I have been asked on several occasions what my thoughts are regarding re-baptism. I have in mind those who were previously baptized in a legitimate Biblical manner, but want to be baptized again for various reasons. The Bible does not directly address this issue, so we cannot cite chapter and verse to settle it. We have to think about it theologically and practically. Here are my thoughts on the matter.
First, we have to consider what makes baptism effective. According to Paul, it is one’s faith in what God is doing through the act of baptism:
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Col 2:11-12)
If one exercised genuine faith in Jesus when they were baptized, then their baptism was legitimate and spiritually efficacious, and there is no spiritual need to be rebaptized. They already have the spiritual benefits of baptism applied to their life. Being rebaptized will add nothing to their spiritual life that they do not possess already. However, if one did not have faith in Jesus when they were baptized, or if they are not certain whether they had genuine faith at the time and they feel the need to be rebaptized, then by all means they should do so.
Some, however, will cite their lack of understanding regarding the purpose or significance of baptism as a reason for wanting to get rebaptized. This is often the case with those who were baptized as young children (ages 5-10, or thereabout). While they believed in Jesus when they got baptized, they didn’t really understand the full significance of baptism. Some may have been entirely ignorant, and their only reason for getting baptized was peer pressure, wanting to follow the example of their friends, or wanting to please their parents. Others may have had some basic knowledge about the purpose of baptism – such as the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16) – but did not understand the full significance of baptism as an act by which we are judicially identified with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom 6:1-11).
Is ignorance or misunderstanding a good reason to be rebaptized? I do not think so. Consider the Roman Christians. They were continuing to sin so that they could experience more of God’s grace (Rom 6:1). According to Paul, this gross distortion of the gospel was due to their ignorance of the spiritual realities conferred in baptism:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:1-11)
Was Paul’s solution rebaptism? No.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Rom 6:12-14)
Their problem was intellectual and volitional. They needed information and a change of perspective, not another dunk in the tank. While greater knowledge and understanding can make the experience of baptism more meaningful to a person, it does not make it any more spiritually effective. One baptism is sufficient.
Another common reason people seek rebaptism is due to guilt over post-baptismal sins. These individuals had been baptized, served Christ for a time, but for whatever reason went back to a life of sin. When they return to God they are heavy-laden with moral guilt and shame and want a clean start again. Recalling how spiritually clean they felt after their first baptism, getting baptized a second time seems like a good way to wipe the slate clean.
I would highly advise against rebaptism in this scenario. While baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, Scripture implies that baptism is a once-for-all sacrament. Recall the fact that baptism identifies us with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus only died once, was only buried once, and only rose from the dead once. It seems to follow then, that we only need to be identified with Christ once.
The proper way to address post-baptismal moral failures is not by getting baptized again (otherwise we would have to get baptized daily), but repentance and trust in Christ. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9), and again, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins.” (1Jn 2:1b-2a). The blood of Christ atones for our post-baptismal sins. We do not need to be rebaptized to receive forgiveness. We just need to repent.
Some will say, “I have repented, but I do not feel forgiven. I still feel guilt and shame for what I have done.” The solution is not baptism, but faith. We must trust that God has forgiven us of our sins, even if we do not feel forgiven. We must align our feelings with what we know to be true by the Word of God. A continued sense of guilt and shame is not reason to be rebaptized, but reason to question whether or not one is truly trusting in Christ’s atonement, and truly believes that God forgives those who confess their sins.
We only have need of one baptism. As long as we exercised faith in Christ during baptism, it is valid. Ignorance and post-baptismal sin are not sufficient grounds for rebaptism. The only reason one should seek rebaptism is if they did have genuine faith when they were baptized.