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When should a person be baptized?

Baptism is not for children. But once a person is old enough to comprehend the meaning of baptism, when should his baptism occur? We have answered this question in our free booklet, “Baptism–A Requirement for Salvation,” beginning on page 24. We are quoting the relevant sections below. Following these quotes, we will also quote from the writings of the Worldwide Church of God, under its late human leader, Herbert W. Armstrong, to show that our position today is exactly identical with what had been taught under Mr. Armstrong.

In our free booklet, “Baptism–A Requirement for Salvation?“, the following is pointed out on pages 25-27, under, “When To Be Baptized”?

“Consideration for baptism requires an in-depth personal examination. It is not something to rush into. It is not a decision to be made based on emotions. We don’t simply “give our heart to the Lord.” We need to understand, repent and believe, as previously discussed. Why? Because baptism is a covenant—a contract—with God. Baptism represents an agreement that we make with God to obey Him—a promise to live by His requirements for the remainder of our lives. If we break that promise later, God certainly holds us accountable for doing so.

“God does require us to be baptized in order to receive His Holy Spirit. The question of whether or not to be baptized depends on whether or not a person is old enough to understand and believe in the gospel. This includes the following: an understanding of what sin is; the fact that the death penalty hangs over our heads because of our own sins; the fact that Christ died for us so that we can have forgiveness of our sins when we truly repent of them and accept His sacrifice as payment for our sins; the fact that we need to put our carnal nature into the watery grave, and leave it there; the fact that we can acquire God’s divine nature ONLY through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us; and the fact that we must be baptized in order to receive God’s power to be able to change the way we think, speak and act. If you can grasp the meaning of the aforementioned and genuinely believe these things, then we say, ‘yes, you ought to go ahead with baptism as soon as possible.’

“True, we must not rush into baptism. On the other hand, once we understand what sin is and have truly repented of our sins, and once we believe in the gospel message of Jesus Christ and all that it entails, we are to be baptized immediately. We must not make the mistake of lingering and avoiding our responsibility to be baptized. Thoughts and ideas can easily come into our mind to discourage us from doing so. You can be sure that these ideas DO NOT come from God.

“God WANTS us to be baptized. He COMMANDS us to be baptized. Satan, on the other hand, HATES nothing more than seeing one of “his children” leave him in order to place him- or herself under the government and rule of God. Satan will attempt to thwart our intentions by putting into our minds certain concepts, ideas and arguments in order to make us think that we should not get baptized—at least ‘not yet.’

“These diverting ideas come in different disguises. For instance, we may think that we don’t even need to be baptized because, after all, we are not such a bad person. Make no mistake, EVERYONE SINS, and EVERYONE MUST REPENT. Another argument might be that, if we are baptized now, then all the fun stops, so, let’s have our fun now and repent of it and get baptized later. A third line of reasoning may go this way: ‘I need to be perfect before I can get baptized. I am still trying to get rid of a particular bad habit or a sin and I don’t want to get baptized before I have got rid of it.’

“All of these arguments miss the entire point as to WHY we must get baptized. Perfection will not be achieved in this life based on our own strength. That is why we MUST HAVE GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT OF POWER to help us to overcome our problems. We must, of course, WANT to change. That means, we must not engage deliberately in wrong conduct, knowing that it is wrong. Our weakness and inability to overcome our bad habits only proves that we must get baptized and that we must receive God’s Holy Spirit to HELP us with our battle against our sins.

“If we reason that we don’t want to get baptized yet because we don’t want to miss the fun, then our concept of what ‘fun’ is must be corrected immediately. If baptism is a hurdle to us because we don’t want to give up ‘fun,’ then we are, indeed, missing the point. Perhaps we have a false concept of what it means to be a Christian. For instance, some teach that a Christian must not dance, watch television or movies, drink alcohol, or play cards. None of these prohibitions, however, are biblical. Rather, they are based on human traditions and simply constitute self-imposed religion. On the other hand, if baptism would be contrary to certain habitual actions of ‘fun,’ then our concept of ‘fun’ is contrary to God’s word—with or without baptism. Anyone, who KNOWS better, actually SINS by engaging in sinful ‘fun.’ When we know to do good and to avoid evil, and don’t live accordingly, we sin, whether baptized or not. As we explained before, SIN must be repented of BEFORE our baptism. To delay repentance is dangerous. God holds us accountable for what we know and what we do with the knowledge we have been given.

“When we examine the biblical record, we find that when people were ready for baptism, they were baptized immediately. They did not delay, nor did the ministers have the disciples go through time-consuming ‘courses’ of baptismal ‘requirements’ before they were willing to baptize the person.

