There are many different beliefs concerning baptism among Christians today. These beliefs have often been so strong that churches have split because of them. Some denominations are “spin-offs” of other denominations with their beliefs regarding baptism being the only or the major difference in doctrine which sets them apart from their patriarchal denomination.
The scope of this article will be primarily to examine the function baptism has in Christianity as taught in the Holy Bible through both direct and deductive interpretation of scripture.
It should be noted here that there is “two” types of baptism referred to in the bible. One is a physical water baptism and the other is a spiritual baptism. This one often overlooked fact is the cause of much confusion. This article will address “water” baptism first.
Perhaps the main issue of controversy regarding baptism (water) is how it pertains to salvation, with the principal question being, “Is baptism required to be saved?” Some believe that baptism itself saves the soul, while others believe that while baptism alone can not save, it is a necessary ingredient. The answer is. “No, baptism plays no part in salvation.” This does not mean that baptism in not a requirement for a Christian, it just means that it is not a requirement to obtain salvation. The thief on the cross was not baptized, yet he was saved.
The bible gives three instructions or components of salvation:
1. Believing (in the heart)
3. Calling upon the Lord
9That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
13For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
It’s that simple. Of these three components of salvation, the one that people have the most difficulty in understanding is the believing “in the heart” portion. An intellectual type of belief which is even common among the unsaved is not the saving type of faith required for salvation.
Are one of these components more important than the other? Yes, “believing in the heart” is most crucial. The reason is that believing is where it all begins. Believing results in confessing and calling upon the Lord. Anyone can speak the words of a confession and go through the motions of calling upon the Lord, but without the sincerity that comes from a real heart felt belief, these actions are in vain. Yet when a person comes to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ in their heart, the confession and calling upon the Lord will follow.
14How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
Baptism is not listed here nor anywhere else as being a part of the salvation process. However there are a few scriptures that are sometimes mistakenly interpreted as meaning that baptism is a requirement for salvation. Before exploring those scriptures and their true meaning, it is necessary to examine the real meaning and purpose of baptism.
First of all it needs to be clearly stated that although baptism is not a part of salvation, that does not mean it is alright not to be baptized. It is an act of obedience (perhaps the very first act of obedience). Disobedience is sin. God will not bless over sin nor can we have fellowship with God when there is unrepented sin in our life. Therefore those who have been saved but have chosen not to be baptized when they had the opportunity have never begun to grow as a Christian, have a close walk with God in fellowship, nor are they in a position of obedience to receive the fullest of God’s blessings on their life. In addition to cheating themselves out of having fellowship with God and receiving the full abundance of His blessings, they will also stand before the Lord at the Judgement Seat of Christ and give an account for this act of disobedience. So while baptism is not a part of salvation, it is certainly something the Christian is commanded to do. Its not O.K. not to do what God says to do!
It is worthy to note that there is a condition of having a counterfeit salvation. That is a person who professes to be a Christian but has never truly been saved. I write extensively on this topic in another article titled, “Eternal Security and Counterfeit Salvation”. In some cases the person who claims to be a Christian but has never taken the opportunity to be baptized may have a counterfeit salvation. I say this because I believe the normal response to someone having truly been saved is to desire to be obedient to God and to be pleasing in His eye. The person with the counterfeit salvation does not have the same desires and convictions of the person who is truly saved. Of course this does not mean everyone who has not been baptized has a counterfeit, but it could be the case in many instances. This association between salvation and baptism is equated to that between salvation and works; forasmuch as works is the result of salvation but not the basis of it, so it is with the association between salvation and baptism.
8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast.
17Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. 19Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Baptism is a form of works in that it is something that we put forth an effort to do, but the scriptures above plainly state that that salvation is “not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Works however do serve as evidence of salvation as stated in James 2:17-20 above. The problem some seem to have is in discerning this association correctly. The cause and effect seem to be inverted in their understanding. We are not saved because we do good, but we do good because we are saved. We are not saved because we are baptized, but we are baptized because we are saved! Like my pastor says, if a sinner goes in the water to be baptized, he comes out a wet sinner.
Baptism is a testimony. It is saying to the world, “I am a child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ and therefore submit myself to his ways devoting my life to serve him.” This public acknowledgement of receiving Christ is important. For one thing it shows that we are not ashamed of our faith. It also indicates that the person has ALREADY been saved.
16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
26For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.
32Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
Consider the following scripture:
44While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
While this scripture may often be used to show that salvation is for the gentiles as well as for the Jews, it also contains the message that baptism follows salvation. The fact that these people had the Holy Ghost shows that they were saved. Then having been saved, Baptism was then in order. Note that it was the fact that they had been saved (having received the Holy Ghost) which authorized them to be baptized.
