After Jesus rose from the dead, He charged His apostles to go and teach or make disciples of all nations. He instructed them to baptize people (Matthew 28:19). More is said about water baptism in the Book of Acts than in any other book of the Bible. What do we learn about water baptism in this unique book?
- First, whatever water baptism is, it involves going down into and coming up out of the water. After Philip the evangelist had taught a eunuch from Ethiopia, the Bible says, “So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away . . .” (Acts 8:38,39). Friend, the word “baptism” means immersion or dipping. And, the proper element for the baptism about which Jesus spoke in the Great Commission is water (Acts 10:47) – not something that is similar to water.
- Another truth that we learn about water baptism from the Book of Acts is that it is only for people who believe. For example, the Bible says, “And many of the Corinthians, hearing believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). On the day that the Lord’s church began, thousands were baptized after they heard the apostle Peter’s sermon. How does the Bible describe those who were immersed that day? They were “those who gladly received his word . . .” (Acts 2:41). Water baptism is not for infants or small toddlers, nor is it for people who refuse to believe. It is only for those who have the capacity to hear the gospel (Acts 2:37), understand it (Acts 2:36), and then sincerely receive its message (Acts 2:41).
- From the Book of Acts we further learn that water baptism is for people that have repented. The apostle Peter instructed lost people, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ . . .” (Acts 2:38). They were not told simply to be baptized, but to repent and be baptized. Water baptism is not what some might call “just a ceremony.” No, being baptized is a decision for those who are prepared to turn from all their sins and commit themselves to serving Jesus faithfully, leaving the old man behind and walking in newness of life (Romans 6:3-6).
- Fourth, in the Book of Acts we see that water baptism is a command. In the first recorded case of non-Jews being converted, the Bible says that the Lord’s messenger “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48). Like we already noted, Peter commanded people to repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38). Likewise, Saul of Tarsus was commanded to be immersed (Acts 22:16). There is no denying this truth: water baptism is a command of God. And what is it that God wants us to do with His commands? That is correct – obey them!
- The Book of Acts also shows us the purpose of water baptism. “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” (Acts 2:38). According to this verse, what was the purpose of baptism? Baptism was “for the remission of sins.” Before the baptism of Saul/Paul of Tarsus, he was told, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). What was the purpose of Saul’s baptism? The Bible’s answer is that it was to wash away his sins. No, it wasn’t the water that saved him – only the blood of Jesus can cleanse a person’s sins. But, through His blood, Jesus saves only those that obey Him (Hebrews 5:9), and it is clear that submission to Him involves being baptized and doing so for the right purpose.
- Finally, the Book of Acts also shows us that water baptism is not something to be delayed once a person has made the decision to follow Jesus. The examples of baptism in the Book of Acts make it clear that when lost people heard the gospel, believed it, and were ready to become children of God, they did not put off being baptized. Why would they?! On the Day of Pentecost, people were baptized the same day (Acts 2:41). That eunuch from Africa obeyed the gospel before he made it home, and he did so without waiting on any others to join him in baptism (Acts 8:35-39). A jailer and his family were even baptized well after midnight (Acts 16:30-34). Having their sins washed away was more important to them than going home to sleep or have something to eat!
Let us not miss the urgency of water baptism – it is not a matter to be delayed while we wait on a more convenient time or a larger crowd to gather. If its purpose is to wash away sins, then those who are waiting to be baptized are still lost. Let us do nothing to extend their time lost outside of Jesus.
— Roger D. Campbell