Wrong Reasons to be Baptized
The Bible gives many reasons why we should be baptized, but what are some of the wrong reasons that many people choose to be baptized?
Were you baptized for the wrong reasons?
Wrong Reasons to be Baptized
The way of Christ is one of meaning and significance. It is not a collection of random commands or a religion of meaningless rituals. Rather, God calls on us to believe and obey Him for the very reasons that he sets forth. Every act that he requires should be motivated by the attitudes and purposes that He has revealed in His inspired Word. This is a vital truth that anyone interested in the ways of the Lord must understand and apply to his own life and belief.
Consider this example. We recognize that the New Testament speaks of the communion, the Lord’s supper, or breaking of the bread (different terms in different contexts). The Lord Jesus wants His followers to remember His body as they partake of the bread and he wants them to remember His shed blood when they partake of the cup. It would be possible for someone to eat the bread and drink the cup for the wrong reasons—perhaps to symbolically remember Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, or to recall God’s provision of manna and water during the Israelite wilderness wanderings. What’s worse, one could break the bread and drink the cup simply because this is what is expected of spiritual people, or because one’s family does this, or because a certain religious leader urges the people to partake of these elements.
I think we can all see that in these cases, eating of the bread and drinking of the cup would be something less than partaking of the Lord’s supper in memory of the Lord’s suffering and death for our sins (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-34). We must do what Jesus commanded, but we must do it for the very reasons that He has given. (See our booklet, Outward Actions, and Inward Meaning.)
Baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is far more important than most people realize. Yet, as important as it is, the vast majority of people have utterly failed to understand the meaning that God places in this act. Generally it is minimized, neglected, denounced, postponed, twisted, made a “church sacrament,” or in some other way perverted from what the Lord originally desired.
Our purpose here is simply to notice some of the wrong, unworthy, or perhaps inadequate reasons that have prompted people to be “baptized” in the past. It would be wise for you as the reader to consider carefully your own experience of baptism and ask whether you have personally had a defective motivation and reason for being baptized. If so, you must conclude that, in God’s sight, you have not really been Scripturally baptized at all! Rather, you have experienced a church ritual or religious rite of some kind—but not genuine baptism into Christ. With these thoughts in mind, consider the following improper reasons for being baptized:
Baptism to please one’s parents or spouse
Surely many people are baptized simply because the parents encourage this of their children. Children are told that they are “old enough” to be baptized and that the parents would be happy if the child chose to be baptized at a certain age. A husband may think that he is pleasing his religious wife if he decides to be baptized, or the reverse may also be true. In all of these cases, one is seeking to please a human being—however close and dear this person may be—rather than please the Lord Jesus Himself. While it is good to please our mate and others (cf. 1 Cor. 10:24, 33; Rom. 15:2), baptism is an act that is directed toward the Lord Jesus, not any human being (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13-15). Anything less than this is not genuine baptism.
Baptism to gain a girlfriend or boyfriend
This must be a reason why some people have been baptized in the past. A boy knows that a girl will not consider him seriously as a boyfriend—or will not marry him—unless he becomes a “church member” or a “Christian,” thus he goes through this necessary ritual in order to win his sweetheart. Needless to say, this cannot be considered true baptism but simply is an act of self-serving hypocrisy. Regretfully, later the deceived person often discovers that the act was not genuine and the “baptized” mate really has no intention of serving the Lord. The baptism did him no good at all, but was intended as a means to an end.
Baptism because of one’s peers
In some churches, young people are led to ask for baptism because most of the fellows or girls are being baptized. They don’t want to be left out, thus they agree to be baptized. The tradition may be that at age 12 or maybe 13, young people are expected to “take the step” of being baptized or “joining the church” through baptism, thus it is expected that the boys and girls will make this adolescent decision. One young person arrives at age 12 and goes forward to be initiated by the baptismal ritual and the friend decides to “join” at the same time. Such a “baptism” is obviously false yet it’s the only baptism that some people have known. Later, they may never choose to correct this invalid baptism.
