I was baptized some years ago by immersion—but not for the reason you might think.
At the time, my fiancé and I were looking for a church to get married in. The church he attended was a beautiful church, the ideal setting for a wedding. But there was a problem: church policy required that both of us had to be baptized before we could get married there.
Although my husband-to-be had already been baptized, I was still exploring. Though I had said the sinner’s prayer earlier on, it was only to please my fiancé. I was not ready to commit to Christ, much less get baptized. But I decided to go through pre-baptism classes so that we could be married in that beautiful church.
It was not a true conversion. It was merely my way of getting a glorious wedding venue. But I hid my motive well and I was successfully baptized, but it was a baptism without meaning. My faith was dead; I had bluffed my way in. I had lied to everyone about my conversion.
Over the past few years, I have been attending another church, and through Bible study there, I was convicted that what I had done was wrong. I saw my former baptism as a mark on my sinful past―a lie.
But God did not abandon me even though I had lied. Even though I did not take Him seriously in the past, He was gracious to save me and make me His own. He led me to see that my baptism was not “the pledge of a clear conscience towards God” (1 Peter 3:21); it was the opposite of what God expected of us. Ashamed, I repented of my wrong motives in getting baptized.
A clear conscience towards God in baptism is to have no other motive aside from following Him with a sincere heart. It is important that we do not take God’s name and His grace towards us for granted. God cannot be mocked, and nothing we do can be hidden from His sight (Galatians 6:7, Hebrews 4:13). We should check our hearts and our motives in everything that we do, and in everything we should seek to bring glory and honor to God, including in baptism (1 Corinthians 10:31).
As I reflected on my own sin, I learned of other reasons we as believers could have when considering whether to get baptized.
1) To fit in.
Some people get baptized so that they can better fit into a church culture where almost everyone is baptized. Some churches, for example, have a rule that only baptized members can come forward to receive communion. There may be many people who are already baptized, and it is easy for those who have not been baptized to feel left out.
Don’t feel pressured to fit in. God does not need us to fit in. He only needs us to seek Him.
2) To please family or friends.
Some people get baptized in order to please family members or friends, or because they feel pressured by others and do not wish to be a disappointment. However, these can become the wrong reasons for baptism.
Baptism should not be for the purposes of pleasing other people. If your family or friends are true believers, they would want you to please God instead of them.
3) To be saved.
Some people think that they can be saved by getting baptized. Before I became a believer, I had this wrong understanding as well. I thought that baptism was a means to salvation. However, our salvation cannot be earned. No deed of our own can please God or earn us salvation. Instead, salvation is a gift freely given by grace, and the only way to receive it is by the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Baptism is an outward declaration of faith to follow Christ. But it is not a requirement of salvation. The thief at the cross next to Jesus recognized that Jesus is God, but this thief was not baptized. Nevertheless, Jesus said that he would be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:43).
Baptism reminds us that our past is dead, and that we are now alive in Christ, redeemed, resurrected, and restored. However, if our heart is not ready and we do not have a clear conscience towards God, we should consider taking a step back. We should take time to prepare our hearts, to set it right before God so that we can truly enjoy the beauty and significance of baptism. God does not blame us for being slow, since He knows our hearts. He is pleased when we seek Him and honor Him above our own motives, and that is more important for our true salvation.
Our preparation for baptism should draw us closer to God, and help us to align our will with His will. We can ask God to search our hearts (Psalm 139:23), to weed out any of our own fleshly motives and turn our hearts to follow Him, so that we can be pleasing to His sight. Philippians 2:12 says we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. When our hearts are purified, God becomes our sole desire.
As I learned more about baptism, I wondered if I should be re-baptized. But a few trusted Christians that I talked to assured me that, by grace, God accepts my previous baptism as my commitment to Him. I am content with this assurance, and I take my baptism as a reminder of my sinful past and God’s faithfulness at work in my life.