Water Baptism and Laying On of Hands

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Water Baptism and Laying On of Hands

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“But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12 Acts 8:12But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

After one repents in faith, one’s next step is water baptism, a primary principle of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 6:1-2 Hebrews 6:1-2 1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
American King James Version×
). Those who wish to travel the road to eternal life must understand and take part in two basic ceremonies—water baptism and the laying on of hands—to receive the Holy Spirit.

The words baptize and baptism are derived from the Greek verb baptizo, meaning “to dip or immerse.” Dip means “to immerse and then quickly take out.” Immerse means “to plunge under, so as to cover completely.” From these definitions, it is clear that immersion is the biblical method of baptism. Baptism by immersion symbolizes our death and burial, while rising out of the baptismal water symbolizes a resurrection to a new life in Christ (Romans 6:3-5 Romans 6:3-5 3 Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 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. 5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
American King James Version×
).

Notice how Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. The two men had stopped by a river, “and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.” They then “came up out of the water” (Acts 8:38-39 Acts 8:38-39 38 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. 39 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.
American King James Version×
). Why did they both go into the water? So Philip could baptize the eunuch by immersing him completely under the water. Then, rising from the water, the eunuch could begin a new life in Christ.

Jesus instructed His followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19 Matthew 28:19Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
American King James Version×
). The Greek word here for “in” can also be translated “into.” When a minister of God submerges a new believer under the water, performing the symbolic burial of the “old man,” he performs the act in the name of, or by the authority of, Jesus Christ. He also puts the person in, or into, a new relationship with God.

A symbolic death and burial

Baptism symbolizes in part our being united with Christ in death and burial in a figurative sense: “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death” (Romans 6:3-4 Romans 6:3-4 3 Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 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.
American King James Version×
).

In God’s eyes we are “united together in the likeness of His death…Knowing this, that our old man [the sinful person we were before] was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:5-6 Romans 6:5-6 5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: 6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from now on we should not serve sin.
American King James Version×
).

Before the miracle of repentance, we are slaves of sin. Paul explained to the Romans that, once we are baptized into Christ, we are no longer trapped in sin (Romans 6:3-4 Romans 6:3-4 3 Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 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.
American King James Version×
). “Our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died [through the symbolic death of baptism and eradicating our old ways] has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7 Romans 6:6-7 6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from now on we should not serve sin. 7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
American King James Version×
).

But we are redeemed—bought back—from enslavement to sin by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19 1 Peter 1:18-19 18 For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
American King James Version×
; Revelation 5:9 Revelation 5:9And they sung a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
American King James Version×
). Having been purchased by God, we now belong to Him: “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20 1 Corinthians 6:20For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
American King James Version×
).

Being converted from slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness, we no longer serve sin (Romans 6:18 Romans 6:18Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.
American King James Version×
). Our new way of thinking is one that bears the fruits of repentance (see Galatians 5:22-23 Galatians 5:22-23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
American King James Version×
). As Galatians 5:24-25 Galatians 5:24-25 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
American King James Version×
puts it: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

Resurrection to a new life

This life in the Spirit is also symbolized in the baptismal ceremony. For baptism pictures not only our death to sin, but also our being resurrected to a new life in Christ: “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4 Romans 6:4Therefore 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.
American King James Version×
). Once we are baptized and have hands laid on us by one of God’s ministers, He gives us His Holy Spirit as a “deposit” of our ultimate change to spirit and eternal life, “guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:22 2 Corinthians 1:22Who has also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
American King James Version×
, NIV). Baptism, then, is the symbolic burial of our old self and the beginning of a new life as an obedient servant of God.

Paul compares our newness of life to a change of clothing: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27 Galatians 3:27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
American King James Version×
, NIV). We put on, or clothe, ourselves with Christ by replacing wrong attitudes, actions and habits with right ones. Colossians 3:12 Colossians 3:12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering;
American King James Version×
says, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (NIV).

God’s Holy Spirit is given to us by the prayer of and laying on of hands by God’s ordained ministers, serving as His representatives.

Our new life starts us down the road that ultimately leads to eternal life and entrance into the Kingdom of God at the resurrection of the just, when Jesus returns to earth. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5 Romans 6:5For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
American King James Version×
, New Revised Standard Version).

Notice that our actual resurrection is yet future, at which time we will be changed into spirit (1 Corinthians 15:42-55 1 Corinthians 15:42-55 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. 46 However, that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. 47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. 50 Now this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?
American King James Version×
). Even though we may not comprehend what it means to be changed into spirit, we can rely on John’s words in 1 John 3:2 1 John 3:2Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
American King James Version×
: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

God’s Spirit given through laying on of hands

The next step on our road to eternal life is to receive God’s Holy Spirit, which comes through “laying on of hands,” as described in Hebrews 6:2 Hebrews 6:2Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
American King James Version×
. From the Scriptures, we find that water baptism is followed by the ceremony of laying on of hands, at which time we receive God’s Spirit. Acts 19:6 Acts 19:6And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spoke with tongues, and prophesied.
American King James Version×
says, “And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them.”

Acts 8:12 Acts 8:12But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
American King James Version×
shows that “both men and women” in Samaria understood, repented and were baptized. However, the Holy Spirit was not given until Peter and John prayed and laid their hands on them. Acts 8:15-17 Acts 8:15-17 15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: 16 (For as yet he was fallen on none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
say: “When they arrived, they [Peter and John] prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (NIV).

