One of the most difficult meetings I ever face is when a
parent says, ďMy son (or daughter) wants to speak with you.Ē
Inevitably, the child is between 8 and 14, wanting to know if they
can be baptized. Over my few years, I have taken different
approaches. At times, I have asked simple questions and if they
knew the answers, let them be baptized because I didnít want to
be the one who said, ďNo.Ē At times, I worked hard to keep
them from being baptized because I didnít want to be the one who
dunked them, letting them think they were all right when they
didnít know what they were doing. At times, I left it up to the
parents who know their children better than me. At times, I have
given study books for the parents to go through with their
children. In the end we still wonder when a young person is ready
to be baptized? No matter how I feel about making this choice, it
seems people will forever look to the preacher to decide. Instead
of turning to me to make this decision, I would like to share with
you how you can know when you are ready to be baptized. The fact
is, we can know a young person is ready to be baptized the same
way we can know anyone is ready to be baptized.
No set age.
When the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land, God
established an age of accountability for that sin. Everyone who
was 20 years old and upward would perish in the wilderness (Numbers
14:28-32). We may try to find a similar cut off age for
sin accountability in the New Testament, but we donít have any
demonstrates newborns have not done anything good or bad. They are
not accountable. We are not worried about their salvation; they
are safe. Somewhere along the way, this changes. Paul demonstrates
this in Romans
7:9-10. Paul said there was a time when he was alive apart
from the Law. However, he was speaking of the Law of Moses (cf.
7:7). That Law had been established by the time Paul was
born, yet he had a period during which he was safe because he was
apparently not accountable to the Law. At some point that changed.
He became aware of the commandment, not in the sense of
memorizing, but understanding. Then he violated it, granting life
to sin; he died. At some point, he moved from being unaccountable
to accountable. He became lost, condemned. He needed a Savior.
provides a good marker, speaking of a child who is old enough to
refuse evil and choose good. This is far more than knowing if I
take the cookie, I will get spanked and therefore refusing the
cookie. This is understanding the command and understanding why it
is bad to violate the command. The problem for us is there is no
set age. This doesnít happen developmentally for everyone at the
same time. We donít put our 12 year and 364 day old child to bed
knowing when they wake they will have developed a sense of
morality and understanding. Everyone is different. Please, do not
think if your child was not baptized by the same age as Suzie
something is wrong. Everyone is different.
How then can we tell when someone is ready to be baptized?
I believe the best model is found in Matthew
5:3-6: the first four beatitudes in the Sermon on the
Mount. Examine them and see what they say about being ready for
Are you poor in spirit? (Matthew
The kingdom of heaven is for the poor in spirit and no one
else. If we are not poor in spirit, it doesnít matter how old we
are, we are not ready to be baptized. This is a picture of
absolute spiritual poverty, recognizing we have nothing to offer
God with which to buy our way into His kingdom. It means being
spiritually broken such that you know you have nothing left to do
but crouch in Godís presence begging Him for mercy. A great
example of one who was poor in spirit was the tax collector in Luke
18:13 who could merely say, ďGod be merciful to me a
It is one thing to say you must be poor in spirit. But
think for a moment what that means. What must you know and do to
be like that poor in spirit tax collector?
Do you know what sin is? If you do not understand what sin
is, you cannot possibly be poor in spirit. You cannot know your
state before God if you do not know sin. Paul observes this in Romans
7:7-8. He was not lost until he knew sin and even though
knowing sin, committed it. According to I
John 3:4, sin is lawlessness. Sin is not messing up,
making bad choices, being unwise. Sin is violating Godís law. Do
you know what sin is?
Have you sinned? This is important. If you have not sinned,
you do not need to be saved because you have never become lost.
You are safe. Consider an illustration, a person who never fell
out of the boat is safe, not needing to be saved. Only when one
falls out of the boat does he need to be saved. If you examine
your life and say, ďI havenít sinned, disappointing God,
violating His will,Ē you are not ready to be baptized. I know
this is upsetting for some young people who know intellectually
they are supposed to be baptized at some time. Understand this, if
you do not see sin in your life, then we could dunk you under the
water, but you didnít get baptized. Baptism is only for sinners.
Have you sinned? If so what sins have you committed?
