This is now the third post on baptism. The first two can be seen here and here. In this post I’m going to go through some verses that may be used to convince some that baptism is essential for the salvation experience. However, as I will try to show, none of the verses below teach that salvation is essential for salvation (though, if you’re a Christian, you are commanded to be baptized. See the first two posts).
Verses that seem to Support Baptism as Essential to Salvation
Mark 1:4, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” By only reading this verse one might think that this “baptism of repentance” was what brought forgiveness to those who were baptized. However, the next verse sheds light on what was happening, “And there went out to him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5, emphasis mine). It was not the act of baptism that forgave their sins, but the fact that they confessed their sins to God. Matthew 3:6 agrees with this, “And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.” (emphasis mine). It appears it was called a “baptism of repentance” because it was symbolizing the repentance that was happening in their hearts and minds.
Mark 16:16,“He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be condemned.” This verse really doesn’t weigh in on the issue. I say this because the verse never speaks about what happens to the person who believes and is not baptized. It speaks about the person who believes and is baptized (he is saved), and it speaks about the person who does not believe (he is lost), but this verse never tells us what happens to the person who believes and is not baptized (or the person who has believed and is awaiting baptism). Everyone would agree that the person who believes and is baptized will be saved, wouldn’t we? There should not be any disagreement with that. And everyone agrees that the person who does not believe will not be saved, don’t we? This verse, at least in one sense, really doesn’t weigh in on the issue of whether or not baptism is essential to the salvation experience.
John 3:5, “Jesus answered, truly, truly, I say unto you, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” As others have pointed out, there are at least two reasons why “water,” as spoken of in verse 5, is not speaking of baptism. (1) If “water” does mean “baptism” why doesn’t Jesus speak about it again? Why is it that when Jesus tells Nicodemus directly how to be saved He only speaks about faith and not baptism? (2) Jesus appears to rebuke Nicodemus for not understanding about the new birth (v. 10). But how could Nicodemus have known about a baptism that was not taught about in the Old Testament?
This brings up an interesting point. Why did Jesus seemingly rebuke Nicodemus in verse 10 for not knowing about the new birth? Verse 10 helps us see why. Jesus called him the (it is literally “the” in Greek) teacher of Israel. He was not a second class teacher, but it appears he was possibly a great teacher (the best?). By supposedly being this knowledgeable about the Old Testament, Jesus expected him to know about the new birth. Why? Because the new birth is spoken of in the Old Testament. In fact the same language used by Jesus, “water and Spirit” is specifically spoken of in the same passage in the book of Ezekiel (36:25-27)
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them.
This is speaking to Israel in context, but it’s ultimate fulfillment appears to be for anyone who knows God, similar to Jeremiah 31:31-34 that is quoted in the New Testament (Hebrews 8:8-12) when speaking of the new covenant. In this passage “water” and “Spirit” are used. It appears then, when Jesus tells him he must be born of “water and Spirit,” Jesus was telling him he must be born of the Holy Spirit and must be spiritually cleansed (Ezekiel 36:25 speaks of water cleansing us).
Ephesians 5:26 uses the word “water” in a similar way. It says, “That He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.” This verse speaks of Jesus Christ sanctifying the Church. And how is He described as doing so? By the washing of water by the Word. It is clear that “water” doesn’t mean baptism in this verse. The Word of God spiritually cleanses the Church. And in a similar way, “water” in John 3:5 is best understood as speaking of spiritual cleansing.
Acts 2:38, “Then Peter said unto them, repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”One problem with making baptism essential for the forgiveness of sins in this verse is that in the very next chapter Peter says, “Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). In 2:38, Peter seemingly offers his listeners forgiveness on the basis of repentance and baptism. However, in 3:19 Peter again offers forgiveness, but this time baptism is not mentioned, but repentance is (“converted” can mean to turn).
When comparing these two verses one is helped to see that in 2:38 baptism is not essential for salvation because it is not spoken of in 3:19 and yet in 3:19 forgiveness is still promised. What is forgiveness then tied to? Forgiveness is tied not to baptism, but to repentance. How else could Peter offer forgiveness apart from the mention of baptism?
Though “faith” is not directly spoken of in Acts 2:38 or in 3:19, we should still say that faith is a condition of salvation. But how can we say this? If we can say that faith is a condition of salvation even though it is not spoken of (directly) in Acts 2:38 and 3:19, couldn’t some say that, though baptism is not spoken of in 3:19, it should still be included? Faith and repentance, though separate, are similar. Repentance not only turns one from sin, but turns one to God. Faith is trusting what God has said, and if we have true faith then we will leave our sins. So true repentance and true faith are inseparable. You cannot have faith without repentance. Faith and repentance are, in one sense, attitudes of the heart and mind. However, baptism is not. Baptism is not an inward working of God but is an outward physical act that God commands us to do to express our faith and repentance. Yes, baptism is, of course, a very good thing. God commands us to be baptized. However, though baptism expresses our faith and repentance, it is not itself faith and repentance.
Acts 22:16, “And now why tarry you? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” This verse is similar to Acts 2:38 (see comments above). We should note that “wash away your sins” is really linked with “calling on the name of the Lord.” It is by calling on the name of Jesus that we have our sins forgiven and are saved. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In this passage there is no mention of baptism, and yet Paul can say that they “shall be saved.” However, there is a link with “wash away your sins” and “Arise, and be baptized.” The link is not one of literal interpretation but one of symbolic. Baptism is a picture of our sins being washed away, of our sins being cleansed. It is a beautiful picture as long as it is kept only as a picture, not as literally washing our sins away.
1 Peter 3:21, “The like figure whereunto even baptism does 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:” This verse is not teaching the essential nature of baptism for salvation, for when it says, “baptism does also now save us,” it immediately follows that with, “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh…” It appears Peter might have said that just after “baptism does also now save us” to show that he is not speaking of water baptism literally saving. It would be similar to him saying, “I am not talking about water baptism literally saving you. I am not talking about something that can remove dirt from your skin (water baptism) saving you.”
What is Peter speaking about? One thing we can see may be this. Baptism is an “answer of a good conscience toward God.” In other words, we have a good conscience before we are baptized (we have already been saved and then we are baptized).
In our next post we will look at proofs from the Bible that we are saved before we are baptized.