Meeting the Requirements for Christian Baptism

“What prevents me from getting baptized?”—ACTS 8:36.

A YEAR or two after the death of Jesus, a government official was traveling south on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. A tiring chariot ride of perhaps a thousand miles [1,500 km] lay ahead. This devout man had journeyed all the way from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship Jehovah. On the lengthy return trip, he was making wise use of his time by reading the Word of God—such was the man’s faith. Jehovah took note of this sincere man, and by means of an angel, He directed the disciple Philip to preach to him.—Acts 8:26-28.

2 Philip found it easy to strike up a conversation, since the Ethiopian official was reading aloud, as was the custom in those days. Hence, Philip was able to hear that he was reading from the scroll of Isaiah. One simple question from Philip aroused the man’s interest: “Do you actually know what you are reading?” This led to a discussion of Isaiah 53:7, 8. Finally, Philip “declared to him the good news about Jesus.”—Acts 8:29-35.

3 Within a short time, the Ethiopian understood Jesus’ role in God’s purpose, along with the need to become a baptized disciple of Christ. “What prevents me from getting baptized?” he asked Philip upon sighting a convenient body of water. Of course, these were special circumstances. Here was a man of faith who already worshipped God as a Jewish proselyte. He would probably not have another opportunity to get baptized for a long time. More important, this man understood what God required of him, and he wanted to respond unreservedly. Philip happily consented to his request, and the Ethiopian, after being baptized, “kept going on his way rejoicing.” He doubtless became an enthusiastic preacher of the good news in his home country.—Acts 8:36-39.

4 Although the steps of dedication and baptism are not to be taken lightly or hastily, the example of the Ethiopian official shows that there have been occasions when individuals were baptized shortly after hearing the truth of God’s Word.* Thus, it is appropriate to consider the following questions: What sort of preparation should precede baptism? To what extent should age be a factor? What spiritual progress should be evident before a person is baptized? Above all, why does Jehovah require his servants to take this step?

A Solemn Agreement

5 After delivering the Israelites from Egypt, Jehovah offered to accept them as his “special property,” to love and protect them and to constitute them “a holy nation.” To receive such blessings, however, the people had to respond to God’s love in a concrete way. This they did by agreeing to do ‘all that Jehovah had spoken’ and entering into a covenant with him. (Exodus 19:4-9) In the first century, Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples of people of all nations, and those who embraced his teaching were baptized. A good relationship with God depended on faith in Jesus Christ followed by baptism.—Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 2:38, 41.

6 These Scriptural accounts show that Jehovah blesses those who make and keep a solemn agreement to serve him. For Christians, dedication and baptism are necessary steps that lead to Jehovah’s blessing. We are resolved to follow his ways and seek his guidance. (Psalm 48:14) Jehovah, in turn, figuratively grasps us by the hand and leads us in the way in which we should walk.—Psalm 73:23; Isaiah 30:21; 41:10, 13.

7 The motivation for us to take these steps should be love for Jehovah and a desire to serve him. No one should get baptized merely because someone tells him that he has studied long enough or because his friends are getting baptized. Naturally, parents and other mature Christians may encourage a person to think about dedication and baptism. The apostle Peter urged those who heard him at Pentecost to “be baptized.” (Acts 2:38) Nevertheless, our dedication is a personal matter, and nobody else can make it for us. The decision to do God’s will must be our own.—Psalm 40:8.

Adequate Preparation for Baptism

8 Are children in a position to make an intelligent dedication? The Scriptures give no age requirements for baptism. Still, infants certainly could not become believers, exercise faith, or make a dedication to God. (Acts 8:12) Regarding first-century Christians, historian Augustus Neander states in his book General History of the Christian Religion and Church: “Baptism was administered at first only to adults, as men were accustomed to conceive baptism and faith as strictly connected.”

9 In the case of youths, some develop a measure of spirituality at a relatively tender age, while others take longer. Before getting baptized, however, a youngster should have a personal relationship with Jehovah, a sound understanding of the fundamentals of the Scriptures, and a clear comprehension of what dedication involves, as is the case with adults.

