Helping Children Understand Baptism
Teaching Kids About Baptism
Candidates for Baptism
Before being baptized, a child should be old enough to understand the gospel of Christ. A candidate for baptism has also repented of his sin and placed his faith and trust in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. The desire to obey the Lord Jesus in this matter validates his conversion experience. Jesus said, “‘Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me’” (John 14:21a)
Jesus said,“‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’” (Matthew 19:14)
Bearing this in mind, my personal belief is that it can be helpful to wait a while before baptizing a child if he or she is quite young at the time of salvation. This helps to establish in the child’s mind that the act of baptism is not what saves, but the sacrifice and grace of Christ.
I would like to humbly suggest my book, BiC’s Baptism. It is a picture book for early elementary about a little boy who is afraid to be baptized. During the course of the book it explains the meaning of baptism and what the Bible says about Baptism.
The Definition of Baptism
What does the word baptism mean? Baptism is a transliteration of the Greek word baptisma, or baptizo, the verb. It means “to plunge under, dip completely under, or immerse in water.” Baptizo was used in the cloth dying trade as the cloth had to be totally immersed as part of the process. The dye could never have been rinsed out of the cloth by a mere sprinkling. There is a Greek word for sprinkling, but it was never used in conjunction with baptism. All New Testament lexicographers translate the word baptism as “immerse,” “dip,” or “plunge.” It is also interesting to note that nowhere in the scripture was water brought to someone who wanted to be baptized. They were always taken to a place where they could be completely submerged.
The History of Baptism
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’
“Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.
“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him” (Matthew 3:13-16).
Jesus is our example for baptism. He did this to show us that baptism is important and something believers should do. God put His seal of approval on Jesus and the ordinance of baptism by the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and by saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Explaining Baptism to Kids
Many young children think that baptism saves a person. Children see people being baptized, but they can’t see a person’s transformed heart when he or she is saved.
Children have a hard time with symbolism because they take everything literally. They automatically think that baptism washes away the person’s sins. We adults must accept the fact that if children are to understand baptism, we must commit to teach them about it. One way you can teach children about baptism is by getting a copy of Answers For New Christians. Answers For New Christians is a combination storybook, workbook, and coloring book that explains baptism and other aspects of salvation to children. (But it’s really fun, too!)
Baptism Symbolizes Jesus and You
Baptism is an act of obedience that symbolizes or shows two things: the story of Jesus and the story of a person’s salvation.
I like to explain baptism to kids by emphasizing that it does not save a person. I drive this point home by briefly telling the story of the thief on the cross. He believed while dying. He could not get off the cross to be baptized, but Jesus told him that he would be with him in Paradise, (heaven) that day. But we believers in Jesus who are able to be baptized want to for four reasons:
Two Reasons for Baptism
In baptism, we follow the example of Jesus. Jesus was baptized even though he had never sinned. He did this to set the example for us. Tell the story of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:13-16.
The Bible commands believers to be baptized. A Christian is baptized in order to be obedient to God. Acts 2:38 says, “Peter replied, ‘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.’” (I always point out that repentance comes before baptism in this verse.)
Repent = to change your mind about sin; to turn away from sin and turn to God.
“Your Christian Uniform” example
Children may benefit from the following analogy:
“How many of you have ever seen a policeman, or nurse, or soldier? All of these people have special clothes, don’t they? The policeman’s uniform doesn’t make him a policeman; he wears his uniform because he is a policeman. It’s the same way with baptism. Baptism doesn’t make you a Christian, but you are baptized because you are a Christian. In a way, baptism is like putting on your Christian uniform.
Symbolism of Baptism
As we go under the water and come up, we act out the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism is also a visual picture of what has happened to us. We have died to our old way of thinking and living and are raised to walk in a new way of life, a Christian life. We identify with Jesus through this experience. When we are baptized, we say to the world, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”
These verses clearly point to the symbolism of baptism:
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5)
“…having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27).
A Fun Way to Explain Baptism to Kids
One night I woke up with a story on my mind. In the story, Baby BiC, a Babe in Christ, is having a dilemma. He wants to be baptized, but he is scared. Through the course of the story BiC learns the meaning of baptism and how to trust God with his fears. If you would like to see a little movie about the book, you can click on the following link: BiC’s Baptism
Scriptures Concerning Baptism
“‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:19-20).
“Peter replied, ‘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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
“With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:38-41).
“‘And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name’” (Acts 22:16)
Philip and the Ethiopian
In every case in the New Testament when people became believers, they were baptized immediately. (It is good to note however, that in all of these cases the candidates for baptism were adults.) Baptism is an outward sign of belief in Jesus. You may illustrate this to children by telling the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch found in Acts 8:26-40.
“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’
“Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.
“‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
“The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: ‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.’
“The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
“As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea” (Acts 8:26-40).