On Eagles Wings Ministries
Conditions For Christians Baptisms
We shall now go on to examine the conditions which must be fulfilled by those who desire to receive Christians baptism.
The first condition is stated in Acts 2:37-38, which records the reaction of the Jewish multitude to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost and the instructions Peter gave them.
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Jesus for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Here, in answer to the question “What shall we do?” Peter gives two commands: first repent, then be baptised.
We have already seen that repentance is the first response God requires from any sinner who desires to be saved. Repentance, therefore, must precede baptism. Thereafter, baptism is the outward seal or affirmation of the inward change produced by repentance.
Jesus Himself states the second condition for Christians baptism.
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
Here Jesus states that everywhere the gospel is preached, those who desire to be saved are required to do two things: first to believe, then to be baptised. The church of the New Testament took Him at His word. Once a person had believed in Jesus for salvation, he was then immediately baptised.
The experience of the Philippian jailer provides a dramatic example (see Acts 16:25-34). At midnight, in response to the prayers of Paul and Silas, the whole prison was shaken by a supernatural earthquake, and all the doors were opened. The jailer, knowing that he would have to answer with his own life for any prisoners who might escape, prepared to commit suicide. But Paul restrained him, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
Under deep conviction, the jailer then asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Paul and Silas then presented the gospel message to the whole household. Obviously they included in the message the requirement of baptism. Responding with faith, the whole household was immediately baptised. They did not even wait for the light of dawn!
The response of the jailer and his family is the standard pattern in the New Testament. Baptism was regarded as an urgent requirement, but it was always preceded by faith.
The first two requirements for baptism, repenting and believing, line up with the first three foundation doctrines presented in Hebrews 6:1-2:
- the doctrine of baptisms.
In experience, as in doctrine, baptism must be built upon repenting and believing.
A Good Conscience
A third condition for Christians baptism is made clear in the passage where Peter compares the ordinance of Christians baptism in water to the experience of Noah and his family, who were saved from the wrath and judgement of God when they entered by faith into the ark. Then, once within the ark, they passed safely through the waters of the flood. In direct reference to this account, Peter says:
There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Jesus (1 Pet. 3:21).
Here Peter first dismisses the crude suggestion that the purpose of Christians baptism is any kind of cleansing or bathing of the physical body. Rather, he says, the essential condition of Christians baptism lies in the inner response of the believer’s heart – “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” This inner response of a good conscience toward God, Peter indicates, is made possible through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Jesus.
We may briefly summarise the grounds upon which a Christians at his baptism may answer to God for his conduct with a good conscience.
1. Such a believer has humbly acknowledged his sins.
2. He has confessed his faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus as the necessary propitiation for his sins.
3. By the outward act of obedience in being baptised, he is completing the final requirement of God needed to give him the scriptural assurance of salvation.
Having thus met all of God’s requirements for salvation, he is able to answer God with a good conscience.
Becoming a Disciple
The first three conditions for baptism – repenting, believing and a good conscience – are summed up by a fourth requirement: becoming a disciple. Jesus commissioned His followers to carry the message of the gospel to all nations.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you (Matt. 28:19-20).
Here making disciples, which precedes baptising, consists in bringing those who hear the gospel through the first three stages of repenting, believing and a good conscience. This makes new believers eligible for baptism, by which act they commit themselves publicly to a life of discipleship.
After this public act of commitment, those who have been baptised need to receive more thorough and extensive teaching that they may become true disciples – strong, intelligent, responsible professing Christians.
We may now sum up the scriptural requirements for baptism. The person must first have heard enough of the gospel to understand the nature of his act. He must have repented of his sins; he must confess his faith that Jesus Jesus is the Son of God; he must be able to answer God with a good conscience on the grounds that he has fulfilled all of God’s requirements for salvation. Finally, he must commit himself to a life of discipleship.
We conclude, therefore, that to be eligible for Christians baptism according to the New Testament standard, a person must be able to meet these four conditions; conversely, any person who is not able to meet these conditions is not eligible for baptism.
Are Infants Eligible?
It will be seen immediately that these four conditions listed above for baptism automatically rule out infants. By its very nature, an infant cannot repent, cannot believe, cannot answer with a good conscience to God and cannot become a disciple. Therefore, an infant cannot be eligible for baptism.
It is sometimes suggested that there are instances in the New Testament where whole families or households were baptised together and that it is probable that infant members of these households were included with the rest in the act of baptism. Since this has an important bearing on the whole nature and purpose of baptism, it is desirable to investigate this suggestion with care.
The two households usually mentioned are the household of Cornelius in Acts 10 and the household of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16.
Let us consider first the household of Cornelius. We are told that Cornelius was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household” – that is, all the members of his household were God-fearing people (see Acts 10:2). Before Peter began to preach to them Cornelius said:
Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God (Acts 10:33).
