Jesus' Baptism: "Jesus needs to change our hearts."
A. Jesus commanded his followers to baptize people (new converts/disciples).
- During Jesus' ministry on earth, his disciples baptized people.
- John 3:22, 26; 4:1-2 - Jesus' followers (the disciples) performed
the act of baptizing others. But since it was under his (Jesus')
command, it can also be said that Jesus baptized them. [It seems that
the apostle Paul also followed this practice, to some degree. Compare
with 1 Corinthians 1:13-17a.]
- After the resurrection, the practice continued: new disciples
were to be baptized.
- Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16 [in some translations]; Acts 2:38;
10:48; 22:16 - It was commanded or stated as necessary.
- Acts 2:41; 8:12-13, 16, 36, 38; 9:18; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5 - The
command was obeyed.
- In many ways, this practice of baptizing people, in obedience to
Jesus' command, in Matthew 28:19, is no different than what was done
previously, when the original 12 apostles were baptizing people,
under the Jesus' command.
B. In (or into) whose name are we to be baptized?
- "NO" - Who NOT to be baptized into:
- 1 Cor. 1:13-17a - Not in/into the name of some church leader
(such as Paul).
- "YES" - Who to be baptized into:
- Matthew 28:19 - In (or into) the name of the Father/Son/Holy Spirit.
- Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5 - In (or into) the name of Jesus
[Jesus Christ / the Lord Jesus].
- The focus isn't on a specific word-order, but on who we are being
baptized into. To say "Father/Son/Holy Spirit" makes a
general statement that all three are involved in our salvation. To
say "Jesus Christ" (or a similar statement) emphasizes the
specific work that Jesus had in our salvation. Both ways seem to have
been considered acceptable.
- What does this mean?
- A person's name represents the person.
[In the days of the Bible, the meaning of a name or title
could also have a special significance. A study of the
names and titles of Jesus would illustrate this.]
- Being baptized "in/into Jesus' name" symbolizes being
united with (or joined to) Christ Jesus. We are "in" him
(and he "in" us). Some of the significance this has for us
will be mentioned later in this study. But, among other things, it
shows a very close relationship between Jesus and his disciples. He
is our leader; we want to follow him and learn from him. He has first
place in our lives.
- We are not to become followers of some religious leader
- whether from the past or alive today - even if that leader is held
in high regard by most Christians.
- We can also say that we are "one" with God
(Father/Son/Holy Spirit as mentioned in Matthew 28:19). But this is
true only because of our union with Christ.
- Many things are now true for us, because of our new relationship
with Christ. Some of these things - the ones related to baptism -
will be mentioned in a section, below.
C. The context: What is this baptism associated with?
- Preliminary Comments: Two issues are involved here: 1)
What God does in salvation (including baptism by the Holy Spirit),
and 2) what the person does in salvation (including the obedience of
baptism in water). Most of these passages focus on the people's
responsibility, rather than what God does. This should not be wrongly
interpreted as a denial of what God does. God will do what he needs
to do; our duty is to do what he tells us to do... and to
let him take care of the rest. Since our response will be an
expression of him living within us, we will give him, not ourselves,
the credit for our salvation.
- Accepting the good news (also called the
"gospel") about Jesus and what he has done for us.
- Note: John's baptism and Jesus' water-baptism have
many points in common. Some of the main differences are as follows:
- John's baptism focuses attention on our need to change (repent),
and points to the end results: the "fruit" of such a
change. The individual accepting John's baptism is indicating his
acceptance of John's message, and is expressing his intention to
change his ways.
- In contrast, Jesus' water-baptism focuses attention on what
Jesus does to make this change possible (the Spirit-baptism). It
points to the starting point: the Spirit's work in the heart. The
individual accepting Jesus' water-baptism is indicating his
acceptance of the good news about Jesus, and is claiming that this
heart-change (the Holy Spirit baptism) has occurred. [Of course, if
this heart change has actually occurred, the other elements which are
a part of John's baptism (repentance, confession of sin,
etc.) will also be present.]
