First, what is baptism?
One of the great joys of my job as a pastor is having the opportunity to baptize people. Baptism is the most important commitment you will ever make, and it is one that brings great spiritual and emotional joy to all those involved—the person being baptized, the person doing the baptism and even the angels in heaven (Luke 15:10 Luke 15:10Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.
American King James Version×)! So, what exactly is baptism?
One of the keys to understanding baptism is found in Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×: “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.’”
Peter sums up the commitment that God wants each of us to make in a three-step process. First, we need to repent. We acknowledge that our behavior has been sinful, and recognize that we don’t want to continue behaving in a sinful way. Even if we grew up as “good kids,” we still have a sinful nature that needs to be overcome. Second, we need to be baptized to have our sins forgiven. And third, we need to receive the Holy Spirit. Having the Holy Spirit is what helps us avoid committing future sins. The book of Acts contains many examples of people following this exact process! You can compare Acts 2:40-41 Acts 2:40-41  And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.
American King James Version×, 8:26-38, 10:34-48, 16:11-15, 18:5-8.
Technically speaking, baptism is the middle step in this three-step process. It’s the part where you are briefly submerged under water as a symbolic gesture—showing that your old way of life is dead (Romans 6:1-8 Romans 6:1-8  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?
 Know you 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:
 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.
 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
American King James Version×). Although it sounds scary, most people who have been baptized will tell you that this is actually the easiest part of the process!
So, while baptism is the actual act of going under water to have our sins forgiven, most often when we talk about baptism, we’re actually referring to the entire process.
Although our process of counseling for
baptism might be a little more streamlined
and formalized today, in reality, it is very much the same as it was in the book of Acts.
Getting started: repentance
As we saw from Peter’s words in Acts, we need to begin with repentance. This word comes from the Greek metanoeo, and it literally means “to change one’s mind.” This change of mind isn’t like deciding that you want to eat a salad for lunch instead of pizza. It’s referring to deep changes in how we think about life. Back in Acts 2, Peter went on to say, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (verse 36). He had just finished explaining to his audience—an audience who had seen Christ in person and demanded His death—that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah they had been looking for, and was indeed God in the flesh.
He continued, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (verse 37). Obviously, they didn’t realize their mistake at the time, but in that moment, a few weeks after they had been crying for Christ’s blood, they were hurt deeply by their own sin. So much so that they recognized a need for a real change in their sinful behavior.
While you and I were not there in the crowd chanting for Christ’s crucifixion, there comes a time in our lives when we, too, become “cut to the heart.” We recognize that our own way of doing things doesn’t quite work out. On a grand scale, we recognize that human logic falls short and inevitably leads to sin (Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
American King James Version×). Sin then leads to death (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×), unless that sin is forgiven (1 John 1:9 1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
American King James Version×). The only practical solution is to be forgiven. When you reach this point, it’s time to move on to the next step.
If you’ve come to the realization that you need help with life—more than what your parents and friends can give—it’s time to begin talking to your pastor or a local elder about baptism counseling. The word “counseling” can sound negative, like someone is going to sit you down for a long lecture, but baptism counseling is nothing like that!
I’ve had the privilege of counseling dozens of people for baptism. Our conversations are open and honest, and most of the time, the person who comes for counseling does most of the talking. They talk about the stresses in their lives, what’s going well, and what’s not. But mostly, they talk about the fact that if they try to rely solely on themselves—they’re not doing as well in life as they should be.
When I counsel people for baptism, it’s something that I keep very confidential. I don’t share anything they tell me with anyone—not parents, friends or even my own wife! What happens in baptismal counseling stays in baptismal counseling.
God gives us something to help us out—His Holy Spirit (John 14:26 John 14:26But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.
American King James Version×). The receiving of the Holy Spirit is a distinct and separate act from baptism.
Once we get rolling, the topic of repentance usually comes up early. I often ask, “What are you repenting of?” This question can make people a little nervous, like I’m asking them to confess to me specific sins they have committed. But that is not the intent behind the question. While it is necessary to repent of specific sins, that’s something someone does between themselves and God—not to me. The answer I am looking for is completely different.
Remember that Greek word from before, metanoeo? It means “to change one’s mind.” In the case of repentance, we are seeking God’s help to change our mind in a very profound way. We are seeking to stop using our own reasoning to determine what is right and wrong, and to instead use God’s Spirit to see what is right and wrong. Of course, His written Word, the Bible, shows us that, but fundamentally speaking, we have to have a mind that is willing to read and do what the Bible says, even when we want to do something else. That is the real change in thinking God is looking for!
Counting the cost
Once we cover the fundamental “mind change” we need, one of the next things we discuss is counting the cost. In Luke 14:26-30 Luke 14:26-30  If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
 And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
 Lest haply, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
American King James Version×, Christ says, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” (New Living Translation). God doesn’t expect us to hate anyone, or to stop loving our family and friends. What He does expect is that we will choose to follow Him over anyone else, if a choice arises. In reality, there isn’t really a choice—we must follow Him!
He continues in verses 28-30: “But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’”
Once we commit to God and Jesus Christ through baptism, we must be “all in.” When trials come along, such as a job or other situation that would keep us from following or obeying God, we must not give up our Christian journey. We must make the hard choices, and continue to follow God, no matter what.
Getting your feet (and everything else) wet
Once a pastor or local elder finishes counseling you for baptism, they will work out a time and place for your baptism to take place. This can be a very private event, or perhaps one you share with family and close friends.
At your baptism, the minister will ask you a few questions, such as “What is your full name?” and “Have you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior?” Once you answer the questions, he will say something along these lines: “Because you have repented of your sins, which are the transgression of God’s holy, righteous and perfect law, and accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, Master, High Priest and soon-coming King, I now baptize you—not into any sect or denomination of this world, but into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—for the remission of your sins. I do this through the authority and by the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
He will then dunk you momentarily (just for a couple of seconds) completely under water. It’s not unusual for him to have someone help hold you in place, so your feet don’t pop up, or a strong current doesn’t take you away!
The final touch
After you come out of the water, you are at a very unique moment in your life—you are sinless. This symbolic gesture has cleansed you of your previous life of sin (Ephesians 5:26 Ephesians 5:26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
American King James Version×)! And while this is a wonderful feeling, the truth is, it doesn’t last very long. Our human nature begins to try and take control, and inevitably, we make a mistake, slip up and sin (James 1:14-15 James 1:14-15  But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.  Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.
American King James Version×).
So, what do we do? Do we get re-baptized every time we sin? Of course not. God gives us something to help us out—His Holy Spirit (John 14:26 John 14:26But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you.
American King James Version×). The receiving of the Holy Spirit is a distinct and separate act from baptism. In Acts 8, we read how the deacon Philip preached the gospel to a group of people who were then convicted to repent and be baptized, but Philip did not have biblical authority to lay hands on them. Only later, when Peter and John came and laid hands on them, was their baptism complete, once they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17 Acts 8:14-17  Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John:  Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:  (For as yet he was fallen on none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)  Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×).
Although our process of counseling for baptism might be a little more streamlined and formalized today, in reality, it is very much the same as it was in the book of Acts. First, we must repent. Then we must be baptized. Finally, we must receive God’s Holy Spirit. It really is that simple!
I hope this article has answered some of your questions, and perhaps eased some of your fears. Baptism, and the counseling that goes with it, while serious, aren’t and don’t need to feel scary. The entire process is not about your pastor deciding if you’re “worthy” of being baptized (news flash: None of us is!); but rather, if you’re ready and fully aware of the commitment you are about to make.
If you have ever considered being baptized, or just wanted to learn more about the process, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your pastor or an elder in your local church area!