When it comes to the when of Baptism oftentimes people have this notion that baptism is akin to “Christianity 301”, and before one participates in Christianity 301 they need to have completed Christianity 101 and 201. Thus, baptism becomes something a person works up to. In other cases, someone may have such a high view of justification-by-faith-alone that they diminish baptism’s significance because it isn’t an instrument through which God grants a sinner pardon. We want to avoid both errors. We don’t want to make baptism something that a person works up to with the proper training, nor do we want to suggest that it’s something that could be put on the side till someone feels like it. The bible paints a picture that clearly suggests that baptism is part of Christianity 101. That it’s something you do immediately after believing as a foundational act of obedience.
Let’s walk through a series of examples from Luke’s record in the Book of Acts and see what “the when” of Baptism looked like in the early church.
- The Day of Pentecost. As Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, we’re told, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). That day three thousand people were baptized and made their public profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior who was ‘public-enemy #1’ to the Jewish religious leadership of the day. Those baptisms were not only costly public statements but immediate ones.
- When Philip preached to the people in Samaria. After Phillip went down to Samaria and preached Christ to the people (Acts 8:5), we read: “when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized” (vs.12). If you connect the beginning and the end of the verse you can see the chronological proximity of the Samarians’ belief and baptism – “when they believed… both men and women were baptized.”
- Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Not too long after Philip preached Christ to the Samaritans, God appointed him to explain the Gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35). The eunuch believed and said to Philip “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36b). The answer was – nothing. So immediately Phillip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch (vs.37-38).
- The example of Saul. Saul, who would become known as the apostle Paul, was baptized shortly after being filled with the Holy Spirit and having his sight restored (Acts 9:17-19).
- Peter commanded Cornelius and those with him to be baptized immediately after believing. In Acts 10, shortly after Cornelius and those with him believed (cf. Acts 11:17) and received the Holy Spirit, Peter said: “‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47-48a). Note Peter’s question and command. His question connotes the fact that there was nothing to hinder their being baptized and his commanded indicates the when of baptism was immediate.
- Lydia was baptized upon hearing and believing. In Acts 16:14, we read that the Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul and then in Acts 16:15 we see that she was baptized.
- And finally, both the Philippian jailer and his household were baptized immediately after being converted. Remember the story? Paul and Silas were wrongly arrested, beaten, and thrown into stocks. Then at about midnight, as they were praying and singing hymns to God, there was a great earthquake and their chains were loosed and the prison doors opened. The jailer thought to kill himself but Paul called out to him with a loud voice and said, “Do yourself no harm we are here”. Then as the jailer came trembling to Paul and Silas he asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30b). Paul and Silas responded by saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (vs.31). Then Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house and “immediately he and all his family were baptized” (vs.33b).
Therefore, please do not embrace the fallacious notion that baptism is something that you or a new believer needs to work up to. If you understand and believe the Gospel you are commanded to be baptized as your foundational act of Christian obedience.