Skip to main content

Why Baptism

What is baptism? Why and how do we baptize? Who should be baptized?

Written by Mike Biolsi on .


We are a Baptist church and we practice this ordinance called baptism. However, as I have looked back on the years of messages I have shared, I did not find many that spoke only on baptism. Wow!

Some trace the history of Baptist churches back to Amsterdam in 1609 as the Separatists left the church of England. As the Baptist church spread, it formed two groups in England: General Baptists and Particular Baptists. The terms general and particular references their view on atonement.

Eventually, Baptist doctrine spread to North America and the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island was founded in 1638 as THE first Baptist church in America. I love this little write up:

“Roger Williams had been holding religious services in his home for nearly a year before he converted his congregation into a Baptist church in 1638; this followed his founding of Providence in 1636. For the next sixty years, the congregation met outside in nice weather or in congregants' homes. Baptists in Rhode Island through most of the 17th century declined to erect meetinghouses because they felt that buildings reflected vanity. Eventually, however, they came to see the utility of some gathering place, and they erected severely plain-style meetinghouses like the Quakers.”

Today, 381 years later, if you look up the list of just national Baptist organizations in the US alone, you will come up with no less than 62 of them. American Baptist, Conservative Baptists, Independent, Regular, Reformed Baptists…. The list goes on. NCF is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist association in the country.

Baptist came out of the reformation and stood out on the foundation that baptism has certain marks or characteristics that are significant and should be adhered to.

“Baptists form a major branch of Protestant Christianity distinguished by baptizing professing believers only (believer's baptism, as opposed to infant baptism), and doing so by complete immersion (as opposed to affusion or aspersion). Baptist churches also generally subscribe to the doctrines of soul competency (the responsibility and accountability of every person before God), sola fide (salvation by faith alone), sola scriptura (scripture alone as the rule of faith and practice) and congregationalist church government. Baptists generally recognize two ordinances: baptism and communion.”

There are other dominations that practice baptism of professing believers by immersion, such as the Assemblies of God, Christian & Missionary Alliance, United Pentecostal and others. Jews for Jesus actually teach that believer’s baptism by immersion is a Jewish practice as well. However, the Baptists have made it one of the cornerstones of their faith and practice.

Two Baptist Distinctives

Let’s focus on the two distinctives mentioned regarding the practice of baptism specifically.

1. It is for people who have professed faith in Christ. (professing believers)

The books of Acts is very much the story of origins for the church. In that book, we have many references to baptism. Here are just a few:

Acts 2:38 || Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [NLT]

Acts 8:12–13 || But now the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized. Then Simon himself believed and was baptized. [NLT]

Acts 18:8 || Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, and everyone in his household believed in the Lord. Many others in Corinth also heard Paul, became believers, and were baptized. [NLT]

There is a very specific order here: they believed and were baptized. They repented and were baptized. There was a confrontation of the gospel and a response to it that preceded the act of baptism. Baptism does not save us, it is something that takes place after we are saved.

NOTE: an infant does not have the ability to understand their sinfulness nor to request forgiveness of that sin or place their faith in Jesus. There is not a direct reference in the scriptures to the baptism of infants.

Baptism is a rite of those who are old enough to understand their need for the Messiah and that have repented of their sins and believed in Jesus. This is what we refer to as believer’s baptism.

2. It is to be by immersion.


Baptism is a transliterated word. What that means is that the people who translated the Bible, choose to take the original Greek word, baptizma, and give it an English spelling. This happened with the first English translation of the Scriptures by Wycliffe in 1382. It has been kept that way ever since.

The word baptism means “to immerse”. I think, if we simply translated the word rather than transliterating it, there would be a lot less confusion on the matter.

There is not a single reference to sprinkling, nor is the Greek word for sprinkling mentioned in our New Testament. It is very specific that the word immersion (baptisma) is used.


Baptism is symbolic of what Jesus has done for us. Like so many other events in the Bible: the Exodus, Passover, Jonah, there are things that take place that point to the work of the Messiah. John came immersing people in the Jordan River:

Mark 1:4–6 || 4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 John wore a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. [CSB]

But he did this at God’s command and before Jesus was revealed as the Messiah and before He gave his life for us on Calvary.

Why would God use baptism as the act that John would perform? Because it pointed to the work of the coming Messiah, Jesus.

Colossians 2:12 || For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.  [NLT]

Under water, out of the water. Death, burial and resurrection to new life.

Romans 6:3–5 || 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. 5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. [NLT]

While we realize that Paul is using the metaphor baptism as burial, the metaphor only makes sense if we realize that baptism is immersion. When we bury bodies, we do not sprinkle or pour dirt on them; we cover them in dirt. Baptism cannot be a burial unless one is covered in water.

So Baptism is for believers by immersion.

Why should WE be baptized?

It is cool that the early Christians were baptized. But is this still something that Christians are supposed to do? Was it just cultural for them or something for the church today?

Jesus was baptized to set an example

When Jesus began his public ministry, he went to see John the baptizer at the Jordan River. Though Jesus had no sins to be washed away, and nothing to repent of, the perfect Son of God chose to be baptized:

Mark 1:9–11 || 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10 As soon as he came up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.” [CSB]

Jesus was baptized as an example. This is very similar to God “resting” on the seventh day of creation. It was not that God needed to rest, it was an example for us. Jesus had no sin to repent of, but he was baptized as an example to us.

If the Son of Man, our Savior was obedient to be baptized, shouldn’t we?

Jesus commanded us to baptize new disciples

After Jesus rose from the dead, he visited his disciples many times. Just before we went to heaven, Jesus gave this command to the disciples:

Matthew 28:18–20 || 18 Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [CSB]

We are commanded to go, make disciples and baptize them. That means that if you and I are disciples, we need to be baptized and then we need to baptize others.

It is an association with Jesus

It is a public statement of our lives being associated with Jesus. Just as circumcision was a physical act that demonstrated that someone was a Jew, or a Jewish proselyte, baptism associates someone with the Messiah, Jesus.

Galatians 3:27–29 || 27 For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. 28 There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise. [CSB]

Notice how this passage bring the Abrahamic Covenant into baptism? God’s plan of redemption was not just for the Jews, it was for all the peoples of the earth. And when we are baptized we show that we are now one of the people of God because of the work of Jesus.

Let’s revisit that passage in Colossians again:

Colossians 2:12 || For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.  [NLT]

Baptism is a chance for us to publicly declare the goodness of God towards us! It is not that we have done or are doing anything great, it is that God has done something great in restoring our relationship with Him. He sent Jesus to die for us so we could live with him and for him. Baptism gives us a chance to declare to those around us the amazing grace of God and how it has changed our lives.


The Southern Baptist have a document called the Baptist Faith & Message. There are copies of it in booklet form on the bookcase in the back of the room. In that document, they have a very concise statement on baptism:

“VII… Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus…”

I think that is a great summary of baptism. Let me read that again.

I think it is beautiful that one of the first actions we can take in our new life in Christ, is to make a public profession of our faith in Jesus through baptism.

Why Baptism