To Baptize or Not to Baptize…

Susie just gave her life to Christ, but she’s living with her boyfriend.

John just prayed the prayer, but he’s addicted to drugs.

Cris made a profession of faith, but is also transgender.

They all want to be baptized, but Deacon Dan feels strongly they should not be allowed to because they are “still living in sin.”

What to do?

As a church that reaches a lot of people in many of these circumstances, this was a question we had to wrestle with years ago.

We wanted to be sure that the person who was asking to be baptized was “really repentant.” The only question is, how do you measure that?

In the early days we would push back on people that we felt “weren’t ready” to be baptized. We wanted to make sure their salvation was the real deal; that it would stick.

Obviously, if they’re living in sin, they shouldn’t get baptized, right???


As we grappled with this issue we came to the following conclusions:


The truth of the matter is that only sinners can get baptized.

The problem was that we were focusing on see-able sins. What about all the liars, gluttons, thieves, pornographers, and adulterers (remember, Jesus said lust qualifies)?

The truth is no one goes into the water worthy. We all go in filthy.

If we only baptized the qualified, then the baptistery would be petrified.


In the New Testament, every time someone believed they were immediately baptized. (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:41, 8:12, 16:15, 18:8)

When Philip led the Ethiopian to Christ, the Bible says, “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” (Acts 8:36, NIV)

Answer: Only legalism.

When we insert wait and see, we’re saying the verdict’s up to me.


One of the core fears that is driving a reluctance to baptize someone quickly is the idea, “What if they’re not really saved?”

However, if we are truthful, we can’t even tell which of our members are saved! Heck, I don’t even really know if my spouse is saved. Hopefully she won’t read this. ;^)

Salvation is a divine work of God’s grace enabled through our faith. I haven’t found the earthly test instruments that can measure heavenly providence.

Here’s the good news. It’s not even my job to decide who’s saved and who’s not.

My job as a pastor is to assist people to take steps of obedience towards Jesus.

I’m not the keeper of the Lamb’s Book of Life and I can’t see into the soul.

I baptize people based on their profession not my discretion.

I’m responsible for sharing and showing. God’s responsible for saving and growing.


Sometimes we confuse first steps with the full package.

Of course, there are many scriptures admonishing us to correct, confront, counsel, and condemn sin in the life of a believer, but we don’t expect people to act like a Christian until they become one.

Baptism is step ONE in a billion step journey of growth. No one starts the journey fully grown, we all start at the same point: screwed up but lookin’ up!

Denying someone baptism as their first step is basically saying, “Earn it.” Hopefully we all know enough of our Bible to reject that kind of theology. You can’t earn it, you can only receive it. It’s an act of grace.

Why on earth would I want to communicate a message to a newborn believer that Christianity is about works, not grace?

This is exactly what Paul was trying to communicate to the Christians in Ephesus:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NIV)

Grace plus works = religion.

Grace plus obedience = Christianity.

We baptize people who make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and want to follow Him in believer’s baptism.

Question: What if you baptize someone who isn’t really a believer?

Answer: What makes you think everyone you have baptized was really a believer?

The choice is to be a policeman or a pastor.

I choose pastor.

What are your thoughts?

  • Shane McDade
    Posted at 18:57h, 16 March Reply

    Great read and I totally agree. If a person has accepted Christ and is being obedient in taking their next step by being baptized to show they are a follower of Christ, they should be baptized. Spot on with all four points above! Thank you.

    • Nathan
      Posted at 20:09h, 16 March Reply

      The first step in response to hearing the gospel is not baptism, but rather repentance. Look at Acts 2:37-38 for evidence of this. But the real question is, what is repentance? It is not keeely accepting christ, or saying a prayer. Acts makes all of this abundantly clear, and as a pastor, it is your job to determine if someone has truly repented of their sins. If a transgender person does not acknowledge their sin, no way they have repented. And baptizing a non-repented person is just getting someone wet and is a profession of nothing.

      • Brian Moss
        Posted at 10:39h, 18 March Reply

        To be clear, I stated that baptism was the first step for a believer, not a non-believer.

        I’m curious, from what verse in the Bible do you find the duty of a pastor to verify repentance?

        • Nathan
          Posted at 13:26h, 20 March Reply

          But baptism is not the first step, it is repentance. See the first sermon and response to the gospel that is recorded in the Bible:

          Acts 2:37-38
          37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

          38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

          We see that at first comes faith, then repentance, then baptism, then the Holy Spirit, although the Holy Spirit can be received before being baptized as scripture bears witness.

