Upon hearing the preaching of Peter and the apostles, a great number of Jews asked “Men and brethren, what shall we do” (Acts 2:37)? That question has been asked by a countless number of people from that day until now. Thankfully, God has not left us in the dark searching for the answer. God’s word teaches us that He has a very simple plan for the salvation of mankind. A person must hear God’s word (Rom. 10:17), believe in Christ (John 8:24), repent of their sins (Acts 3:19), confess their faith (Rom. 10:9-10), and put the Lord on in baptism (Acts 2:38). Most people have no objections to the first four of those steps but take serious issue with baptism. It is unfortunate that one of the clearest teachings in scripture has become the basis of such disgruntled disagreement over the years. The importance of baptism can be easily understood by asking three simple questions.
What is baptism? The Greek word baptizo is defined as “to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge” (Thayer). Scripture defines and illustrates the action for us. In Romans 6:3-7 Paul says that in baptism we reenact the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The old man dies and is “buried with him through baptism into death that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Colossians 2:12 says we are “buried with him in baptism, in which you also were raised with him through faith in the working of God.” Baptism is a burial with Christ in water–not a dipping or sprinkling. That is why John was “baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there” (John 3:23), and why the Ethiopian Eunuch’s baptism required both he and Philip to go “down into the water” (Acts 8:38).
Why is baptism important? Consider Colossians 2:12. The larger context of this passage, verses 11-13, tells us clearly that the purpose of baptism is the forgiveness of sins. Verse 11 speaks of “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” and verse 13 concludes the thought by stating, “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he has made alive together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” Acts 2:38 says that baptism is “for the remission of sins;” Acts 22:16 says that baptism “wash[es] away [our] sins;” and 1 Peter 3:21 and Mark 16:16 say that baptism saves us. Baptism is not necessary because there is any particular power in water. Rather, it is necessary because it is in the waters of baptism that we come into contact with the blood of Christ, which alone has the power to wash away sins (Eph. 1:7; Rev. 1:5; etc). In sin, God can have no fellowship with us (Isa. 59:1-2; etc.). Therefore, in order for us to have fellowship with God, our sins must be washed away. The blood of Christ is the only thing that has the ability to accomplish that, and His blood is contacted only through baptism. Incidentally, this is just one of the many reasons why the “sinner’s prayer” is unbiblical!
Who can be baptized? First, a person must be of an accountable age in order to be baptized. Baptism is for the purpose of washing away sins (Acts 22:16) and so a person must have committed sin before they have need of having sins washed away. Sin is a transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4)–it is committed, not inherited. So, a child cannot be baptized because they have not yet reached an age where they can comprehend the magnitude of right and wrong, and responsibility toward God. Second, a person must have met the prerequisites of baptism. They must have heard the word of God (Rom. 10:17), developed a faith in Christ and in what the scripture says (John 8:24), repented of their sins (Acts 3:19), and confessed their faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10). When a person is willing to submit him or herself to everything that God says in reference to salvation, then that person is ready to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
The plan of salvation will never change. Since the beginning of Christianity God has required every person to submit to the same plan. The book of Acts records a great number of conversions to Christianity. Though each example records the conversion of a different person living in different places and circumstances, each one was required to hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized, then the Lord added them to the church (Acts 2:47). They were all saved in the same way! Now, what about you?