By Steven Chan
Despite the clear and unequivocal statements by Jesus Christ and the Apostles as well as the clear examples of baptism in all the conversions recorded in the book of Acts (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12; 8:13, 8:37-38; 10:48; 16:15; 16:33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16), of the requirement of baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet 3:21) (subsequent to one having heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and responding in faith, repentance and confessing Christ as the Son of God), there are many who still insist that baptism is not necessary in order for one to be saved, or to have his sins forgiven by God.
2. Some reject the necessity of baptism for the forgiveness of sins because they believed what their more learned or respected teachers or leaders told them. Others reject the necessity of baptism for salvation because they have not really read or studied the scriptures for themselves.
However, each one of us needs to give careful consideration to this subject because it has eternal consequences: “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess 1:8-9).
Jesus warned of the danger of blindly following what we are told without carefully searching the Scriptures to verify the truth of what was spoken to us: “And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matt 15:14).
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1). “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11).
3. Based on my discussions with various believers from the denominations, it appears that one reason for their resistance to the necessity of baptism as one of the pre-conditions together with faith, repentance, and confession of Jesus as the Son of God, for salvation, is due to a teaching that was promulgated by a respected 16th-century theologian.
a) The latter deduced that “since salvation is solely by God’s grace, nothing else on the part of humans should be considered as essential for man’s salvation. Jesus has paid in full the price for man’s salvation by shedding His blood on the cross. Man cannot add a whit to his salvation.”
b) His thesis was that man was “born in sin, altogether dead in sin (Eph 2:1) and was incapable of responding” to God’s invitation for salvation through the gospel.
c) In view thereof, he believed that God through His sovereign grace would elect or choose certain ones to be saved (whomsoever He wills – without regard whatsoever to their faith or actions). To enable them to be saved, God would send His Holy Spirit to “quicken or bring them to life” to respond in faith to the gospel.
These “elected” or “chosen” ones will then repent of their sins, confess Jesus, and thereby be saved or forgiven from their sins. Baptism was viewed by him as a “work” of man and therefore cannot be essential for salvation. One is saved when God quickened him by the Holy Spirit by gifting faith to him (Eph 2:1-9).
Baptism was viewed as an outward expression of an inward change, such a change having been effected solely by God’s sovereign grace when he was “quickened” to respond to the gospel. Since God through His grace has already chosen them to be saved, they can never fall away – God’s grace will always keep them saved! Some referred to this as “once saved, always saved”.
4. With due respect to the 16th-century theologian the above belief is misconceived when examined in the light of the Scriptures. Let us consider what the Scriptures teach on the above doctrine.
a) The Bible teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) and that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). It also revealed that “the wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” (Psa 58:2). It is important to note that they go astray when they speak lies. Sin is the transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4).
The Bible declares that the descendants of Adam suffer the consequences of his sin (Rom 5:12 – it was through Adam entered the world, and death passed upon all men because all have sinned) but not the guilt of his sin: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son.
The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Eze 18:20). So those who teach that man bore the sin of our forefather, Adam, directly contradicts what God declared through Ezekiel in the above clear and explicit statement. If all are born in sin, then Jesus would have been born in sin – yet the Scriptures declared that He was without sin (Heb 4:15).
b) It is true that man is spiritually dead in sin (Eph 2:1). However, it does not follow that he is incapable of responding to God’s call to repentance. Consider what Jesus said to the Jews: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37).
Jesus said that they were “unwilling”; not that they were “incapable” of doing so. God invites all to come to Him: “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev 22:17).
c) The idea that God only desires “some” to be saved directly contradicts the plain declaration of the Scriptures:- “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3-4). It is clearly and unequivocally stated that God desires “ALL Men” to be saved; not just “some”.
Again: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9).
The beloved apostle John declared: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The above-constructed doctrine denies this declaration – for it contends that God loved only the “elect” and He sent Jesus to die only for them.
d) If the above doctrine is correct, then the responsibility of responding to the invitation of the gospel, does not lie with the hearer but with God as He is the One who chooses to quicken whomever He wills by the Spirit.
Yet when the Jews rejected the preaching of the gospel by the apostle Paul, he said to them: “But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6; cf Eze 33:1-9).
The Bible teaches that one whose sins had been forgiven could later fall away: “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.
21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.” (2 Pet 2:20-22).
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” (Heb 6:4-6)
“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb 10:26-29).
f) The Bible teaches that one can fall from grace: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Gal 5:4).
The above doctrine also claimed that it is not possible to resist the Spirit when God elects to “quicken by the Spirit whomsoever He wills”. This contradicts what the evangelist Stephen, by the Spirit, said”: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears!
You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:51). The Bible also warns against “grieving the Spirit”: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph 4:30).
The doctrine as constructed by the learned, respected but fallible 16th-century theologian is flawed and inconsistent with what the Bible teaches.
5. The Bible teaches that it is not inconsistent for God by the exercise of His sovereign grace to save or help man by requiring man to respond in obedient faith (not meritorious work). “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17). “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24). “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26).
The reaction of Naaman the Syrian commander who desired to have his leprosy cleansed is similar to those who object to the need for baptism in order to benefit from the grace of God: In 2 Kings 5:10-12: “And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ 12 Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So, he turned and went away in a rage.” Naaman did not see the need to be dipped seven times in the River Jordan to be cleansed.
Likewise, today many similarly reject God’s requirement of baptism, contending that there is no power in the water, etc… Naaman’s dipping seven times in the river Jordan does not qualify as a work of merit; he was merely asked to obey what God said to do. Similarly, baptism is not a work of merit; just act upon faith in God and be willing to be buried with Jesus so that our old man may be done away with, and then to be raised with Christ to walk in newness of life (cleansed from our past sins) Rom 6:3-7.
Let us humble ourselves and do exactly what we are told to do – just like Paul did what was told to him by Ananias: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’” (Acts 22:16). Let us not be guilty of rejecting God’s plain commandments in preference for our man-made traditions or man-constructed doctrine: “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:7-8)