Scripture calls individuals who have repented of their sin and believed the gospel to be baptized in water as a visible testimony to the inward spiritual transformation which has already been performed by the Holy Spirit at the moment of repentance and faith. The emphasis is upon the individual first being a believer/disciple (Matt. 28:18-20). Mark 16:16 also issues belief/faith as a prerequisite for being baptized. Therefore, baptism is not permitted for infants or children who have not expressed belief/faith in the gospel. Upon reading Acts 2:38 one finds that a prerequisite for being baptized is personal repentance. This is not possible for an infant. Scripturally an individual should not be baptized unless he has expressed personal repentance of sin. Acts 8:12 describes those who were baptized as believing the good news which Philip preached prior to their baptism. Acts 9:18 speaks of Saul converting to Christianity. This is an unusual account in that Saul is not explicitly said to have believed the gospel. Yet, the passage does say that God had chosen him and he received the Holy Spirit before being baptized (vv. 15, 17). Spirit baptism occurred when a person genuinely repents and believes the gospel, therefore Saul exercised faith in the gospel prior to his baptism (Rom. 8:9-11; Eph. 1:13-14). The same can be said of the Gentiles who received the Holy Spirit by faith in the gospel prior to receiving water baptism (Acts 10:47). Lydia and her household responded in faith to the gospel message brought by Paul and then received water baptism (Acts 16:14-15). Paul required a profession of faith in Christ prior to receiving water baptism (Acts 16:31-33). In this passage, it is said that the jailer’s household was baptized. If infants and non-professing children were included, this would be contrary to the N.T. practice of repentance and verbal profession of faith prior to receiving water baptism. Therefore, it would appear that only those who were able and willing to repent and profess personal faith would have received water baptism. Paul requires that individuals believe in Christ prior to participating in water baptism (Acts 18:8; 19:4-5). Acts 22:16 also speaks of calling on the name of Christ to be saved, which would occur prior to baptism. Paul emphasizes his call to preach the gospel as more important than baptizing people in water (1 Cor. 1:14-17). On a few occasions he baptized those who repented of their sins and believed the gospel. Yet, apparently this was not essential to Paul that he immediately baptize converts. The reason he was not so concerned with baptizing individual believers was that faith in the gospel was the only thing necessary for one to be saved from his sins (Rom. 1:16; 10:9-13; 1 Cor. 1:21). Paul emphasizes the gospel as the power of God that saves those who believe and he determined to speak of nothing else while in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:2). The following passage is an unusual one in the way that it is stated, 1 Peter 3:20-21. As I look at the passage it appears to speak of water baptism which is participated in as a visible public testimony to previously placing one’s faith in Christ. In the context in which Peter speaks, one would not participate in water baptism unless he has already repented and believed the gospel (because of the high cost of becoming a Christ-follower). It appears that he is speaking of water baptism because he says,
I think he includes “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” because he is indicating that water baptism does not save nor cleanse a person, but it is an outward testimony of a person who has been saved through faith in the gospel – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There are passages which speak of Spirit baptism and not water baptism. Spirit baptism occurs when an individual repents of his sin and believes the gospel. It entails Holy Spirit regenerating the believing individual, washing away the guilt of personal sins, and placing him into spiritual union with Christ, (Rom. 6:1-19; Col. 2:9-14; Gal. 3:27; Tit. 3:5). Romans 6 speaks of an individual who has repented of his sin and believed the gospel. It speaks of the time when a believer is baptized into Christ or placed into spiritual union with Christ (Eph. 1:13-14; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; cf. Rom. 6:3-6, 11). At that time each believer has died to sin, which means that he no longer is a slave to sin (vv.2-3, 6-7, 11-12, 14, 17-18). The believer has also been raise from the dead…so [he] may walk in newness of life, which means that he is a new creature able to serve God instead of sin (vv. 4-5, 8-10, 13, 17-18). The passage is speaking of regeneration or Spirit baptism, not water baptism. Water baptism could not be said to have resulted in believers being freed from sin and enabled to serve God.
There are times in Scripture where the Spirit is described as effecting a washing and removal of the guilt of sin. This was pictured in the O.T. Practice of using clean water to wash away the ceremonial guilt of an individual (Num. 19:17-19; Heb. 9:13). The Psalmist asks God to wash away the guilt of his sin (Ps. 51:2, 7-10). The prophets foretell a spiritual washing that will take place as a part of the New Covenant (Ezek. 36:25-27; Zech. 13:1; 14:8). Jesus speaks of this same spiritual washing that will take place when one believes the gospel (John 3:3-8). The believing individual is washed clean from the guilt of all his sins by the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5; Eph. 5:26-27; ). When an individual places his faith in Christ, he is washed clean by the Holy Spirit – Spirit baptism, not water baptism (1 Cor. 6:11). Hebrews speaks of water and O.T. Sacrifices cleansing people’s flesh – ceremonial cleansing, but of Christ’s sacrifice cleansing people’s consciences – spiritual cleansing through Spirit baptism (9:13-25). Faith in Christ’s sacrifice results in Spirit baptism, which results in our hearts and bodies being washed with pure water – the Holy Spirit washing away the guilt of our sin and regenerating us (Heb. 10:19-22).
Issues to Consider Prior to Participating in Water Baptism
Individuals who have repented of their sin and believed the gospel should participate in water baptism (Acts 8:12; 16:14-15; ). Faith in the gospel precedes water baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 16:31-33; 18:8; 19:4-5; 1 Cor. 1:14-17).
The person should be a disciple of Christ prior to baptism (Matt. 28:18-20). Scripture calls individuals who have repented of their sin and believed the gospel to be baptized in water as a visible testimony to the inward spiritual transformation which has already been performed by the Holy Spirit at the moment of repentance and faith. It pictures the spiritual death and rebirth that has taken place through Spirit baptism (Rom. 6:1-4; Col. 2:9-14). Water baptism is a public declaration of faith in Christ (Matt. 28:18-20). It is not integral for salvation (1 Cor. 1:14-17, 21; Eph. 2:8-9). It is a picture of a spiritual reality.
Baptism should be participated in by professing believers and done by immersion. The Greek word translated baptism means, “to dip, plunge, immerse.” Therefore, since the word has this sense it should administered in such a way. Jesus was baptized in the Jordan and He is said to, “come up out of the water” (Mark 1:10). Therefore, baptism should be done by immersion and participated in by believers.