Baptism to follow the example of Jesus
Some pastors have urged certain men and women, perhaps new “converts,” to take the step of baptism to “follow the example” of Jesus. Is this really the primary reason for baptism? We must admit that it is good to follow our Lord’s example. The Christian is to “walk [live] in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6). Jesus left you “an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). In order to explain His baptism, Jesus told John the baptizer: “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). In other words, it was God’s will that the Jews submit to John’s “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4). Apparently in order to identify Himself with the common Jews of His day, Jesus likewise submitted to baptism.
Yet Jesus’ baptism was far different from any other baptism at that time and in any other age. He had no sins to confess as did others (Matt. 3:6). He had no sins needing repentance as did the others (Luke 3:3). He had no sins needing “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” as did the others (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Furthermore, we must remember that this was John’s baptism which was only valid and pertinent for a very limited time and for a special people—Jewish people who were waiting for the Messiah. This is much different from Christian baptism which was meant for people everywhere throughout the ages until Christ’s return (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus’ submitted to John’s baptism—a baptism that is no longer valid (cf. Acts 19:1-6). Thus, for the most part, we are not to be baptized simply to follow the example of Jesus’ own baptism by John.
Baptism to please a denominational pastor or evangelist
On occasion, a person has been motivated to submit to baptism because a traveling preacher or the local pastor has indicated that baptism should be followed. Maybe because of the emotion surrounding a stirring sermon, the person seeks to be baptized. Maybe the pastor has emphasized that the denomination expects this of all people, thus the person submits to baptism, thinking that this will please those who are in the leadership. All of this constitutes false motivations. Biblical baptism is not a denominational ritual. It is not an act by which we are to please man—any man—but it must be directed toward the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Peter urged those on Pentecost to “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). The act was “in” the name of Christ. “In” is from the Greek epi, indicating the authority of Christ. He is the center and basis of baptism and not a respected religious leader.
Baptism as a “door” into a religious denomination
Those who are acquainted with the will of God are aware of the fact that denominationalism cannot be found upon the pages of Scripture. Modern denominations generally have arisen during the past five hundred years, since the days of the Protestant Reformation. Denominations are of recent origin: the Lutheran Church (1500s), Presbyterian Church (1500s), Baptist Church (1600s), Methodist Church (1700s), Nazarene Church (1800s), Episcopal Church and Anglican Church (1500s). Even the developed Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church can be dated only as early as the fourth or fifth centuries after Christ.
These facts should convince us that Scriptural baptism cannot be a “door” into an entity that was not founded by the Lord Jesus and did not exist from the day of Pentecost! While a religious water ritual can be a door to a denomination, this should not be called Biblical “baptism” if we are using Biblical terminology as it was meant to be used. Therefore, those who say that they were “baptized into the Baptist Church” have failed to experience genuine New Testament baptism. Likewise those who say that they were “baptized into the Roman Catholic Church” or “baptized into the Methodist Church” or baptized into any other unscriptural denomination are confused in their terminology.
Baptism as a “door” into a local “church” body
This reason why some are baptized, like the foregoing one, is unscriptural. In New Testament times, people were not baptized into a local assembly or community of Christians. Rather, one was baptized into the body of Christ as a whole. Paul makes this clear: “By [or “in”] one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13a). This can be seen in the experience of those saved on the day of Pentecost in the beginning: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:42; cf. v. 47). We might also notice that just as one is “baptized into Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:3; cf. Gal. 3:27), he is also baptized into the body of which Christ is head (Col. 1:18; Eph. 5:23). These first repentant baptized believers were added to Christ’s body, His community of saved ones living in Jerusalem. They thereby became “individually members one of another” within this body (Rom. 12:4-5). We can see, therefore, that if the reason one was baptized was to become part of a local church (which often is an integral part of a denomination), he experienced a defective baptism.