So then baptism is an act of obedience and a testimony showing the world which side you are now on and that you are not ashamed to be a Christian.
Now let’s look at some scriptures which are sometimes used to teach the doctrine of baptism being a part of salvation:
4John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
When John the Baptist was baptizing people, it was during a time when mankind was still under the dispensation of law. The dispensation of grace did not begin until Jesus died on the cross. Atonement for sin was by sincere repentance and animal sacrifice. Baptism was a way of showing sincerity of the repentance. When Jesus died on the cross, he made the atonement for us so that we can have forgiveness of sin by grace and through our faith. Old Testament baptism and New Testament baptism are different in what they represent. This verse can not be used to show that baptism is a part of salvation since it refers to a time prior to the dispensation of grace.
38Then 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.
It would be very easy to interpret this scripture as baptism being a part of salvation due to the phrase, “Repent and be BAPTISED in the name of Jesus FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS,” Suppose I said to a hungry man, “Come sit and eat with us to satisfy your hunger.” Just how does the sitting part satisfy the man’s hunger? Just because two acts are stated does not mean that they both affect the outcome. Repenting and Baptism do go together however. If I had a requirement that before you could come into my house you had to eat a bag of salty peanuts, but it was not required that you drink anything to enter even though beverages are available and offered, the person eating the salty peanuts would want something to drink too. The newly redeemed should likewise have the desire to be baptized.
Notice that Peter said “repent” before he said, “be baptized”. How can you repent until you first believe? Does not repenting include confessing and calling upon the Lord? Repentance then sums up God’s entire plan of salvation, even the drawing by the Father because it is Godly sorrow which works repentance. Peter then could have just as easily have said, “be saved, and be baptized”. Why would anyone be baptized in the name of Jesus if they did not first believe in Jesus. Faith (saving faith) must come first. To illustrate this point with actual scripture, consider the following passage:
26And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. 27And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, 28Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. 29Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. 30And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? 31And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. 32The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: 33In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. 34And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? 35Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. 36And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 38And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. 39And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.
Philip was not only clear that only a lack of belief hindered the eunuch from being baptized, but also it is clear that NOT believing (or being saved) certainly WAS required.
16And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
The above scripture links baptism and salvation, but linking two things together does not make them synonymous. The word “and” separates the two showing they are two separate things. We do see however that the washing away of sins and calling upon the Lord are indeed synonymous, not only by the lack of a separating conjunction such as the word, “and”, but also by the present tense of the verb “calling” showing that the washing away of sins happens when one calls upon the Lord, but not when one is baptized.
24Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
It would be easy to read the above scripture to say, “All who have been baptized have been saved”. That is not what the scripture means however. Being baptized unto Christ is simply referring to being saved and is not referring to a physical water baptism. When we are saved, we are baptized in the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ
13For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. 14For the body is not one member, but many.
1 Corinthians 12:13
Here is another verse of scripture that some use to support the belief that a person must be baptized to be saved…
3Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Again, the baptism referred to here is the baptism of the blood of Christ which is salvation itself. Salvation is referred to and symbolized by the baptism into the body of Christ.
Here is another scripture that is sometimes misunderstood…
5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
The part that throws people here is the “born of water”. This does not refer to water baptism. Here, “born of water” is referring to the physical birth. The water is the womb. Naturally, a person must first be born physically simply to exist and “born of the Spirit” reefers to being saved (the spiritual birth). So two births are required to gain Heaven, the physical and the spiritual birth. This goes along with Jesus telling Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again.” in John 3:3
The following scripture is commonly used by believers of salvation by baptism for supporting their view…
16He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
This scripture seems at first to be a very straight forward statement which strongly supports salvation by baptism or at least counts baptism as a requirement for salvation. When this scripture is broken down and rightfully divided however, we actually find that while it is absolutely true, it does NOT support the theology of baptism being a necessary component for salvation. First look at the first part of that statement: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” This is absolutely true. Indeed if a person believes and is baptized he will certainly be saved, but this does not tie baptism to salvation. Imagine for example that the scripture read as follows: “He that believeth and is charitable shall be saved.” That statement would be true also, although it doesn’t mean that being charitable has any part of salvation. Certain traits and behaviors come with being saved due to the fact that once saved, we become a new creature. Just as someone who is saved has a change in their heart that will cause them to have a more charitable nature, the saved will also have a new desire to be obedient to God’s will and therefore seek baptism. Anything added to the requirement of believing will not have any affect on salvation by faith one way or the other. We could say “He that believes and quacks like a duck shall be saved and that would be true, but it would be just as true if we added nothing to the believing. Adding baptism to that verse simply acknowledges the desire and the action of being baptized when we are saved.