- "Believing the good news": When people believed the
good news about Jesus, their immediate response was to want to be baptized.
- Mark 16:16 [in some translations] - Everyone who believes and is
baptized will be saved. [Note the focus on our responsibility.
As mentioned in the preliminary comments, at the beginning of this
section, this focus on our responsibility does not
imply a denial of God's part in our salvation.]
- Acts 8:12 - Many people believed [the good news / Jesus] and they
were baptized. [See the ADDITIONAL NOTES
for this passage, at the end of this section about things associated
- Acts 8:13 - Simon, the magician, believed and was baptized.
[Note: The context that follows shows that Simon's heart was still
not right. Even though he "believed" - at least in
some sense - he was still a slave to sin (v. 23). There is a strong
probability that, even after this confrontation with Peter, he was
never truly saved (in other words, never Spirit-baptized). If this is
so, then his water-baptism really didn't mean anything. History does
mention someone with the same name, who became a leading
opponent of Christianity, and who developed his own false religion.
And though we cannot be completely certain, it is very possible that
this is the same person.]
- Acts 18:8 - Many of the Corinthians believed and were baptized.
- "Accepting the message" (about Jesus)
- Acts 2:41 - The people who accepted the message [= what Peter
preached; see also v. 38] were baptized.
- "Calling on the name of Jesus" (the "Righteous One")
- Acts 22:16 - Get up and be baptized! Wash your sins away, calling
on his name! ["Calling on him" means about the
same as "trusting" him. And "his name"
represents who he is and what he can do.] Note that the physical
symbol (water-baptism) parallels the spiritual reality of
"washing your sins away by calling on his name" (Spirit-baptism).
- Acts 2:38 - Repent and be baptized. Results? Receive forgiveness
and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- The apostle did not say that the baptizing (something done by
people) would cause the forgiveness (something done by God).
He looked at the whole process as one event - the whole
process beginning with repentance (v. 38), followed by trust/believing
(acceptance of his message - v. 41), and culminating with baptism
(v. 41). His focus was on answering the people's question about what they
needed to do; he was not discussing what God needed to do,
nor the relationship between the two.
- In the next section ("Receiving the Holy Spirit"), we
will see a passage in which the relationship between the two is
mentioned. And the reception of the Holy Spirit is described as
coming first - Acts 10:47-48 (see also 11:16-17, which is
connected with this event).
- Note that in every instance in which repentance and believing are
mentioned together, the word "repentance" comes first:
"repent and believe." This can be seen in: Matthew 21:32;
Mark 1:4; and Acts 20:21. (Two additional passages have this word
order, but those verses are not necessarily intended to indicate the
relationship of the two concepts: Acts 19:4 and Hebrews 6:1.)
- Note also that, in every instance in which repentance or
believing are mentioned, along with baptism, the repentance and/or
believing come first, and the baptism comes last. The change must
occur before the public confession of that change can be
made. (See the verses listed in the above two sections,
"Accepting the Good News" and "Repentance.")
- Receiving the Holy Spirit (Spirit-baptism)
- ADDITIONAL NOTES ABOUT UNIQUE EVENTS IN THE
BOOK OF ACTS (From the section about "Believing the Good
- In the book of Acts, when the church was born, two major issues
needed resolved, concerning the gospel (or "good news")
about Jesus: 1) the nature of the gospel ("What is its
relationship to the Law of Moses?"), and 2) the extent
of the gospel ("Who were the intended recipients of the good
news?"). The answers to these questions had to be determined by the apostles
- those originally chosen, instructed, and commissioned by Jesus, to
spread the good news.
- The question regarding the nature of the gospel was
resolved in Acts 15, when the apostles and other leaders met to deal
with an issue brought-up by some converted Jewish religious leaders.
The apostles reached their conclusions - not by impulse or whim, but
by examining the issues, and observing the way the Holy Spirit was even
then working among the Gentiles. They agreed with the Holy
Spirit (15:8-9, 28) and with the words of the prophets (15:16-18),
that the gospel (good news) was not an "extension"
of the Law of Moses. The Gentiles did not have to perform
the ceremonial rituals commanded in the Law.
