The role of immersion in God’s plan for the salvation of souls has been the subject of debate for a long time, especially over the last 200 years in America. From the early days of the Restoration Movement until now, faithful Christians have argued, and rightly so, that immersion in water is the point in time when a sinner comes out of the world and into the body of Christ (Gal. 3:27); when a sinner becomes saint; when a child of the devil becomes a child of God; and when sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus (Acts 22:16; Rev. 1:5). Baptism cannot be removed from God’s plan without also removing the blessings that are directly tied to it – salvation (1 Pet. 3:21), remission of sins and gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), regeneration (Titus 3:5), and the like.
So much instruction, discussion, and debate over the years have focused on baptism’s necessity that baptism has, for some of us, become the first subject (and even in some cases, the ONLY subject) that we bring up when we want to engage someone in conversation about salvation. I have known well-meaning Christians who have approached
visitors at worship assemblies and told them in less than five minutes of conversation, “You need to get baptized.” Sometimes well-meaning parents regularly and consistently emphasize to their pre-teen children that they need to “get baptized,” yet they fail to emphasize what God requires prior to that important and indispensible act of obedience.
Some of us are putting the cart before the horse. Some are putting it way before the horse. And some are putting out the cart with no horse at all.
The Necessity of Instruction
Before one is qualified to be immersed into Christ, there are truths and concepts that one must understand. Christianity is a taught and learned religion. In Romans 10:13-14, the apostle Paul wrote of the progression involved in bringing a person to salvation. There must be teaching; there must be the reception of that teaching; there must be faith that is generated through the teaching; then, there is the “calling on the name of the Lord” (which includes immersion, Acts 22:16) that brings salvation. As Jesus said, it is the one “who has heard and learned” that is ready to follow him (John 6:44-45).
This teaching and learning process takes more time for some than it does for others. Several times in scripture God’s inspired writers compared the teaching, learning, and maturing process to planting, watering, and growing crops. In the material realm, we understand that that process takes time. There is the cultivating of the soil (Jer. 1:10), the planting of the seed (Matt. 13:3-8), the watering of the seed (1 Cor. 3:6), and an unspecified number of days and nights that the sower waits for the seed to germinate and the plant to grow (Mark 4:26-29). Crops don’t grow overnight. The process takes time, just as God created it.
The same is true in the conversion of a sinner – especially one who has had little or no prior instruction in biblical subjects. Therefore, to rush a person to the waters of baptism before the soil has been cultivated and the seed planted and watered is not helpful. To the contrary, it short-circuits God’s own design for conversion. Yes, it is urgent that the lost come to Christ before it is too late. But coming to Christ involves more than just being baptized. It involves heart cultivation, teaching, learning, and growth.