Why Be Baptized?
“Go . . . and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them.”—Matthew 28:19.
THE Frankish King Charlemagne compelled the conquered Saxons to get baptized en masse in 775-77 C.E. “He forced their conversion to a nominal Christianity,” wrote historian John Lord. Similarly, after marrying a Greek Orthodox princess in 987 C.E., the Russian ruler Vladimir I decided that his subjects must become “Christians.” He decreed mass baptisms of his people—at sword point if necessary!
2 Were such baptisms appropriate? Do they have real meaning? Should just anyone be baptized?
3 When Charlemagne and Vladimir I forced people to undergo baptism, those rulers were acting out of harmony with God’s Word. In fact, no good is done when baptisms involve sprinkling, the pouring of water on the head, or even immersion of individuals who have not been taught Scriptural truth.
4 Consider what took place when Jesus of Nazareth went to John the Baptizer in 29 C.E. John was baptizing people in the Jordan River. They had voluntarily come to him for baptism. Did he merely have them stand in the Jordan while he poured a little river water on their heads or sprinkled them with it? What happened when John baptized Jesus? Matthew reports that after being baptized “Jesus immediately came up from the water.” (Matthew 3:16) He had been down in the water, having been immersed in the Jordan River. Likewise, the devout Ethiopian eunuch was baptized in “a body of water.” Such bodies of water were needed because the baptisms of Jesus and his disciples involved total immersion.—Acts 8:36.
5 Greek words translated “baptize,” “baptism,” and so forth, refer to immersing, dipping, or plunging under water. Smith’s Bible Dictionary says: “Baptism properly and literally means immersion.” Certain Bible translations thus refer to “John the Immerser” and “John the dipper.” (Matthew 3:1, Rotherham; Diaglott interlinear) Augustus Neander’s History of the Christian Religion and Church, During the Three First Centuries observes: “Baptism was originally administered by immersion.” The noted French work Larousse du XXe Siècle (Paris, 1928) comments: “The first Christians received baptism by immersion everywhere where water was found.” And the New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “It is evident that Baptism in the early Church was by immersion.” (1967, Volume II, page 56) So today, baptism as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a voluntary step involving total water immersion.
A New Reason for Baptism
6 The baptisms performed by John differed in purpose from immersions carried out by Jesus’ followers. (John 4:1, 2) John baptized people as a public symbol of their repentance over sins against the Law.* (Luke 3:3) But something new was involved in the baptism of Jesus’ followers. At Pentecost 33 C.E., the apostle Peter urged his listeners: “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:37-41) Though he was addressing Jews and proselytes, Peter was not talking about baptism to symbolize repentance over sins against the Law; nor did he mean that baptism in Jesus’ name pictures the washing away of sins.—Acts 2:10.
7 On that occasion, Peter used the first of “the keys of the kingdom.” For what purpose? In order to unlock for his listeners knowledge about their opportunity to enter the Kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 16:19) Since the Jews had rejected Jesus as the Messiah, repenting and exercising faith in him was a new and vital factor in seeking and receiving God’s forgiveness. They could give public evidence of such faith by being immersed in water in the name of Jesus Christ. In that way they would symbolize their personal dedication to God through Christ. All who desire divine approval today must exercise similar faith, dedicate themselves to Jehovah God, and undergo Christian baptism in symbol of an unreserved dedication to the Most High God.
Accurate Knowledge Essential
8 Christian baptism is not for everyone. Jesus ordered his followers: “Go . . . and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) Before being baptized, people must be ‘taught to observe all the things Jesus commanded his disciples.’ Hence, forced baptisms of those lacking faith based on accurate knowledge of God’s Word are valueless and contrary to the commission Jesus gave his true followers.—Hebrews 11:6.
9 What does it mean to be baptized “in the name of the Father”? It means that the baptismal candidate recognizes our heavenly Father’s office and authority. Jehovah God is thus acknowledged as our Creator, “the Most High over all the earth,” and the Universal Sovereign.—Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 40:28; Acts 4:24.
10 To be baptized ‘in the name of the Son’ means to recognize Jesus’ office and authority as God’s only-begotten Son. (1 John 4:9) Those qualified for baptism accept Jesus as the one through whom God has provided “a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:5, 6) Baptismal candidates must also acknowledge the “superior position” to which God has exalted his Son.—Philippians 2:8-11; Revelation 19:16.
