The majority of references to baptism in the gospels refer to John's baptism, but it is only a shadow of true Christian baptism. The key verse in the gospels is John's statement,

I baptize you with water,
but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

There are only nine references to baptism in the epistles. This makes the Acts of the Apostles important for discovering the true nature of baptism.

The Effect of Baptism

A number of passages in the New Testament speak of the meaning of baptism. It is worthwhile looking at these in detail.

  1. Those who repent and believe in Jesus have had their sins forgiven. In baptism their sins are washed away. This means that Christian baptism includes the benefits of John's baptism, which was a baptism of repentance.

    Be baptised and wash your sin away, calling on his name (Acts 22:16).

  2. We are baptised into the death of Jesus. This means that we come to share in the benefits of his death on the cross.

    All of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:3,4).

    Baptism is likened to burial. Burial takes place when a person is dead. When we see them being buried we know that they are truly dead. In the same way baptism is a sign that a person has died with Christ, through faith in him. Not only are his sins forgiven, but he is also dead to sin. As Paul explains:

    Our old self was crucified with his so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been freed from sin (Romans 6:6,7).

  3. Baptism is both a dying and a rising with Christ.

    In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with a circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and' raised with him through your faith (Colossians 2:11,12).

    If we share in the benefits of Jesus death, putting off the sinful nature, we also share in the benefits of his resurrection. Baptism is a sign that we now live in Christ. It is an expression of our new life in him.

    We should note that baptism is not the equivalent of the circumcision of the Old Testament. What Paul refers to here is not a circumcision of the flesh, but the circumcision of the heart which is spoken of in Deut 10:16; 30:6 and Jeremiah 4:4. It means having a right attitude to God. A person, who had been circumcised as a child, could still have a wrong attitude to God. A circumcised heart in something that God gives and cannot be accomplished by human hands.

  4. Baptism is being clothed with Christ.

    All of you who were baptised into Christ have been clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27).

  5. When baptised, we become members of the body of Christ.

    We were all baptised by one Spirit into one body.
    (1 Corinthians 12:13).

    Baptism has the effect of making us members of the church.

  6. These effects are not brought about automatically by baptism itself. They are the result of the faith and the repentance, which must precede baptism.

  7. This water symbolises baptism that now saves you also- not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience before Cod. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).

    It is not baptism that saves us, and washes away the dirt of our sin. It is faith in the work of Jesus Christ, which achieves our salvation. Baptism is an expression of our faith in him, and therefore means that we have a good conscience before God. Many Christians find that baptism can be a key to overcoming besetting sins.

    Baptism is a testimony to what God has done in our lives. It is a way of saying that God has taken us out of the world and placed us in his Kingdom. It is a way of declaring to the world that we belong to Christ. For this reason it should be done in a public place, rather than in the confines of a church

  8. God opened the way of salvation through the work of Jesus Christ. He also applies that salvation to our individual lives. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and gives us a spirit of repentance. He gives us faith to believe in Jesus for salvation (Eph 2:8). By the power of the Spirit, we are born again into the Kingdom of God. All this is the work of God. Baptism is the human response in which we publicly acknowledge what God has done. It is an act of obedience resulting from regeneration and testifying to it. Baptism is a human work, which fulfils and completes the work that God has done

  9. Baptism is an act of obedience required by God. When Jesus wanted to be baptised, John refused him. However, Jesus insisted, saying,

    It is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).

    Jesus had not sinned, so he had did not need to repent or have his sins washed away. Yet he chose to fulfil righteousness being baptised. If Jesus needed to be baptised, we must also fulfil God's righteousness by being baptised.

  10. Baptism is also a testimony to Satan. Paul saw the crossing of the Red Sea as a type of baptism.

    They all passed through the sea. They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:2).

    By crossing the Red Sea the Israelites left the old life of slavery behind. God had already set the people free on the day of the Passover. But legally they were still slaves and Pharaoh was able to harass them. "When they crossed the Red Sea, Pharaoh was destroyed, and his power over them was broken. Baptism can be an important step in getting victory over besetting sins.

    When we believe in Jesus, Satan's power over us is broken. Our baptism is a sign to him that he no longer has a right to our lives. Baptism is really important for getting free from his power.

  11. The most important effect of Christian baptism is the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament baptism is usually accompanied by an outpouring, of the Spirit (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 19:5; 10:17,48). Jesus said,

    John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5).

    John the Baptist said,

    I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8).

    The grace that is given in baptism is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that those who receive his baptism will be baptised in the Holy Spirit. Such an outpouring of the Spirit should normally be part of Christian baptism. This is the promise made in Acts 2:38:

    Repent and be baptised every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    When a person who has repented and believed is baptised, he should also be baptised in the Holy Spirit.