An interesting account of conversion is found in Acts 8, with reference to the salvation of the Ethiopian traveler (Acts 8:26-39). Philip preached Christ to this man on the road between Jerusalem and Gaza (v. 26). This sincere seeker turned to Christ and was baptized when they came to “some water” (v. 36). After Philip baptized him, the new brother “went on his way rejoicing” (v. 39). He returned to Ethiopia—south of Egypt (cf. v. 27)! The Ethiopian was baptized, was saved, was a member of the body of Christ—but surely he was not baptized into a local congregation! The same was true of those baptized on Pentecost (Acts 2:38-41), Paul who was baptized in Damascus (Acts 22:16), Lydia and the jailer baptized in Philippi (Acts 16:14-40), and Cornelius who was baptized in Caesarea (Acts 10:47-48).
Baptism to escape the demand to repent
This may seem strange, but there are some who submit to an act called baptism as a substitute for true repentance. Peter commanded those who were lost on the day of Pentecost, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized” (Acts 2:38a). John’s baptism, of course, was a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:4). Since repentance demands such a renunciation of deeply rooted sins and such a change of life, we can see how someone may agree to baptism (as an external act only) without the deep inner change that is necessarily a part of repentance. Baptism as an external act is so simple and uncomplicated, there are those who have submitted to this while refusing to change their innermost heart attitude. They are so concerned about the external and outward ritual, that they overlook or minimize the necessary inward response of trust in Christ crucified. All of this may occur without conscious awareness, yet some may have been baptized with this underlying motive.
Baptism because one learns that God wants us to “follow the Lord in baptism”
A person may read a religious tract that gives a simplistic “plan of salvation” and at the conclusion he reads that he should “be baptized, read your Bible, pray every day, and join a Bible-believing church.” Sometimes books and tapes recommend the same procedure. Some of this counsel may be advisable—and some is not. The problem with this motivation is that it simply views baptism as one among many “good” things that one must do after conversion. It is simply viewed as one of the “works” that one must perform to please God as a Christian.
Is this the way baptism is viewed in Scripture? Indeed not! Baptism was at the very center of the conversion experience itself. It was not something “tacked on” as a “good deed” or “good work” that one would do as a part of the Christian life—such as caring for the needy, studying the Scriptures, meeting with the saints, continuing in prayer, and a hundred other worthy endeavors. Rather, baptism was integral to one’s initial response of faith in God’s grace (note Acts 2:37-41; 8:12, 35-39; 10:47-48; 16:13-15, 30-34; 18:8; 19:1-6; 22:16). Thus, God does not want one to submit to baptism as merely one among many acts of obedience that He wants of faithful saints. This misconceives the very nature of Scriptural baptism. It tends to view baptism as a “work” and we know that we are not saved by works (Ephesians 2:8-9) or by deeds of righteousness (Titus 3:5).
Baptism as the cleansing of “Adamic” sin or “original” sin
Most mainline denominations “baptize” their babies long before the child is capable of personal faith and repentance. Scripture is quite clear, of course, that baptism is for those who repent of sin: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38a). Only those able to place their faith in God and in Christ are to be baptized: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a). If this is true, why do so many churches baptize infants?
The evident reason is that most of these churches believe that each baby is born with the guilt and condemnation of Adam’s sin. They believe that not only a propensity to sin is passed down from generation to generation, but the actual guilt of the “original” sin of Adam in the beginning (Genesis 3:1-6). The only way that this sin may be removed in the little infant is for the pastor to pour water on the head of the child (or immerse the child in the Orthodox churches). Obviously, this procedure is far removed from the kind of baptism that Christ commanded and the apostles taught and practiced. Therefore, those who have only been “baptized” as a baby haven’t even been baptized at all, in terms of New Testament baptism.
