I received Jesus as Lord and Savior and was baptized at the ripe young age of 5. I’d like to be able to say that in three decades of Christian living, I’ve experienced nothing but a steady, grace-filled growth in faith that hasn’t wavered or retreated. I’d like to say that, but it would be a complete lie.
My faith story is like many others. My days have been full of grace, yes, but I have known my share of spiritually dry seasons, as well as seasons of outright spiritual rebellion. Most of us can relate to the experience of knowing extended times when our faith felt distant and we barely fought against (or openly embraced) sin. As Andrew Peterson writes it:
“Through the years, I barely fell
I mostly dove right in
I drank so deep, from the shallow well
Only to thirst again.”
(“The Good Confession,” 2008)
So what are we to do when, after a season of coldness in our faith, God begins to draw us near to him again? When grace strikes fresh and beckons us out of our own pit and warms our hearts again? Growing up, the traditional invitation in Baptist churches was to “re-dedicate” our lives to Jesus. I personally rededicated myself to Christ twice during my teenage years.
But recently, adults who are turning in a fresh way to faith in Christ have been asking a different question. I received an email a few weeks ago from a pastor friend asking several of us how to respond to people asking to be baptized again. It’s an interesting question. I have heard the same thing asked several times over the past ten years. In some cases, after talking and praying with an individual, we ended up deciding that it was right to baptize the individual “again.” In other cases, we did not. Below is a brief, biblical answer to the question:
“Should we baptize people a second time?”
In short, there are no New Testament passages to support (either prescriptively or descriptively) the idea of being baptized a second time. Romans 6 teaches that at the time of our baptism we are united with Christ in his death and that “we will never die again” (verse 9). Likewise, Galatians 3:27 teaches that in baptism we “put on Christ.” Therefore, in order to be baptized again, we must admit that at some point we have un-died to our death in Christ and become unclothed. (If you’re picturing undressed zombie Christians at this point, you understand what a repulsive idea this is.) This is equivalent to declaring that we have lost our salvation, and we are all familiar with the significant biblical arguments against that possibility. (If you are not familiar, see: John 10:28-29; Romans 8:35-39; 1 John 5:13; or this helpful short article from John Piper.)
In my conversations, I have tried to help people consider their initial baptism experience to determine one of two things. One possibility is that their prior baptism should really be considered invalid. This could be because they were baptized as an infant (not believer’s baptism), because they were baptized in a non-Christian church (perhaps a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness assembly), or because the person was never genuinely saved in the first place (this is more common among people who were baptized as young children and later confess that they never truly understood or believed at that time). In any of these cases, a person should come to understand that they have never been truly baptized according to Scripture and seek believer’s baptism in their church for the first time.
The second possibility is that the person was genuinely converted previously and their baptism should be viewed as fully valid. In that case, the conversation turns to an explanation of a good old-fashioned biblical term: “repentance.” Depending on the nature and duration of a person’s sin, repentance may need to be more than a private prayer with the pastor. But I would discourage someone like this from pursuing a second baptism as an act of personal devotion or reprentance. The Bible doesn’t seem to have a category for a “second baptism” in this manner. Instead, individual repentance and restoration to fellowship with the church seem to be the appropriate actions.