Baptism 101: When

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We’ve been talking about baptism for the last couple of weeks. First, we looked at the purpose of baptism — how we put on Christ when we are obedient to Him, how we accept His gifts of forgiveness and remission through baptism. Then we talked about what baptism looks like and why we in Christ’s church believe baptism should be a total burial under the water, so we can be raised to walk in newness of life.

Now we’re going to wrap up this series looking at when you should be baptized. At what point in your life should you be buried with Christ and dedicated to Him? Should it be as a baby to guard you from future sins? Should parents make the choice to dedicate their children at a young age, or is baptism something that should be your own choice, made when you are old enough to have your own faith? When should you get baptized?

The Short Answer

The short answer is that you should be baptized today. Before you go back to your daily lives for one more day, you should dedicate your life to Christ and be baptized into His death to walk in newness of life. The Hebrew writer puts it this way:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

– Hebrews 3:12-15

Or do you remember what Ananias said to Paul in Acts 22:16? “Why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” In fact, every baptism we see in the book of Acts, whether it is the Philippian jailor, Lydia, Cornelius, the Ethiopian eunuch, or the crowds at Pentecost, those who hear Christ’s word and believe are immediately baptized. They do not wait.

The only one we see hesitating and waiting is a Roman procurator named Marcus Antonius Felix in Acts 23. He hears Paul’s testimony of Christ and seems to come close to responding, but puts it off. In the end, we see no record of his obedience to Christ. That’s why now is such an important time. If we delay, we give our hearts time to harden against the gospel message, and we may then never dedicate ourselves to Christ. So when is the best time to be baptized into Christ? Right now.

The Longer Answer

Now it’s time to talk about a trickier topic. In Christ’s church, why don’t we practice infant baptism or parents dedicating young children? Growing up in the church, I always heard it explained that someone should not be baptized until they reach the “Age of Accountability” — some magical age where God would suddenly start holding your sins against you after years of letting things slide. I think the answer is simpler, and it has everything to do with having and owning your own faith.

In Mark 16:16, Jesus tells His disciples that those who believe and are baptized will be saved. In Acts 2:38, Peter tells the crowd to repent and be baptized. Before we are baptized into Christ, we should be capable of taking ownership of our faith. Finally, I Peter 3:21 calls baptism the answer of a good conscience toward God. Repentance, belief, a good conscience — these qualities are things that will lead to a person to being baptized.

We have to be able to believe. Furthermore, we have to be able to repent. We have to understand that we are in need of forgiveness and grace and be able to ask for that forgiveness and change our ways. These things take maturity. No baby can repent of their sins; not only are they sinless, but they have no concept of sin. A child dedicated by their parents does not own their own faith. Instead, faith is being imposed upon them. Baptism is meant to be a decision made by someone who understands their need for Christ, believes on His name, and is willing to change their lives in His service. Again, this takes maturity.

The Invitation

So when should you be baptized? The answer is this: as soon as you are ready and not one minute later. Do you recognize your need for Christ’s forgiveness? Do you understand your need to have your sins washed away? Does your conscience drive you to acknowledge your faith and come to Him? Then the time to be baptized is now. Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart, but rather come to Jesus, be buried in baptism for the remission of sins, and begin a new life, raised to walk in His footsteps.

lesson by Robert Smelser