How long should a believer wait before being baptized?

How long should a believer wait before being baptized?

"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16) doesn’t teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. Unbelievers, not "the unbaptized" will be damned. Faith is Christ is sufficient for salvation. Baptism, however, is the expected evidence of such faith. Peter commanded the converts in Cornelius’ house to be baptized (Acts 10:48). Clearly, those who guide new believers are responsible to encourage and direct them to be baptized. New believers receive enrichment by learning the meaning of baptism, but obedience to Christ does not depend on understanding doctrine. Did baptized believers in Acts understand union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection?

Even in Acts (Cornelius, the jailer, Saul of Tarsus), evidence of conversion preceded baptism. Currently, a person who professes to be saved and is baptized occasionally discovers he was not saved. If he is saved subsequently, he must be baptized a second time. It is very doubtful if the testimony of the second baptism is as effective as the first. We need wisdom to avoid unnecessary "second baptisms." Allowing adequate time for a new believer to prove the reality of his salvation is wise. Our conditions are different from those in Acts; of the thousands of converts in Acts, perhaps only one (Simon, the sorcerer) was false. In our day, we need ample evidence that those we baptize have divine life.

Prematurely baptizing those who later prove they were not saved never helps the work of the gospel; furthermore, it dishonors the Lord Jesus by giving skeptics cause for mocking the life-transforming power of the gospel. As in so many matters, balance is needed. A prolonged time between salvation and baptism implies that we support optional obedience to Scripture. Too short a time can endanger our gospel testimony. A person’s personality, past, and depth of character, added to our experience with occasional "fireworks Christians" (launched with a flash of light and noise, but fade into the night), affect how soon after conversion we are willing to baptize him.

D. Oliver