Salvation 2.0: Part 6.6: Why Water Baptism?


Why does God want believers to be baptized? Well, actions matters, just as words matter.

* The requirement to be baptized forces another requirement — confession. I can have something like faith and keep it a secret. But when I confess my faith to others, wonderful things happen.

First, I admit my faith to myself. I make a decision: my faith matters enough that I’m willing to admit it to the church. That’s a big deal because faith too weak to be admitted is faith too weak to matter.

Second, when I admit my faith to the church, my relationship to the church changes. I go from being a visitor to family. From outside the body to inside. Of course, these things happen when I’m baptized, but confession and baptism cannot be separated. I confess so I can be baptized. I’m baptized because I confessed. It’s the confession that starts the process at the human level. Before then, my faith is between me and God only — and not much of a faith. Not really.

Third, when I confess, the church knows to baptize me. They may botch the ceremony by teaching bad baptismal theology or by not using enough water. But the church invites me to bring my faith to fruition by taking a simple, easy action based on my confession.

Fourth, this forces the church to decide whether to accept me for baptism. I know some find this idea horrifying, but in fact churches sometimes delay baptism for someone too young to understand or who has not yet learned enough about Jesus to understand the meaning of the ritual.

In the Churches of Christ, these decisions are usually made by the preacher, under the elders’ oversight. In traditional Baptist Churches, this is done democratically. Other denominations have their own processes. Regardless of how well we like the chosen process, the fact is that baptism is only for those who understand enough to have a genuine faith — and the church is irresponsible if it baptizes people it knows do not meet this standard.

Scary immersion

Of course, properly taught, baptism is no simple, easy action at all! Baptism is into the death of Christ and into his body and into his Kingdom. It’s a pledge to live a different kind of life by different values. No, baptism should be scary because Christianity done right is scary.

Now, can you confess without being baptized? Yes, if you don’t understand God’s intentions regarding baptism. And it happens every day, because of some bad theology that’s crept into some teaching by many Christians. But it’s not the design.

Can I be saved without baptism? Well, yes, if the church botches its instructions to me. God won’t damn me for that any more than I’d have the right to divorce my wife because the wedding certificate was improperly signed.


Imagine that two devout Christians get married, with the preacher, bridesmaids, the whole works. They later have two children. Ten years later, the husband discovers that the preacher forgot to sign the wedding certificate. A lawyer tells him that his marriage is legally invalid (wouldn’t be true in Alabama, but assume it’s true wherever you live). Would it be sin for the man to abandon his “wife” and children, and then go marry a pretty young thing?

Well, to a heartless legalist, the man would be leaving a relationship of fornication and entering into the holy estate of matrimony. But most people would see it as God surely would — as sin. He made a commitment, and he needs to keep it. Even though the ceremony was done wrong, he’s bound to his commitment.

Nor can he abandon his children because the ceremony was wrong. You see, the commitment is vastly more important than the rite.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but hopefully it shows the danger of treating baptism in a legalistic fashion. (Amazing that some argue from marriage that the legalities of baptism matter more than the commitment! That’s upside down.) What really matters is the commitment made and the resulting relationship. He’s confessed his love for his bride and declared his intention to be married to her. She did the same. Technically right or not, in their hearts, they are married, and in God’s eyes, they became bound to each other.

No, he cannot leave and marry the pretty young thing. In fact, to do so would be a grave sin.

The normal case

And so, yes, baptism matters. Indeed, baptism is normally, by design, the moment when faith is confessed, commitment is made, the body is joined, and the Kingdom is entered — all by the power of God, due to the faith of the convert. This is when the Spirit is received. Normally.

A defective baptism does the same thing. Obviously, botching the baptism is a serious mistake by the church, but for the convert, it works well enough. God does not damn because a Baptist minister baptizes a convert to obey an ordinance because of salvation already received — all in a Baptist baptistery in a Baptist church.

The baptism takes, and the mistake is not all that serious in the grand scheme of things. You know, we tend to exaggerate how terrible these things are because we’ve been debating the topic for over a century. And debates distort the importance of the issue under consideration.

(My oldest son used to debate in high school. He learned that to win, he had to “prove” that his opponent’s position on DDT, EPA emission standards, or whatever would inevitably result in nuclear holocaust! We in the Churches of Christ tend to debate at about that level. That’s why we sometimes teach that every mistake damns. That’s how people try to win debates — at a high school level.)

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 6.6: Why Water Baptism?

  1. laymond says:

    Jay asked the question; “Why does God want believers to be baptized? Well, actions matters, just as words matter.”
    * The requirement to be baptized forces another requirement — confession. ”

    Mat 3:15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

    Why does God want believers to be baptized? Well lets look at what Jesus said,
    ” to fulfil all righteousness” . To me that could only mean “for forgiveness of sins”
    No sinful person can fulfill “all righteousness” . So naturally that brings up the argument, “why was Jesus baptized”? Well I am sure Jesus kinew more about his righteousness than anyone else.

