The Why, How and When of Baptism


Have you jumped out of an aeroplane? I have! Admittedly, I was strapped to an experienced skydiver who was wearing a parachute. But when the door of the plane opened, I was still nervous about taking the plunge.

That’s not the only time I’ve taken a plunge. And been nervous. When I was 15, I chose to be baptised—to take the plunge and follow Jesus. I’d decided that to be a follower of Jesus, I had to do what He asked, and publicly demonstrate my decision. I would be baptised, completely immersed in a pool of water.

I remember friends and family gathering for the occasion, to sing, encourage and celebrate with me. I prayed to myself as the minister lowered me under the water. There was no voice from heaven, but I sensed that the day would change the rest of my life. Which it did. Today I am a minister myself, regularly baptising people. I know why, but you may be wondering why anyone would choose to be baptised. You may also be wondering just how it should be performed.

Why should I be?

Despite what you might have heard, baptism isn’t primarily about what you believe, how you behave or even about joining a church. Baptism is about Jesus. In biblical thinking, baptism is the natural response to a transforming encounter with Jesus Christ.
When we realise that Jesus loves us and has died to secure both an abund?ant life and eternal life for us; when we appreciate how rotten life can become without Jesus and how great it can be when focused on Him, then we are drawn to follow Him. Jesus’ love makes a dramatic difference to our thinking, our feelings, our goals and our behaviour. And that difference deserves to be commemorated in the ceremony of baptism.

When Peter, an early Christian leader, shared the story of Jesus with a crowd of thousands, they were deeply moved and asked what to do. Peter replied, “Turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, NLT).

When Christian leaders Paul and Silas were asked by their jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30, 31, NLT). And moments later the jailer was baptised.

Baptism is an important step in becoming a Christian. Being washed in water symbolises our decision to accept the new life that Jesus wants to give us. Not that the act of baptism saves us—the ceremony only represents the decision of the heart.

The Bible shows that God wants us to go through the ceremony of baptism as an act of commitment. Baptism is a rite of passage, like marriage, that sets our course for the future.

How am I to be?

I’ve baptised people in rainwater tanks, rivers, oceans, swimming pools and even a portable spa. In each case, the person was fully immersed. If you read the stories of baptism in the New Testament, this was the practice in Jesus’ day. The word baptism literally means to fully immerse in water.

The Bible indicates that by being baptised in this way a person is re-enacting the Easter experience of Jesus. Just as Jesus died and was buried, we go under the water to symbolise the death and burial of an old way of living. And just as Jesus rose to new life, we rise up out of the water to live the new life that Jesus promises us.

It’s good to pray for our children and dedicate them to God’s care and protection as babies, but that’s not the same as baptism. When it comes to baptism, people should be old enough to appreciate what Jesus did for them and make the choice to be baptised in response.

Who will I be?

Baptism is a commitment. Sometimes people tell me they aren’t “ready” to be baptised, because they don’t “feel” good enough. Well, how good does one have to be before they can be baptised?

Well, as it turns out, that’s nothing to do with it. Fortunately, baptism is based on Jesus’ goodness, not ours. We are adopted into God’s family as His sons and daughters because of His unconditional love for us. That’s what’s so amazing about grace! God only asks us to believe what has been done through His Son Jesus and to accept His love and forgiveness.

When we do this, we begin our spiritual journey—a lifetime endeavour where we learn more and more about how to live as children of God. Baptism shows that we have begun the Christian growth journey, not finished it. While baptism does not require an achieved level of goodness, it does demand commitment—commitment to grow more like Jesus as He leads us. That’s why the Bible links baptism with repentance, and why Jesus said people should consider the cost of being a disciple.

For any relationship to last, including our relationship with God, commitment is required. We are very committed to the things we are passionate about. A continuing realisation of Jesus’ love for us inspires a committed love in us. As we discover the benefits of a Christian life we thank God for the opportunity to live it. We’re ready for baptism when we understand and wish to pursue a life of commitment to Jesus-centred living.

Where will I be?

When someone is baptised, they will often be formally recognised as a member of a church. That’s because the Bible teaches that “we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). This means at baptism we are joined to Christ as the head of the church, and we also become part of His body—the church. God wants you to be part of a family in which you will be encouraged and where you can encourage others. That’s what the church is all about.

When should I be?

I have only good memories of baptisms, my own and others. One man whom I baptised had never had any close friends, but now he is surrounded by people who care. I remember teenagers and young adults being baptised just as they were making crucial decisions about the direction of their lives. I’ve seen shy or troubled people grow and do great things after deciding to follow Jesus and be baptised. Baptisms are times of joy and celebration; Jesus said that on such occasions the angels party!

We can only truly appreciate some things when we wholeheartedly plunge into them. Baptism is when we get off the sideline and say: “I want to know Jesus. I want to experience His gifts of love and a new life. I want to be part of His family—His church—and do my part to make the world a better place.”

If you have been baptised, keep living your commitment. If not, there’s no better time than now to take the plunge!

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