In Acts 19, a group of men who had been baptized by John the Baptist – a baptism of repentance – were then baptized a second time in the name of the Lord Jesus after Paul helped them understand salvation through Christ’s work on the cross.
Baptism is an outward declaration of an inward change. By being immersed fully in water (which symbolizes the grave), the believer identifies with the death of Jesus, death to sin and self.
By being raised out of the water, the believer proclaims their hope and faith in the resurrection of Jesus, an understanding that they too shall rise into eternal life after physical death because of Christ’s work on the cross.
Let’s find out more about this public confession of faith and an interesting situation in the Bible where some men were baptized twice.
Baptism in the Bible
Baptism is only mentioned in the New Testament and introduced to us through the work of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. Following the death and the resurrection of Jesus, baptism became a step of obedience and an opportunity to openly declare and confess the power of the gospel.
Baptism Before Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
Mark 1:2-5 ESV As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
In this passage we recognize something very special is happening; the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy (Isaiah 40:3-5) of a man who would prepare the way of the LORD. Helping the people to see their sin and need for repentance sets the stage for the introduction of Jesus, the only One who could take away those sins, bring freedom, and restore hope.
John 1:29-34 ESV The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Here it is made clear to us that there is a difference between the baptism that John was offering and the baptism of Jesus. John’s baptism was only half of the story; sin and the need for repentance.
The baptism that Jesus would initiate would indicate the full hope of man being reconciled to God. This is by the seal of God Himself – the Holy Spirit – through the work of God Himself – Jesus the Son.
Baptism After Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
Acts 2:38, 41 ESV And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the building of the church (the group of believers, not a physical building) began as churches were planted all over. People who heard the gospel message and accepted the gift of salvation were immediately baptized and received the seal of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
It is vital to understand that while baptism is a step of faith and obedience, it is not necessary for salvation. A person is saved through faith alone, in Christ alone (Romans 10:9). Baptism is a public confession of that precious change in someone’s life.
Acts 19:1-6 ESV And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.
This account of men being baptized twice highlights and confirms the truth for us. Baptism without the person accepting salvation (repenting and accepting God’s free gift of salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection) is meaningless. Baptism alone does not indicate salvation. We’re called to baptism following conversion.
These men’s hearts were made ready to receive the good news through John’s baptism where they recognized their sin and need for repentance. But until they received and accepted the good news, they couldn’t be reconciled to God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
How Many Times Should a Christian be Baptized?
Baptism is a step of obedience a believer takes after accepting the free gift of salvation through faith. A believer should then only be baptized once. There are times though when a believer might be baptized twice. If they recognize that their first baptism took place with a wrong or incomplete understanding of salvation (like the men in Acts 19), a second baptism would be acceptable.