10 Jesus instructed his disciples to teach new ones all the things he had commanded. (Matthew 28:20) So first of all, the new ones need to acquire an accurate knowledge of the truth, which in turn would enable them to develop faith in Jehovah and in his Word. (Romans 10:17; 1 Timothy 2:4; Hebrews 11:6) Then, when Scriptural truth touches a person’s heart, it moves him to repent and turn around from his previous way of life. (Acts 3:19) Finally, the person reaches the point where he desires to dedicate himself to Jehovah and get baptized, as Jesus commanded.

11 Another important step in the progress toward baptism is that of sharing in preaching the Kingdom good news. This is the principal work that Jehovah has assigned his people during these last days. (Matthew 24:14) Unbaptized publishers can thus have the joy of speaking about their faith to others. Sharing in this work also equips them for regular and zealous participation in the field ministry after baptism.—Romans 10:9, 10, 14, 15.

Does Something Prevent You From Getting Baptized?

12 Certain ones may hold back from baptism because they are reluctant to accept the responsibility it brings. They realize that to meet Jehovah’s standards, they will have to make significant changes in their lives. Or they may fear that they will find it difficult to live up to God’s requirements after baptism. Some may even reason, “Maybe one day I will do something bad and be disfellowshipped from the congregation.”

13 In Jesus’ day, some allowed personal interests and family ties to hinder them from becoming his disciples. One scribe declared that he would follow Jesus wherever He went. But Jesus pointed out that on many occasions, he did not even have a place to spend the night. When Jesus invited another listener to be his follower, this man replied that he would first need to “bury” his father. Likely, he preferred to stay at home and wait until his father died rather than follow Jesus and care for that family responsibility when it came. Finally, a third said that before following Jesus, he needed to “say good-bye” to his household. Jesus described such procrastination as ‘looking at the things behind.’ Thus, it appears that those who wish to do so will always be able to find excuses for evading their Christian responsibility.—Luke 9:57-62.

14 The example of Peter, Andrew, James, and John stands in sharp contrast. When Jesus invited them to follow him and become fishers of men, the Bible states: “At once abandoning the nets, they followed him.” (Matthew 4:19-22) By readily making that decision, they personally experienced what Jesus later told them: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.” (Matthew 11:29, 30) While baptism does bring a yoke of responsibility, Jesus assures us that it is a kindly and bearable one that will refresh us immensely.

15 Feelings of inadequacy, of course, are normal. Both Moses and Jeremiah initially felt incapable of handling the assignments Jehovah gave them. (Exodus 3:11; Jeremiah 1:6) How did God reassure them? “I shall prove to be with you,” he told Moses. “I am with you to deliver you,” he promised Jeremiah. (Exodus 3:12; Jeremiah 1:8) We too can have confidence in divine support. Love for God and trust in him can help us to overcome lingering doubts about whether we will be able to live up to our dedication. “There is no fear in love,” wrote the apostle John, “but perfect love throws fear outside.” (1 John 4:18) A little boy may be fearful when he has to walk alone, but he is confident when he walks hand in hand with his father. Likewise, if we trust in Jehovah with all our heart, he promises to ‘make our paths straight’ as we walk alongside him.—Proverbs 3:5, 6.

A Dignified Occasion

16 The baptism itself is usually preceded by a Scriptural talk explaining the significance of Christian baptism. At the conclusion of this talk, candidates are asked to make a public declaration of their faith by answering the two baptismal questions. (Romans 10:10; see the box on page 22.) The candidates are then immersed in water, following the pattern set by Jesus himself. The Bible shows that after getting baptized, Jesus “came up from the water” or “out of the water.” (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10) Clearly, John the Baptizer had immersed Jesus totally.* Complete immersion appropriately symbolizes the dramatic change we have made in our life—we figuratively die to our former life course and begin life anew in the service of God.

