Preparing for Baptism
What is Baptism?
The bible teaches that when a person repents of their sin and places their trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin and eternal life, the next step is to be baptized. Baptism is a public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ in front of the visible, local church and to the whole world. Jesus commissions the church to baptize:
Peter follows this pattern when he preaches on the day of Pentecost. After hearing Peter present Jesus's death, burial, and resurrection, the people ask, "Brothers, what shall we do?". Peter responds:
and the people respond:
The pattern in Acts is that the Gospel is proclaimed, people repent and believe, they are baptized and added to the church where they are taught and continue to learn and grow.
The question, "What is baptism?" is explained below by reviewing Salvation and then explaining that baptism is a public profession by the believer and a public agreement with that profession by the gathered body of believers.
Salvation happens when a person is born again. The Holy Spirit brings that person from death to life, through regeneration. The result of regeneration is an awareness of sin and repentance - turning away from their sin and toward God in faith. The object of faith is Jesus Christ: His work is the salvation of sinners. First, a person is convicted of their sin and convinced that Justice would demand a verdict of guilty - this awareness of sin results in a desire to repent or turn away from that sin. Jesus Christ, God the son, took on human nature, born of the virgin Mary, truly God and truly Man, lived a perfect life of obedience to God, including death on the cross. Jesus's death was not due to any sin he committed, but was rather in the place of sinners, taking the punishment demanded by God's justice. Jesus's death was in the place of all who believe and trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus rose from the dead, proving that the sacrifice was accepted, that death was defeated, and that an eternal inheritance is secured for all who trust in Jesus for eternal life. The answer to the question, "What must we do?" is the second part of repentance - turning toward God in faith. Repentance and faith. This is the bare bones of the Gospel - that Christ lived a perfect life for me, that Christ died an atoning death for me, and that Christ rose for me so that I am restored to fellowship with God.
In understanding of God's work in Salvation, it would be helpful to be able to answer the following questions1:
- What is your understanding of who God is and how we should relate to Him?
- What is your understanding of sin and the consequences of sin?
- Who is Jesus, and why is it important that He never sinned?
- Why was the death of Jesus necessary?
- How does the death and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation?
- What must we do to be saved?
- How do we live as a disciple of Christ?
Baptism does not save you. Baptism does not confer a special future promise of potential salvation. Baptism is an act that tells the world that you have been saved by God's grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, to live for him.
Salvation leads to trust in Christ and a desire to follow Christ. A regenerate heart wants to obey Christ. Jesus began his public ministry by being baptized, not because he had any sin for which to repent, but to "fulfill all righteousness" and to identify with His people. Baptism, therefore, is a picture of obedience, of forgiveness, of newness of life, and of identity with Christ.
Baptism is a public profession of faith in what Christ has done. It is a picture of what the Holy Spirit has done in bringing us to faith - we were dead in trespass and sin, and we were made alive together with Christ. It is a picture of being cleansed of the pollution of Sin. It is a picture of obedience to Christ. It is an outward expression of the inward reality of having been regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In baptism, believers proclaim faith that Jesus has fully paid the penalty of death for them and they trust in Jesus for eternal life as they put off the old self and put on Christ.
In the method of baptism by immersion, then, the believer identifies publicly with Christ:
- going under the water to symbolize union with Christ in a death like his,
- submerged to symbolize the burial of the old self, and
- emerging from the water to symbolize being raised to newness of life, in union with Christ in a resurrection like his.
The Holy Spirit does all that is required for union with Christ and membership in the universal, invisible church. Jesus judges the heart, so Jesus absolutely knows who belongs to Him.
Jesus has established His church on earth as a universal, visible church - all believers today. Local, visible churches exist as believers who gather together regularly, worship God together, and commit to love and support one another in Christian fellowship. Local, visible churches are responsible for evaluating the profession of faith of prospective members, having been entrusted with guarding the purity of the visible church through membership. To assist in that regard, the elders will want to help with articulating the gospel and thinking through a personal testimony. Your personal testimony will help the brothers and sisters in the church to welcome you into membership.
A personal testimony will be helpful throughout your life. It is also very encouraging to those around you - Christians all love to rejoice when someone is saved. It is a joyous gift when someone is able to share their testimony.
A guide may be helpful, to give a framework for working out your personal testimony. It does not have to be lengthy, somewhere between half a page and a full page (250-500 words). If you take the time to work through your personal testimony, it would be a great help to you and to others, whether you are getting baptized, entering membership, or are already a member.
A framework upon which to build could be the one below. There are other resources available that may also be helpful (For example, "Established in the Faith", listed below). There will be both (1) an objective proclamation of the need for salvation, what Christ has done to solve that problem, and how you became a benefactor of that solution; and (2) a subjective narrative of how God brought you to the point where you were willing to obtain that benefit, personally.
What were you searching for?
What was the problem (sin)?
Perhaps you grew up in a faithful Christian family and were never outwardly rebellious. We all struggle with sin, you could explain what is sin and how you failed to keep all the commandments.
Perhaps you were saved from a sinful lifestyle. Use your previous life to display the power of Christ in Salvation, but take care that you do not glamorize sin.
What happened? It could be a point in time or very gradual.
How did God draw you to the Gospel? Realization of God's Holiness? Your Sin?
How did you become a beneficiary of what happened 2,000 years ago?
State clearly that you have repented of your sins and are trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
Your Life as a Christian
How is God working in your life?
How are you seeking to follow Jesus?
What is the Holy Spirit teaching you as you read the bible?
How do you serve those around you?
Declare your faith and desire to be baptized and/or enter into membership with this specific local church.
"Established in the Faith", David Michael
"Your Child's Profession of Faith", Founders Ministries
"The Gospel for 11-Year-Olds Plus", Desiring God, John Piper