So you want to be baptized? Good for you! This outward expression of your inward faith is a powerful way to show God—and the whole world—that you’ve decided to include Jesus in your life from this day forward.
I remember, as a child, watching people being baptized into my Seventh-day Adventist denomination. The “candidate,” as he or she was called, would walk down into the water of the small baptistry built under the platform of our local church. The pastor would be waiting with a big smile on his face. Once everyone was in position, the pastor would say a few encouraging words, then raise a hand and solemnly announce that what’s about to happen is in the “name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Then, with a handkerchief firmly planted over the nose and mouth of the person being baptized, the pastor would carefully lower him or her under the surface of the water and pull them back up immediately. The organist would hit the keys, and the congregation would sing “Just as I Am” as the newest member of our church family sloshed off the platform, leaving behind a wet trail and a group of rejoicing parishioners. The whole thing lasted less than five minutes.
Later in life, I’ve witnessed this same event re-created in oceans, rivers, swimming pools, ponds, and other baptistries. I’ve seen photographs of baptisms taking place in horse troughs, spas, and 50-gallon barrels—wherever there’s enough water to submerge a willing candidate. The venue may change, but the meaning remains the same. Something important happens at that moment. Something meaningful and beautiful takes place.
Many Christians believe that Jesus Himself instituted the sacrament of baptism, although John the Baptist, who did the honors for Christ in the Jordan River, had been baptizing people for several years before the Son of God showed up. And, as any student of ancient religions knows, ceremonial “cleansing” was part of many a sacred ritual. I guess we can safely say that Jesus validated that particular process with His own body, and I’m glad He did. Other demonstrations of solidarity with certain belief systems could, at times, be painful. Just ask the Jews.
On that day long ago, Jesus took part in the personal yet very public ceremony of baptism for a good reason. That action launched His earthly ministry. It put in motion events that would carry Him from the heights of the mount of blessing to the depths of the garden tomb. The Carpenter’s life changed that day, and His watery burial in the Jordan River was the flint that sparked the process.
Now, it’s your turn. You want to replicate that course by launching your own earthly ministry. You want to show the world that Jesus is the stencil with which you plan to trace your life. So what happens next?
There are three important conditions for making the vital commitment of baptism. Please understand that these conditions are for the ritual act of baptism, not for receiving or benefiting from God’s love or the salvation He offers. He already loves you. He’s already saved you. With Jesus in your heart, you’re already on the road to heaven. But that road can get rough, and the devil is determined to cloud your mind with doubts and fears that often have no ties to spiritual reality.
Baptism opens the door to many additional resources you may need in order to stay on course, to help counter Satan’s deceptions, and to provide you with encouraging words when they’re needed. I’m talking about people. People just like you. People on the very same journey. People who understand your fears and frustrations all too well.
Understand the gospel. The very first condition for baptism is that you understand the gospel. No, that doesn’t mean that you have to earn a PhD in comparative religions or Bible doctrines. You simply have to grasp the basic plan of salvation which, in a nutshell, is this:
- You admit that you’ve sinned.
- You honestly confess your sins to God.
- You accept Jesus as your personal Savior who died in your place because you’ve sinned.
- You tell God that you want to love and serve Him for the rest of your life.
The gospel is the incredible fact that God loves you, He hears your prayers, and He’s intensely interested in how you live your life. He longs to help you get through it with as little damage as possible. Is it any wonder that the word gospel is often referred to as “good news”?
Understanding the gospel can be a little like flying in an airliner. When you’re sitting up there at 33,000 feet eating your honey-roasted nuts, you may have no idea how you got there. You know nothing about the dynamics of lift versus gravity, thrust versus drag, or why the person sitting next to you paid a lot less for his ticket than you did. You just know that in a few hours, you’ll be home again. You don’t have to fully understand the intricacies of flight to fly. You just have to trust that they exist and that you’re benefiting greatly from them.
Become part of a fellowship. The next condition for baptism is that you need to become part of a fellowship of believers. Most people who are baptized join the same church where the ceremony takes place. Why is joining that fellowship important? Because life is tough, and we all need a little help from our friends.
“Hold on there, Charles,” I hear you saying. “My cousin joined a church through baptism, and the congregation wasn’t helpful at all. They were judgmental, cold, and aloof.”
Sadly, this does happen from time to time, but probably not as often as you may think. Remember that fellowship is a two-way street. Becoming part of a fellowship means that you can be the friend who someone else needs. You can be the voice of reason for someone who’s confused and feeling rejected. I know from personal experience that God often speaks loudest to me when I’m trying to help someone else. The term “fellowship of believers” is powerful and welcoming, even if you’re doing the welcoming. If you don’t find the support you need, then be the support someone else needs, and soon you’ll find that you have the support you need too.
Understand the basic teachings. The third and final condition of baptism is that you need to understand the basic teachings of the church you’re joining before you’re baptized into it. This is important. Ask yourself questions such as these:
- Do they present the character of God as inviting, hopeful, and forgiving?
- Are the requirements they place on their members in keeping with God’s laws of love?
- Are they using the Bible as the sole source of their cherished doctrines?
- Do they emphasize a holistic view of faith that takes into consideration the well-being of mind, body, and spirit?
- Does this church encourage kind and loving interaction with all people everywhere?
- Do they demonstrate with their outreach programs and weekly sermons God’s unconditional love to the community and to the world at large?
If after you’ve answered the above questions—and others you may have—to your personal satisfaction, then and only then should you consider joining that church through baptism. You don’t want to be taken by surprise with one or more of the church’s fundamental beliefs that you discover for the first time a month or a year after your baptism!
shadow in the sand
A minister was trying to explain the significance of baptism to a new convert. As he was gesturing while talking, he noticed his shadow on the sandy soil at the person’s feet. “See the shadow of my hand on the sand?” he asked. “When you came to Jesus and believed in His love for you, that was your real baptism. You joined your life to His. You believed in Him. You began a growing faith in Him.
“Now you’re choosing to be baptized. When you go down into the water of baptism, you’re creating a shadow of something that’s already there. It’s a likeness of something that’s happened in your life and in your heart. But it’s only a shadow. The real evidence is you and how getting to know Jesus has changed your world. Water baptism is a symbol that reminds us and others of what happened to us when we allowed Jesus into our hearts.”
I remember my own baptism when I was 12. My father, a minister of the gospel, did the honors. He welcomed me to that baptismal tank built under the platform of our church, told the congregation how proud he was of his number 3 son, and then raised his hand. As he spoke, I remember thinking that something important was about to happen, although I wasn’t sure just what. Only in hindsight do I fully comprehend the power of that event. It marked the beginning of a journey that I’m still undertaking and brought me into fellowship with believers who’ve always been, and I know always will be, a great encouragement to me.
As you begin your own journey, know that baptism is a beautiful shadow cast by a committed life, whose watery ripples will reach all the way to the gates of glory.
Charles Mills is a professional freelance writer who lives in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, USA. He is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.