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What Is a Believer’s Baptism?

While different Christian denominations use different methods to baptize, the most popular method by evangelicals is to publicly immerse someone under a body of water, signifying Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection that has taken place in a believer’s heart.

What Is a Believer’s Baptism?

It is not easy to get in front of other people, especially not a crowd. Speaking in public even has its own phobia called glossophobia. There are many underlying reasons why someone might be afraid to be in front of others, such as anxiety about what people will think or fear of messing up and looking foolish.

But whatever the reason, this fear affects most people in one way or another. Ironically, one of the first steps to take when someone becomes a Christian is to be publicly baptized — and this event often even includes speaking in front of everyone!

So, what is a believer’s baptism, and why is it so important that every believer overcome their fears to do it? The following six characteristics of a believer’s baptism will help us understand it more fully.

Characteristics of a Believer’s Baptism

1. Baptism is one of the two primary ordinances of the local church. Ordinances are traditional, symbolic ceremonies for believers to perform as a means of worship in response to God’s grace. Both baptism and Communion (or the Lord’s Supper) have been pillars of the Christian faith since the beginning of the New Testament church.

While different Christian denominations use different methods to baptize, the most popular method by evangelicals is to publicly immerse someone under a body of water (such as a pool, creek, tub, etc.), and then quickly bring them back up. This is called “full immersion,” and (as you will see) it is the most biblically accurate and relevant method.

2. Baptism was commanded by Jesus. As one of his final statements to his disciples, Jesus said to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19).

Not only did Jesus institute the ceremony of baptism at the end of his life on earth, but he set the example by doing it himself to start his ministry (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9). When we get baptized, we are obediently following in Jesus’ footsteps.

3. Baptism is not salvific (meaning it does not save), yet it is an important milestone for someone who has already been saved because it is their first step of obedience. This is the main reason why the baptism of infants (pedobaptism) is at least unnecessary and at most unbiblical.

As a step of obedience, baptism demonstrates the seriousness of someone’s faith. It reveals to spectators that the person getting baptized is not ashamed of the gospel and what God has done in their life. This is an important aspect of baptism because believing the gospel is critical to someone’s salvation.

As Paul writes in Romans 1:16, it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith…” The well-known pastor Charles Stanley teaches this about baptism: “...the willingness to humble ourselves in this way honors God as Lord of our life.”

We clearly see this step of obedience in the lives of believers all the way back to the days of the First Church. Luke wrote that “those who received [the gospel] were baptized…” (Acts 2:41).

4. Baptism is not spiritually transformative, yet it is a visible symbol of what has already happened in someone’s heart. Similar to how people were physically circumcised in the Old Testament as a sign of belonging to the nation of Israel, people today identify with Christ through baptism (Colossians 2:11-12).

As John Piper explains, baptism should be administered for “all the spiritual sons of Abraham who make up… the church.” This ordinance is a public confession of faith. It is an outward, physical demonstration of an inward, spiritual decision.

While someone’s salvation very well may be a private matter (a belief “in your heart” as Paul describes it in Romans 10:9), a public baptism allows others to watch and hear you “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.” Full immersion displays the miraculous resurrection and rebirth that has taken place in someone’s spirit.

5. Baptism is not just for a certain group of people, it is an important act of unification for everyone born into the family of God. Scripture is clear that this symbol of salvation is for all people.

Paul boldly proclaimed that in Christ “...there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11). He also told the Corinthian believers: “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” (1 Corinthians 12:13, ESV).

From the child to the senior citizen and the wealthy to the poor, everyone that believes the gospel and gets saved is a candidate for a believer’s baptism. This is one of the ways that Jesus taught, demonstrated, and made a way for reconciliation to God for all people.

6. Baptism clearly symbolizes what Jesus did for humanity (1 Peter 3:18-21). Just as Jesus went “under” the earth after he was crucified and then came “up” or out of the tomb three days later, whenever someone goes under the baptismal waters and then reemerges, they are tangibly “preaching” Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (the fundamentals of the gospel).

In fact, many churches even recite this ancient phrase as they perform each baptism: “Buried in the likeness of his death, raised to walk in newness of life.” This phrase has its roots in Paul’s words in Romans 6:4, when he said,

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. 

What Does This Mean?

There is no shortage of scriptures explaining or demonstrating the important act of a believer’s baptism. So now the question is: Do you need to be baptized?

If you have been saved but have never taken the first step of obedience, then decide today to get baptized and take the opportunity to celebrate what God has done in your life in the presence of your friends and family.

However, if you have never confessed your sins and allowed Jesus to be the Lord of your life, that is the step you need to take first.

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Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.