Start Right: Believer's Baptism
By Dr. Adrian Rogers
Baptism is the first step every believer should take in his or her walk with Christ.
Scripture Passage: Acts 8:35-39
In a race, how you end up has a lot to do with how you begin. If you begin strong, you have a much better chance of winning. The same is true in education - learning advanced things as an adult is much easier if you learned the basics as a child. Many businesspeople have learned the importance of getting their business off to a strong start. And what is true in those areas is also true of your Christian life. If you get off to a strong start by obeying what the Bible tells you to do, you will find it much easier to grow strong in your walk with Christ.
In the early church the Lord took a preacher, Philip, and moved him into a unique evangelistic effort in Samaria. Philip saw a man who was riding a chariot and reading from the prophet Isaiah. That man had great authority. He was the treasurer of Queen Candace of Ethiopia, and he had recently been to the city of Jerusalem to seek the truth of God. So the Holy Spirit nudged Philip to talk with that Ethiopian eunuch.
"He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth," the Ethiopian said out loud, reading from Isaiah 53. "In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth" (vv. 32-33). As Philip heard these words, he asked the Ethiopian, "Do you know what those words mean?" Then he began to explain the gospel to that religious seeker:
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing (vv. 35-39).
That's a great passage of Scripture. Philip preached unto him Jesus. Not denominationalism, not empowerment, not politics, and not economics. He preached unto him Jesus, and as soon as that man believed, Philip baptized him. Many people misunderstand baptism. Some act as though, since baptism doesn't save us, it isn't important. Other people make the mistake of saying, "If you don't get baptized, you'll never go to heaven." Baptism isn't necessary for salvation, but it is necessary for obedience. Obedience is necessary if you are going to experience joy and growth and fruitfulness in the Christian life. Believers dare not minimize what the Bible so emphasizes.
Jesus began His public ministry by being baptized, and He concluded His public ministry by commanding His disciples to baptize others. When our Lord was baptized, He identified Himself with us. When we are baptized, we identify ourselves with Him. There are some Christians who have never been baptized, but I think they need to be as a sign of their commitment to obedience. I don't want to make this a lesson on what Baptists teach about baptism, because that has little to do with the topic. What's important is what the Bible has to say about baptism, and that we agree to follow the example of Scripture.
The Biblical Method of Baptism
As we read the account in Acts 8, there are several facts about baptism that are clear. First, it takes water to baptize someone. Second, the person is to be baptized if they believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Third, baptism is the act of immersing someone in water. The word in Greek, "baptidzo," means "to immerse in water." When the Ethiopian asks, "What doth hinder me to be baptized?", we could also translate that, "What hinders me from being immersed?" The Bible says they both went down into the water, so it was a big enough body of water for two men to wade into, and the one immersed the other.
That method wasn't incidental. When we read about the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1:9, we find out the Lord was baptized in the same way: "And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan." Jordan refers to the Jordan River, so Jesus went down into the Jordan River to be immersed. He wasn't baptized near the Jordan, or with water from the Jordan, but actually into the Jordan. The next verse reads, "and straightway coming up out of the water . . ." Now, if He came up out of the water, He had to have been down in the water. Jesus was baptized by immersion.
It's important to note that Jesus wasn't baptized by immersion just because it was convenient. As a matter of fact, it was downright inconvenient. It was about a sixty mile trip, one way. But He went to the Jordan because that's where the water was, and it takes a lot of water to immerse someone. John 3:23 notes that John the Baptist was baptizing in Aenon near Salim "because there was much water there." Now if John had wanted to sprinkle people, he could have baptized everybody in Jerusalem with a fifty-five gallon tank of water. But John had to find a place that had plenty of water, because it takes a lot of water to immerse someone.
When I was a young pastor, we once scheduled a baptismal service in another church building that had a baptistry. But they forgot to fill it up for us! People were waiting to be baptized, and it would have taken hours to fill that baptismal fount. So we called the fire department, and they came with a pumper and--in no time--filled that baptistry. It would have been easier to simply sprinkle some water on their heads, but I don't believe it would have been Biblical. The word baptize means immersion, so when we baptize we need to immerse the person. Actually, it is an untranslated word in the King James Version. In 1611, when old King James of England was going to have the Bible translated from Greek into English, the scholars he hired came to the Greek word baptizo. Unfortunately, King James didn't believe in baptism by immersion, because the tradition in his day was to sprinkle people with water. So those scholars, in order to save the king embarrassment, decided not to translate the word. They just used the Greek word because they didn't have the courage to translate it. But any Greek scholar can tell you the word means "to immerse." Immersion was practiced in the early Christian church, and if you visit the ancient cathedrals of Europe built before the thirteenth century, you'll find they all have baptistries. The method of baptism is important, because the method is tied to the meaning. Therefore, if you change the method, you change the meaning.
