“Defining Bible Baptism”

Categories: Sermons


To say that there is confusion in the religious world about baptism would be an understatement!  Probably all of us have had friends who talked about how a new baby in their family got baptized.  There are churches not far from here that baptize people to admit them into church membership.  There are even those who believe that they still receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit today.

All of this confusion stands in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Bible.  In Ephesians 4:5, Paul tells us that there is one baptism.  Belief in and acceptance of that one baptism is one of the things that is supposed to unite all believers.  Unless the Holy Spirit is just messing with us, Ephesians 4:5 means that only one view on baptism is right and all the others are wrong.

What is that one baptism?  This is a question of eternal significance, and unless we can persuade others to choose the right baptism, there is no hope for them.  For our sixth half-hour study, then, let’s consider the definition of Bible baptism.

First, Bible baptism is IMMERSION IN WATER.  By no means is this universally accepted!  Though many churches teach baptism by immersion, many others insist that pouring or even sprinkling water over the baptizee is sufficient.  What can we say to people who believe this?

Many of you have probably heard before that the word “baptize” is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizō, which means “to immerse”, so that sprinkling and pouring are excluded by definition.  All that is certainly true, but when we’re studying with others, I don’t think that’s the best argument to use.

Here’s why.  In order for somebody to become a disciple, they have to hear the gospel and understand it for themselves.  Their faith has to be in the word, not in us.  However, almost nobody we study with will have any knowledge of Greek.  They don’t have the tools to evaluate the baptizō argument.  Either they take our word for it, or they don’t.  In either case, we’ve taken the focus off the word and put it on us, where it doesn’t belong.

Instead, I think it’s better to take people to Acts 8:38-39.  Here, we can see from the English what baptism is.  Philip and the eunuch go down into the water, and they come up out of the water.  That doesn’t happen when you sprinkle.  That doesn’t happen when you pour.  It only happens when you immerse. 

There are other places in Scripture that imply that baptism is immersion.  In John 3, when John is baptizing at Aenon near Salim, the text tells us that he’s doing it there because water is plentiful there.  You don’t need plentiful water to sprinkle or pour.  You only need plentiful water to immerse.

On the other hand, there is nothing in Scripture that says or even implies that God’s people sprinkled or poured as a method of baptism.  Indeed, neither one of those was developed until hundreds of years after the time of the Bible.  Those who sprinkle or pour are not following the New Testament pattern, so they can’t expect the New Testament blessing either.

Second, Bible baptism is the baptism OF A BELIEVER.  To us, this seems like a duh point.  Who else would you baptize, if not someone who believes in Jesus?  However, this point is disputed by everyone who accepts infant baptism as a valid form of baptism.  Clearly, the infant being baptized doesn’t know Jesus from a hole in the ground, yet they are being baptized anyway, even though generally they would prefer not to be.  I’ve never yet seen a picture of a “baptized” infant where the infant looks happy about getting water dumped on them!

Those who practice infant baptism say that it is necessary in order to cleanse the infant from the sin they inherited from Adam.  There are problems with that claim, and we’ll talk about them several weeks from now.  For now, though, it’s enough to point out that those who are baptized in the New Testament are always believers.  For evidence of this, let’s look at Colossians 2:11-12.

I like to use this verse when studying with people who believe in infant baptism because it is often a verse that they themselves will bring up if they know their Bibles.  Here’s why.  Notice that in v.11, Paul compares baptism to circumcision.  Of course under the law, infant boys were circumcised, so the infant-baptism people will take that and argue that infants should be baptized too.

Well, no.  The problem is that they pay so much attention to v. 11 that they don’t pay attention to the wording of v. 12.  Paul says there that the Colossians were buried with Christ in baptism—there’s another immersion passage if you need one—and then goes on to say that they were raised.  How?  They were raised through faith in the powerful working of God. 

You see it, brethren?  The essential element in the spiritual resurrection of baptism is faith.  If we do not believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and will raise us, our baptism is ineffective.  Rather than teaching that non-believers can be baptized, this passage teaches that only believers can be.

Finally, the purpose of Bible baptism is TO WASH AWAY SINS.  Look at Acts 22:16.  This is about as simple as it gets.  Ananias tells Saul to arise, be baptized, and wash away his sins.  Therefore, if you want to wash away your sins, you have to be baptized.  Plain as day, right?

Sadly, no.  There are all kinds of people who take the many passages that plainly state baptism is necessary for salvation, and they distort them around to say the opposite.  My personal favorite go-to site for false doctrine on baptism is  Here, among other things, is what it has to say about Acts 22:16:

“Concerning the words, ‘be baptized, and wash away your sins,’ because Paul was already cleansed spiritually at the time Christ appeared to him, these words must refer to the symbolism of baptism. Baptism is a picture of God’s inner work of washing away sin (1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Peter 3:21).”

Many of you have heard me say, “Watch out for people who teach, ‘The text doesn’t say what it says,’” and this a prime example.  Ananias tells Paul that he needs to have his sins washed away. tells us that Paul already has been cleansed.  Who are you going to believe, Ananias or

At the same time, though, not everything in this quotation is wrong.  Baptism is symbolic.  When we are baptized, the water does not literally wash the sin off our skin.  As Peter says, baptism is not the removal of dirt from the flesh.  It is the appeal to God for a good conscience. 

Nobody has their sins washed away by accident.  Baptism only saves those who come to the water in search of salvation.  Otherwise, we might as well set a trap on Nashville Highway and forcibly baptize everyone we catch!  People who are saved through baptism have to know they’re not right with God and want to get right with God.  However, everyone who is baptized with that mindset will find what they’re looking for.