    Jesus baptism is the norm for Christian experience. His baptism is described for us by Mark:

    Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove (Mark 1:9,10).

    As Jesus came out of the water the Holy Spirit came down upon him. This is what he meant by being baptised in the Spirit. Jesus was the first one to experience the gift that both he and John had promised. Every person being baptised should expect to be baptised in the Spirit. As they come out of the water, they should expect the Holy Spirit to come upon them, as it came on Jesus. The gift of the Spirit should normally be received at baptism.

    When Paul discovered that the Christians at Ephesus had not received the Holy Spirit, he immediately inquired about their baptism (Acts 19:2,3). The fact that they had not received the gift of the Spirit was a sign that they had not received a complete baptism. This is the experience of many Christians today. Although they are baptised in obedience to Jesus, they only receive a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They have really only received John's baptism, because they have not been taught to expect anything more. Jesus promised that his baptism would go beyond that of John. The additional dimension that he promised is the gift of the Spirit. Christians should be taught to expect this gift as a normal part of their baptism.

    It does not follow from this that every person who has been baptised has received the gift of the Spirit. When the Spirit came upon Jesus his presence was obvious. The same will be true of every believer who receives the gift.

    It is not possible to receive the Spirit without being aware of his presence. He does not sneak in quietly. The gift of tongues is one way he will show himself. He can also manifest himself in gifts of healing or prophecy. If there is no manifestation of the Spirit, then the gift has not been given.

    Where there is no outpouring of the Spirit as part of baptism, something is wrong. Laying on of hands is the biblical way of putting things right. This is what happened at Samaria. The apostles came down because something was wrong. The solution was to lay hands on the Samaritans.

    They prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:15-17).

    Where people have not been baptised in the Spirit at their baptism, they should receive laying on of hands for the gift of the Spirit.

    Laying on of hands has become a rite of the church and a common practice in Pentecostal churches. This is wrong, as it makes solution to a problem the normal practice. We should avoid the problem, by ensuring that Christians are filled with the Spirit at baptism making a separate laying on of hands to receive the Spirit is not necessary.

    Baptism is just an initiation. We should go on to being filled the Spirit.

  12. There is only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5). It is wrong to distinguish between baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit. Normally the two should go together in one experience. If we separate them we have two baptisms, which is wrong. What is often referred to as baptism in the Spirit, is not really a baptism. It is really a laying on of hands to remedy an incomplete baptism. The normal Christian experience is baptism in the Spirit as a part of baptism in water. This is why the expression, baptism in the spirit, is not used in the scriptures. At every baptism, the believer should be baptised in the Spirit by Jesus.

    Similarly, the expression "water baptism" should not be used. Water baptism is really just John's baptism. It is a poor imitation of Christian baptism.


Baptism is a public testimony to what God has done in the life of a believer. It is a sign that through faith and repentance, he has died with Christ and risen with him to new life. Baptism is also a sign to Satan that his power over us is broken. Most important of all, baptism is the means whereby Jesus normally baptises his followers in the Spirit. By baptism they are baptised in the Spirit and into the body of Christ.

Conditions for Baptism

The Bible gives five conditions that must be fulfilled before a person can be baptised.

  1. Repentance is a necessary condition for baptism.

    Repent and be baptised every one of you (Acts 2:38).

  2. Only those who have been called by God can be baptised, because these are the only ones who can come to salvation.

    This for all whom our Lord will call (Acts 2:39).

    Only those who are among the elect should be baptised. The sign of election is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

  3. Faith in Christ is essential for baptism.

    Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved (Mark 16:16).

    Many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptised (Acts 18:8).

  4. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God, so acceptance of the Word of God is essential prior to baptism.

    Those who accepted his message were baptised (Acts 2:41).

    Those who are baptised must have heard and accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  5. Only those who are willing to be disciples can be baptised. Baptism is an act of obedience, and a sign of submission. Candidates for baptism must acknowledge the absolute Lordship of Christ over their lives.

  6. Go and make, disciples of all nations baptising them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I ha commanded you (Matthew 28:19,20).

    These five conditions must be fulfilled before a person can be baptised. They are the only conditions for baptism.


It should be noted that children and infants can fulfil these conditions.

  1. Repentance is a work of the Holy Spirit. He can work repentance in the heart of an infant, just as easily as in an adult. In fact it may be easier, because infants are not so hardened by sin. There is an example of Cod calling infants to repentance in the book of Joel.

  2. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders gather the children, those nursing at the breast (Joel 2:16).

