in our society today – although that is not how it started life! It comes from a Greek word (the New Testament part of the Bible was written in Greek) that meant to dip or submerge. From Greek writings we find that you could –
- baptise a cup into a bowl of water to fill it
- baptise a piece of cloth into a dye to penetrate its every fibre and change its colour
- baptise onions to pickle them
- you could even talk about a ship being baptised when it was sitting on the bottom of the sea, completely waterlogged!
What do these different pictures start to bring home to us about Christian baptism?
We have lots of equivalent words today in the English language for baptise: words like dip, dunk, plunge, immerse. None of these sounds religious in the way baptise does. But remember: the word baptism wouldn’t have sounded religious to the people of those days. In the Bible, baptism is about dipping, plunging, immersing a Christian in water – but for reasons far more special than those of our cup, cloth or ship! This ordinary word sums up some rather extra-ordinary things that God has planned for you through Jesus!
Who is baptism for?
The Bible is very clear that baptism is only for people who have repented of their sins, put their faith in Jesus and are resolved to live a completely new life with him. If these things are in place, then it does not matter how old we are, how bad we have been, what struggles we might still have.
What we do need to note is that there are no examples in the Bible of people getting baptised who had not been born again. It was never offered to –
- people who were still searching for faith in Jesus
- people who thought that a religious ritual would save them
- people who were not prepared to change and leave their old life behind
- people who were not old enough to understand what they were doing for themselves (i.e., babies or young children)
Look at the following seven examples from the book of Acts (the story of the newly-founded Christian church) and note how belief in Jesus always came before baptism, and never after it, or instead of it. Write down the key phrases from each verse.
Acts 2 v37-38
Acts 2 v41
Acts 8 v12
Acts 10 v44-48
Acts 16 v14-15
Acts 16 v29-31
Acts 18 v8
In the Bible, belief always comes before baptism.
Baptism, then, is for those who have come to believe in Jesus and are resolved to live under his direction.
The interesting thing to note is that baptism happened every single time that someone put their faith in Jesus and was born again. It was not seen as –
- an optional extra
- a stage for advanced Christians
- something to think about for the future
Baptism was the normal, next (and fairly immediate!) step for everyone who became a Christian. No one was exempted from it - and no one asked to be! In fact, baptism was so normal that people who had become Christians would even ask to be baptised as soon as they came to believe in Jesus:
Acts 8 v34-36
If we are serious about being a follower of Jesus and have put our trust in him, then baptism is the inevitable next step. Jesus himself made clear that it is not an optional extra, but an essential aspect of being his disciple.
Have I repented of my sins and received Jesus’ forgiveness for them for myself?
Have I resolved to leave behind my old life and walk with Jesus from now on?
If you have, then there is no reason why you should not go ahead and be baptised. Who is baptism for? It is for you!
© Oxfordshire Community Churches 1999