When considering a touchy subject, I must remind myself: I’m on a quest for what is right and true. Am I open to truth? Am I willing to look again at a subject that has been argued over for centuries? Sensitive or not, a topic deserves reexamination whenever it’s related to salvation.
There comes a time when a person questions his conversion and asks if his salvation is secure. This is a healthy process, if one compares one’s experience with the teaching of the Bible about conversion.
To Christians, the apostle Paul declared, “Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you – unless, indeed, you fail the test!” (2 Cor 13:5 NET).
The phrase “valid baptism” implies that one’s baptism may not satisfy God’s requirements. In the Old Testament, Jews sacrificed animals in the temple, but the way they fulfilled that command didn’t leave the Lord content with their obedience. Jesus also condemned “vain” worship, that is, worship that displeased God (Matthew 15:9). He even said, “Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness” (Luke 11:35, NLT).
In Acts 19, the apostle Paul thought the process of conversion so important that he asked a group of disciples about what had happened to them in that process. There had been deficient teaching earlier in the city of Ephesus, which he may have heard about. He was concerned to verify that everyone had been taught properly and had obeyed according to Christ’s commandment. When it became apparent that they had not received the proper teaching, they decided to be baptized in the proper way. “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). The emphasis in the biblical text falls on their hearing the full truth about baptism and their own decision to do it right this time. No coercion, no pressure, but a willingness to obey.
Through the use of good questions, then, we may examine our own experience and compare it with the teaching that comes from Christ.
#1. Did I have the right personal motivation?
Did I do it to please God and enter a relationship with him, rather than to impress a person or go along with the group or win favor with someone of the opposite sex? Motivations of past actions may seem hazy to analyze, but the impulse behind the action is as important as the action itself.
#2. Did I do it in the right way?
When Scripture is specific about an action, we shouldn’t fudge and do something different. The meaning of baptism, as the term is used in the New Testament, is immersion. That becomes clear just by reading the text.
John baptized at a certain spot in the Jordan River “because water was plentiful there” (John 3:23). Plentiful water is needed for immersion, but not for sprinkling or pouring.
When Philip the evangelist baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, the text says, “both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.” Next, “they came up out of the water” (Acts 8:32-33). Again, these actions indicate that immersion was done. Why bother going down “into the water” if sprinkling or pouring is acceptable to God?
And the apostle Paul makes the case for the meaning of baptism as a burial and resurrection based on the type of action it commands, immersion (Romans 6:1-4). In Romans 6:5, Paul uses a term, “united” that has agricultural roots, “planted.” If baptism were any practice besides immersion, his analogy in this passage would not have been possible.
The question is, does it make a difference? If the Lord says to do it a certain way, do we have the right to change it? If Jesus is Lord, what he says to do, and how he says to do it, are important.
#3. Did I do it at the right age?
Baptism, says the apostle Peter, is an “appeal to God for a clean conscience” (1 Peter 3:21). The person being baptized is asking God for cleansing. That means baptism is a conscious act. It is an act of faith, faith of the one being baptized – “the one who” (Mark 16:16). No one can lend faith to another, just as salvation cannot be transferred. In every case, people were baptized upon hearing and believing the gospel.
Even when there were households involved, it was the hearers who responded, just as the angel told the Roman centurion, Cornelius, to send for Peter, who would “speak a message [literally, “words”] to you by which you and your entire household will be saved” (Acts 11:14). Hearing the inspired words, welcoming and responding to those words as belonging to God and offering the way back to him, are necessary steps preceding baptism.
Or, as Luke puts it, “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” is to be “proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Luke makes repentance stand for the human response to the message, in order to receive forgiveness.
The point is that a human response is necessary for forgiveness to occur. We must understand the message. Only one who understands it should be baptized. So the question about the right age actually turns to a question of whether or not I understood what I was doing.
That brings us to the next question.
#4. Did I do it for the right reason?
Understanding the purpose of baptism is essential to proper conversion. Did I do it, as Jesus said, to “be saved”? (Mark 16:16; cf. 1 Pet 3:21). To wash away my sins? (Acts 22:16; Ephesians 5:25-26; Titus 3:5). To be born again (John 3:3, 5). For the forgiveness of sins? (Acts 2:38).
Baptism is the application of God’s grace. We cannot save ourselves, hence, we need the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice applied to our souls. He died in our place; we need the freedom he brings, from our sin, our guilt and our condemnation. We find that in baptism.
If the purpose of my baptism wasn’t for this reason, and if I believed that I was saved before I was baptized, I should consider my baptism invalid and do it for the right reason.
The New Testament teaches that order is important. In the Christian era, salvation always comes after belief, repentance and baptism – never before it (see Mark 16:16).
If one’s own memory is weak, it may be helpful to remember the teaching that was received at the time of baptism. Was trustworthy counsel received when making a decision?
If you have doubts about the validity of your baptism, please do not ignore your conscience. Make sure of your salvation. If I can be of assistance to you, please contact me at any time. Also, feel free to comment below.
If you discover that your baptism is not valid, this also means that the religious group which influenced you to be baptized probably isn’t teaching correctly the way of the Lord. You might have an opportunity to help others evaluate if their baptism is valid. Certainly, you will want to find that community of believers that teaches the truth about baptism.