Do you understand what your sins have done to you
spiritually? Do you recognize what Isaiah
59:2 says? Do you believe your sins have separated you
from God? Has your fellowship with the Father been severed? Romans
6:23 says the wages of sin is death, an eternal separation
from the Father. If not corrected, it means an eternity in hell.
If you died, right now, what would happen to your soul? If you
believe you would go to heaven, then you do not need to be
baptized. If you believe you are separated from God and headed for
hell, you are not far from baptism.
Do you understand your sin means you have nothing to offer
God? Do you understand that because of your sin, you cannot make
your heart pure (Proverbs
20:9)? Do you understand that no matter what you do, God
will never owe you salvation? You can never be more than an
unworthy servant (Luke
17:10)? Do you understand that even were you baptized, God
would not owe you salvation but has offered it to you by His
This is poverty of spirit, knowing what sin is, knowing we
have sinned and knowing what our sins have done to us and our
relationship with the God who loves us.
Do you mourn your poverty? (Matthew
I have known kids who were baptized because Mom and Dad
were breathing down their neck or because they had done something
wrong and they thought this was a way to get their parents off
their backs. But these do not make anyone ready to be baptized. We
must be poor in spirit if we wish to be baptized. Further, we must
mourn that poverty in spirit.
If you are poor in spirit, you recognize your sin. Are you
sorry for that sin? I am not asking if you are sorry you got
caught. I am not asking if you are sorry your parents punished
you. I am asking are you sorry for sinning? Do you feel guilt,
shame and remorse? Do you wish you could go back and do it over
and do it differently, avoiding the sin and not just avoiding
capture? Are you sorry for disappointing God? Do you want to live
differently so you wonít disappoint Him again?
This is the mourning God wants. This mourning prepares us
for baptism. In II
Corinthians 7:8-11, Paul talked about godly sorrow. The
mourning that prepares us for baptism leads us to change,
producing earnestness in us and zeal for doing right because we do
not wish to disappoint God anymore. Do you mourn your sins and
your poverty of spirit?
Are you ready to submit with gentleness to Jesus? (Matthew
Even adults who have studied Matthew
5:5 for years struggle trying to define this gentleness or
meekness. For the purposes of our study, we need simply recognize
gentleness and meekness have to do with submission to Jesusí way
instead of continuing on our own path.
Within the Sermon on the Mount, we see what this means. In Matthew
7:13-14 it means we are ready to walk on the strait,
narrow and difficult way of Jesus instead of on the broad and easy
way propagated by the world. According to Matthew
7:21-23, it means we are going to follow the law of God
and not just do anything we want and call it religion. According
7:24-27, it means we are willing to build the house of our
life on Jesusí word and not on societyís ideas. Gentleness
means being willing to submit to Jesus in all things.
What must you know and believe to be willing to gently
submit to Jesus?
Do you know what the Bible says about Jesus? I donít want
to know if you can write a theological treatise about Jesus, cross
referencing New Testament passages with Old Testament prophecies.
Do you know who Jesus is?
According to Luke
3:23-38, Jesus is the Son of God. Romans
1:4 says His resurrection declared His Sonship with power.
Do you know Jesus is the Son of God?
According to John
1:1, Jesus is the Word of God who is divine. Jesus is not
the Father, but He is every bit as much God as the Father is; just
as you are every bit as much human as your father. Do you know
Jesus is divine?
According to John
1:14, Jesus, the divine Word, became flesh. He dwelt among
us. Do you know Jesus became flesh and lived on this earth as a
According to John
1:29, 36, Jesus is the lamb of God who came to take away
our sins. Jesus lived among us to die among us. He lived as one of
us to die as one of us. He died to be the atoning sacrifice for
our sins. We canít bring ourselves into Godís presence, but
God offered the sacrifice to do it. Do you know Jesus is that
According to Acts
2:36, Jesus is both Lord and Christ. That is, He is the
anointed one of God who is our prophet, priest and king. What we
need to understand is He is the ruler who has all authority (Matthew
28:18). On a practical level, that means knowing Jesus may
tell us what to do and we are to obey Him (Luke
6:46). Do you know Jesus is Lord?
