What the Bible Teaches About Baptism



  • Baptism is one of two church ordinances.
  • “An ordinances is different from a ‘sacrament’ (though a synonym in the dictionary) in that it ‘does not incorporate the idea of conveying grace but only the idea of a symbol.’ It has no inherent power to change those observing it.” (Ryrie, Basic Theology, page 487).
  • An ordinance is simply something that Jesus ordered that the church should do and the two ordinances that are very clearly taught by Jesus and carried about the New Testament church are believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
  • Believer’s baptism is a ceremony whereby an individually publicly expresses faith in Christ and identifies with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ through being fully immersed.
  • The Lord’ Supper is reminds the church on an ongoing basis of the death of Christ and symbolically shows their faith in Christ, His body, and blood as well as their unity to all other believers.

I. The Command to Be Baptised

Matthew 28:18–20  18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

These are very familiar verses to most Christians.

  • They provide what is commonly known as the Great Commission.
  • The reason that we focus so much on them is because of when they are spoken – following the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
  • They provide the last command and instructions of what Jesus disciples (church) are to be doing before He returns.

v.6 Remember they are instructions from the risen Saviour.

  • v.7,10 The disciples have been told several times to go to Galilee where Jesus wants to meet with them.
  • v.16-18 There in the appointed mountain in Galilee Jesus lets them know that He has all power and authority in heaven and earth.
  • v.19 Then He tells them what He wants them to do: go and teach all nations the things that He has taught them.
  • v.19 Part of this teaching and obeying the command of Jesus includes baptising those they teach in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Baptism at this stage was a common way for people to “convert” to Judaism and to show close identification with a message.

  • For those wanting to become Jews, they were baptised to identifying with the Jewish religion.
  • For those wanting to identify with John the Baptist’s message of repentance, they were baptised to show they were genuinely repenting.
  • For those here in Matthew who are baptised, they are identifying fully with the message and the person of Jesus Christ and with Father and Spirit.

The word “baptise” here means “to wash, to plunge, or to dip.”

  • Jesus here commands that all those who listen to the teaching of His followers as they proclaim the message of Christ, His coming, His death, and resurrection are to be completely plunged into water.
  • By doing this, they are showing total identification with the person of Christ and with the salvation provided to us through Father, Son, and Spirit.
  • They are also showing by this act of obedience that they are going to continue to follow and obey all of Jesus’ teachings.

Baptism then is…

  • an act of love and obedience to the Lord Jesus.
  • a way to publicly express to others our faith in and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • a way to identify with His death, burial, and resurrection.
  • a way to show that we have believed on the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

II. Biblical Examples of Baptism

Much of the confusion about Baptism stems not from the Bible being unclear but from various church traditions and experiences.

Matthew 28:18-20 gives us some detail about baptism, and we learn some as we read about other baptisms in the gospel records.

But as we read the historical accounts of the early church (primarily in the book of Acts), we see how the Apostles of Christ and the early church understood and practised baptism.

This sets an example for us to know how we should baptise and observe the ordinance of baptism.

Acts 2:41–47  41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

  • Peter has just preached a great sermon about who Jesus Christ is and what He has done following the Holy Spirit coming on them.
  • v.37 The people are convicted of their sin and ask what they should do.
  • v.38 Peter tells them to repent and be baptised every one in the name of Jesus Christ “for” (because of, because they have had their sins forgiven (remitted).
  • v.41 Then those who gladly received the word were baptised and that same day they were added unto them.
    • Observation 1: Baptism is for those who hear, receive, and believe the word of the gospel. Believers!
    • Observation 2: Baptism follows faith in Jesus and expresses publicly that faith.
    • Observation 3: Baptism comes quite soon after faith and leads to a whole new way of living and a whole new commitment to Christ and to the church (see v.41-47). 
      • v.41 They were added to them
      • v.42 They continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer.
      • v.44-45 There was giving and sharing.
      • v.46 They are meeting together daily.
      • v.47 More and more people are getting saved & added to the church.

Acts 8:12–13  12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

  • v.5 Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ unto them.
  • v.6 The people as a group listened to him
  • v.12 Those who believed what he preached about Jesus were baptised, both men and women.
  • v.13 A guy who was formerly a sorcerer believed and was baptised as well, but he turned out to not be genuine (v.21-25).
  • Observation 4: Baptism is for believers.
  • Observation 5: Not everyone who claims to be a believer and gets baptised is genuine.

Acts 8:35–39  35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. 36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. 39 And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.

