Baptism is not what makes a Christian. It’s an outer sign of an inner decision.


A person becomes a Christian by accepting God’s offer. The Bible says this is the only way.

Baptism doesn’t make a person a Christian; but baptism is the outward sign – a public declaration – that he is a Christian.


Scripture clearly states that everyone who accepts God’s offer of new life – everyone who becomes a Christian – should be baptized with water.

Baptism was practiced by religious people long before Jesus Christ came. For example, Jews baptized Gentiles who wanted to join the Jewish faith.

There is little detail given in the Bible about how baptism should be performed. The Bible was written at a time when ceremonialism and magic were very prevalent; any strong emphasis upon baptism would have been taken in a magical sense and called too much attention to an outward physical act.

Baptism was demonstrated by Jesus when, as an adult, he and others were baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist in a public display. There are other baptisms reported in the Bible, but with different circumstances and even less detail. However, all appear to have occurred promptly after the new Christians accepted God’s offer of new life through faith in Jesus Christ.


The Bible also speaks of the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit,’ which means God’s spirit entering a person when he receives new life (see Mark 1:8, Acts 1:5 and Topic 44). In a narrower sense, that term is used by some people to refer to the experience of ‘speaking in tongues’ (see Topic 65).


When a person is baptized, he publicly declares that:

  1. He has died to the old life. Water portrays the washing away of sin. Going into the water symbolizes death to the sins of the past. Coming out of the water symbolizes the beginning of new life.
  2. He has a new power for living. He testifies that his spirit is connected with God’s spirit (Holy Spirit).
  3. He is joining the Christian community. He becomes a part of the world-wide fellowship of people who have found new life in Christ and love one another.
  4. He is sealing a new agreement. It’s like a hand-shake in a deal or giving a ring in a marriage ceremony. This new agreement, initiated by God, is that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to him and therefore he doesn’t have to pay the penalty for his own sins.

Baptism is especially significant in non-Christian cultures because it boldly plants the flag of faith for all to see. In environments hostile to Christianity, baptism is often followed by persecution.


Some people who were baptized as infants – before personally accepting Jesus Christ as savior – choose to be baptized again as adults with full understanding and testimony of what baptism means to them, as distinguished from, or complimentary to, what it meant to their parents.

Christians disagree on proper form of baptism.

Because the Bible doesnʼt state specifically how baptism should be performed and because the baptisms reported in the Bible donʼt fit a tight pattern, Christians often disagree over the proper form of it.

Immersion vs. Sprinkling

Baptism is expressed in the Bible by two Greek verbs (bapto and baptidzo) and two nouns (baptisma and baptismos). These same words are also used in other contexts in the Bible where they sometimes mean to ʻdipʼ or ʻwash.ʼ

Some say baptism must always be by complete immersion in water. They regard immersion to be more vivid and symbolic than baptism by sprinkling or by pouring; they believe itʼs the correct way because thatʼs the way Jesus did it.

Others say baptism may properly be performed by immersion but that itʼs not the only valid way. They cite the varied uses of the above verbs and nouns throughout the Bible.

Also, they point to circumstances in some of the recorded baptisms in the Bible which make it seem unlikely that there was enough water for a person to be completely submersed.

Adult (believer) vs. Infant (household)

Some say that baptism is to be administered only to those who have made a clear personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, infants are excluded until they are old enough to comprehend and accept Godʼs offer themselves.

Others say itʼs proper for adults to be baptized as an expression of their faith in Jesus Christ but that their infant children can – and should – also be baptized as a sign that this is a Christian family (and part of the church). They cite statements in the Bible that refer to baptism as the Christian counterpart of Jewish circumcision (performed on infants). They also cite reports in the Bible where entire households – presumably parents plus children and servants – were baptized spontaneously.

Some say that infant baptism is valid only if the individual makes a ʻconfirmationʼ of it after heʼs old enough to fully comprehend and accept Jesus Christ as personal savior.

Most of what we know about the model Christian life is taught by Jesus and the Apostle Paul. We have no evidence that Jesus ever baptized anyone. Paul baptized people on a few occasions, but he said: ʻChrist did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospelʼ (I Corinthians 1:17). Both taught that Christians should be baptized as an outer sign of their inner decision, but both downplayed baptism enough, and left it nondescript enough, so we have no doubt that itʼs the personal faith, not the baptism, that gives new life.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Matthew 3:13-16, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22
Jesus is baptized

Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38-41
Christians should be baptized

Acts 8:36-39
Ethiopian treasury official is baptized

Acts 9:18
Paul is baptized

Acts 10:24,47-48
Cornelius and relatives and friends are baptized

Acts 16:14-15
Lydiaʼs household is baptized

Acts 16:31-33
Philippian jailerʼs household is baptized

I Corinthians 1:16
Stephanasʼ household is baptized

For help, see Topic 29.

Posted in Personal Decision.