The question is not merely do you know these things. Do you
believe them? In John
8:24, Jesus said, ďUnless you believe that I am He, you
will die in your sins.Ē In the context, Jesus was referring back
to His statement in John
8:12 that He is the light of the world. That encompasses
all we have said so far. Do you believe Jesus is all of these
things? Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God, the divine Word
who became flesh, living and dying among us as a sacrifice for our
sins, becoming Lord and Christ? In Acts
8:36, the Ethiopian eunuch wanted to know if he was ready
to be baptized. Philip simply asked if he believed with all his
heart. The eunuch responded, ďI believe that Jesus is the Christ
the Son of GodĒ (Acts
8:37). Can you make that same confession? If not, you are
not ready to be baptized.
Only when we know and believe who Jesus is will we be ready
to meekly submit. Are you ready to submit gently to Jesus,
believing Him to be Lord, Christ and Son of God? Are you willing
to sacrifice your life in order to let Him live through you (Galatians
Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? (Matthew
Why do you want to be baptized? Because some of your
friends have, because you know you are supposed to, because you
want to get your Mom and Dad off your back, because you think it
will fix some problem between you and your parents? None of this
is biblical baptism. If you are thinking any of these things, you
are not ready to be baptized. However, if you want to be baptized
because you want the righteousness you abandoned in your sin, you
are ready to be baptized. If you mourn your sin and your
disappointment to God and want to be the person God is unashamed
to call His child, then you can come to Jesus in baptism and
receive that righteousness. Paul wrote about this in Philippians
3:8-11. If you want to be baptized in order to attain
righteousness that comes from Jesus by His grace, then you are
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness goes beyond
getting baptized. I have seen too many be baptized but not change.
They still slept, goofed around, drew, chatted during the
assemblies. They still held their commitment to sports teams,
clubs, schools, scouts, etc. in higher regard than their
commitment to Christ and the local church. They still didnít
read their Bibles, pray or spend time with other Christians
regularly. They still told the same dirty jokes and used the same
foul language. They still hung out with the same sinful crowd.
They were not willing to let their friends know they would not
participate in the lasciviousness of school dances. They were
still disrespectful to their parents and other adults. Even more
sad, I have seen parents of these very children act like they had
done their job because at least junior was baptized. If you are
not ready to pursue righteous living as a child of God, you are
not ready to be baptized. If you view baptism as a means to let
you do what you want because you punched the baptism card, you are
not ready to be baptized. Romans
6:1-2, 11-14 demonstrates if you are old enough to die to
sin in baptism, you are old enough to be dead to sin and live for
I am not saying you will never sin again. I am not saying
overcoming sin wonít be a growth struggle. It will be. It will
be one you fight for the rest of your life. But if you are not
willing to start fighting that fight, then you are not ready to be
baptized, no matter how old you are.
Understand this, if you are ready to be baptized, then you
are ready to participate fully in the worship assembly, staying
awake, singing out, praying along and listening attentively. If
you are ready to be baptized, you are ready to sing, study and
worship with your brethren when you go to a singing, Bible study
or other get together for worship instead of going off to the kids
room to play or watch movies. If you are ready to be baptized, you
are ready to be a working part of the congregation. That doesnít
mean you will be teaching a Bible class next week, but it does
mean you are ready to be given assignments by elders, deacons,
evangelists or teachers. If you are ready to be baptized, you are
ready to be an example of godliness to your friends in the world.
If you are ready to be baptized, you are ready to be a servant to
your brethren, encouraging and edifying them. You are ready to
visit the sick and shut in. You are ready to pray with others. You
are ready to study with others. If you are not ready to do these
things, you are not ready to be baptized. Again, I am not saying
you have to be perfect. I am not saying these things wonít be
difficult sometimes. I am just saying you have to be ready to step
up to the plate and strive to grow in Christís righteousness,
otherwise, you are not ready to be baptized.
I have no desire to make everyone think they were unready
to be baptized. I know when I consider these points, I fear I
wasnít poor in spirit or hungering for righteousness enough when
I was baptized. These issues are matters of growth. You do not
fully become poor in spirit and then get baptized. Rather, you
begin to recognize your poverty and starvation for righteousness,
but as you grow in Christ you naturally recognize this more. This
doesnít mean you never obeyed the gospel. It means you are doing
what Christians do; you are growing (II
Peter 1:5-8). The point of this lesson is not to make
anyone question their salvation. It is to help those who have yet
to submit to Christ determine if they are ready. Have you
submitted? Are you ready? Then why wait (Acts
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