    Lets look at what happened directly after his baptism.evidently he had fulfilld all righteousness.
    Mat 3:16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
    Mat 3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

    How come this happened after his baptism, why not before? I have no doubt that I have a sinless leader sitting at the right hand of God, but was he always sinless? ( I don’t know ) Jesus insisted on baptism for a reason. Jesus never once said baptism is for everyone else, not me.

    I don’t think it is a big mystery why God insisted on baptism.

  2. Monty says:

    Wow! How about God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us?

  3. Dwight says:

    Faith is doing things without understanding exactly why, except that we are told to do it by God. Abraham was told to go, even though he couldn’t understand the breadth of what his obedience would result in.
    And it isn’t second guessing, which is what we have a tendency to do.
    This is not any more seen than in the question of “at which point are we saved”?
    Both sides are guilty of this. We argue for baptism, they argue for faith.
    What this does is isolate the reality that God didn’t tell us to decide or make a decision on the point of salvation. He just simply asked us to go through with what he said in regards to it.
    I can’t imagine the converts sitting down when they were told to “repent and be baptized” and dissecting the instructions and arguing that since they asked the question, they must have faith and must be saved already or that all baptism was being dipped in water by another person and this was already being done for conversion into Judaism.
    Salvation isn’t about points of salvation, it is about being in Christ and with God.

  4. Chris says:

    Jay, I’m not sure of the validity of the author or the statement, but it does tie in nicely with our recent discussion about “calling upon the name of the Lord,” and its association with OT sacrifice and also the need for something tangible. What are your thoughts?

    150-200 AD CLEMENT “But when the time began to draw near that what was wanting in the Mosaic institutions should be supplied, as we have said, and that the Prophet should appear, of whom he had foretold that He should warn them by the mercy of God to cease from sacrificing; lest haply they might suppose that on the cessation of sacrifice there was no remission of sins for them He instituted baptism by water amongst them, in which they might be absolved from all their sins on the invocation of His name.” (Clement, “Recognitions of Clement,” Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, pg. 88)

  5. Price says:

    Quick question… Wonder why the covenant requirement of circumcision was performed on an infant but we have such a difficult time with infant baptism…. If doing it incorrectly or with the wrong understanding doesn’t invalidate God’s tremendous grace, then why is there so much friction over the issue ? I would agree that it’s impossible for an infant of some young child to appreciate what is going on… but wasn’t that the case on the 8th day of the old covenant… ? I guess where there were instructions for the infant under the OT, the NT doesn’t convey that thought except that in many instances you read of someone being baptized, “they and their entire household.” Did that only include adult members ? Do we know for sure or is it just speculation ?

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    “Quick question.” Seriously? Infant baptism?

    The “and his household” baptisms are quite ambiguous. Some argue that it’s a bit much to assume the presence of infants. Others argue that for many Greeks or Romans, the “household” would include slaves and servants, and hence their children, making the inclusion of infants virtually certain.

    BDAG says,

    2. household, family (Hom. et al.; Artem. 2, 68 p. 161, 11 μετὰ ὅλου τοῦ οἴκου; Ath. 3, 2 τὸν ὑμέτερον οἶκον) Lk 10:5; 19:9; Ac 10:2; 11:14; 16:31; 18:8. ὅλους οἴκους ἀνατρέπειν ruin whole families Tit 1:11 (cp. Gen 47:12 πᾶς ὁ οἶκος=‘the whole household’). ὁ Στεφανᾶ οἶκ. Stephanas and his family 1 Cor 1:16; ὁ Ὀνησιφόρου οἶκ. 2 Ti 1:16; 4:19. ὁ οἶκ. Ταουΐας ISm 13:2. Esp. freq. in Hermas: τὰ ἁμαρτήματα ὅλου τοῦ οἴκου σου the sins of your whole family Hv 1, 1, 9; cp. 1, 3, 1; 2, 3, 1; s 7:2. … σε καὶ τὸν οἶκ. σου v 1, 3, 2; cp. m 2:7; 5, 1, 7; s 7:5ff. W. τέκνα m 12, 3, 6; s 5, 3, 9. Cp. 1 Ti 3:4, 12 (on the subj. matter, Ocellus Luc. 47 τοὺς ἰδίους οἴκους κατὰ τρόπον οἰκονομήσουσι; Letter 58 of Apollonius of Tyana [Philostrat. I 362, 3]). ἡ τοῦ Ἐπιτρόπου σὺν ὅλῳ τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτῆς καὶ τῶν τέκνων the (widow) of Epitropus together with all her household and that of her children IPol 8:2 (Sb 7912 [ins 136 AD] σὺν τῷ παντὶ οἴκῳ). ἀσπάζομαι τοὺς οἴκους τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου σὺν γυναιξὶ καὶ τέκνοις I greet the households of my brothers (in the faith), including their wives and children ISm 13:1. In a passage showing the influence of Num 12:7, Hb 3:2-6 contrasts the οἶκος of which Moses was a member and the οἶκος over which Christ presides (cp. SIG 22, 16f οἶκος βασιλέως; Thu 1, 129, 3 Xerxes to one ἐν ἡμετέρῳ οἴκῳ; sim. οἶκος of Augustus IGR I, 1109 [4 BC], cp. IV, 39b, 26 [27 BC]; s. MFlory, TAPA 126, ’96, 292 n. 20). Hence the words of vs. 6 οὗ (i.e. Χριστοῦ) οἶκός ἐσμεν ἡμεῖς whose household we are.—On Christians as God’s family s. also 1bα above. τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκ. προστῆναι manage one’s own household 1 Ti 3:4f; cp. vs. 12 and 5:4.—On management of an οἶκος s. X., Oeconomicus. On the general topic of family MRaepsaet-Charlier, La femme, la famille, la parenté à Rome: L’Antiquité Classique 62, ’93, 247-53.

