I recently had a discussion with several family members about the significance of baptism and the role it plays on salvation. We have had several babies born in my extended family and two grandchildren in my immediate family and some members were upset that the children have not been baptized. My wife rightfully responded that we do not believe in baptism until one can enter with full knowledge into relationship with Jesus.
In other words, an individual can make an “informed decision” to accept Christ then is baptized. I was very surprised from the response of several family members who were under the impression that baptism was required to go to heaven. This turned into a great opportunity and discussion with one of my wife’s relatives, a priest of over 30 years and someone I hold in high regard. With a quick prayer for wisdom and discernment I shared my position and listened to his.
From this discussion I was convicted to review my position, hence this piece. Since the defense of baptism as a requirement for salvation was alleged to be in Peter, I started with Peter’s words in Acts 2:38-41 on baptism. 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.”Peter clearly states “repent” AND then be ‘baptized”.
Peter is clear that accepting Christ is first. If the position of Peter is that they are together a requirement, we need to be mindful that Peter is a disciple and though his words are very important, they do not circumvent Jesus’ words on the subject of salvation. It is always the Lord’s words we must start with and He was clear on the way to the Father. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” John 3:16-18.
Jesus clearly states that the simple act of believing in Him grants restoration to the Father. Jesus reiterates the path to Father in John 14:6 when He responded to Thomas’ question about where Jesus was going and how they, the Apostles would know how to find him. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Even John the Baptist taught that Jesus was the only way during a discussion on baptism. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” In this discussion John clearly could have spelled out the significance of baptism on salvation given that was the topic of the discussion, but he did not. This implies it has no bearing on receiving grace and salvation.
One can see throughout the New Testament where Peter and others were directed to go forth and baptize people. This is a critical differentiation from being granted grace. Salvation, eternal life, or the Gospel of Grace, is simply believing in Jesus and that Jesus is the only path to the Father. Scripture clearly confirms this in multiple places where Jesus proclaimed “He was the only way to the Father”. In Romans 10:5-13, Paul admonishes those who follow the law “of works” as salvation is not earned, deserved, or can be achieved by our own efforts, or “works”. Paul wrote, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
This is critical. Being saved is simply about an individual’s relationship with Jesus, vice their standing in society, their religious affiliation, or even their theological education.
Paul went on to show how salvation was not discriminatory and applied to both the Jew and the Gentile. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” Romans 5:13. Baptism is an action that follows Grace. Peter, in Acts 12:48, confirms this as he directed “they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”. But Peter was very specific here when he said those who were to be baptized with water had already received the Holy Spirit. Receiving the Holy Spirt comes after accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Jesus explained the Holy Spirit in John 14:15 as an “advocate” and the one who would replace Him as He would not leave us as orphans, but rather adopted Sons and Daughters in the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact Jesus told the disciples, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” The Spirit is critical to our understanding and indwells in us when we accept Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us. Jesus went on to say, “But when he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you”. So it is clear the Spirit comes after Christ, as does knowledge of Him. Which again, Peter reaffirms that one must accept Jesus, be baptized with the Holy Spirit, then be baptized with water.
So we have established baptism is not required for entry to eternal life. But that does not mean it is NOT important. Jesus did tell us baptism is important. In Mark 16:16, Jesus has been resurrected and part of His last words was “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Even here, Jesus is clear to preach repentance and acceptance of Christ. Once one believes in Him they become a new creation through baptism. An argument can be made by Peter’s words that repent AND be baptized are dual actions required. In fact in John 3:5 Jesus was asked what “born again” meant. Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” This seems clear cut that one has to be baptized but Jesus clearly made that a second order action when he said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Again, no mention of baptism.
As to children being baptized and at what age, this is much less clear biblically. I believe it is implied through the words of Jesus in Mark 16:16. Jesus tells one must believe and be baptized. Paul reinforces that one must profess with your mouth what you know in your heart. A baby, and young children, cannot do this.
In Acts 2:38–41, the people were cut to the heart to hear the Jesus had been crucified and asked what they should do. 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.”
So again, repent (and accept Jesus), then be baptized. This scripture is where many base the opinion of baptizing children. And it could be considered legitimate if we do not consider Jesus’ desire to be in relationship with us. This requires knowingly and lovingly accepting Him as our Lord and Savior. Most of us can reasonably expect that children cannot do this, especially babies. The question becomes at what age one can accept Jesus as Savior. Once that is determined you have answered the question of what age can one be baptized.
I personally believe that question is answered when one can explain the importance of Jesus’ sacrifice from start of finish, which has no age requirement. What I mean by this is understanding the fact Jesus was fully human and fully God, felt all the things we do, was tempted by sin and Satan and never succumbed (blameless) to the world, took our penalty for our sins (crucifixion and the tortures preceding it) to the grave, conquered death and was raised from the dead in His pure perfectness. Understanding this means accepting Jesus, having the Holy Spirit indwell in us and then being baptized. In the end this is about love; love for, with, and from Jesus.
Are you ready to be baptized?
Tim Walters is a Deacon at Lighthouse Church which is holding their baptism services October 13 &14. If you’ve read this and would like to take that next step of obedience to God by being baptized by the water and Holy Spirit, we encourage you to join us this weekend. You can sign up for baptism by visiting www.lighthouse.church/upcoming and clicking the link for baptisms. We would love to welcome you into the family with open arms. Jesus loves you!