Once I talked with a gentleman who told me that he had waited to be baptized for several years. Yet circumstances had somehow sidetracked his intentions. Now he was finally ready to earnestly consider taking this vital step towards conversion.
If you are new to the truth of God, you need to study and receive instruction in God’s commandments and foundational truths. With learning you will come to the point that you can make an informed decision on an eternal commitment to God.
Yet some people attend church services for years with a desire for baptism kept somewhere in the back of their minds. They hesitate, entertaining doubts about making a lifelong commitment.
Part of the problem for many is a lack of biblical perspective on the subject. A helpful way to gain that perspective is to look at examples of people in the Bible confronted by their need for baptism.
The apostle Paul did not grow up as a Christian. Far from it! In fact, as an adult he violently persecuted Jesus Christ’s true followers (Acts 22:4-5; Acts 26:9-11). Spiritually, he was on a one-way trip to nowhere. When he realized the depth of his sin, he repented and was forgiven. He later reflected that he was forgiven for his crimes and “obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13).
But on Paul’s way to Damascus—ironically, on a mission to persecute Christians—God mercifully intervened, stopping him in his tracks and granting him repentance. Shortly afterwards Christ sent a man named Ananias to instruct the future apostle in the right path.
Perceiving Paul’s repentance, Ananias asked him: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16, emphasis added throughout). Paul had flagrantly transgressed God’s law, even to the extent of being partially responsible for putting Christians to death! But a merciful God gave him the opportunity to put his sins behind him, leaving them in the bottom of the baptismal pool where they belonged.
God can do the same for you. No matter what wrongs you have done in the past, you can put them behind you and rid yourself of the guilt that plagues so many.
What do you need to do? The only requirements are faith and true repentance—being genuinely sorry for your sins and firmly determining to follow God’s way of life as summarized in the Ten Commandments. The apostle Peter called this godly sorrow “repentance to life” (Acts 11:18). The result is an abundant life now as never before (John 10:10), as well as the first major step toward eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
Of course, the salvation process requires doing “works befitting repentance” (Acts 26:20). This means giving up habits that the Bible shows are wrong while committing to a life of obeying God’s law.
The road to eternal life
Many, hopefully including you as a reader of Beyond Today, have already given up many of their old ways. They’ve begun the process of repentance, jettisoning old pagan practices along the way. For years they have been reading the Bible and other material.
Yet they hesitate to take the necessary step of baptism—their passport to everlasting life in the Kingdom of God. The apostle John wrote, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life” (1 John 5:12). Those words can be a little scary and demand positive action on our part.
The book of Acts is a window into the life of the early Church. One of its most prominent themes is repentance and baptism. Does the historical record reveal much delay and endless procrastination, or is repentance followed by baptism as a matter of course?
After the historic day of Pentecost, when the Church was founded, Peter’s first sermon convicted members of his audience of their sins. His listeners immediately sought a way out of their dilemma, and God mercifully provided it. “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38).
The role of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the seed of eternal life that leads us to salvation. Other passages show that God gives His Spirit to the repentant person after baptism by the laying on of hands by His true servants (Acts 8:14-18). Then, through that Spirit, Jesus Christ begins to live His life in us (see Galatians 2:20).
The Bible shows that “those who gladly received his [Peter’s] word were baptized, and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:41-42).
Those who were baptized continued in the Christian life, obeying God and fellowshipping with others on the Sabbath day.
Continuing the story flow, how did those early audiences react when they heard the true gospel preached? “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized” (Acts 8:12).
The Ethiopian eunuch
Later Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch (the treasury minister in the Ethiopian queen’s government) reading the book of Isaiah in the Scriptures. After Philip had thoroughly explained the truth of God, this official asked him, “What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Today many might ask themselves the same question.
Philip replied, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch responded, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37). (Of course, many other scriptural passages make it clear that true belief should always include repentance and obedience.)
But then what happened? Did Philip recommend delaying the ceremony? Not at all. “And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38).
Since baptism pictures the death of the old sinful man (see Romans 6:3-6), the consistent biblical example of baptism is one of total immersion in water. This takes only a second or two. Considering the symbolism of baptism—death and burial of the old man in a watery grave—the practice of merely sprinkling and that of baptizing those too young to understand baptism’s significance are not in keeping with the biblical example and teaching.
The day of your baptism
How did the Ethiopian eunuch react to his baptism? Luke tells us that after Philip left the scene, the Ethiopian “went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). It was probably the happiest day of his life. His past sins were forgiven and behind him forever! He could look forward to a transformed life, basking in the knowledge of God by studying the Scriptures in ever-increasing understanding made possible by God’s Spirit.
The day of your baptism is not a day of suffering and sadness. Have you ever noticed the facial expression of a bride on her wedding day? A big smile graces the face of blissful happiness and great joy!
Both marriage and baptism are rites of passage into a different and much better way of life. The former, on the human level, is for this physical life, but the latter constitutes an important step toward living forever in God’s eternal Kingdom.
Your personal circumstances important
We should note again that baptism is not for those with no understanding of the law of God. As part of this sacred rite, we enter into a covenant with God in which we promise to strive to obey His law for the rest of our lives. This is repentance—turning our lives around to obey God. But we must first understand what God requires of us before we commit to it.
In the examples above of Paul and the 3,000 Jews baptized when the New Testament Church began, they were keeping the biblical Feast of Pentecost. They all had a background of instruction in God’s commandments. So did the Ethiopian eunuch, because the Jewish religion—it may surprise some to learn—was commonly practiced in his home country.
Beyond Today magazine reaches its readers on many levels. Some are already truly converted Christians well on their way to the Kingdom of God. For them this article will be a timely review and reminder.
Many others may have received only a few issues, and much of this biblical knowledge might be entirely new to them. It may even strike them as strange, depending on their previous understanding. These readers may need more time before even considering baptism—time well spent in studying the Bible. To assist you in your study we provide not only the articles in Beyond Today but many free study guides offered in every issue.
If you are new to the truth of God, you need to study and receive instruction in God’s commandments and foundational truths. Eventually you can make an informed decision on commitment to God.
If you haven’t already, perhaps you will enroll in our free Beyond Today Bible Study Course, 12 helpful lessons that explain the plan of God from Genesis to Revelation. Several highlight the importance of becoming a Christian, repentance, baptism and the crucial role of the Church in a person’s life.
However, the primary focus of this particular article is for those who are unnecessarily delaying baptism based on ideas or feelings that are not supported in Scripture. Paul told Timothy to “lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12). Without baptism this becomes impossible. Baptism is a command of God, part of His plan of salvation. So why not take the plunge?
Personal counsel available
Lack of repentance or faith is the only valid reason for delaying baptism. But many of you have already taken significant steps in that direction. If you understand and seek His truth, God will grant you even deeper repentance. So why put off what the Bible calls “the baptism of repentance”? (Acts 13:24). Why delay your start down the road to eternal salvation? Indeed, as Paul tells us in Acts 17:30, God “now commands all men everywhere to repent.”
If you would like to discuss these spiritual matters further, we can help you arrange a private appointment with a United Church of God minister. In confidence he would be glad to explain repentance, baptism and any other biblical subjects in much more detail.
Remember what Ananias told Paul nearly 2,000 years ago: “Why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized.”
(This article first appeared in the March/April 2002 issue of The Good News magazine.)