    God was calling the whole nation, including children to repentance. God would not make this call if it were not possible. It is wrong to say that children cannot be repentant.

  3. Children are able to confess Jesus, if the Holy Spirit inspires them. When Jesus rode into the city on a donkey even the children praised him. He quoted from the Psalms to explain their behaviour:

    From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise (Matthew 21:16).

  4. Children can receive a revelation of who Jesus is.

    He said, I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and revealed them to little children. Yes Father this was your good pleasure (Luke 10: 21).

  5. Infants can belong, to the Kingdom of God.

    People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. Jesus said, The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Luke 18:15,17

  6. Infants can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist received this gift at birth. It was prophesied:

    He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth (Luke 1:15, cf 1:4a).

The faith and repentance that are necessary for salvation are a gift from God. No one can achieve salvation through his own ability. Even adults need this gift of faith and repentance before they can come to salvation. God can give them to whoever he chooses. It all depends on his calling.

I will have mercy on whom, I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on Gods mercy (Romans 9:15,16).

Our salvation depends on the mercy and compassion of God. He is sovereign and can grant salvation to whomever he chooses. This means that where it is God's choice, children can be born again.

Limiting salvation to those of a certain age implies that it depends on human ability. But as Paul points out, salvation does not depend on man's effort, but on the mercy of God. Even little children can be born again by the power of God.

Children should be baptised as soon as they give evidence of faith in Jesus Christ. Where this is neglected, believing children are left without the gift of the Spirit. This limits their Christian growth and effectiveness in ministry. Neglecting baptism also leaves them open to satanic attack.

Of course, because some children are born again, it does not follow that all the children of believers are. It depends on the calling and mercy of God. Only those children who are called and regenerated by God should be baptised. General Infant Baptism is wrong.

The Time of Baptism

Baptism should take place as soon as possible after conversion. If believers are to stand firm in their new faith and prow in maturity, they will need the power that comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit. They should be baptised straight away so that they have this power. This was the practice of the New Testament church.

  1. Those converted on the day of Pentecost were baptised on that very day (Acts 2:31).

  2. The Phillipian jailor was baptised at midnight on the same night as he received the gospel (Acts 16:33).

  3. The Ethiopian was baptised as soon as he and Philip came to some water.

As baptism is a testimony that a person has become a Christian, it should take place as soon as possible. It is a clear sign to everyone that he has left his old life and joined the Kingdom of God. If baptism is postponed he may be tempted to vacillate between the Kingdom and the world. It would also leave him open to satanic attack, at the time when he is most vulnerable. Both children and adults should be baptised as soon as there is evidence that they have been born again.

The Administration of Baptism

There is no biblical basis for the common belief that only pastors or elders should administer baptism. Philip is an example of a deacon who baptised his converts. Anyone who is capable of making disciples must be free to baptise those whom he wins for Jesus (Matthew 28:19).

The Mode of Baptism

The Greek word baptizo has a wide variety of meanings. It can mean immerse, overflow with water, wet thoroughly, moisten, pour upon, drench, be overwhelmed or overpowered. It indicates an effect produced, without expressing the kind of action by which the effect is brought about.

The New Testament does not state clearly what form of baptism is intended. Some passages indicate a going under the water (Acts 8:38). The references to baptism in the Spirit indicate more of an outpouring (Acts 2:17). Numbers 8:7 refer to sprinkling of water for purification.

It seems that the mode of baptism is not of paramount importance. If only immersion is allowed, the Greek word for immerse kataduo could have been used. If only sprinkling is permissible, the word rhantizo could have been used. Because these specific words are not used, we can assume that any mode of baptism is permissible.

Immersion is probably the best mode of baptism because it dramatically portrays burial with Christ. However where water is scarce, as it probably was in Jerusalem, pouring would also be a valid form of baptism. It would testify to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is so important, that it should be carried out straight after conversion, even in situations where there is insufficient water for full immersion.

Baptism should always be administered in the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

The Validity of Baptism

For a baptism to be valid, it must be administered according, to the prescription given in the Bible.

  1. The one baptising must be a Christian, who is capable of making disciples, and explaining the significance of baptism. They must intend to do what Christ commanded, and expect the believer to be baptised in the Holy Spirit.

  2. The person being baptised must fulfil the conditions necessary for baptism. Where there is no faith or repentance, a baptism is invalid.

  3. The Trinitarian formula should be used, and water applied.

Where a baptism is invalid, baptism can be repeated once the proper conditions are fulfilled. Paul baptised the Ephesians Christians who had received John's baptism once they understood the faith adequately (Acts 19:5).