“We find that on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 believers were baptized the same day when they heard Peter’s inspired sermon and were motivated to come to genuine repentance (Acts 2:41). We find that Philip immediately baptized the eunuch who had worshipped God in Jerusalem, and who was studying the Bible on his return to Ethiopia (Acts 8:35–38). Philip explained to him the Scriptures as they relate to Jesus and the eunuch was baptized within a few hours. Paul—formerly Saul—was baptized by Ananias within a few days of Paul’s encounter with Christ. Later, Paul described his experience with these words, ‘Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law…came to me; and he stood and said to me…“And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord”’ (Acts 22:12–16). Paul baptized the jailer and his household ‘the same hour of the night’ (Acts 16:33).

“When an adult person has genuinely repented and believes, he or she should be baptized without the necessity of prior laborious requirements. A person who has repented and believes and obeys the gospel, who believes in, and keeps the Sabbath and the Holy Days, who has shown fruits worthy of repentance in his or her life, who tithes and gives offerings according to God’s commandments, and who understands the future that God has in store for us, should get baptized. It is simply unconscionable to require of such a person—as some ministers have done—to first study a laborious Bible course or watch lengthy biblical videos that begin with a simple lesson as to whether or not ‘God’ exists!”

As will be seen from the following quotes, our position is exactly the same as the one that Mr. Armstrong taught.

In his Autobiography, Volume 1, Mr. Armstrong wrote about his own experience regarding his baptism in the hard cover edition on page 319, under “Begotten of God”:

“Finally the study of the subject of baptism was completed. There was no longer doubt. Peter had said: ‘REPENT, and BE BAPTIZED every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38). To Cornelius and his house, who already had received the Holy Spirit, Peter said: ‘Can any man forbid WATER, that these should not be baptized, which have received the H
oly Spirit as well as we?’ And he COMMANDED them to be baptized in the name of the Lord’ (Acts 10:47-48).

“It was a command. There was no promise of receiving the Holy Spirit until after being baptized–although Cornelius, the exception to the rule, had been begotten by the Holy Spirit prior to baptism. Yet even he was commanded to be baptized IN WATER. What I had learned in this study on baptism is recounted in our free booklet, ‘All About Water Baptism.’

“And so I was baptized forthwith and without delay.

“Immediately upon coming up out of the water, I definitely experienced a change in attitude and in mind generally. I had already repented and surrendered to God’s rule over my life. The natural carnal hostility to God and His Law already had gone. Yet, now, for the first time, I felt CLEAN! I knew, now, that the terribly heavy load of sin had been taken off my shoulders. Christ had paid the penalty for me. All past sins were now blotted out by His blood. My conscience was clean and clear.

“For the first time in my life I experienced real inner PEACE of mind! I realized, as never before, how futile and useless and foolish are the ways of this world, on which most people set so much store. There was a quiet, wonderful happiness of mind in the sure knowledge that now I was actually a begotten son of GOD! I could really call God Father! …

“For six months I had struggled night and day, with a carnal mind, to learn the truth about one single doctrine in the Bible. Prior to that my wife and I had read the Bible clear through–but I had not understood a WORD of it!… I simply could not UNDERSTAND the BIBLE! But now, from this point of baptism on, a strange, wonderful, delightful new thing took place. I could read the Bible and UNDERSTAND what I read Of course I could not understand the WHOLE Bible in five or ten minutes. I still had to study it a doctrine at a time. But it was UNDERSTANDABLE! It MADE SENSE!”

In his Autobiography, Mr. Armstrong referred to his booklet, “All About Water Baptism.” In it, he addresses in more detail when a person should be baptized. We are quoting from pages13 and 14 of his booklet (copyright 1948, 1954, 1972). Under the heading, “How Long Should We wait,” Mr. Armstrong wrote:

“One or two denominations insist to be put off until the candidate has PROVED HIMSELF–has proved he has the Holy Spirit and is living a righteous life–or has come to certain spiritual KNOWLEDGE. One denomination will not baptize people until they come to ‘see’ and accept God’s Law, and many of this denomination’s doctrines, and usually there is a six-months’ probation period.

