Three introductory comments

1. Many people think that we Baptists practise “adult baptism”, as opposed to infant baptism. But what we in fact practise is “believer’s baptism”. Being an adult is not what qualifies us for baptism, but rather believing in Jesus, however young or old we are.

2. Believer’s baptism is not the unique practice of Baptist churches. The overwhelming majority of evangelical churches all over the world practise believer’s baptism. What we do is normal for the whole church, not peculiar to some churches.

3. Baptism is one of the elements of “becoming a Christian”. Becoming a Christian contains a number of aspects. In order to have a strong and fruitful Christian life, it is important that we experience all these elements. We might compare becoming a Christian to a rope of six strands. So long as all six are in place, we have a very strong rope – we will be firmly bound to Jesus and to his eternal life. If one or two of the stands are missing, the bond between us and Jesus will be somewhat less strong; if four or five are missing, then we are really hanging on to eternal life by a fairly weak thread!

The six “strands” are:

Repentance. That is, the decision to change direction in life, and to turn to God and to God’s ways.

Faith. That is, trusting in Jesus, and especially in Jesus’ death on the cross, to save us.

Commitment. That is, the decision to start to follow Jesus, and to be his disciple.

Baptism in water. That is, what this page is about!

Receiving the Holy Spirit. That is, the conscious experience of being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, which normally leads to the exercise of some of the gifts of the Spirit.

Joining the church. That is, becoming a member of the Body of Christ, joining the family.

Baptism in the Bible

Right at the start of the New Testament, we find that John (the Baptist!) is preparing people for the coming of Jesus, by calling on them to turn to God and, as a sign of that turning, to be baptised (Matthew 3:1–6, Mark 1:4–5, Luke 3:23). Jesus himself was baptised by John (Matthew 3:13–17, Mark 1:9–11, Luke 3:21–22), as a sign that he had come to identify with sinners. Just as he would later share their punishment for sin on the cross, so he shared their baptism for sin in the Jordan Rover.

At the end of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples to baptise those who believed in him (Matthew 28:18–20, Mark 16:15–16). And so, on the Day of Pentecost, when the first people were converted to faith in Christ, they were baptised (Acts 2:38–41). Throughout the book of Acts, there are several times when people responding to the Gospel are baptised (Acts 8:12, 9:18, 10:47–48, 16:14–15, 16:33, 19:5).

What is the basis of baptism?

The Bible says that people are baptised “into Christ” (or “into the name of Christ”) (Romans 6:3, Galatians 3:27). This stresses that baptism is not into the church, or in the name of any human leader – it is into Jesus Christ. So to be baptised, what matters is a person has really decided that they want to turn to God, to put their trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, and to follow Jesus Christ all their life.

What is the significance of baptism?

It is a step of obedience. The first reason for being baptised is that Jesus tells us to be (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16)! We don’t get baptised primarily because we feel like it, or because others have, or because somebody else suggests that we should, but because we are being obedient to Jesus. If we are going to be real followers of Jesus, we need to do what he did, and obey what he said.

It is a symbol of cleansing. Being put in water is obviously a picture of being washed clean from all our sins (Acts 22:16). When we put our trust in Jesus, and are baptised into him, God forgives us all our sins, and washes our lives clean on the inside. Baptism represents that very powerfully.

It is a seal of salvation. The Bible says that baptism unites us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3–4, Colossians 2:12). In some way that we may not fully understand, by being baptised into Jesus Christ, God makes us one with Jesus. Just as a kettle needs to be plugged into the electricity supply, through a power socket in the wall, before it can work, so our lives need to be “plugged in” to Jesus, so that his life, his salvation, his power can flow into us. It is in baptism that we are “plugged into Jesus”. In baptism, the benefits of his death and resurrection become real for us personally: it is God’s seal on our salvation.

It is a statement of commitment. Baptism is a promise – in two ways. First, God promises to all those who are baptised into Christ that he will save them, forgive them, protect them, and be Father to them. Second, we promise in being baptised that we will follow Jesus, obey him, serve him, and allow him to lead us into the new kind of life that he has for us (see Romans 6:4). So baptism marks the start of a new life.

It is a sign of the Spirit. The Bible says that God will give the Holy Spirit to those who are baptised into Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). Being plunged into water is a sign of the fact that God will plunge us into the life of the Holy Spirit, and into his love and joy and peace. Those being baptised should expect that God will indeed fill them with his Spirit, and with the new life that the Spirit shares with us.

How are people baptised?

We baptise people in the way the church in the Bible did – by immersing them in water. The word “baptise”, in the language of the New Testament, actually means to plunge, dip or immerse in water. It was frequently used of dipping cloth in dye, or of a ship sinking under water.

The reason for doing it this way is that baptism is meant to be a picture of death and burial (Romans 6:3–4, Colossians 2:12). Just as Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, then rose again from the dead, so we, as we start to follow him, agree to “die” to our old life, and are buried (in water) through baptism, then we rise (out of water) to a new life in relationship with Jesus.

So when people are baptised, they will stand by the edge of the “baptistery” (which is the name for the pool in which we baptise people), and one of the people baptising them will put two simple questions to them: “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your own personal Saviour?”, and “In seeking Christian baptism, do you promise to follow Christ and serve him all your life, in the fellowship of his church?” It is important that everyone being baptised can sincerely answer “yes” to both those questions – if they can’t, baptism really has no meaning for them.

Then they will come and stand in the water – it usually comes up to between waist and chest height – and one of the people baptising them will usually say something like, “On profession of your faith in Jesus, we baptise you into Jesus Christ in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” They will then lower them backwards into the water, until they are submerged, and then raise them back up again.


Then, before they get out to go and get dried and changed, the people baptising them will usually pray over them, that God will fill them with his Holy Spirit, and lead them through the rest of their life in Jesus’ service.