- As far at the extent of the gospel, it needed shown that
the good news was for all people: Jews, Samaritans
(half-Jews) and Gentiles (non-Jews). This would be affirmed by the
presence of the apostles (along with a demonstration of the Spirit's
power), at the time the first people from each of these
groups was converted.
- In Acts 2, the apostles introduced the good news to the Jews.
They confirmed that the gospel was given to the Jews - not only to
those present, but also to their offspring and to those living
elsewhere (Acts 2:39).
- The account in Acts 8 describes the first time the good
news had been taken to a large group of people who were not
"full-Jews." This would raise serious questions, in the
minds of many who had believed that only Jews could be saved. Many of
the Samaritans accepted the good news and were baptized. When the
apostles heard about it, they sent Peter and John (representing the
entire group) to investigate (see 8:14). Only after the apostles
arrived, to confirm that the good news was also for Samaritans,
did the Holy Spirit come upon the people. (Even Philip, who had the
ability to perform miracles, could not qualify for doing what the
apostles needed to do, because he was not an apostle.) This is the only
instance in which water baptism is mentioned as happening a
significant period of time before the people received the
Holy Spirit. [Most likely, the Holy Spirit had begun working in the
hearts of the people (except perhaps Simon the magician), when they
first expressed trust in Jesus. But the Spirit's work was not
finished until after the apostles had arrived.]
- In Acts 10, God directed the apostle Peter to take the good news
to the Gentiles. As Peter observed the Holy Spirit working among
them, he confirmed that the good news was for people of every
Back up to the section about "Believing the
D. The meaning: What does baptism mean?
- Note: Since the New Testament doesn't divide
Spirit-baptism and water-baptism into two separate, only
distantly-related events, some of these passages do not specifically
point to one or the other. The specific passage and its context will
indicate whether it is focused on the reality, the symbol, or the
entire baptism "event."
- "Baptism into Jesus' name" - This general statement
was mentioned in a previous section. Some of
the specific details about this union with Christ are
- Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection now apply to us.
Water-baptism illustrates this spiritual reality. Salvation is a
reality for we who are in Christ, because what happened to him
also happened to us: It is a reality that affects our lives even now.
- Romans 6:3-4 - We who were baptized into Christ were baptized
into his death... and buried with him... so that, just like he was
raised from the dead, ... so we also may live a new life.
- In other words, if we have been united with Christ, what he did
on the cross has application to us. It is just as if we were there on
the cross. When he died the death we deserve, it can be said that we
also died. And when he arose from the dead, it can be said that we
also arose from the dead. (This rising from the dead applies to our spirits
right now - Ephesians 2:1-10. The full application of it to our bodies
will occur later - at the resurrection.)
- Colossians 1:12 - In baptism, you were buried with him [Jesus]
and raised with him (through your faith in the power of God,
the one who raised him from the dead). [Note the place of faith in
this. It wasn't the baptism that did it, but the trust (faith) in God
- the one who has the power to do it!]
- Unity and oneness with Christ's "body" (the
total group of all people who are united in/with him).
- 1 Corinthians 12:13 - We were all baptized by/in one Spirit into
one body... [This focuses on the Spirit-baptism, which was the means
by which we became part of this body, and would apply even in those
rare instances in which a person hadn't been able to be water-baptized.]
- Galatians 3:27 - All who have been baptized into Christ have been
"clothed" with Christ. [There are no "class
distinctions," such as Jew vs. Gentile, etc.]
- "One Baptism" - as one dimension of the great
"oneness" of the Spirit
- Ephesians 4:5 - There is ... one baptism... [This is just one of
the many aspects of oneness we share, as members of his one
body. Several other aspects are also mentioned in this passage.]
- This theme does not deny the diversity also mentioned in
Scripture. [Example: Later in Ephesians 4, the apostle focuses on
some of the differences we have - different gifts and abilities -
because we are different parts of this one body.]
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Dennis Hinks © 1999