In the last few blogs, we have been looking at questions and issues around baptism. People often delay baptism thinking the new believer is not ready to take this step. They need to grow more in their faith first, they say. Maybe we are waiting for new believers to stop certain bad habits like smoking or drinking. Sometimes we wait to baptize because we want a large group to be baptized together. Others delay for a long time because they are hoping a spouse will also believe and they can be baptized together. Some delay because the person isn’t yet a legal adult. Perhaps we don’t want to have to fill the baptism tank too often, or take time out of our church service to include this ceremony more than once or twice a year.
How do you know if they are ready to be baptized? When do you baptize someone after leading them to faith in Christ?
Again, it is important to look to scripture on these issues rather than looking for guidance only at our church traditions or what we have seen done around us.
When determining if someone is ready to be baptized, the key things mentioned in scripture are faith and repentance. As we discussed in the previous blog, in Acts Chapter two, Peter responded to those who asked “What shall we do?” with the answer “Repent and be baptized.” It was clear that faith had arisen in their hearts. The next step was repentance.
How do you know if someone has repented? How much repentance and change do you first need to see before you baptize them?
The biblical example here is different from what we see in many church traditions. In the New Testament, we almost always see immediate baptism when faith is expressed. The Philippian jailer, the crowd at Pentecost, the Ethiopian eunuch are all examples of immediate baptism. We find that while a clear directive to repent is given by Peter, he doesn’t wait to test their repentance before baptizing them. I wonder how many in that crowd had problems with alcohol, or beat their wives, or were dishonest in their business dealings?
When conviction of sin comes, when there is a realization of sin and the need for a Savior in someone’s life, they start to respond in faith and repentance. Jesus never ignored sin but called people to “go and sin no more” (consider the woman caught in adultery). Acceptance into his kingdom and family was immediate not conditional though. There was no delay or testing period to see if they were serious. We must remember and follow this example Jesus gave.
Prior to baptism, we are not looking for full transformation and sanctification- we are all still in that process! We do look for recognition of sin- do they see they are a sinner in need of a Savior? We look for a change of heart. We look for a change of allegiance- that they have acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives. We look for a desire to turn away from sinful habits and the things which the Holy Spirit is convicting them of. (Interestingly, Holy Spirit doesn’t always highlight or convict new believers about various sins in the order that I would!)
Some sinful habits may still be a struggle. Do we go ahead and baptize? My answer, and I believe the biblical answer, is yes. Baptism is a step of faith and obedience. As they take this step, as they demonstrate outwardly their inner faith, as they rise out of the water as a symbolic act of new resurrection and life- all these things strengthen new believers in their determination to begin a new way of living, to walk the path of transformation with Jesus’ help. We must not prevent them from doing what will help them grow by denying or delaying baptism because they aren’t “perfect” yet!
There are many issues related to baptism to prayerfully consider. Cultural factors, legal issues and church traditions all influence us in various ways and must be thought about. Our foundation, however, is always the Word of God and the example given by Jesus and the apostles. We examine all we do in the light of those examples and are careful not to unnecessarily delay but help people to take this step as soon as possible. Immediate obedience as a DNA, whether with baptism or other things, will lead to disciples who multiply rapidly.