How Important is Baptism, the Supper, & Church Membership?

Baptism – Identify with Jesus

Let’s look at a few key texts on baptism (my emphasis added). 

  • “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
  • “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
  • “And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” (Acts 8:38)
  • “And [Peter] commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 10:48)
  • “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16, from Paul’s testimony)

There are many other passages. This is just a sampling. Especially noteworthy is Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” These are the final words of Jesus on earth as recorded by Matthew. The key phrase is “make disciples.” This includes evangelism and then the guidance and nourishment of that new disciple into maturity. This is the core of our mission. But right there in the mix is the need for new disciples to be baptized.

Why? Let’s be clear. It’s not to save them. The saving work is done by Jesus, not baptism. Salvation is by faith through grace. No religious ceremony or water can save anyone. You could be baptized in the Jordan River itself and still be lost. Personally believing in Jesus as Savior is the means by which the atoning work of Jesus on the cross is personally applied to my status before God. So baptism doesn’t save. Then what is its purpose?

The big thing in baptism is identifying with the saving work of Jesus in his death and burial (pictured in going under the water) and resurrection to new life (pictured by coming out of the water). This is known doctrinally as union with Christ. Spiritually, when he died, I died with him. When he was buried, I was buried with him. When he was resurrected, I was resurrected with him. I am in a spiritual union with Jesus and that connects me with the saving work of Jesus for me.

Baptism both illustrates this and identifies us with Jesus. It is an initiation rite. A first step of obedience. When a foal is born, right away it begins to walk. It’s shaky and unsteady but it takes its first steps. The newly believing person who has by faith believed and bowed to Jesus’ lordship is baptized taking this first step of discipleship to identify with him.

The word “baptism” means going under something. It’s always been water. The Ethiopian Eunuch saw water and said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36)

So we baptize with water. Faith baptizes the heart in faith. Baptism identifies the sinner with Jesus. It is an outward sign of an inward change.

Making baptism too important

It saves me – baptismal regeneration

I have already touched on this but there are Christian denominations that teach that you aren’t actually saved until you’re baptized. Our response? Salvation is by faith, not baptism. If baptism saved, then salvation can’t be by faith. That would be faith + baptism. One work that I do. The gospel doesn’t allow for any human contribution.

It’s all about the water!

While we affirm baptism by immersion, baptism isn’t about the water or the immersion itself or even the mode primarily. A true baptism is about the heart and the Christian’s joy in identifying with their Savior. Don’t make baptism about the water.

There will be lots of baptized people in hell. Their body went under but their heart didn’t. I say this because there is a lot of diversity out there with baptism. People use the same word but can mean hugely different things. How big a circle of inclusion can we draw with it? I’d suggest the same size circle God draws. In other words, who God welcomes into heaven and who he doesn’t. They may be baptized slightly differently but if they believe in the true gospel, they are our brother and sister and we will spend eternity with them. We may not agree on the mode or timing but if they believe in salvation by faith in Christ and NOT by their baptism, that’s probably a genuine brother.

We won’t have conversations in heaven like, “So, how were you baptized?”
“The water was poured over me.” Or, “I was dipped backward three times.”
“Wait? What? How did you get in here?”

When baptism isn’t important enough

I don’t need to be baptized

Jesus commanded it. Can we delay obedience when Jesus is our Lord? No. You can when he isn’t Lord and perhaps that is what is really behind the laissez-faire attitude people have to baptism. They will say, “But the thief wasn’t baptized!” He was dying on a cross. If you are dying on a cross when you come to faith, we give you a pass on the baptism step of obedience. Other than that, be baptized.

I’m waiting until the time is right

The right time for obedience is always right now. Jesus commanded it. The Apostle Peter commanded it. The Apostle Paul modeled it. I would think for a true Christian, the chance to identify with him in any way would be joy. We should wish we could do it over and over. I think that at weddings now. I loved my wedding day. I wish I could do go back and do it again. I’m so happy to identify with Jennifer as her husband.

If you’ve been baptized already, when you watch people get baptized, you should be thinking to yourselves, “That was awesome; I wish I could do it again.” If you’ve never been baptized and believe in Jesus by faith, Jesus would be pleased by your baptism. What more reason do you need?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2016 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address ( on the copied resource.

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