Because people are often looking for a way into something without having to do what is actually required for entrance, many have asked me the question: “Can you be taught wrong and baptized right?” In response, I have thought (and sometimes asked), “Can you be taught wrong and hear right?” “Can you be taught wrong and believe right?” “Can you be taught wrong and repent right?” “Can you be taught wrong and confess right?” If we cannot do these things, then what makes us think that we can be taught wrong and baptized right? The bottom line is that God has clearly identified the purity of purpose for baptism. There is no reason for someone not to know what the purpose of baptism is when they are baptized, and if they are not following the purpose that God has clearly set forth, they are just getting wet.
When we really get down to the truth of the matter baptism is an act of faith. When a person is baptized, they must believe that baptism is for the remission of their sins—that is the act of faith. In Colossians 2:12 the Bible says, “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Without that act of faith involved in baptism, one is merely getting wet. If a person is just baptized “to obey God,” what is the act of faith? Where are you putting your trust when you are baptized “to obey God?” One might say, “I am putting my trust in God.” Great! So what are you putting your trust in God to do? When faith trusts God, it trusts God to do something (Romans 4:20-22; Hebrews 11). Baptism does not need to show that one merely believes God; confession accomplishes that. Baptism is not just a restatement of one’s confession. It is much more than that.
Notice what Peter says on the matter of baptism. “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”Please notice what is said in that (1 Peter 3:21) passage: (1) Baptism saves us. (2) Baptism is not merely taking a bath. (3) Baptism is the response to God of a good conscience. (4) Baptism saves by the resurrection of Jesus. Notice item number three. When we are baptized, we have to have a good conscience about it — we must do it with the right purposes in mind. The good conscience when taught properly is going to understand that baptism is necessary for salvation and is going to motivate the individual to take the appropriate action. To say that one can be baptized correctly without understanding the purpose of baptism denies the role of the conscience in baptism.
There is nothing magical in the waters of baptism. The water is just water. So dunking a person under the water just for the sake of dunking someone under the water is not going to cut it. If the proper motive and purpose is not present, it is meaningless, just like all the other steps of salvation. If a person is not baptized for the proper motives and purposes, he is just getting wet. The Bible clearly teaches that the purpose of baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
This is why we must insure that those we teach clearly understand the purpose of baptism. One cannot feel safe just because they went through the motions, and we should not feel that this has somehow relieved us of the need for more thorough and detailed teaching before baptism. We do no one any favors by putting them in the baptistery if they have no real appreciation for the fact that their sins are being forgiven.