When should one be baptized? The word "when" may be taken a couple of ways. "When", asking what must be done before something is accomplished, and "when" referring to the timing after the prerequisites have been completed. We have studied the steps leading up to baptism: one must hear the word, believe in Jesus as the Son of God, confess His name before men, and repent of sin. Once these have been completed one is ready for baptism. Now I'd like to look at the timing of baptism for the one who has completed the four preliminary steps. That is, how long should one wait before being baptized?
Let's again turn to the scriptures and look at some examples of baptism. Remember what Ananias told Saul in Acts 22:16? Once he had finished telling Saul of God's plan for him Ananias told Saul, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." What does tarry mean? Please notice the Merriam-Webster link. What was Ananias asking Saul? He was asking him "Now why are you waiting any longer? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins." Saul had completed the preliminary steps to baptism. It was foolish for him to wait any longer for baptism, because he was still in sin. Had he died in that state he would have been lost. Jesus tells us in Mark 16:16 "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Until one is baptized, they are still in sin. Should they die in that state, they would be lost.
In Acts 16:25-34 we read of the conversion of the Philippian jailer. What was he told in response to his question in verse 30 ("Sirs, what must I do to be saved")? He was told to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." (verse 31) We see in verse 32 Paul and Silas preaching to him and all in his house the word of the Lord. After hearing the word, what did they do? He and his house were baptized straightway. Please notice the definition for straightway. They were immediately baptized. They didn't wait until some later date. They knew what they had to do, and did it.
We considered the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in question #4 of our study of baptism. Let's return briefly to Acts 8 and see when he was baptized. Luke records this event in Acts 8:26-39. Philip was led by the Holy Spirit to a chariot, in which was a man of Ethiopia reading from Isaiah 53. He didn't understand, however, the words he was reading. Philip began at the same scripture and preached Jesus unto him. The next words we have recorded as spoken by the eunuch were, "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" In our earlier study we learned how one is baptized. Here the eunuch shows us the attitude one must have as to when one must be baptized. The Greek word koluo is translated "hinder" and means "to hinder, prevent forbid; to withhold a thing from anyone; to deny or refuse one a thing." Only his confession of his heartfelt belief in Jesus as the Son of God was preventing him from being baptized. Once he made this confession he didn't wait to be baptized. We see in verse 36 that they had arrived at a body of water before he asked Philip what was hindering his baptism. He and Philip entered that same body of water immediately after his confession and the eunuch was baptized. Again, we see this attitude of urgency demonstrated by the eunuch.
What can we learn from these examples? We see that baptism is an urgent issue for one who has heard, believed, repented, and confessed. The one who believes the truth knows he is not saved until his sins have been washed away in baptism, and he doesn't wish to wait another minute until this has been taken care of. In the scriptures we see the urgency to be baptized expressed in the believer. Do we see the same urgency expressed by "believers" in many religious organizations today? If so, why are they satisfied with waiting several days, weeks, or months to be "baptized" on some day assigned by the "pastor" for many to be "baptized"? Is this doctrine in keeping with the scriptures? If it is not, it is false doctrine! What are the consequences of teaching for doctrine the commandments of men? Jesus tells us to do so is to worship God in vain! (Matthew 15:9) In NT Greek the word for vain in Matthew 15:9 is maten. Vine's tells us this word means "a fault, a folly", signifies "in vain, to no purpose." Jesus warns us that we are worshipping God "to no purpose" when we teach for doctrine the commandments of men. Can we be saved when our worship is to no purpose? If so, how?!
Let's take a few moments and review the meaning of "belief" or "believe" as used in the NT. Many people take Acts 16:31 alone as evidence for salvation by faith only. Is this the message Luke is recording for our learning? As we learned in our study of belief as a step toward salvation the Greek word translated believe is pisteuo. The word carries the idea of trust and reliance, not mere credence. When we rely upon Christ we rely upon the words He spoke as being absolute truth and follow them to the very best of our ability. When Jesus tells us "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved", we don't under-emphasize the importance of the word and. Please review the Merriam-Webster definition for and. This word serves as a coordinating conjunction, joining together words or word groups of equal grammatical rank. When Jesus used and in Mark 16:16 He was emphasizing the equal importance of belief and baptism for salvation. Please do not use the modern definition of believe when studying the scriptures. Merriam-Webster includes "to hold an opinion; think" as the 3rd definition for the word believe. We see in the dictionary that an opinion is "a belief stronger than impression and less strong than positive knowledge; a generally held view." (Merriam-Webster 2a,b) Do you wish to base your eternal destiny on anything less than positive knowledge? Do you wish to stand before God at the day of judgment with your salvation based on nothing more than a generally held view? When we pisteuo the words written in the scriptures we don't hold an opinion that cannot be solidly affirmed in the Word of God. We don't discount what is taught in one part of the scriptures simply because it seems to conflict with something else in the scriptures. We put our reasoning ability to work and learn how both work together to give us a complete picture of God's will for our lives. (Please review my study on Biblical Belief for more information.) The Philippian jailer and those of his household were required to complete every step we must complete in order to be saved. In Acts 16:31, the jailer hadn't yet heard the word of the Lord--this wasn't taught them until verse 32!! Even faith only (if it was a valid doctrine) couldn't have saved him in verse 31, since he didn't know what to believe in!! How did the account of the Philippian jailer end? Luke records in verse 34 that the jailer and all his house "rejoiced, believing in God." Please notice the two times the word believe is used in this account. The first is in verse 31. The second is in verse 34. The jailer and his house rejoiced, having believed in God when? After they were baptized, not before! Please review the NASB rendering of Acts 16:34. In verse 31 they were told they would be saved if they believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 34 we learn they recognized themselves as believers after completing the act of baptism (which took place in verse 33). So, one cannot believe (pisteuo) in the Lord Jesus Christ without being baptized!