          If someone has not come to the place of repentance and acknowledgment their sin, for example, if a transgender person does not, at the very least, acknowledge their sin and come to a place of true attrition and repentance, then what is the person of baptizing them? There really isn’t one.

          Is it the pastor’s duty to verify repentance? Maybe not. A pastor isn’t a police chief, but he will have to give an account for all of those under his charge, however one might interpret that. With that being said, should someone, at the very least, have a conversation with someone wanting to be baptized and ask them if they have repented of their sin, and make sure they have a solid foundation of what repentance is? I would love to hear the argument for why that conversation shouldn’t happen, since repentance biblically precedes baptism. Should that someone be the pastor? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe a minister or a leader in the church, but in my opinion, it should def. happen.

          • Brian Moss
            Posted at 19:03h, 20 March

            Not to be a broken record, but again, I stated that it is the first step of a BELIEVER, not the first step of faith. To use the Acts 2:38 vernacular, it’s the very first thing a repentant person should do.

            With that said, it’s important to understand what it means to ‘repent.’ The Greek word Peter used is μετανοέω ‘metanoeo‘ which literally means, “change your mind.”

            Repentance is not changing your life. Repentance is changing your mind. Repentance is when a person chooses to believe the truth. Real repentance will result in a changed life, but repentance itself is an immediate choice. (For more info see

            That’s why just 3 verses later, 3,000 people were baptized.

            If a person needed to “prove” their repentance or the pastor needed to “verify” their repentance, then no one would have been baptized that day (or any other day for that matter).

            Baptism is the very first step of a “repentant” person. Any person from any situation with any amount of baggage is afforded this incredible offer to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.” (Acts 16:31)

  • Suzanne Kyger
    Posted at 12:49h, 17 March Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly. Love your blog!

    • Brian Moss
      Posted at 10:37h, 18 March Reply

      Thanks Suzanne!

  • Alisa Ferris
    Posted at 09:04h, 11 May Reply

    Love this so much! I am struggling to make some people see that we all deserve grace without judgment.

  • Megan Jacobs
    Posted at 08:38h, 26 July Reply

    I agree 100%. After the third church making the process of baptism approval of my 17 year old daughter extremely difficult and even somewhat shameful, I am ready to baptize her myself in a body of water outdoors. Meetings have seemed like job interviews if you are not a member of the church. I have heard the word “checklist” and have heard her asked to write out her testimony. This is ridiculous. I don’t feel that she needs to explain herself to anyone to be baptized. I am thankful, however, that my daughter has had a tough lesson about churches, though. Her focus must always be on her relationship with God and not let happenings with those around her or in any church get it the way.

  • Michele C
    Posted at 16:08h, 08 March Reply

    This article has been thoughtfully written and helpful in my tendency toward legalism. Thank you for posting it. Grace is such a wonderful thing that has made all the difference in my life in these last few years.

    • Brian
      Posted at 16:52h, 08 March Reply

      Me too!

  • Tanya Montgomery
    Posted at 17:19h, 30 April Reply

    I actually was just discussing this topic in a fb group of Christians and asking questions about withholding Baptism. When I googled your article came up and asked all the same things I did. The discussion was about a church who let a gay person get all the way to the line for baptism then leadership pulled her out of line. The claim of the people in the group was that because she continued to live with her wife after making a profession of faith she isn’t repentant so shouldn’t be baptized. And I was asking what proof of repentance do we require from other sinners? No one answered that question. I brought up stuff in Acts like Philip and the guy he baptized at the next body of water. Ultimately I gave up on the discussion as it was going no where and no one seemed to be able to answer my question. Like I can see their side but does it align with the Bible? I was saved at 21. Most of my adult life I went to a very surface level church. I have only been studying the Bible for myself and attending a church who does deep study for the last handful of years. But I can’t find one instance of withholding baptism or where someone had to prove repentance. I’m frustrated with the fact that asking questions when in groups of Christians leads to them being angry and almost never do they respond with scripture I can study. All the examples of baptism in the bible it seems like someone is saved and baptized on the spot. I was talking to my husband about this and even Peter asks in Acts who can withhold baptism. I have spent a ton of time studying baptism over the years as my mother-in-law was trying to push us to baptize our children as babies. And I hadn’t even thought of withholding baptism being a thing. I am glad I’m not the only one asking the questions.

    • Brian
      Posted at 17:33h, 30 April Reply

      I love your heart and especially your insistence that the position ones take must come from scripture, not the thoughts, feelings, or opinions of people. In addition, I’ve found it not very fruitful to have these kind of discussions online. It’s just too easy for people to become dogmatic or even mean-spirited. Better to unpack scripture in the context of an in-person small group attached to a Bible-believing church. 😉

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