What Does the Bible Say About Baptism?
The Bible says that baptism is not like Chipotle. Easy tiger… I’ll explain. One of the great things about Chipotle is that you can get your food any way that you want. When you roll up to get your Tex-Mex on, no two people get the same thing the same way. I get a Carnitas burrito, un poquito rice, no beans, both mild and medium green salsa, sour cream, and cheese. You know why? Because that is the way I like it. At Chipotle you can get your food prepared any way you want.
A Specific Plan
Baptism is not like that; there is a specific way to do it. One of the clearest examples of this is the story of Noah’s burrito, sorry, Noah’s ark (I still have Chipotle on the mind). In Genesis 6, humanity’s wickedness had gotten out of control and judgment had to come. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (see Genesis 6:8). God gave Noah a specific plan of how to build an ark that he, his family, and all the animals of the earth could board and be saved from judgment. Any failure to follow that plan would have caused them to be lost.
This leads us to an important question: What’s the plan for baptism? If Noah was given specific dimensions of the length, breadth, height, a window, and a door of the ark, then there must be a specific way to baptize. The Bible certainly gives a specific plan concerning baptism. First, it is important to note every baptism that happened in the New Testament after the Cross all had two very distinctive traits. They were all by immersion and in the name of Jesus (also, name of the Lord and name of the Lord Jesus).
Do you like Oreos? I do … But there’s one thing you have to do before you eat Oreos. You have to dunk them in milk, all the way. Yum. Baptism is like that; it’s not right until you dunk the person. There is nothing more central to New Testament baptism than immersion. Immersion means that the person being baptized is dipped completely under water. The word baptism literally means to dip under water. Baptism identifies us with the burial of Jesus Christ. As He was put into the earth, we must be put into the water. Colossians 2:12 says that we are “buried with him in baptism.” In John 3, John the Baptist baptized in Aenon because “there was much water there” (John 3:23). After Philip baptized the man from Ethiopia in Acts 8, they both came “up out of the water” (Acts 8:39). Without question, biblical baptism is to take place by dipping the person under water. Just as a dead person could not be buried with a handful of dirt, we cannot be spiritually buried with a handful of water.
In the Name of Jesus
Next, it is vital to point out that baptism must be done in the name of Jesus. As the apostle Peter used the keys to the kingdom given to him by Jesus (see Matthew 16:19) to unlock the door of salvation (see Acts 2:38), he instructed us to be “baptized … in the name of Jesus Christ.” No baptism after Jesus’ resurrection was performed any other way than in the name of Jesus. In Acts 2, the multitude that was baptized certainly followed the direction of Peter and were baptized in the “name of Jesus”; the believers in Samaria in Acts 8 were baptized in the “name of the Lord Jesus”; Cornelius was baptized in the “name of the Lord” in Acts 10; and finally in Acts 19 John’s disciples were baptized in the “name of the Lord Jesus”. These examples of Jesus Name baptism would suggest that the baptisms in Acts where a formula was not mentioned (chapters 9 and 16) were also done in the name of Jesus. This is a fair assumption seeing that Jesus Himself challenged the believers at His ascension to go and baptize in the name (Matthew 28:19).
The apostle Paul continued this theme of Jesus name baptism as he challenged us that in whatever we do we must “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Certainly, baptism falls under this “whatever.” The name of Jesus plays such a vital role in the salvation process that Luke wrote about: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Baptism in Salvation
That leads us to the necessary point of baptism’s role in the salvation process. The Bible clearly supports that water baptism is essential for salvation. Nowhere in Scripture was baptism talked about as an optional activity. Continuing with the example of Noah, the apostle Peter explained it like this…
“God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:20-21, ESV).
Noah’s eight were saved “through water” because of God’s grace and their willingness to follow the plan. This is an essential concept in understanding baptism. We can only be saved through God’s grace and our obedience to follow the plan. If there wasn’t an ark, then there wouldn’t have been Noah (and no elephant for that matter!). Therefore, if we have no baptism, we have no New Testament salvation. The apostle is clear: “Baptism … saves you … through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
The Remission of Sin
Baptism is a very important concept throughout Scripture. A careful and complete study of Scripture shows that the Bible is very deliberate in giving it the highest level of priority. This leads to the final and most important function of baptism: it takes away sin. Peter said that we are baptized for the “remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). The word remission means the release from bondage or imprisonment. Baptism releases us from the bondage of sin to live in the newness of life. Paul said, “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” (Romans 6:4). Have your Chipotle any way you like it, but make sure baptism is the Bible way!