11 What is the significance of baptism ‘in the name of the holy spirit’? This indicates that the baptismal candidates recognize that the holy spirit is Jehovah’s active force, used in various ways in harmony with his purpose. (Genesis 1:2; 2 Samuel 23:1, 2; 2 Peter 1:21) Those qualifying for baptism acknowledge that the holy spirit helps them to understand “the deep things of God,” to carry on the Kingdom-preaching work, and to display the spirit’s fruitage of “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.”—1 Corinthians 2:10; Galatians 5:22, 23; Joel 2:28, 29.
Importance of Repentance and Conversion
12 Except in the case of the sinless man Jesus, baptism is a God-approved symbol associated with repentance. When we repent, we feel deep regret, or contrition, over something we have done or have failed to do. First-century Jews who wanted to please God had to repent of their sins against Christ. (Acts 3:11-19) Certain Gentile believers in Corinth repented of fornication, idolatry, stealing, and other grave sins. Because of their repentance, they were “washed clean” in Jesus’ blood; were “sanctified,” or set apart, for God’s service; and were “declared righteous” in Christ’s name and with God’s spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) Repentance is a vital step toward gaining a good conscience and God-given relief from guilt over sin.—1 Peter 3:21.
13 Conversion must take place prior to our baptism as Witnesses of Jehovah. Conversion is a voluntary act performed freely by one who has made a wholehearted decision to follow Christ Jesus. Such individuals reject their former wrong course and determine to do what is right in God’s sight. In the Scriptures, Hebrew and Greek verbs pertaining to conversion have the sense of turning back, turning around. This action denotes a turning to God from a wrong way. (1 Kings 8:33, 34) Conversion calls for “works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:20) It requires that we abandon false worship, act in harmony with God’s commandments, and render exclusive devotion to Jehovah. (Deuteronomy 30:2, 8-10; 1 Samuel 7:3) Conversion results in changes in our thinking, objectives, and disposition. (Ezekiel 18:31) We “turn around” as ungodly traits are replaced by the new personality.—Acts 3:19; Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:5-14.
Wholehearted Dedication Vital
14 The baptism of Jesus’ followers must also be preceded by a wholehearted dedication to God. Dedication signifies a setting apart for a sacred purpose. This step is so important that we should express to Jehovah in prayer our decision to give him exclusive devotion forever. (Deuteronomy 5:9) Of course, our dedication is not to a work or to a human but to God himself.
15 When we dedicate ourselves to God through Christ, we express a determination to use our life in doing the divine will as set forth in the Scriptures. In symbol of that dedication, baptismal candidates undergo water immersion, even as Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River to symbolize the presentation of himself to God. (Matthew 3:13) It is noteworthy that Jesus was praying on that very important occasion.—Luke 3:21, 22.
16 Jesus’ baptism was a serious but joyful event. So is present-day Christian baptism. When we see people symbolize their dedication to God, our joy may be expressed by respectful applause and warm commendation. But cheering, whistling, and the like are avoided out of regard for the sacredness of this expression of faith. Our joy is expressed in a dignified manner.
17 Unlike those who sprinkle babies or force Scripturally uninformed masses to be baptized, Jehovah’s Witnesses never coerce anyone into baptism. In fact, they do not baptize those who do not qualify spiritually. Before anyone can become even an unbaptized preacher of the good news, Christian elders make sure that he understands basic Bible teachings, lives in harmony with them, and gives an affirmative response to a question of this kind, “Do you really want to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?”
18 With few exceptions, when individuals are having a meaningful share in the Kingdom-preaching work and express a desire to be baptized, Christian elders hold discussions with them to make sure that they are believers who have made a dedication to Jehovah and who meet divine requirements for baptism. (Acts 4:4; 18:8) Personal responses to over 100 questions on Bible teachings help the elders to determine whether those responding meet Scriptural requirements for immersion. Some do not qualify and therefore are not accepted for Christian baptism.
Is Something Holding You Back?
19 Many coerced participants in mass baptisms may have been told that they would go to heaven at death. But with reference to his footstep followers, Jesus said: “No man can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him.” (John 6:44) Jehovah has drawn to Christ 144,000 who will be Jesus’ joint heirs in the heavenly Kingdom. Forced baptism has never sanctified anyone for that glorious place in God’s arrangement.—Romans 8:14-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Revelation 14:1.
