How much do you understand about baptism? Why is this an essential ordinance or sacrament for Christians? What does baptism mean? Who should get baptized? Is there ever a situation where a person should be baptized twice? What does the Bible say about this? Why did some people in the Bible get baptized twice? Let’s unpack what God’s Word has to say about baptism.
What is baptism?
The Greek word baptizó, used in the New Testament, means “to dip, immerse, or submerge.” Baptism is an ordinance for the church – something that our Lord Jesus commanded to do.
- “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
When we have repented of our sins and come to faith in Jesus Christ, baptism expresses our new union with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection. Going under the water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit symbolizes that we are buried with Christ, purified from our sins, and raised to new life. We have been born again as a new person in Christ and are no longer slaves to sin.
- “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for the one who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:3-7)
It’s not the actual going under the water that unites us with Christ – it’s our faith in Jesus through the Holy Spirit that does that. But water baptism is a symbolic act that demonstrates what has happened to us spiritually. For instance, the ring is not what marries a couple at a wedding. The vows before God and man do that. But the ring symbolizes the covenant made between the husband and wife.
What is the importance of baptism?
Baptism is essential because Jesus commanded it. The first believers in the New Testament all practiced it, and the church has practiced it through the past two thousand years.
When the apostle Peter preached his first sermon on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the people who listened were pierced to the heart.
“What shall we do?” they asked.
Peter answered, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37-38)
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, His physical death becomes our spiritual death to sin, rebellion, and unbelief. His resurrection becomes our spiritual resurrection from death. (It’s also a promise of our physical resurrection when He returns). We are “born again” with a new identity – adopted sons and daughters of God. We are empowered to resist sin and live a life of faith.
Water baptism is a picture of what has happened to us spiritually. It is a public proclamation of our decision to believe in and follow Jesus Christ.
What does the Bible say about being baptized twice?
The Bible says there is one baptism:
- “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)
However, the Bible also talks about three types of baptism:
- Baptism of repentance: this was done by John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus’ coming.
“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘Behold, I will send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way.’ A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People went out to him from all of Jerusalem and the countryside of Judea. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” (Mark 1:2-5)
- Baptism of salvation: In the New Testament, new believers were usually baptized immediately after believing in Jesus for salvation (Acts 2:41, Acts 8:12, 26-38, 9:15-18, 10:44-48, 16:14-15, 29-33, 18:8).
- Baptism of the Holy Spirit: John the Baptist said, “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).
This baptism happened to the initial group of disciples (about 120 people) shortly after Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Acts 2). When Philip was evangelizing in Samaria, people believed in Jesus. They received water baptism but did not receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit until Peter and John came down and prayed for them (Acts 8:5-17). However, as the first Gentiles came to the Lord, they immediately received the Holy Spirit’s baptism upon hearing and believing (Acts 10:44-46). This was a cue to Peter that non-Jews could be saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, so he then baptized them in water.
Who was baptized twice in the Bible?
Acts 19 tells how the apostle Paul came to Ephesus, found some “disciples,” and asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they became believers.
“We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” they answered.
Paul found out they had received the baptism of John the Baptist. So, he explained, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the One coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
When they heard this, they received the baptism of salvation in the Lord Jesus. Then, Paul laid his hands on them, and they were baptized in the Holy Spirit.
So, actually, these men received three baptisms, two in the water: the baptism of repentance, then the baptism of salvation, followed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
What happens if you are baptized twice?
It all depends on why you get baptized twice.
Many churches have a custom of baptizing infants or tiny children. This has different meanings for the type of church. The Catholic church believes that babies are saved at the time of their baptism, and the Holy Spirit indwells them at this time. Presbyterian and Reformed churches baptize babies with the understanding that it equates to circumcision. They believe that children of believers are covenant children, and baptism signifies this, just as circumcision signified God’s covenant in the Old Testament. They usually believe that when children reach the age of understanding, they need to make their own faith decision:
“The only difference which remains is in the external ceremony, which is the least part of it, the chief part consisting in the promise and the thing signified. Hence we may conclude that everything applicable to circumcision applies also to baptism, excepting always the difference in the visible ceremony…”—John Calvin, Institutes, Bk4, Ch16
Many people who were baptized as infants or small children later come to know Jesus personally as their Savior and decide to get baptized again. The first baptism was meaningless to them. All the examples of water baptism for salvation in the New Testament were after a person decided to believe in Christ. It says nothing about infants or small children being baptized, although some point out that Cornelius’ family (Acts 10) and the jailor’s family (Acts 16:25-35) got baptized, and maybe there were infants or toddlers included.
At any rate, if you were too young to understand the meaning of your baptism, it is perfectly acceptable to receive water baptism once you understand the gospel and have received Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Other people are saved and baptized, but then they fall away from the church and into sin. At some point, they repent and begin following Christ once again. They wonder if they ought to get baptized again. However, John’s baptism of repentance wasn’t an ongoing thing. It was for a specific time in history to prepare people’s hearts for Jesus’ coming. The baptism of salvation reflects the one-time decision to believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior. You can’t get saved more than once, so receiving a believer’s baptism a second time doesn’t make sense.
Some churches require believers who come from a different denomination to get baptized again as a prerequisite for joining the church. They force them to be rebaptized even though they received believer’s baptism as adults or teens at another church. This goes against the New Testament’s examples and cheapens the meaning of baptism. Baptism is not a ritual to join a new church; it’s a picture of a person’s one-time salvation.
Who should get baptized?
Everyone who receives Christ as their Lord and Savior should get baptized as soon as possible, based on the multiple examples in the Book of Acts. Some churches have a few weeks of classes to ensure that the candidates for baptism clearly understand the step they are taking and covering basic teaching for new believers.
Baptism is an outward and public sign of our adoption into God’s family. It doesn’t save us – it illustrates our salvation. It shows our identification with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection.
And that, by the way, is why Jesus was baptized. He was sinless and didn’t need a baptism of repentance – He had nothing to repent of. He didn’t need a baptism of salvation – He was the Savior. Jesus’ baptism foreshadowed His ultimate act of grace and unfathomable love when He purchased our redemption through His death and resurrection. This was His paramount act of obedience to God the Father.