  • v.26 After his time in Samaria, God sends Philip to man from Ethiopia who is headed back to Africa after visiting Jerusalem.
  • v.27-28 This man was very wealthy and had purchased a copy of God’s Word.
  • v.30-34 He was reading in Isaiah but did not understand who he was writing about.
  • v.35 Philip proceeded to tell him that this was Jesus and explained that He was the promised Messiah who came to deliver them through His death on the cross.
  • v.36 As they go on a bit more, the Ethiopian asked about baptism.
  • v.37 Philip told him that he could if he believed to which the man responded, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God!”
  • v.38 He commanded the chariot to stand still and they both went down into the water and he was baptized.
  • v.39 They came up out of the water and the Spirit caught them away and he want on his way rejoicing.
  • Observation 6: Faith and understanding came before baptism.
  • Observation 7: Baptism was in water not with water.
  • Observation 8: Great joy came from believing and obeying the Lord.

Acts 9:17–18  17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

  • While on his way to Tarsus, Jesus appeared to Saul and showed him he was on the wrong path.
  • Saul in shock humbled himself before the Lord.
  • He was blinded from the experience until Ananias came and told him God’s message about his purpose.
  • After this, the sales feel from his eyes (picture of salvation) and he got up and was baptised to show that he was totally identifying with Jesus Christ.
  • v.20 He went on to preach Christ in the synagogues that he is the Son of God.
  • Observation 9: Dramatic experience of coming to believe on Jesus Christ.
  • Observation 10: Baptised happened after salvation and was the first step of many in obeying and serving the Lord.

Acts 10:47–48  47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.

  • v.1-2 Cornelius is a man who is seeking God the best he knows how.
  • Through a series of events, Peter came to tell him about Jesus.
  • Cornelius and those with him heard the message about Jesus and believed and the Holy Ghost came on them.
  • v.47 Their salvation was obvious and so they are baptised in the name of the Lord with water.
  • Observation 11: Their salvation was genuine as evidenced by the Holy Spirit coming on them.
  • Observation 12: The first step after believing was to be baptised in water.

Acts 16:25–33  25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. 26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. 29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. 32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

  • Paul and Silas are in prison for preaching the gospel.
  • At midnight, God sends and earthquake that shakes the prison and frees the prisoners.
  • The jailor, who is held personally responsible for every prison, takes his sword to kill himself.
  • Paul cries out, don’t do that, we are all here.
  • v.30 The jailor, no doubt impressed by the message and joy of the prisoners and by the traumatic events of the night is very distract and cries out what can I do to be saved.
  • v.31 Paul and Silas tell him, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and everyone in your house can as well.
  • v.32 They then taught Him the Word of the Lord and everyone in his house.
  • v.33 They took them that night and baptised all of them straightaway.
  • Observation 13: Salvation comes only through faith not baptism.
  • Observation 14: Baptism is public demonstration of faith in Christ.

III. The Essential Elements of Biblical Baptism

1. For genuine believers

  • In every one of these situations and events, the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who He was and what He did, was clearly explained.
  • In every one of these passages, the people who heard the message were called upon to believe first.
  • In no account, do we find a person being baptised who rejected the gospel message or who did not have a genuine faith in Christ.
  • This would exclude children and this too young to believe, even if they have Christian parents.
  • Everyone must believe on Christ. No one can believe for another.
  • Have you believed on Jesus Christ?


2. After salvation

  • This might seem logical, but faith and baptism though closely related are two separate events.
  • Faith in Christ is a decision of the will to believe on Christ after hearing the truth of the word.
  • Baptism is a separate event that pictures outwardly what has happened inwardly. Baptism is a the symbol not the real thing. (Like a wedding band symbolised genuine marriage.)

3. In the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

  • The name in which we are baptised is the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – all three persons of the one God
  • To be baptised in His name is to accept His total being – to accept that there is one God who send His Son into the world and gave the Holy Spirit.
  • Baptise in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is to identify fully with this eternal, triune, and saving God

4. By immersion

  • The patterns in the Bible always seems to be that baptism happens were there is “much water” (John 3:23), in rivers and places with a lot of water (“Jordan River” Mark 1:9).
  • Only immersion in the water adequately pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Romans 6:3-4 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

5. No merit for salvation

  • Baptism is closely associated with salvation, but is role is only that of a symbol to represent the real thing. It adds nothing to our salvation.
  • Salvation is not of works. Ephesians 2:8–9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
  • The main work is not baptising but preaching the gospel, because only the gospel saves. 1 Corinthians 1:14–18  14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; 15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. 16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.


Have you believed on Jesus Christ? Have you trusted in Him completely to save you? Or are you relying upon something else – your works, your baptism, or some other good deed? Only Christ can save.

If you have believed fully on Christ, then have you obeyed Him and publicly declared your faith in Him through baptism?

Have you been baptised Scripturally? As a believer? After salvation? In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? By immersion? With no merit for salvation?

If not, then you need to be baptised scripturally?

If you have been baptised Scripturally, then remember that baptism means. You are have believed on Jesus. You are called out of the world and to follow Him. You belong to Him. You are new in Christ. You have a new loyalty, a new purpose, a new identity, and a new calling.

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