How do you know when you’re ready for baptism?
For those in churches that teach baptism is the sign of our covenant with God, this is a weighty question. If you’re just coming into the church, how do you know when you’re ready to go through with this ceremony? If you grew up in the church, how do you know God is really calling you into covenant with Him? What should you look for, and what do you need, before you get baptized?
The answer is both simpler and more complicated than you might think. It has very little to do with how long you council with a minister or how many baptism booklets you read, and everything to do with the state of your heart. Before we get into the body of this post, though, (just so we’re starting out on the same page) here’s a bit of background. I believe baptism by full immersion in water is an outward sign of an adult Christian’s covenant with God. I grew up in a Christian community that taught this, and I was baptized shortly after my 19th birthday.
When John the baptist began his ministry, he preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2). Those who came to be baptized confessed their sins as part of the baptism (Matt. 3:6). To further emphasize the need for repentance, he told the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” if they wanted to be saved (Matt. 3:8).
In the Bible, repentance is “regret accompanied by a true change of heart toward God” (G3340, Zodhitates). To enter covenant with God, the first requirement is that we realize we are sinners, genuinely regret the wrongs we’ve committed, and recognize our need for Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)
In general the steps are: 1) repentance, 2) baptism, 3) receive the Holy Spirit (there are exceptions to this order, as in Acts 10). Often, we feel like we need reach perfection, or at least be “good enough” before baptism. Really, though, we need to realize we are not perfect so we can commit and submit to God. Then, after we realize how desperately we need Him and ask Him to be part of our life, He gives us the tools we need to grow toward perfection.
Looking at another baptism recorded in Acts, we find one more requirement for baptism. Here, Philip is teaching an Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus.
Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38)
In the New Testament, “believe” is translated from the same words as “faith” — pisteuo (G4100), a mental persuasion, faith, or belief, and pistis (G4102), ” a knowledge of, assent to, and confidence in certain divine truths” (Zodniates).
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Heb. 11:6)
Your faith doesn’t have to be perfect before you get baptized, but you should believe that God exists, that Jesus is the Messiah, and that They have a plan for your future. Maybe our faith is young or small, and we’re at a place where we’re saying, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That’s okay. God knows we’ll still have work to do after baptism. In fact, He expects us to keep growing after we commit to Him.
When you’re counseling for baptism, ministers typically have you read the “count the cost” scriptures in Luke 14:25-33. We learn we can’t cling to anyone or anything other than Christ. We’re told we must be prepared to give up everything we have. Before taking this step in our relationship with God, we must seriously evaluate our commitment level. Christianity isn’t something you can do part-time or half-way. We have to be all-in.
I’m willing to venture a guess that those of us who’ve been baptized didn’t really understand exactly what we were getting into. Our knowledge and understanding deepen so much as we grow, and the commitment I made at baptism means more to me now than it did back in 2008. We don’t need have perfect knowledge before we get baptized — we just need to know we’re willing to follow God no matter what. I’ve heard it compared to marriage. You don’t have to be perfect to get married, or even understand everything about marriage, but you do have to make a commitment that you’ll be faithful.
I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord. (Hos. 2:19-20)
If our commitment to God is a marriage (2 Cor. 11:2), then baptism is when we say our vows. We promise to stay faithful to Him in sickness and in health, to follow His authority, and to work through our problems with Him instead of running away. Baptism is a promise of faithfulness to our faithful Creator. If we’re ready to be faithful, then we’re ready to be baptized.