Many of our friends among Bible-believing denominations are struggling to come to the knowledge of the truth as regards what a person needs to do in order to be saved. I recently read two articles posted on the internet contending that baptism in water is not necessary for salvation and that one is saved at the point of belief.
Their argument is as follows:-
1. Salvation is by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9) and therefore no work (baptism) should be required;
2. Mark 16:16 does not say that those who believe and are not baptized will be lost;
3. Cornelius was saved before being baptized (so they alleged); and so,
4. All can be saved today without having to be baptized.
5. Given the above conclusion, passages such as Acts 2:38, 22:16; Rom 6:3-5; Gal 3:27; I Pet 3:21, etc., should be interpreted such that it does not teach that baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins.
The Bible tells us in Psalms 119:160 that “The sum of Thy Word is truth”. We must consider the totality of the teachings of the Scriptures on any particular subject so that we can have a complete picture of God’s teaching on the specific matter. The other thing to remember is that God’s Word does not contradict itself and that God is not the author of confusion (I Cor 14:33).
In contrast with the above argument, the Bibles teaches as follows:-
1. Salvation by grace through faith (and not by works of righteousness – Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5) is effected when one does the will of God (Matt 7:21; Luke 6:46) by complying with what Jesus said we are to do in Mark 16:16: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”.
2. Mark 16:16 states clearly and unequivocally the conditions that one must fulfill in order to be saved: “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”; Clearly, meeting just one of the two stipulated conditions cannot be considered as having met all the requirements of Jesus for salvation. On the other hand, if one does not believe, he stands condemned – the unbeliever is not a suitable candidate for baptism: this fact is clearly revealed in the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch: Act 8:36-38: “And 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? 37 And 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.38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.”
3. Cornelius, the first Gentile to be taught the gospel was also commanded by the apostle Peter to be baptized – in the same way as the 3,000 Jews on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The Bible does not say that Cornelius was already saved before he was baptized. The Holy Spirit was sent by God to show that the gospel, was also available to the Gentiles. Similarly, although Saul was a chosen vessel of God and met the Lord on the road to Damascus, like Cornelius, he was also commanded to be baptized, and in the case of Saul, it was expressly said that he had to be baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16).
4. All who wish to be saved would need to hear the gospel of Christ (Rom 10:17); repent of their sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38), confess Jesus as the Son of God (Matt 10:32; Rom 10:9-10) and be buried with Christ in baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Rom 6:3-5; Gal 3:26-27; Col 2:12) to be raised to walk in newness of life as a new creature (Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 5:17) and then to walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:16) and be faithful unto death (Rev 2:10).
5. The Scriptures teach clearly by express statements as well as by all the examples of conversions recorded in the book of Acts, that one who believes in Jesus as the Son of God, and having repented of his sins and confessed Jesus to be the Son of God, needs also to be baptized in order to have his sins washed away (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16).
If one considers what Jesus taught in Mark 16:16 as the conditions for salvation, and compare them with what the apostles did in obedience to His commands, as recorded in Acts, such as Acts 2:38 and all the accounts of conversion therein, it is quite plainly evident that in each and every instance, those who professed belief or faith in Jesus Christ and having repented, were immediately baptized – in one instance even at midnight (Acts 16:25-33). God also recorded the instance of the evangelist Philip being guided by God to preach the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch and when he was baptized in water, the Spirit took away Philip – and the eunuch saw him no more and went on his way rejoicing – God in effect, letting us know very plainly and simply that the work of saving the soul as per His great commission in Mark 16:15-16 and Matt 28:19-20 was done in compliance with His command after one has professed faith and is baptized for the forgiveness of sins and thereby added to His body/church (Acts 2:47; I Cor 12:13). There can possibly be no room for doubt as to the clear will of God in this matter.
However, those who think that baptism is not necessary for salvation, struggle to interpret Scriptures such that baptism is not necessary for salvation. But their arguments fail for lack of consistency and in light of the totality of the Scriptures.
For example, the teaching of Mark 16:16 is quite straight forward: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Instead of just doing what Jesus said we are to do, the attempt is made to try to evade compliance with what Jesus requires by preferring to rely on what God did not say!!! – as they contend that Jesus did NOT say that one who believes and is not baptized will not be saved!! Why aren’t they willing to do exactly what Jesus has plainly said that one needs to do in order to be saved, i.e. one who believes and is baptized shall be saved!? Faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom 10:17) – not from the absence of God’s Word! If for every specific requirement or positive statement God has to also state all the negatives relative to that requirement or statement then can you imagine how voluminous the Bible would be? For example, in John 14:6 Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Must Jesus also say no one can come to the Father through Jezebel, Ahab, etc…in order for us to understand that we cannot come to the Father through anyone else other than Jesus – whether it is through Jezebel or Ahab or any other person? In our normal life, when we ask someone to wash our car, one readily understands that it is our car that we want them to wash without us having to state that it is not our instruction for them to wash the cars belonging to others. Why then do we demand that God must also state expressly that he who believes and is not baptized will not be saved? And since God did not expressly say that, one may then take liberty to ignore complying with the two conditions expressly stated by Jesus as being necessary in order to be saved.
The second part of Mark 16:16 simply states: “he that believeth not shall be damned”. It is obvious that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6) and that unless one believes in Jesus, one would die in one’s sins (John 8:24). Jesus clearly states that faith is a vital pre-requisite for salvation but it is not the only requirement as Mark 16:16 states that baptism is also essential, and likewise Acts 2:38 states the requirement of repentance, and similarly, Rom 10:9-10 states the requirement of confession that Jesus is the Son of God. We find compliance with God’s requirement for salvation in every instance recorded in the book of Acts (especially as regards baptism), including the case of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 where the eunuch confessed his faith and was baptized.
In attempting to evade the clear meaning of the statement of Acts 2:38: “Then 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”, some resort to using the argument about the Greek sentence construction and meaning of the Greek “eis” (for), etc…such that one is supposed to understand that in Acts 2:38, Peter meant to say that one must “Repent for(because) your sins have been forgiven”, and then “be baptized thereafter”! [From gotquestions; “the majority of the evidence is in favor that the best possible definition of the word “for” in this context is either “because of” or “in regard to” and not “in order to get”….Therefore, when you take into account the change in person and plurality, essentially what you have is “You (plural) repent for the forgiveness of your (plural) sins, and let each one (singular) of you be baptized (singular).” Or, to put it in a more distinct way: “You all repent for the forgiveness of all of your sins, and let each one of you be baptized.]”
The entire effort is to negate the plain sense of the statement of Peter. They are trying to make Peter say that they need to repent because their sins have already been forgiven – this is because they contend that the word “for” does not mean “unto” or “in order to obtain” but really means “because of” – and further that it is applicable only to “repent” and not to baptism but why the need to repent if their sins have already been forgiven!? The Bible teaches that repentance precedes forgiveness of of sins: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out”(Acts 3:19). We are to repent and be converted so that our sins may be blotted out; not because our sins have already been blotted out. Acts 3:19 is a parallel passage to Acts 2:38.
The truth is that every translator of the Bible has consistently translated Acts 2:38 as “repent and be baptized” with both actions inseparably conjoined by the conjunction “and”. I have not seen any translation stating “repent for/because of the forgiveness of your sins and then be baptized”! If the proponents are so sure that that is the true construction of that statement, then why didn’t the Bible translators render it that way?
The proponents against the essentiality of baptism contend that only belief/faith is essential. But there is no mention whatsoever of “belief” in Acts 2:38! Peter said to “repent” and that is different from “believe”. So, are they prepared to concede that “only repentance” is required and “belief” is not necessary!? While they want to include “belief” as being implicit in Acts 2:38, they are unprepared to include the plainly or expressly stated requirement of baptism in Acts 2:38! Where’s the consistency?