17 Baptism is both a serious and a joyful occasion. The Bible indicates that Jesus was praying when John immersed him in the Jordan River. (Luke 3:21, 22) In harmony with this example, baptism candidates today should show proper decorum. And since the Bible urges us to dress with modesty in everyday life, how much more so should we heed this counsel on the day of our baptism! (1 Timothy 2:9) Observers can also show due respect by listening carefully to the baptism discourse and by observing the event in an orderly manner.—1 Corinthians 14:40.

Blessings Enjoyed by Baptized Disciples

18 Once we have dedicated ourselves to God and are baptized, we become part of a unique family. First of all, Jehovah becomes our Father and our Friend. We were alienated from God before our baptism; now we become reconciled. (2 Corinthians 5:19; Colossians 1:20) Through the sacrifice of Christ, we have drawn close to God and he draws close to us. (James 4:8) The prophet Malachi describes how Jehovah pays attention and listens to those who use and bear his name, and he includes their names in his book of remembrance. “They will certainly become mine,” God says, “and I will show compassion upon them, just as a man shows compassion upon his son who is serving him.”—Malachi 3:16-18.

19 Baptism also enables us to become part of a worldwide brotherhood. When the apostle Peter asked what blessings Christ’s disciples would receive for the sacrifices they had made, Jesus promised: “Everyone that has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive many times more and will inherit everlasting life.” (Matthew 19:29) Years later, Peter wrote about “the whole association of brothers” that had developed “in the world.” Peter had personally experienced the support and blessings of a loving brotherhood, and we can too.—1 Peter 2:17; 5:9.

20 Furthermore, Jesus indicated that those who follow him “will inherit everlasting life.” Yes, dedication and baptism offer the prospect of gaining “a firm hold on the real life”—everlasting life in God’s new world. (1 Timothy 6:19) What better foundation for the future could we possibly build for ourselves and for our families? This blessed prospect will enable us to “walk in the name of Jehovah our God to time indefinite, even forever.”—Micah 4:5.

[Footnotes]

The three thousand Jews and proselytes who listened to Peter’s speech at Pentecost likewise got baptized without delay. Of course, like the Ethiopian eunuch, they were already familiar with the basic teachings and principles of God’s Word.—Acts 2:37-41.

The Greek word ba′pti·sma (baptism) signifies “the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence,” according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

Can You Explain?

• How and why should we respond to Jehovah’s love?

• What spiritual progress should precede baptism?

• Why should we not allow fear of failure or reluctance to accept responsibility to hold us back from baptism?

• What unique blessings can baptized disciples of Jesus Christ enjoy?

[Study Questions]

1, 2. How did Philip strike up a conversation with an Ethiopian official, and what attests to the spiritual inclination of this man?

3, 4. (a) Why did Philip baptize the Ethiopian without delay? (b) What questions will we now consider?

5, 6. (a) How did God’s people in the past respond to Jehovah’s love? (b) What close relationship with God can we enjoy once we are baptized?

 7. Why must dedication and baptism be a personal decision?

8, 9. (a) Why is infant baptism Scripturally unacceptable? (b) What spiritual progress should young ones have made before baptism?

10. What steps must precede dedication and baptism?

11. Why is it important that we regularly share in the preaching work before baptism?

12. What may hold some back from getting baptized?

13. In Jesus’ day, what held certain ones back from becoming Jesus’ followers?

14. (a) How did Peter, Andrew, James, and John respond when Jesus invited them to become fishers of men? (b) Why should we not hesitate to accept Jesus’ yoke?

15. How do the examples of Moses and Jeremiah show that we can rely on receiving God’s support?

16. Why does baptism involve total immersion in water?

17. How can both the baptism candidates and the observers contribute to the dignity of the occasion?

18, 19. What privileges and blessings does baptism bring?

20. What blessed prospect does baptism offer?

[Picture on page 26]

“What prevents me from getting baptized?”

[Pictures on page 29]

Baptism is both a serious and a joyous occasion