What Do They Need to Know Before They’re Baptized?

I believe we often baptize people before they’ve been properly taught. But then again, it’s often hard to determine what a person should know before they are baptized. Since baptism is only the beginning point, it is only necessary those who are baptized have a basic understanding of Christian theology, doctrine, and practice. But what exactly constitutes a “basic understanding”? What do people need to know before being baptized? I’m certain I can’t give an exhaustive answer to that question, but perhaps this post will help you as you think through this question.

Anticipating the Objection

First of all, I know someone will ask, “But, Wes, what about the people on the day of Pentecost or the Ethiopian eunuch or Cornelius? It doesn’t seem like they were taught much before their baptisms.” That’s a very pertinent question. So in anticipation of it being asked, let me go ahead and address it.

The answer is quite simple. 1st century Jews, proselytes (Gentiles who had become Jews), and God-fearers (Gentiles who had not become Jews, but worshiped God) were knowledgable about God, sin, atonement, the coming Messiah, and His coming kingdom. In fact, the Jews gathered on Pentecost (Acts 2) were probably far more knowledgable about the God of the Bible than most mature Christians are today.

When Peter explained that they were speaking in tongues because, “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel,” the people understood what he meant. They understood that judgement was about to come upon them because they had “crucified and killed” the Lord Jesus Christ. They understood they needed to save themselves from that crooked generation (Acts 2:40). Which is why they asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) and why 3,000 of them responded when Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

There is a vast difference between teaching an ordinary person in 21st century America and teaching a Jew (or someone who followed the Jewish religion) in the 1st century world. That doesn’t mean it should take years of in-depth study to prepare someone for baptism, but it does mean they need to have a basic understanding of a few things before going down into the water:

1. They Need to Know About Jesus

First and foremost, baptism ought to be motivated by a love for Jesus. Baptism ought to be a response to what He did on the cross. If a person only understands she needs to be baptized in order to go to heaven when she dies, but doesn’t have a basic understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done, then she doesn’t have the knowledge she needs to be baptized.

The Ethiopian eunuch “had come to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27). He obviously understood about sacrifices and he probably understood about the coming Messiah. So Philip got in the chariot and, starting with the passage in Isaiah, “told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Philip told him the Messiah had come and He was the final sacrifice for sins.

People need to hear “the good news about Jesus.” They probably need to understand something of His Abrahamic and Davidic heritage, His deity, His incarnation, His sacrificial death, His resurrection, His reign at the right hand of the Father, and most importantly His love. They need to understand His blood brings about things like redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness, and sanctification. Yes, I know those are deep subjects, but they are absolutely essential elements of the gospel. And they aren’t as complicated as you might think. Over time, I believe each of those points could be explained in such a way that even a child could comprehend them.

But I’m afraid we are often in such a hurry to get people in the water, their baptism is more of a response to our pleading than a response to Christ’s death. People need to know about Jesus before they are baptized.

2. They Need to Know About Their Lostness

Before someone is baptized, he needs to know he stands guilty before God. He needs to know, because he has chosen to join sinful humanity in rebellion against God, he is dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). He needs to know he has “made God angry” and is “going to be punished like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:3, CEV).

He needs to understand he cannot do anything to atone for his sins. He cannot make up for the evil he has done by doing a bunch of good deeds. His only hope is for God to have mercy on him and show him grace. And the ONLY way that will happen is through Jesus.

Baptism is meaningless for someone who thinks, “I’m a pretty decent individual. I don’t think God sees me as being wicked or an evildoer.” It is only when “godly grief produces a repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10) that an individual is ready to “appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21) in baptism.

Baptism is asking God – in faith – to remove your sins through the power of the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6). Until people know about their lostness, they’re not ready to be baptized.

3. They Need to Know the Commitment They Are Making

Last, but certainly not least, people must know what they’re getting into. Jesus said a person must first “count the cost” (Luke 14:25-33) before becoming His disciple. People need to be told what is going to be expected of them and what they are going to have to give up as disciples of Jesus.

Not only should those being baptized understand they are dying to sin (Romans 6:1-7), they also need to understand something about the church. Acts 8:12 says, “When they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” We have to teach people about the kingdom and the obligations that go along with being a citizen of that kingdom.

Among other things, being converted to Christ is being recruited to the cause of Christ. Until they know what that means, they’re not ready to commit to a Christian lifestyle.

Bottom Line

There is much more that could be said on this issue; and at the same time, I don’t want to give the impression that someone needs to be a Bible scholar before being baptized. But the fact of the matter is, the decision to be baptized should not be based on emotion or evangelistic pressure.

The decision to be baptized should be based on having been taught what it means to be a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams

Peterborough Church of Christ

Jesus Doesn’t Judge A Church By Its Size

The phrase, “Church growth” has become a buzzword in religious circles. For many, the size of a church is the primary way to judge its health and success. They believe churches should do anything and everything to grow their numbers, because size is what matters. But on the other hand, there are those who assume a large church indicates compromise and apostasy. Have you ever stopped to consider that the New Testament puts very little emphasis on congregational size? So why do we emphasize it so much? Maybe it’s time to realize that Jesus doesn’t judge a church by its size.

1. Judging Large Congregations

Just because a congregation is large does not necessarily mean it is healthy, successful, or being blessed by God. There are plenty of churches who have gotten large by telling people what they want to hear. Paul told Timothy a time would come when people would, “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). When this happens, we shouldn’t assume Jesus is applauding these churches for the fact that they are bursting at the seams.

When we equate large churches with success, we are often willing to do anything it takes to “grow.” We start thinking of the church as a business and the community as potential customers. We start catering our “menu of ministries” and the way we worship to what people want, all because we judge a church by its size.