    The bold language shows that sometimes authors felt the need to mention “children” so that their inclusion would be understood — meaning that “household” sometimes referred to just the adults. But counter examples are easily found, as in 1 Tim 3:4, where context clearly suggests inclusion of young children (but not necessarily infants). So there are arguments …

    The early church fathers do not record infant baptism until well after the apostolic age, and so history argues that infant baptism is a later invention, likely due to high infant mortality rates and the lack of clear guidance on infant salvation. However, I find the Torah clear that there is an age of accountability and that those under the AOA are as innocent as Adam and Eve before they ate of the Tree of Knowledge of G&E. But you won’t find many arguing from the Torah because the AOA was 20.

    (Num. 1:3 ESV) 3 From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company.

    (Num. 32:11-13 ESV) 11 ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not wholly followed me, 12 none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the LORD.’ 13 And the LORD’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD was gone.

    (Num. 14:28-30 ESV) 28 Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the LORD, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.

    (Deut. 1:35-40 ESV) 35 ‘Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the LORD!’ 37 Even with me the LORD was angry on your account and said, ‘You also shall not go in there. 38 Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it. 39 And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. 40 But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.’

    Those under 20 could not go to war and did not die in the desert, because “they have no knowledge of good or evil” — a clear allusion to Gen 3:5 referring to Adam and Eve gaining knowledge of good and evil.

    This actually comports very nicely with the American legal system. Adulthood is usually at age 19. It was 21 before Viet Nam, but 19 was the draft age and so most states made 19 the age of adulthood. 21 is the age to drink alcohol. Brain studies show teenage brains immature — esp in terms of the ability to foresee consequences — until about age 20.

    What bothers us is that so many of our own children were baptized younger — and we are afraid that our children won’t behave if they aren’t afraid of hell. But the age of faith is not necessarily the same as the age of accountability. It’s quite possible for children to have saving faith at a younger age — even if not yet accountable. Those are two different things (sorry, Jacob Arminius). And children of non-Christians find reasons to be good and obey their parents without fear of hell. I’m not sure damnation is the best motivator for a child, anyway. How about love of God?

    So it’s an interesting topic that is rarely explored beyond where Arminius theorized 500 years ago.

  7. Price says:

    LOL.. Didn’t mean to stray too far off the path..Thanks for taking the time to respond… just thought it was interesting that circumcision was a covenant requirement at infancy… regardless of their thinking about accountability which I think you articulated well… God almost took Moses’ life seemingly because he had failed to circumcise his son… Interesting that his wife did the circumcision… couldn’t pass the plate but… 🙂 Interesting, at least to me that there was no female equivalent. I guess if you have to give birth then you earn an exemption…

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    That would be Clement of Alexandria — a prolific and influential Christian author of his age. But the quotation didn’t sound quite right to me, and so I went looking for context — and it’s actually from Pseudo-Clement.

    Evidently another Clement, this one from the fourth century. You are quoting someone else, of course, but whoever had a copy of the Ante-Nicene Fathers should have known better, as my source is the same set of books, in fact, the same volume 8 which is quoted.

    So it’s an interesting parallel, but your source is confused about who wrote it.

  9. laymond says:

    Monty said; “Wow! How about God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us?”

    Monty, did this happen before or after Jesus was baptized? and was indwelled by the spirit of God.
    I believe the bible says that a man’s sins are not only forgiven, but they are forgotten as well.

  10. laymond says:

    Jay, what is the difference in the purpose of baptism before Jesus death, and after.
    Mar 1:4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

    Act 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    Yes I know we need to ask forgiveness in the name of Jesus, since he paid the price of human kind’s sins.
    But I fail to see where we are participating in Jesus’ crucifixion, if we were that seems we are paying for our own sins. which we do not, if we did pay the price of sins, we would die in baptism.
    The price of sin is death, seems to me Jesus is the only one to pay that price.

  11. Dwight says:

    There are many ways to share in something without literally being in the middle of it, at least in a spiritual sense. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said, “This is my blood” and “this is my body.” So the sense is we are partaking of Christ and his death and his life.

    The power of the new Testament didn’t come into effect until the death of the testator..Jesus.
    Thus there was a difference between before and after in relation to Jesus, because there was a change in ownership and law.

    As you said we cannot pay the price of sin and we are not asked to take his place, but we are asked to share in the process and work. We are buried with him and raised in Him. We become a living sacrifice. We are to do the will of the Father. We are to spread the message or word (Jesus) as Jesus did.

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