Read Acts 2:36-39 …
An interesting question was raised online the other day which touches several different areas of biblical theology. The question as stated was: “If I don’t understand baptism and I am baptized is my baptism valid?” Typically, the first place to go with a question like this is discussing what the “rights” of baptism are.
There is the right method which can easily be determined by translating the word “baptize” instead of transliterating it – the word means “to immerse.” So, if there had been an actual translation, verses that use the word would say something like: “Repent, and let every one of you be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ …” (Acts 2:38); “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be immersed, and wash away your sins …” (Acts 22:16); or “do you not know that as many of us as were immersed into Christ Jesus were immersed into His death?” (Rom. 6:3). One understands that in the years since the 1st century the method has been changed by many denominations, but the passage of time does not reduce the force of the original language in this instance.
There is also the right candidate which can be determined from the Scriptural record. In every case the right candidate is someone that has the capacity to believe. In fact, being able to believe is a foundational aspect of the Christian’s life and salvation (Heb. 11:6; John 3:16; Jam. 2:19). It has often been noted while reading the examples of conversion in Acts that those being saved are told slightly different things regarding what to do to be saved; but in fact, each is told what to do at the point where they are. Think about those first converts in the Temple on the day of Pentecost. When those people asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:27), Peter’s answer was to repent and be baptized. Peter did not have to tell them to believe, their presence and their actions confirmed that fact. Yet on the other hand, when Paul is in Philippi after the doors of the prison are thrown open by a miraculous intervention, the jailer askes almost the identical question as those on Pentecost, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Peter’s response, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30-31). One instance should not take precedence over the other, but the examples we are given in the Scriptures should work together to give one a complete picture or understanding of what is required during the salvific process.
One can also point to the right authority. When one speaks of authority, one thinks of a common euphemism that appears in the Scriptures – “in the name.” This little phrase describes a relationship to the authority by which something is accomplished. We can easily equate this with the words, “Open up, in the name of the Law.” The Law carries the authority, not necessarily the one saying the words. Peter notes the authority by which one is baptized in Acts 2:38 – “let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Paul also recognizes the authority of Christ, “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). The authority in baptism is never in an institution or an individual which claims to be a representative of Christ on earth.
The right reason one is baptized also should be considered. One is not baptized “after the fact” so to speak so they might join a church or show that they have achieved an internal change. Peter makes it clear that baptism, like the ark which saved Noah, saves us (1 Pet. 3:21). Also, back to the day of Pentecost, Peter’s answer at that time also indicated the reason one is baptized – “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Remarkably, this is the very same phrase that describes the reason for John the Baptizer’s baptism – “for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4). Jesus also said at the Last Supper, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). The words “for the remission of sins” indicates the reason one is baptized.
One can also point to the right outcome for baptism. Paul indicates that outcome in Romans 6:4, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” There is a change that occurs in the life of a Christian that is the natural result of baptism when one’s sins are washed away (Acts 22:16). Paul reminds the Corinthians of a similar change in 1 Corinthians 6. Once they had engaged in all sorts of sins and debasements but then there had been a change, a change that resulted from being washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Cor. 6:11).
So back to the original question, which of these could one not understand and have a biblical baptism? Surely there are different levels of understanding that accompany the decision to be baptized but, in every case, there is a need to have some understanding of these biblical truths. One does not follow Christ blindly – Christians are admonished by Jesus Himself to count the cost of one’s discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). Likewise, the one that comes to the Scriptures to understand their own salvation should be informed about the “rights” of baptism as discussed above; indeed, proclaiming the Gospel will naturally include these “rights” (Acts 8:35-36). A Christian ordinance that identifies one with the very death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:1-11) cannot be treated as an afterthought or secondary to salvation.