21st Century Discipleship Resources

Session 10: The commitments

The significance of believer’s baptism and church membership


Q) Have you ever seen a believer’s baptism take place? Talk about what happens.

Defining believer’s baptism

The word ‘baptism’ means different things to different denominations. For instance, how many of you were baptised (‘christened’) as a child and maybe confirmed as a teenager?

Q) What significance did this have for you or your family?

What we are looking at here is sometimes called believer’s baptism. The person being baptised is fully immersed in water, ‘in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’. It demonstrates that they have become Christians and normally takes place near the beginning of their Christian lives.

Jesus gave his disciples a great commission. Read Matthew 28:19-20.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. NIV

Q) What kind of priority was given to baptism?

Baptism has its roots in Jewish culture. The first Christians were baptised in rivers. But what is significant in baptism is not the amount of water used, but the reality of a personal faith. Baptism is an outward sign of an inner spiritual event.

What needs to happen before baptism

When someone is baptised, they are declaring that they have already become a Christian.

What are the processes that need to take place for someone to ‘become a Christian’?

Read Acts 16:31-34 and Acts 2:38-39.

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved —you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. NIV

Peter replied, “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off —for all whom the Lord our God will call. NIV

Who should be baptised

The New Testament tells us about all kinds of people who were baptised. Read their stories and see how different they were, yet how much they had in common. Note especially the point in their Christian lives at which they were baptised.

The Ethiopian eunuch - Acts 8:26-38, especially verses 36-38

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. NIV

Saul, later known as the apostle Paul:

And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name. Acts 22:16, NIV

Three thousand new believers - Acts 2:41

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. NIV

Baptism is for every Christian!

The significance of baptism

Baptism is symbolic. It presents a number of pictures of what it means to become a Christian.

Think about the symbolism of water and the act of being immersed and raised out of it.

Read Romans 6:3b-9.

all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. NIV

What is the key imagery that is being depicted here?

It may come as a surprise to see baptism described in this passage as a funeral. When you became a Christian, your ‘old self’ died. In baptism, you are laying it to rest and closing the door on your past life. You are symbolically buried with Christ and then, just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so you too rise from the water. You are now empowered to live a new life (verse 7).

A baptism is a dramatic occasion. Those watching are going to be affected by what they see and hear. Read Romans 10:9-10.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. NIV

Have you told anyone yet that Jesus is the Lord of your life? Being baptised would certainly do that!

Baptism and the Holy Spirit

Look at what happened in Acts 2:38.

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, 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. NIV

Similar events are reported in Acts 10:44-48 and Acts 19:5-6.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. NIV

On hearing this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all. NIV

Note the connection between baptism and the Holy Spirit in these passages.

You should expect to experience the Holy Spirit’s presence in a special way when you are baptised.

Jesus himself was baptised. Read about this in Luke 3:21-23 and 4:1.

When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”. NIV

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. NIV

Q) What was the significance of Jesus’ baptism and the effect on his life and ministry?

In being baptised, we are simply following Jesus’ own example.

The challenge

Q) Is there is anything that worries you about baptism? Now may be a good time to talk it through.

Think about your spiritual journey since you started Foundations. Can you now confidently say that you are a Christian? If so, consider the challenge that motivated Paul to be baptised: ‘And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name’ (Acts 22:16).

Christians have obeyed this command through the ages. Remember the Ethiopian eunuch, who saw some water and asked, ‘Why shouldn’t I be baptised?’ (Acts 36-38). Is there any reason why you should not be baptised?

Church membership

When we are baptised we symbolically identify with Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. The next step is to identify with his local church. How this is expressed can vary, but most churches have some kind of formal commitment that practically demonstrates this.

Q) Talk about the implications of ‘becoming a church member’.

As you get more involved in the life of your local church, what will be your next step of commitment?

Your choice (home study option)

Reflect on today’s study, particularly the sections headed ‘The challenge’ and ‘Church membership’.