This indicates that all those present could hear Peter’s message.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God (Acts 10:44-46).
This indicates that all those present could not merely hear Peter’s message, but also receive the Holy Spirit by faith as a result of that message and speak with other tongues. In fact, it was upon this very ground that Peter accepted them as being eligible for baptism.
Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptised who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:46-47).
Furthermore, when Peter gave to the apostles and brethren in Jerusalem an account of what had taken place in the house of Cornelius (see Acts 11), he added another important fact concerning all the members of Cornelius’s household.
Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, “Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved” (Acts 11:12-14, italics added).
We learn from this that, as a result of Peter’s preaching in the house of Cornelius, every member of the household was saved.
If we now put together the various pieces of information we have gleaned concerning the household of Cornelius, we arrive at the following facts actually stated about them: All of them were God-fearing; all of them heard Peter’s message; all of them received the Holy Spirit and spoke with other tongues; all of them were saved. It is clear, therefore, that all of these were people capable of meeting the New Testament conditions for baptism and that there were no infants among them.
Earlier in this chapter we already considered the second passage that describes the baptism of a whole household – that of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. From this passage we learn the following three facts:
1. Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to the jailer and all who were in his house (v. 32).
2. He and all his family were baptised (v. 33).
3. He and his whole household believed (v. 34).
This shows us that all could meet personally the New Testament conditions for baptism and that there were no infants among them.
Neither in the household of Cornelius nor in the household of the Philippian jailer nor anywhere else in the New Testament is there any suggestion that infants were ever considered eligible for baptism.
Although it is necessary to emphasise the conditions for Christians baptism, we must also be careful to guard against an overemphasis on the need for teaching, which leads to unscriptural results. In some places – particularly in certain foreign mission fields – it is common to insist that all those who present themselves for baptism are first subjected to a prolonged period of instruction, extending over weeks or months, before they are accepted for baptism. This practice is traced back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.
This emphasis on preliminary teaching is partly due to the fact that in the 1611 King James Version Jesus’s words are translated: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations . . .” However, the modern version, “Go . . . and make disciples” is more accurate.
Let it be granted, however, that those desiring to be baptised must first be taught. The question is, How long does this preliminary process of teaching need to take? Should the time required be measured in months, in weeks, in days or in hours?
The events of the day of Pentecost concluded this way:
Then those who gladly received his [Peter’s] word were baptised; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them (Acts 2:41).
The three thousand people whose baptism is here recorded had, a few hours earlier, been open unbelievers who rejected the claim of Jesus of Nazareth to be either the Messiah of Israel or the Son of God. From the end of Peter’s sermon to the moment of their being baptised, the time required by the apostles to give them the necessary instruction could not have exceeded a few hours.
Let us see how this corresponds with the response of the people of Samaria to the preaching of Philip.
But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Jesus, both men and women were baptised (Acts 8:12).
No exact period of time for instruction is specified. As on the day of Pentecost, it could have been just a few hours. Certainly it could not have exceeded a few days, or a week or two at the very most.
Philip baptised the Ethiopian eunuch on the very same day that he met him and preached the gospel to him (see Acts 8:36-39). Here again the period of instruction could not have exceeded a few hours.
Then there is the case of Ananias, who was directed by God to go to Saul of Tarsus and lay hands on him and pray for him.
Immediately there fell from his [Saul’s] eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptised (Acts 9:18).
Later Paul himself relates that Ananias said to him at this time:
And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptised (Acts 22:16).
We see, then, that Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) was baptised on what was probably the day of his conversion – certainly within three days of the first revelation of Jesus Jesus to him upon the Damascus road.
Peter commanded Cornelius and his household to be baptised on the same day that he preached the gospel to them (see Acts 10:48).
The Lord opened the heart of Lydia, the seller of purple, to the message of the gospel, and she was then baptised with all her household (see Acts 16:14-15). In this case no further details are given, and no exact period of time is specified.
The Philippian jailer and all his household were baptised the very same night in which they first heard the gospel (Acts 16:33).
In these passages we have examined seven instances of the baptism of new converts. In every case some measure of instruction was given first. Thereafter, in the majority of these cases, baptism followed within a few hours of conversion. In no case was baptism ever delayed more than a few days.
We are thus able to arrive at a clear picture of the practice of baptism in the early church. Before baptism they presented the basic facts of the gospel, centring in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and they related these facts to the act of baptism.
Baptism then followed immediately – normally within a few hours; at most, within a few days.
Finally, after baptism the new converts continued to receive the more detailed instruction which was needed to establish them firmly in the Christians faith. This latter phase of instruction is summed up in Acts 2:42, which immediately follows the account of the baptism of the new converts on the day of Pentecost.
And they [that is, those who had been baptised] continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
This is the New Testament pattern for establishing new converts in the faith after they have been baptised.