But on the other hand, we must not assume every large church is large because they are compromising the truth, entertaining the masses, or not teaching sound doctrine. I know several wonderful congregations who have well over a thousand members. Sometimes churches have a lot of members because they really are reaching a lot of people with the gospel.

2. Judging Small Congregation

Just because a congregation is small, does not mean the members don’t care about reaching people with the gospel. It does not mean they are “inward focused.” It does not mean that church is dying.

Many Christians get discouraged with their smaller congregations, or refuse to place membership in smaller congregations, because they have preconceived ideas about there being something wrong with small congregations. There is nothing wrong with a small congregation. Jesus loves small congregations too.

But on the other hand, there are those who equate small with faithful. Or they equate small with friendly and close-knit. Just because a congregation is small does not mean it is a faithful congregation or that it is a loving close-knit family. Sometimes the stereotypes are true. Sometimes a congregation is small because the members are doing nothing to reach people with the gospel.

3. How Jesus Judges a Congregation

When we learn to see the church the way Jesus sees the church, we will stop judging congregations based on size. We will start to understand that Jesus’ criteria for being a successful congregation is far less quantifiable than average Sunday morning attendance.

Jesus judges a church based on whether or not they are “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). So here are some of the ways you can tell if a church is in step with the truth of the gospel:

They are devoted to “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
They don’t just talk about love; they love people in tangible ways. They sacrifice themselves and their belongings for one another (1 John 3:16-18).
They “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name” (Hebrews 13:15).
They understand their salvation is a matter of God’s grace and not their own doing, so there is absolutely no boasting (Ephesians 2:8-9).
They walk in the good works God prepared for them to do (Ephesians 2:10).
They “purge” evil people from their fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:13).
Their worship assembly is edifying and things are done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:26-40).
They are full of humility, gentleness, and patience. They bear with one another in love and are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3).
Their minds are “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
They “walk by faith, not by sight” and make it their aim to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:7-9).

These are just a few examples of things the New Testament actually emphasizes; numbers are not one of them. Small churches can be pleasing to the Lord and large churches can be pleasing to the Lord. Jesus doesn’t judge a church by its size…neither should we.

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams

How to Live Out Your Baptism Every Day

The apostle Paul wrote quite a bit about baptism in his letters, but his letters weren’t written to non-Christians needing to be persuaded to be baptized. His letters were written to Christians, people who had already been baptized. So why would Paul teach already baptized people about baptism? He was admonishing them to live out their baptisms, or the implications of their baptism, in their daily life. What does that mean and how do we “live out” our baptism? Here are a few thoughts to consider.

1. Abstain from Sin

Paul taught that Christians were “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:15). Because of this, his opponents slanderously accused him of teaching that Christians could “do evil that good may come” (Romans 3:8). These opponents seemed to reason that if the Law was removed and people were justified by faith in Christ, then Christians would “continue in sin” (Romans 6:1). But Paul essentially said, “No they won’t! Not if they understand and live out their baptism.”

When we are baptized, we are not only saying we want to be forgiven of our sins, we are also saying we don’t want to be sin’s slaves anymore. We are saying we are absolutely done living to please the flesh and from now on we are going to live to please Jesus. We are killing and burying our sinful selves and being raised up to live a life of obedience to Jesus (not because of Law but because of His grace).

Anytime we fall again into temptation and sin, we need to remind ourselves of our baptism. We need to say to ourselves, “Why are you obeying sin? That life is dead and buried! You’re not that person anymore!”

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14).

If a person goes “on sinning deliberately” (Hebrews 10:26), he is not living as a baptized person. That person can expect to be judged by God because he has “profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29). We are forgiven people so long as we live out our baptism, doing our best to abstain from sin (see 1 John 1-2).

2. Love Like Family

The whole Bible is about the fact that God graciously chose to bless the descendants of Abraham and make them His special people. He established His first covenant with them. The death of Jesus fulfilled that first covenant and established a second covenant (see Hebrews 8-9). Paul argued that under the new covenant, it is not possible to become a descendant of Abraham by simply being born into that physical family. Under the new covenant, you become a descendant of Abraham – part of the chosen people of God – by faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul says in Galatians 3 that when men, women, slaves, free people, Jews, and Gentiles are baptized, they become, “Abraham’s offspring” (Galatians 3:29). In other words, by putting Christ on in baptism, we become God’s chosen people through faith. The story of Abraham’s family becomes our family story and we become “heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29).

Therefore, everyone who is in Christ is our family and when we love each other like family, we are living out our baptism. The apostle John wrote, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (1 John 3:14a). Loving our Christian family is living out our baptism. But that also means, “Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:14b-15).

Being baptized is about passing from death into life. And when you love the Christian family, you prove you have actually “passed out of death into life.” But when, on the other hand, you refuse to generously share “the world’s goods” with your brother in need, you prove you are still in death and the love of God does not abide in you (1 John 3:17).

3. Serve the Church

Paul also taught that we are “all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13). He compared the church to a body, with various body parts – each member empowered to do a specific job. Paul explained that all the parts have to work together, using their unique gifts, “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).

When there is “no division in the body” and all the members “care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:25), then we are living out our baptism. But when each body part looks out for itself and show no concern for the other parts of the body (as the Corinthians were doing), then we are not living as people who have been “baptized into one body.” We are living as unbaptized people.

Living out your baptism means using whatever gifts God has given you to selflessly serve the rest of the body; which “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Living out your baptism means doing “nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Living out your baptism means considering “how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Bottom Line

If you have been buried with Christ in baptism (Colossians 2:12), then live out your baptism today and every day. Live as someone who has been crucified with Christ. Live as someone who is dead to selfishness, ambition, and conceit. Live for the good of others and the glory of God. That’s how you live out your baptism.

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams