A conscientious person recently asked about this topic. In particular, he wondered: If the Bible says that a person’s faith saved him, should we conclude that he was baptized at some point? How would that apply to people living on the earth today?
In every era of human history, those people who have pleased God have been those who lived by faith. We often recall the faith of Abraham, who clearly was justified by faith (Romans 4:1- 12). A number of other men and women from the Old Testament era who pleased the Lord “by faith” are noted in Hebrews 11.
Habakkuk, a prophet of Jehovah, received this message from Him: “But the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). That thought is repeated three times in the message of the new covenant (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). It is undeniable that, per the Lord’s arrangement, the just/righteous live by faith.
There were instances in the life of Jesus when He proclaimed that a person was saved or blessed due to of his/her faith. Here are three specific cases:
Luke 7:48 – He told a woman who had anointed Him, “Your faith has saved you.”
Luke 8:48 – He told a woman who had suffered with a flow of blood, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:19 – He told a leper (the only one out of ten who returned to express thanks and give glory to God), “Your faith has made you well.” Concerning this last gentleman’s situation, some have asked: If all ten lepers were healed, how is it that this one man’s faith made him whole/well? There is a difference in (1) a person receiving God’s blessings and (2) a person being saved. God bestows sunshine and rain on both the righteous and unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). While the Lord blesses the ungodly, that certainly does not mean that they are saved in a state of unbelief. As for Abraham and others who lived by faith before the coming of the Christ, they were not baptized in water. Thus, they were justified before God without being baptized. That was the case because water baptism was not required of those who lived before the law of Moses was given, nor was it a part of the instruction of that law for the Israelites (just as offering animal sacrifices and males going to Jerusalem three times annually to observe feasts are actions which are not required for those living under the new covenant of Jesus). Different covenants, different demands.
How did baptism get into the picture? Well, God put it there! He did so in the days of John the Baptizer. John came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3). His baptism was called “the baptism of John” (Luke 7:29). The Jews from “Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan” went to be baptized by John, confessing their sins (Matthew 3:5).
What about those Jews who had access to John’s teaching but failed to receive his baptism for the remission of sins? The Bible says, “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him” (Luke 7:29,30). Those who rejected John’s baptism rejected God’s will, and no one who rejects His will can please Him.
“Well, what about those people to whom Jesus said that their faith saved them?” Do not forget this truth that Jesus proclaimed about Himself: “. . . the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” (Luke 5:24). He said that after He had pronounced a man forgiven of his sins (5:20). While living on the earth, the Master had the authority to forgive sins according to His desire. You see, His covenant, the covenant of which He is the mediator, did not go into effect until after He died (Hebrews 9:15-17).
That brings us to these giant questions: What about people living today? Can they be justified by faith? In fact, if anyone under the new covenant is going to be justified/saved, it will be by faith (Romans 5:1). Does that eliminate water baptism as a condition of salvation? No, it does not. Under Jesus’ covenant, salvation is for those who believe and are baptized (Mark 16:16). Baptism’s purpose is to wash away sins (Acts 22:16), and that truth will never change.
— Roger D. Campbell