Though Acts 2:41 lays out a very simple understanding of biblical baptism—conversion, immersion, distinction—many questions surface about this ordinance. Let me take a few moments and address the questions that came in Sunday, as well as point you to some previous Q and A blogs of mine from the past on this subject (here and here).
Q: How do you handle “household baptism” in Acts 16 and 1 Corinthians 1?
A: In each of the three household salvation/baptism passages in the New Testament, context and pattern imply the household believed in the same manner as the first one believed. In fact, Luke says explicitly about the Philippian jailor’s home that “they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house” (Acts 16:32), indicating understanding and response from all who were baptized, just as the jailor had done individually.
Furthermore, no mention is ever made of infants in any of these situations. It is my conclusion that household salvation includes, even assumes, hearing and responding to the message of salvation by each individual within that home.
Q: Is it a sin not to be baptized once we have received, believed, and given our lives to Jesus?
A: Identifying with Jesus openly and publicly is a command, not a suggestion. In fact, it’s the first one we’re told to obey in the disciple-making process, and leads the list of “everything Jesus commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The real issue people wrestle with is consequence—what if I don’t get baptized? I’d suggest you ask yourself the same question, but insert any of the other commands of Jesus in the place of baptism. “What if I don’t give?” “What if I don’t pray?” “What if I don’t serve?” “What if I don’t live purely?” While there isn’t a list of specific punishments that happen as a result of these decisions, we can say confidently that known sin, at the least, blocks our fellowship with God (1 John 1), hinders our witness to the world (2 Cor. 4), and undermines our ability to live in full faith (Rom. 14). In other words, the result of disobedience is weakness in our spiritual walk. Such is the case, I believe, with those who refuse to be baptized and identify outwardly with their Master. Often they remain spiritually weak and vulnerable to the enemy and, unfortunately, somewhat unknown to their real family of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Q: If we believe and have not been baptized, are we a true follower of Christ? After all, doesn’t Mark 16:16 say “he who believes and is baptized…”?
A: Let’s be clear—what makes someone a true follower is genuine conversion by the grace of God (Eph. 2:8-9). Baptism is the outward sign of the inward work, not the inward work itself. It is the sign of God’s spiritual circumcision of our hearts (Col. 2:11-12; Rom 2:29), not the actual spiritual circumcision. So yes, there are true followers who have not (yet) been baptized.
To your question about Mark 16:16 and the word “and.” It is a word of consequence; of result, not cause. We are saved when we believe, and as result we are baptized. Furthermore, this is seen in the mode of the verbs. Both “believe” and “does not believe” agree in mode, but “baptized” does not.
Additionally, to require baptism for salvation contradicts many other known biblical verses and passages about the saving work of God’s grace. So grammatically and theologically, it is incorrect and unbiblical to say that unless one is baptized, he or she isn’t truly born again.
Q: Someone may have been baptized (as a believer) at a young age. Do you ever encourage or allow being baptized again as an adult when the believer is more mature and committed in their faith and personal growth?
A: The Bible doesn’t prohibit a “rebaptism,” though it doesn’t command it either. So I personally have no issue rebaptizing someone who senses a need to make a public identification with Christ for specific reasons. More than likely there will be differing opinions about this, and I admit this practice could be abused. Nonetheless, if approached carefully and thoughtfully, it wouldn’t violate any Scriptural directive.