“Paul says God’s Law ‘is spiritual,’ and that the carnal (unconverted) mind is not subject to the LAW and CANNOT be (Rom. 7:14 and 8:7). The order of God is: 1st) preach the Gospel, leading to a conviction of sin in the hearts of those God calls, leading to REPENTANCE and FAITH in Christ; 2nd) BAPTISM; and 3rd) they shall receive the HOLY SPIRIT, which renews their minds, teaches them, reveals spiritual truth. Since one cannot spiritually understand God’s spiritual Law or spiritual things UNTIL he receives the Holy Spirit, and he must be baptized before he has a promise of the Holy Spirit, he should be baptized FIRST. EVERYONE knows he has sinned, and lived contrary to God’s will, though he may not have spiritual understanding of God’s will. God can grant repentance to a carnal mind BEFORE the conversion of that mind. One does not need a spiritual college education in Bible knowledge to repent and be baptized into Christ. Jesus’ order of events was, 1st) PREACH THE GOSPEL, 2nd) BAPTIZE repentant believers, 3rd) TEACH THEM THE COMMANDMENTS (Matt. 28:19-20).

“Therefore, how long should baptism be put off?

“The answer is, just as soon as one has been convicted in his heart of his past sins and sinful life–just as soon as one realizes his own way of life has been WRONG, and becomes sick and tired of it, and turns FROM his own ways and wants to find GOD’S WAYS and live them, truly REPENTS of his past life of sins, and BELIEVES in and ACCEPTS Jesus Christ as personal Savior, and the One whom he must obey henceforth, and WANTS TO TURN TO THE CHANGED, DIFFERENT, NEW AND HAPPY LIFE OF FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS, and to become a child of God. Then that person should be baptized IMMEDIATELY if possible–and if this is not possible, then AS SOON as a true servant of God is available to perform the baptism. In every case recounted in the New Testament, repentant believers were baptized IMMEDIATELY.

“On the day of Pentecost, 3,000 were baptized THAT SAME DAY. Philip baptized the eunuch AT ONCE. God sent Ananias to baptize Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, the apostle. Immediately on meeting him, Ananias said: ‘And now WHY TARRIEST THOU? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord’ (Acts 22:16). Paul baptized the Philippian jailer and those in his house ‘the same hour of the night’–and it was after midnight (Acts 16:33). They did not even wait until daylight!

“But this does not mean that God’s ministers should be hasty in baptizing one until there is evidence of a REAL CHANGE of mind and heart–a real surrender to God and the will of God. God’s ministers must be assured of a genuine repentance and belief in Jesus Christ as personal Savior. The minister must be assured that the individual is genuinely called of God (John 6:44), has fully repented and really wants to turn his life over into the hands of the living God. Many tragic circumstances have occurred because of failure to be sure of these points, interpreting temporary remorse for true repentance. But when the conditions Christ set are all met, one should be baptized immediately.”

This same understanding was taught–however, not always applied over the years–in Lesson 10 of the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course (copyright 1977). We read on page 13, under “How Long Should You Wait?”:

“Many put off baptism. They feel they are too infirm, too old, too weak–or they feel they are ‘not ready’ yet spiritually. Some even think they must be perfect before being baptized. But how could a person be ‘perfect’ before he receives God’s Holy Spirit, which helps us to become perfect? Then there are those who hesitate to request baptism because they do not feel they ‘know enough.’ This fear is usually unfounded.

“Sincere, heartfelt repentance and belief are the only prior conditions for baptism given in the Bible! It is NOT necessary to know all the books of the Bible in their order, the acrostic psalms, the background of the minor prophets, and have a complete understanding of the political situation in the cities Paul traveled!

“It should be obvious that the 3,000 people who were baptized on that day of Pentecost in Acts 2 were not all Bible scholars. They undoubtedly, for the most part, knew only the basics–the ‘milk’ of the Word–and perhaps not even that much. But they readily accepted the word of God (Acts 2:41); they were not in doubt; they were sincerely and deeply repentant (verse 37).

“One simply cannot ‘know it all’ when he is baptized. It is a matter of a lifetime of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ AFTER one is baptized… If a person knows that God commands baptism, knows he should be baptized, and his conscience convicts him–then he SHOULD BE BAPTIZED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

“Notice now several examples from the Bible:

“1. When the Ethiopian eunuch came to understand Christ was his Savior, did he hesitate about being baptized? Did he put it off? Acts 8:35-38

“2. When Paul was first converted, and learned that Christ was the Son of God whom he had been persecuting, did he procrastinate about being baptized? Acts 9:1-18, especially verse 18.

“COMMENT: Neither of these men put off water baptism. They saw their own personal need. They knew they needed Christ as their Savior and desperately wanted their sins blotted out by His shed blood. They felt dirty and despicable before God, as long as they stood before Him in their sins. They kn
ew they were the slaves of sin, and did not have God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within them.

“Therefore, as soon as was possible, they were baptized.

“Old age makes no difference with God. Circumstances make no difference. There simply is no acceptable excuse for not being baptized when a person UNDERSTANDS this vital, urgent spiritual truth and is physically able to obey it.”

Lead Writer: Norbert Link