Why We Immerse (Baptize) New Believers in Water
By Calvin Bergsma, Pastor of Georgetown Christian Fellowship
As Jesus ascended into heaven, He commissioned us, saying:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV)
The Book of Acts documents the amazing birth of the church and the following exponential growth of Christianity. Although Jesus and His message greatly impacted the land of Israel and the Jewish people, He was still primarily a local phenomenon. It was not until after His death, resurrection, and an additional 50 days of prayer and waiting that the Holy Spirit (which He had promised) was poured out on the followers of Jesus. Only after this infusion of God's mighty power did Christianity emerge as the most influential movement this world has ever seen.
In the 2nd chapter of Acts we find the message Peter preached which started this revolution:
Peter replied, “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:38-41 NIV)
What a spectacle that must have been!
There are five basic events (when combined), that mark conversions in the New Testament:
1. Hear (The Good News of the Gospel)
2. Believe (Place personal faith in Christ)
3. Repent (Turn away from sin)
4. Confess verbally (Faith in Jesus)
5. Be baptized in water (In identification with Christ)
6. Remain faithful (Live consistent with your confession)
From that moment on, wherever the apostles preached, they instructed those who believed to be baptized and expect to receive the Holy Spirit.
Acts 8:5-12 Philip teaches the Ethiopian eunuch who responds by being baptized.
Acts 8:26-40 Philip preaches in Samaria. People respond in faith by being baptized.
Acts 9:18 The conversion of Saul to Paul.
Acts 10:47-48 The “Gentile Pentecost”; God shows Peter the Gospel message is not for Jews alone.
Acts 16:15 The conversion of Lydia and her household.
Acts 16:16-33 Paul & Silas’ jailer (and his household) responded in faith and are immediately baptized.
Acts 18:8 Crispus, the synagogue ruler.
Acts 19:3-5 Those who had not heard yet of Jesus are baptized.
Acts 22:16 Paul’s story revisited - his sins are washed away, calling on the name of the Lord in baptism.
In the Book of Acts, these five “ingredients” all take place in a very short time period, almost as a singular event. To explain what baptism is (and its significance) we must look at the word "baptism."
It comes from the Greek word baptizo, which literally means:
· To immerse, to submerge, to saturate, plunge, dip, or bury in water.
The very word itself excludes it from meaning "sprinkling" or "christening."
· The Greeks had a word for sprinkle (rhantizo), as well as one for pour (cheo).
Baptism was not an English word, but a translation of the Greek word baptizo.
· In the 17th century, King James, who was both the head of state and the Church of England, commissioned the translation of a new Bible into the English language – the King James Version. The Church of England taught and practiced christening (or sprinkling) of infants, so when the translators came to the Greek word baptizo, rather than simply use the existing English equivalent “immerse,” they chose to create the English-sounding word "baptism," thereby MASKING the obvious meaning of the word. This may have been done in order to protect the method and tradition of christening infants, which the Church of England had established and practiced.
For the first 100 years of Christianity, baptism was always done by immersion. This practice was followed because the first-century church saw it primarily as a symbolic burial of the new convert’s old life and a resurrection into a new life.
Colossians 2:12 “And you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
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, so that 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.”
This makes baptism one of the most foundational teachings of the New Testament.
Hebrews 6:1-3 “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.”
Acts 8:26-40 “Do you understand what you are reading? And he said, How can I, except someone should guide me? And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him…Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached to him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came to some water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what keeps me from being baptized? And 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. And he commanded the chariot to stop: and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and Philip baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and the eunuch saw him no more: but he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.”
This act of obedience and identification cost some converts their very lives.
· From 1527 to the 1700s, between 20,000 and 40,000 Anabaptists were martyred by both Protestants and Catholics because they were baptized by immersion.
· Even today in many countries, being baptized can mean losing friends, job, family, and sometimes life. Obeying the Lord's command to be baptized is one of the most rewarding things a believer can do.
· It's one of the first tests of obedience you will encounter as a new believer.
· It allows us to do something tangible in response to the salvation that God provides.
· It puts us in the cue for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
· Even Jesus submitted to baptism from John and received the anointing of the Holy Spirit as He started His public ministry.
Matthew 3:13-16 “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
In my own life I remember the night my brother Doug and I were baptized.
A small gathering of new believers stood on the muddy banks of the Grand River. When my turn came to be baptized, I waded out into the dark river, illuminated only by an unusually bright moon.
I stood between two of my Christian brothers, one of whom asked if I was ready to leave my old life behind and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. I answered "yes" and they plunged this repentant sinner beneath the water and lifted me up as one bursting from a grave.
As I raised my hands in praise to God and they let me go, I walked down the river, worshiping the God who not only went to the grave for me but rose to give me life.
Never had I felt as clean as the night I was washed in the dirty Grand River.
Baptism is a personal statement of faith.
An outward expression of an inward change.
I Peter 3:21 “This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, it saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.“
Baptism is an important marker in a Christian's life. You were born to your mother on a day and hour you did not choose. However, you may choose the day and hour to be born of the water of baptism when you obey His command to be baptized.
Acts 22:16 “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”