We see that God’s Holy Spirit is given to us by the prayer of and laying on of hands by God’s ordained ministers, serving as His representatives.

The representation aspect here is important to bear in mind. In the laying on of hands, it is God’s divine power and authority that confers His Spirit. His human representatives have no supernatural power of themselves. It is God working in and through them. Nevertheless, God wants us to acknowledge the fact that He does work through human representatives.

This is part of a bigger picture of God’s Church working together in an orderly way. All are charged with the responsibility of helping and caring for, and submitting to, one another. Yet some have the special responsibility of serving others through leadership and teaching. God requiring the laying on of hands helps us to see that.

Why we need God’s Spirit

What is the role of God’s Spirit in our lives? On our own, we may strive, struggle and pray earnestly for victory over a sinful habit, but still come up short. After baptism and the laying on of hands, the same Spirit that leads us to repentance continues to work in us even more powerfully to help us see and overcome our sins and shortcomings.

Because it is impossible to be overcomers by keeping God’s law in its full spiritual intent on our own, Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit to guide and help us (John 14:16-18 John 14:16-18 16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees him not, neither knows him: but you know him; for he dwells with you, and shall be in you. 18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
American King James Version×
). When we do all we humanly can to be obedient, God gives us, through His Holy Spirit, the additional help we need to obey His truth and have a sound mind reflecting godly love (Acts 5:32 Acts 5:32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them that obey him.
American King James Version×
; John 16:13 John 16:13However, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.
American King James Version×
; 2 Timothy 1:7 2 Timothy 1:7For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
American King James Version×
).

His Spirit helps us overcome the weaknesses and selfish desires of human nature (Romans 7:13-20 Romans 7:13-20 13 Was then that which is good made death to me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent to the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.
American King James Version×
). It enables us to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24 John 4:23-24 23 But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
American King James Version×
). It provides us comfort during trials and allows the mind of Christ to work in us (Philippians 2:5 Philippians 2:5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
American King James Version×
). Through His Spirit, God inspires, guides and leads us, and makes us His very own children (Romans 8:13-14 Romans 8:13-14 13 For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
American King James Version×
; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 10 But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God.
American King James Version×
).

Overcoming our habitual sins and selfish nature does not happen instantly. It is a lifelong process, often involving great effort. The apostle Paul, more than 20 years after his miraculous conversion, described his continuing struggle to overcome the evil desires within himself. Those selfish pulls were so strong that he called them another “law” working within himself:

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing …

“So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (Romans 7:18-23 Romans 7:18-23 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

But Paul also noted that, with the help of God’s Spirit, our sinful nature can be subdued: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13 Romans 8:13For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.
American King James Version×
).

Some mistakenly believe that once a person is baptized, God takes over and does everything. This is a misleading and dangerous concept. God expects us to resist sin and strive to make His Spirit an active part of our daily lives.

In 2 Timothy 1:6 2 Timothy 1:6Why I put you in remembrance that you stir up the gift of God, which is in you by the putting on of my hands.
American King James Version×
, Paul urged Timothy to “stir up the gift of God [the Holy Spirit] which is in you through the laying on of my hands,” showing that we have a personal responsibility in our salvation. Timothy needed to “stir up” God’s Spirit—not just sit back and let God take over. Paul restated, in Philippians 2:12 Philippians 2:12Why, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
American King James Version×
, that we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

The miracle of transformation

God’s Spirit working within us helps us change and begin producing right fruit in our lives. Galatians 5:22-23 Galatians 5:22-23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
American King James Version×
lists the fruit of God’s Spirit—love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness and self-control, among others—that become increasingly evident in us as we grow spiritually.

Producing the fruit of righteousness is important. It is also important for us to understand that the credit for that fruit goes to God. Paul expressed to the Philippians his desire to be acceptable to God by “not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law [attempting to keep the law on his own], but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith”—that is, obedience produced through having Christ’s faith within him by the Holy Spirit (Philippians 3:9 Philippians 3:9And be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
American King James Version×
, KJV).

Notice that Paul trusted God to produce righteousness in him, knowing “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 Philippians 2:13For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
American King James Version×
). Yet he understood that this was a partnership in which he had to cooperate. As he wrote in Colossians 1:29 Colossians 1:29 Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily.
American King James Version×
, “I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.”

When God calls us to be His children, He initiates a change in us from our formerly proud, selfish, disobedient ways. He transforms us by the renewing, or changing, of our mind—a process to which we must yield. Paul told the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2 Romans 12:2And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
American King James Version×
).

Paul explained that this transformation is not instantaneous. It requires ongoing changes in our thinking and outlook that permanently affect the way we live. We become “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1 Romans 12:1I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
American King James Version×
).

Paul also admonished, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 Philippians 2:5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
American King James Version×
). He preceded this by describing both the attitude and behavior that would be evident in the converted mind:

“Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:2-4 Philippians 2:2-4 2 Fulfill you my joy, that you be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
American King James Version×
).

Having the mind of Jesus Christ is what makes this great miracle of transformation possible.

The symbolic meaning of baptism, then, is profound. It represents both forgiveness of sins and newness of life in Christ. It should change our lives forever—particularly when we recall that these blessings have come at a great price. Jesus Christ sacrificed His own life so we may gain ours through the forgiveness of our sins—a matter we consider further in the next chapter.