The Meaning of Baptism
Baptism speaks of what God did for you when He saved you. Romans 6:1-2 says, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" This is the key to understanding baptism.
When we are saved, we die to sin. We die to the old way of life. God forbids that we who have been saved should continue to live sinful lives. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore 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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection" (Romans 6:3-5). Christian, this is your biography. This passage describes the past, the present, and the future of every Christian.
The Christian's Past
Your past is in verse 4: You have been buried with Jesus Christ by baptism. When you are baptized, you are buried under the water. This is a visual symbol of your old life dying and being buried. It also connects you with Christ's death 2000 years ago. He took your sin, carried it to the cross, suffered and died for you, bearing your sins in His body. He paid your sin debt in full. When He died, you died with Him because of your faith in Him. Your old self was crucified with Christ, that your body of sin might be destroyed and you should no longer serve sin. Your baptism is a funeral of your old self. You bury that old self; it's in the grave of God's forgetfulness. Your sin is gone; you no longer have to be haunted by the ghost of guilt. Baptism is a visual picture of your old self going into the grave.
The Christian's Present
Paul tells us in Romans 6 that Christ was raised from the dead, so we should walk in the newness of life. That's the present reality for the Christian. Jesus didn't stay in that grave, He arose. And, you didn't stay in that grave, you came up out of the water a new person. You now walk in a new life. The old has gone, the new has come. You've been born again. Coming up out of the baptismal water is a symbolic picture of you coming out of that grave, risen to a new life in Christ. Your old sin nature has been washed away, and you come up clean and new.
The Christian's Future
Paul goes on to say that, since we have been planted like Christ in death, we shall be raised like Christ in the resurrection. Someday I am going to die, and they will put my body into a grave. But as the grave couldn't hold Christ, it won't hold me. I'm going to be raised like Him. That's what baptism depicts. It pictures our death, burial, and resurrection with Jesus. That's really the core of the gospel, and God commands that we be baptized because He wants us to understand the transformation that occurs when we are saved. Baptism is a beautiful illustration of the death, burial, and resurrection of the person who believes on Jesus Christ. Immersion is the way God arranged for us to symbolize it. You don't want to use just any symbol. Sprinkling doesn't depict the full meaning of baptism. Immersion does. The method and the meaning are bound up together.
The Motive for Baptism
There are three reasons for getting baptized. First, it proclaims your commitment to Jesus. It is a way to say, "Lord, I am identifying myself with You, openly and publicly." It doesn't make you a Christian, but it certainly does demonstrate that you're a Christian. Wearing a wedding ring doesn't make me married, but it does show that I am married and am not ashamed of letting everyone know it. I belong to a woman I love with all my heart, and my wedding ring is a way of showing it. When Jesus was baptized, He was identifying Himself with us. When you are baptized, it publicly identifies you with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, it portrays your conversion to Christ. Your baptism is a testimony that you are a believer in Jesus. You are saved and you want everyone to know it. Your friends see you being baptized, and they hear you proclaim what Christ has done for you. I have known many people who were saved watching a friend's baptism.
Third, it pays attention to your command from God. Baptism is not a suggestion, it is a command from our Heavenly Father. In Matthew 28:19-20, Christ said, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." We are to observe that which Christ commanded, which is to baptize.
After Peter had preached the gospel to Cornelius, he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord, according to Acts 10:48. Baptism is His command, and we are to obey His commands. One of our motivations for baptism is that we wish to obey the commands of our Master. Baptism can't save us. It's an outward expression of an inward reality. But it is an act that Christians are called to obey.
-- Dr. Adrian Rogers
About Dr. Adrian Rogers
Dr. Adrian Rogers was the Pastor Emeritus of Bellevue Baptist Church and one of America's most respected Bible preachers. Under his pastoral leadership, Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, grew from 9,000 members in 1972 to more than 29,000. A staunch defender of Biblical inerrancy, Pastor Rogers was called upon to serve three times as President of the 14-million member Southern Baptist Convention. Adrian Rogers has written numerous books: Mastering Your Emotions; God's Way to Health, Wealth and Wisdom; The Power of His Presence; and Ten Secrets for a Successful Family; Kingdom Authority, Believe in Miracles but Trust in Jesus; Standing for Light and Truth; God's Wisdom is Better Than Gold; plus many others.
Dr. Rogers was also the pastor/teacher of Love Worth Finding, a ministry which extends the message of Dr. Rogers far beyond the congregation, proving to be a blessing to listeners around the nation every day. This radio and television ministry takes Dr. Rogers' message in four languages to more than 14,000 television outlets and 1,100 radio outlets in the United States and in 150 other countries including all of Europe, Latin America, China, Australia, Africa, India, and beyond. Tapes and other resources from Dr. Rogers are available through Love Worth Finding Ministries, P.O. Box 38300, Memphis, TN 38183-0300, 1-800-274-LOVE (5683).
Dr. Rogers went to be with Jesus on November 15, 2005.