Baptism generally denotes the external, visible rite that demonstrates the spiritual reality of a believer’s identification with the Person and Work of Christ. Therefore, we often refer to “water baptism” to designate that which is external and visible. This helps to differentiate from “Spirit baptism,” which is the internal, invisible operation of the Spirit of God when He takes up residence in the believer’s life and incorporates him/her into the Body of Christ (Romans 6:3,4).
Who can or should be baptized?
Since water baptism points to a spiritual reality, only those who have experienced “Spirit baptism” should be baptized with water. Spirit baptism occurs in conjunction with a person’s spiritual birth, or regeneration, and in the experience of that person, is marked by repentance (turning from other saviors) and faith (turning to Jesus Christ as the only sufficient Savior). Therefore, only those who have placed personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and are willing to certify that faith publicly, will be baptized. Obviously then, in our understanding, it is improper to baptize infants, who have not placed personal faith in Christ, much less rejected other saviors in repentance.
How is baptism to be performed?
Bible scholars and theologians have argued about the mode of baptism for centuries. While there is good linguistic evidence for “to baptize” to mean “to dip, immerse,” I think the stronger argument has to do with what the external rite is intended to picture. Spirit baptism involves the new believer being “swallowed up” by the Spirit, taken over, in a large sense, and immersed in the Body of Christ. In a sense, the new believer is understood to be “wet all over, inside and out” with the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:13). Therefore, baptism by immersion best pictures the invisible, spiritual operation. This picture also fits well with what we are trying to say in baptism, that the new believer is identifying with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. When baptized by immersion, the new believer stands and affirms his/her faith in Christ in his death, is “buried” in the water, and rises again to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
Also, since baptism is the visible testimony of a spiritual reality, baptism should be done publicly, as a testimony to a local body of believers, if possible (the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 being an exception), and comprises part of the “confession with the mouth” of the new believer (Romans 10:9,10).
What results from baptism?
Water baptism results in a believer being identified and accepted by a local congregation of believers, even as he/she has been identified and accepted by Christ by virtue of Spirit baptism. It is an early step of obedience that should lead to many other steps of obedience in the believer’s life, and serves as a reminder that, though we have no need to baptized over and over again, we do stand in need of continued association with, dependence upon, and filling with the Spirit as opposed to life lived in the flesh.