Now look at the second portion of that verse: “but he that believeth not, shall be damned.” Notice that baptism is not included in this portion of the statement. If not being baptized would result in not being saved, then it should be added to this portion of the verse, particularly since baptism is mentioned in the first part of the verse. Clearly, the common factor of both statements and the determining factor as to if one is saved or condemned is whether or not he believes. In interpreting this passage correctly, it is important to realize that while it tells us something about believers who have been baptized (they are saved), it does not say anything about believers who have not been baptized. This scripture in no way specifies a requirement for baptism for salvation.
Let’s look at yet another verse that is often misunderstood…
21The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
1 Peter 3:21
One thing that makes this verse so convincing that it teaches salvation by baptism is that portion which states, “baptism both also now save us”. One aspect of taking something out of context is having ‘tunnel vision’ or focusing our attention so strongly in one particular area that we fail to consider it’s surroundings and how those surroundings affect or even change what we are so focused on.. That statement, “baptism both also now save us” is not even a complete sentence. It is only a sentence fragment as used in this verse.
Immediately following this phrase, is a statement contained in parentheses. Almost always a statement placed within parentheses, explains or expounds on the statement or thought previously made, which indicates that the previous statement is prone to misunderstanding without some additional clarification. With that in mind, lets look at this ‘clarification’ to see how it applies to the preceding statement. The clarification states, “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God”. Right away we see that the previous statement (baptism both also now save us) is not to be interpreted as salvation coming from a putting away of the filth of the flesh which is a physical act (water baptism). So this clarification begins by telling us how we should NOT interpret the previous statement. Then the clarification continues by telling us how we SHOULD interpret it by saying, “but the answer of a good conscience toward God” which describes not a physical act, but a condition of the heart.
Peter is obviously purposefully connecting salvation to baptism, but also is purposeful in making the point that this connection is not in the context of baptism playing a part in salvation, but rather the connection is in the context of baptism being something that saved people do. Since baptism is a testimony of salvation it must follow after salvation and therefore can not be a part of salvation. Other than being a testimony, being immersed in water does nothing but wash away dirt which Peter makes clear in his clarification, has no part in our salvation. Peter is referring to baptism being something that represents that which saves us (the answer of a good conscience toward God). This answer of a good conscience toward God is what happens when a person comes to the realization that they are a sinner in need of a savior and makes an appeal to God, the result of which is God honoring their faith and confession by saving their soul. Simply put, Peter is saying that though salvation and baptism are connected, it is not the getting wet part that saves, but the appeal to God coming from a recognition of their sinful state and their need of a savior.
The most convincing thing to me personally which convinces me beyond any doubt that baptism plays no role in salvation is something that ironically is probably not very proving to others at all. That thing is my personal testimony. There is no doubt that on January 7, 2001 around 8:15 p.m. God saved my soul. I know for a fact that I was saved right then and there because the Holy Spirit moved in and bore witness. Changes came immediately (that’s not to say that I didn’t have much growing to do, and am still growing), yet I was not baptized until May of that year. Too much happened between January and May for me to doubt that I was FULLY saved on January 7, four months before I was baptized. The changes that occurred in my heart were such that they could only be attributed to changes brought about by something greater than I that dwelt within. That something is the Holy Spirit. The bible teaches us that if the Holy Spirit does not dwell inside us, we are not saved. I had it. I felt it. I was changed by it. Therefore I know I was saved prior to being baptized.
9But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17
In examining baptism in the context of its function and how it relates to salvation, we have examined God’s plan of salvation according to the bible and found no evidence to support a salvation by baptism doctrine. We then examined the scriptures often used by those who support a salvation by baptism doctrine and have shown that these scriptures are misunderstood or taken out of context when used to support this belief. Finally, I have provided personal testimony which although may not be accepted as proof positive since the source is from a flawed human, it may encourage others to ponder on their own experience of being saved and perhaps then come to the same conclusion. If anyone who reads this is still not convinced that salvation does not include baptism, I would encourage them to ponder again the thief on the cross. That’s a hard one to get past! Also consider again the scriptures that teach that salvation is not of our own works. That one is a hard one to get past too.
The function of baptism is clearly a testimony and an act of obedience providing the new believer with an opportunity to show his commitment to the Lord through obedience.
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