If I asked you this question now-a-days most people would answer along the lines of, “to believe in something.” So when we read the bible and see the word ‘believer’ we think of someone who simply believes in God and his existence and Jesus is the Messiah and so on…But when the church first started what did it mean to say someone was a believer.
See in the first century to say someone was a believer had more implications behind it than simply saying that they believe, especially in the bible. And the best place to look for how the church should be is in the book of Acts.
In Acts chapter 2 we read about Peter preaching the FIRST Salvation sermon to a massive number of people. This was essentially the start of the church. In Peter’s sermon he basically tells the people that, “Hey! You know that dude you just crucified? Well he was kinda God’s son!” Then Acts 2:37 says, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ ” Notice in Peter’s response that he doesn’t tell them to believe, why? Because they obviously already do, why else would they feel so guilt stricken? Peter skips telling them to believe and in verse 38 says, “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.” Now get this, THOSE WHO BELIEVED WERE BAPTIZED. Does this not set up the implication that believers were baptized, not just that they believed. “And about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (vs. 41) The apostles didn’t look at the crowd and go, “man oh man this is a lot of people, we should probably baptize some today and pace ourselves.” They baptized all 3000 on that day.
Acts has another conversion story in chapter 8. In this instance Philip is speaking to an Ethiopian and preaches the gospel to him. While they were still traveling along the road the Ethiopian says, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” So he stopped the chariot and Philip baptized him right there and then. Why didn’t they wait? Why didn’t they go to a Church first? Ponder this question for a little while, then read Acts 16:22-34…. The jailer and his family were baptized right after believing even though it was in the dead of night, after midnight!
Think about why if baptism is not the point of salvation, where you are clothed in Christ (Galatians 3:27), then why did everyone in the first century do it so quickly after belief and repentance? And why was it so important?
There are a lot of people who believe that baptism is only a common practice in the church, false. Back in the first century all different religions performed baptisms and were common knowledge. Baptism was symbolic of identifying yourself with that religion. So wouldn’t telling someone that you believed in that religion imply that you would have already been baptized? From the bible we also know that John’s baptism was very popular in that area. Mark 1:5 and Matt 3:5 say that people from all over Jerusalem, Judea and the regions of the Jordan came to be baptized by John. Also in John 4:1-2 it says that Jesus’ disciples were baptizing even MORE people than John. Christianity swept through that whole region and people not only knew about pagan baptism, but also John’s baptism and the implications behind someone being a believer.
Ultimately you have to answer this question for yourself. When the bible says ‘believer’ what does it mean? I can’t write as long of an answer to this question for myself as I want and make it visible to you, but if you don’t want to hear any of it, then you won’t. It’s just like what Jesus would say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”