The technical term is hydrophobia. It is defined as “an abnormal or unnatural dread of water.” Historically, it was thought that rabies, which does cause mental confusion of other kinds, made people afraid of water but, in reality, it was the gagging spasms that occur when trying to swallow liquids that rabies patients feared. Some have evidently contracted spiritual rabies, at least, that would be one way to explain the mental confusion and gag reflex some have with the mention of water baptism (John 1:26; 3:23).
Religious leaders mount their soapbox every Sunday and spend tons of time denying what Jesus plainly stated (Mark 16:16) and the apostles clearly taught (Act 2:38). Jesus said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). It is interesting to note that in Acts, the history of the church and the beginning of salvation in Christ (Galatians 3:27), all the conversions mention baptism as an element in the salvation process. However, to listen to most modern preachers, one may do everything from absolutely nothing to rigorously adhering to meritorious works to access salvation.
When the church first started, Peter told his audience: “Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:39b-40a). The “gladly receivers” here understood the essentiality of a water baptism, which was connected to the forgiveness of the sins (v. 38) they were so worried about (v. 37). When they were baptized in water, they were added to the church (Acts 2:47).
Luke debunks spiritual hydrophobia in a wonderful example of a baptism wherein an Ethiopian was saved. In Acts 8:36, this Bible student asked, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized” (Acts 8:36). Verse 38 records both Philip and the Ethiopian going down into the water and Philip baptizing him. It was after this event that this saved person went on his way rejoicing (v. 39).
In the Bible, there is no “just ‘receive’ Jesus,” no “Sinner’s Prayer” and no “hydrophobia.” Those who gladly receive the word come up from the water saved (Romans 6:4) and go on their way rejoicing.