20 Since the mid-1930’s in particular, multitudes hoping to survive “the great tribulation” and live on earth forever have joined the ranks of Jesus’ “other sheep.” (Revelation 7:9, 14; John 10:16) They qualify for baptism because they have conformed their lives to God’s Word and love him with ‘their whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.’ (Luke 10:25-28) Though some people realize that Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘worship God with spirit and truth,’ they have not yet followed Jesus’ example and given public evidence of genuine love and exclusive devotion to Jehovah by getting baptized. (John 4:23, 24; Deuteronomy 4:24; Mark 1:9-11) Earnest and specific prayer regarding this vital step may well provide them with the incentive and courage to conform fully to God’s Word, to make an unreserved dedication to Jehovah God, and to be baptized.
21 Some hold back from dedication and baptism because they are so absorbed in affairs of the world or in the pursuit of wealth that they have little time for spiritual things. (Matthew 13:22; 1 John 2:15-17) How happy they would be if they changed their views and goals! Drawing close to Jehovah would enrich them spiritually, would help to allay anxiety, and would bring them peace and the satisfaction that results from doing the divine will.—Psalm 16:11; 40:8; Proverbs 10:22; Philippians 4:6, 7.
22 Others say that they love Jehovah but do not make a dedication and get baptized because they think that they will thus avoid accountability. But each of us must render an account to God. Responsibility came upon us when we heard the word of Jehovah. (Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 14:12) As a ‘chosen people,’ the ancient Israelites were born into a nation dedicated to Jehovah, and they therefore had an obligation to serve him faithfully in accord with his precepts. (Deuteronomy 7:6, 11) Nobody is born into such a nation today, but if we have received accurate Scriptural instruction, we need to act on it in faith.
23 Fear that they lack sufficient knowledge may hold some back from baptism. Yet, all of us have much to learn because ‘mankind will never find out the work that the true God has made from the start to the finish.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Consider the Ethiopian eunuch. As a proselyte, he had some knowledge of the Scriptures, but he could not answer every question about God’s purposes. After learning about Jehovah’s provision for salvation through Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, however, the eunuch promptly underwent water baptism.—Acts 8:26-38.
24 Some hesitate to make a dedication to God because they are afraid of failure. Says 17-year-old Monique: “I have been holding back on baptism for fear of not being able to live up to my dedication.” If we trust in Jehovah with all our heart, however, ‘he will make our paths straight.’ He will help us to “go on walking in the truth” as his faithful dedicated servants.—Proverbs 3:5, 6; 3 John 4.
25 Because of implicit trust in Jehovah and heartfelt love for him, each year thousands are moved to make a dedication and get baptized. And surely all dedicated servants of God want to be faithful to him. Yet, we are living in critical times, and we face various tests of faith. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) What can we do to live up to our dedication to Jehovah? This we will consider in the next article.
Do You Recall?
• How is Christian baptism performed?
• What knowledge is needed for one to be baptized?
• What steps lead up to the baptism of true Christians?
• Why do some hold back from baptism, but how might they be helped?
1, 2. (a) Under what circumstances have some baptisms taken place? (b) What questions are raised regarding baptism?
3, 4. Why is sprinkling or pouring of water upon the head not proper Christian baptism?
5. How did the early Christians baptize people?
6, 7. (a) For what purpose did John perform baptisms? (b) What was new about the baptism of Jesus’ followers?
8. Why is Christian baptism not for everyone?
9. What does it mean to be baptized “in the name of the Father”?
10. Being baptized ‘in the name of the Son’ means what?
11. What is signified by being baptized ‘in the name of the holy spirit’?
12. How is Christian baptism associated with repentance?
13. As regards baptism, what does conversion involve?
14. What does the dedication of Jesus’ followers signify?
15. Why do baptismal candidates undergo immersion?
16. How can our joy appropriately be shown when we see people get baptized?
17, 18. What helps to determine whether individuals qualify for baptism?
19. In view of John 6:44, who will be Jesus’ joint heirs?
20. What might help certain ones who have not yet been baptized?
21, 22. For what reasons do some hold back from dedication and baptism?
23, 24. What fears should not hold individuals back from baptism?
25. What question now merits consideration?
[Pictures on page 14]
Do you know what it means to be baptized ‘in the name of the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit’?