With regards the argument that in Acts 10-11, Cornelius was saved before he was baptized, the truth is that there is no mention in all the accounts that Cornelius was saved before he was baptized. That was simply deduced by the writer because he inferred that because Cornelius received the gift of the Spirit, he must have already been saved. Their main contention is that since the Holy Spirit fell upon them, then that must mean that they have been saved. That conclusion is erroneous because they failed to understand the purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit as in the case when they were to fall upon the apostles as stated in Acts 1:8: “But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” The coming of the Spirit was not to prove that the apostles were saved but to empower them to be witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Likewise, the coming of the Spirit upon Cornelius was to empower them to speak in tongues signaling that the Gentiles were also subject to the same invitation of the gospel for salvation; it was not to declare that they were saved already. In the same way, Saul was a chosen vessel by God when Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:15) but Saul’s sins were still with him until he was commanded to be baptized by Ananias in Acts 22:16 so that his sins may be washed away.
Let’s consider the account in Acts 10:44-48 and 11:13-17: “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45 And 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. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”
Peter recounted as follows in Acts 11:13-17: “And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; 14 Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. 16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. 17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?”
The above accounts were intended to teach that God had specifically done all that to clearly and unequivocally impress upon Peter and everyone that “God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”(Acts 10:34-35). When the Holy Spirit fell upon them, they were empowered to speak in tongues – this was to demonstrate to all present that the Gentiles were also to be extended the gospel so that they could be saved and be accepted into the kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit coming upon them was not evidence of them having their sins already been forgiven (there’s no mention of that in the accounts); rather it was to signify God’s extension of the gospel to the Gentiles as well – and that’s why Peter had to command them to be baptized in water in compliance with the commands of Jesus in Mark 16:16 & Matt 28:19-20 in order to be saved (it is important to note here that baptism in water is the one that man is commanded to obey; not baptism in the Holy Spirit which is administered by Jesus and it is not a command to be obeyed but a promise to be received: Acts 1:4-5). The gift of the Holy Spirit for Cornelius and his household was their ability to speak in tongues, magnifying God. It was not a declaration that their sins had already been forgiven. It was a declaration that the Gentiles can now be accepted by God through obedience to the gospel. As Paul wrote in Rom 1: 16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
As mentioned earlier, although by God’s grace Saul was a chosen vessel (while yet a sinner- I Tim 1:12-16) and privileged to meet the Lord on the road to Damascus, his sins were not washed away at that point in time for it was only when he reached Damascus that Ananias came and commanded him to be baptized so that his sins could be washed away: Acts 22:16: “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name.” The Bible is clear and consistent in its teachings on the steps necessary for salvation.
The Bible teaches in Gal 3:26-27: “For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.” The baptism that puts us into Christ is one that depicts or symbolizes a “death”, “burial” (Rom 6:3-5; Col 2:12) and a “raising up” to walk in newness of life. Only baptism in water by immersion corresponds with that symbol – and both the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius were commanded to be baptized in water (not in the Holy Spirit).
Salvation is indeed by grace through faith and it is not of works of righteousness (Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). But it does not mean that we do not need to act in obedience to God in order to be saved. According to John 6:28-29, to believe in Jesus is doing the works of God: “They said therefore unto him, What must we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Just because believing in Jesus is a “work”, does it mean that it is against the truth that we are saved by grace? God forbid – for we are saved by grace through faith. But faith alone is dead – James 2:17: “Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself. 24 Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith.26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead.” Baptism is a work of God: Col 2:12: “having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
We just need to humble ourselves like Naaman in 2 Kings 5, who when he was told by the prophet Elisha to dip himself seven times in the river Jordan, finally obeyed and his leprosy was cured – no, it was not the water that cleansed him but rather the grace and power of God but effected when Naaman was willing to humble himself and obey the Lord’s command. 1 Pet 3:21: “The 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”. Why are we not willing to submit ourselves to the plain and simple teachings of God’s Word?
May the Lord bless and guide all those who have misunderstood the way of salvation such that they may come to the knowledge of the truth so as to be saved (2 Tim 2:25-26).