Baptism as a means of “self-salvation”
This is another faulty motivation or reason to be baptized. Some people read enough of Scripture to see that certain salvation blessings are connected with Biblical baptism. They notice that we are to repent and be baptized “for the forgiveness of [our] sins” (Acts 2:38). They see that Paul was immersed to “wash away” his sins (Acts 22:16). They have read that Jesus said he who believes and has been baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16), and they also have read that “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). These and other passages show the importance of baptism in our initial coming to Christ for salvation. Therefore, when these people want to be baptized, they do this with the salvation blessings in mind. In effect, they are seeking to save themselves, though they would probably deny this charge.
What is wrong with this? Much is wrong with this. While we can’t overlook the connection between baptism and salvation, we must never conclude that we can save ourselves! Paul plainly said, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Sadly, some of these people do “boast” about their baptism and denounce others, not understanding that salvation is a free gift of God, offered by His marvelous grace and mercy. Further, the ground of our salvation is not in baptism or any other act of mere man; rather, the ground of our salvation is Christ’s sacrificial death for our sins. As Paul stated it, “. . . being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Romans 3:24-25). This means that God’s grace was manifested in the redemptive death of Jesus when He died on the cross for our sins. This death was a propitiatory death, one that satisfied the just wrath of God on sin, and it must be received by faith.
Of course, this faith is manifested in baptism, but there is absolutely no merit either in the faith or the baptism that embodies the faith. This is the clear teaching of Scripture (cf. John 3:15-18, 36; Romans 5:6-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Ephesians 1:3-7; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). We can see, therefore, that those who would look on baptism as a means of their own self-salvation, greatly err. They fail to recognize the very core message of the gospel or “good news” proclamation that salvation is of the Lord, not our personal self-efforts!
Baptized for the Right Reasons
If the forgoing reasons why most people have been baptized are not really Scriptural—therefore not really valid—we must ask, “What does God want our motives and understanding to be in order to receive a true baptism?” This should be of utmost concern to every sincere person who wants to please God, wants to follow the Scriptures, and wants to embody his faith and repentance as the Lord has directed.
Since we’ve discussed this matter at much length in other literature, we’ll simply give a brief overview of what motives and understandings we should have when we are baptized. Scripture teaches the following:
Baptism is a response to the authority of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38).
Baptism relates us to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
Baptism begins a relationship to Jesus Christ as a disciple (Matthew 28:29-20).
Baptism is an expression of faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12, 36-39; 16:31-34; 18:8; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12).
Baptism is a response to the gospel (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:36-41; Acts 8:12; 18:8; etc.).
Baptism is an expression of repentance of sin (Acts 2:38).
Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
Baptism is related to the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; cf. 5:32).
Baptism expresses faithfulness to the Lord (Acts 16:14-15).
Baptism is related to the washing away of sin (Acts 22:16; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:11).
Baptism expresses our death to sin (Romans 6:1-5).
Baptism expresses our identification with Christ and His death on the cross (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27).
Baptism expresses our resurrection to a new life (Romans 6:3-5, 11; Colossians 2:12-13).
Baptism is related to our entrance into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Baptism is related to our being “clothed” with Christ (Galatians 3:27).
Baptism signifies our circumcision with Christ (Colossians 2:11-12).
Baptism “saves” us through the resurrection of Christ (1 Peter 3:21).
Baptism is an “appeal” to God for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21).
As you have surveyed this list of Biblical reasons to be baptized, you have probably seen a great contrast between the earlier defective, unworthy, and counterfeit motives in religious baptisms and the simple and significant baptism taught in Scripture. If this pertains to you, personally, as it does to millions of others, we hope that you won’t dismiss this as a trivial matter. The reason for your baptism is of ultimate concern! If you haven’t been Scripturally baptized, you need to come to Christ now, with a truly Biblical baptism, one that expresses genuine repentance of sin and sincere faith in God through Jesus Christ. If you are serious in this, please read other articles on the True Discipleship website on this subject!