Certain groups hold that water baptism is necessary for salvation. This view is held, for example, by the "Church of Christ" and the "Christian Church." The "Church of Christ" asserts that those who have not been baptized for salvation are lost.
This would mean that, throughout Christian history, the vast majority of those who confessed Christ, believed His Word, praised His holy name, and proclaimed His glories to the lost, were never saved! Even those who were martyred for Christ, and those who have translated our Bibles, and those who have given their lives to the mission field to proclaim Christ's glory to the lost, were, almost without exception, never saved and will end up in hell because they did not get baptized for salvation and join the so-called "Church of Christ."
Admittedly, there are passages of Scripture, which on the surface, seem to say that a person must be baptized in order to be saved…
Mark 16:16 – "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned."However, as we examine the Scriptural teaching of baptism and of salvation, we will see that neither baptism nor any other ritual can save us from our sins. Salvation is by God's grace, through faith, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8). God has not ordained water baptism to be a magical ritual by which we may obtain salvation.
Acts 2:38 – Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 22:16 – 'Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'
What must a person do to be saved? Scripture repeatedly answers this question in literally dozens of different passages.
Let's examine one such passage…
Romans 10:8-13 – But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, in your mouth and in your heart" —that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED."Notice the apostle's assertion that, if you do two things, you will surely be saved… (1) "confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord" and (2) "believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead." If you do these two things, then "you will be saved."
He does not add further requirements. Those who insist that you must be baptized to be saved are thereby rejecting this statement of Scripture, which plainly says that confession and faith are all that is required for the assurance of salvation. (We have a clear example of this in the thief on the cross.)
The apostle continues in verse 10, elaborating on his statement. He speaks first of the heart: "for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness." Next, he speaks of the mouth: "and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." That's it! If the heart believes and the mouth confesses, then the person will be saved, with or without water baptism!
He concludes this section with a quotation from Joel 2:32: "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." Those who call upon God to save them will assuredly be saved. Again, no baptism required!
If the apostle believed that a baptismal ritual was required in addition to faith and confession, then he would surely have said so. Salvation is too important a matter to omit essential ingredients. What in the world could Paul have been thinking, to promise salvation on faith and confession alone, if he fully believed that no one could be saved without the water ritual?
This passage is not an isolated exception. Scripture literally teems with statements that we are saved through faith, apart from legalistic works, or that those who believe will assuredly be saved.
The passages cited below say specifically that the one who believes will assuredly be saved. Not one of these passages says that a person must also receive water baptism. Such passages make it clear that faith alone is sufficient for salvation. Surely, if water baptism were also required for salvation, God would not make statements in which He promises salvation to those who simply believe...
John 3:16 – "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.… and many, many more …
John 3:18 – "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 20:31 – but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Acts 13:39 – and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.
Acts 10:43 – "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins."
Acts 13:48 – When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Romans 4:3 – For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS."
Romans 4:5 – But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,
Romans 4:11 – and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them,
Those who teach that water baptism is required for salvation usually keep a list of four items which, they assert, are required for salvation:
Those who hold to the fourfold formula of "Faith + Repentance + Confession + Baptism" suppose that each passage which states what is needed for salvation leaves out certain necessary elements, and that we must pool all such statements together, if we wish to find out what God truly requires for salvation.
However, this approach does not really accept any of the statements which God has made about salvation. John 3:16 says that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved. It does not say merely that faith is one of many things required in order to be saved. It does not leave open such an interpretation of the passage. It says that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish. Those who claim that they "believe just what the passage says" need to acknowledge that none of the passages listed above leaves room for additional requirements.
So then, why does Scripture sometimes list other things besides faith as necessary for salvation? Why, for example, does Romans 10:8-13 say that confession is also needed?
It is simply because true faith will confess Christ.
The Bible teaches that there is such a thing as counterfeit faith. In the eighth chapter of John, certain Jews came to believe on Jesus. Yet, as Jesus continued speaking with them, it soon became clear that their faith was not genuine, for Jesus accused them of seeking to kill Him:
John 8:30-40 – As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'?" Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. "I know that you are Abraham's descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. "I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father." They answered and said to Him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham. "But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.It is clear that the "faith" which these individuals had was of a different kind than that of Cornelius (Acts 10:44-48) or the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39) or the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:34).
The purpose, therefore, of adding repentance or confession or baptism to simple faith is not to give a list of things which must added to faith, but to qualify the kind of faith which accompanies salvation. Saving faith is a faith which confesses Christ. Saving faith is a repentant faith. Saving faith is one which seeks to be joined to, or identified with Christ and His people.
This brings us to a point which we will develop below: The words "baptize" and "baptism" (Greek: "baptizo" and "baptismos") do not necessarily imply a water ritual. Their root meaning is to "immerse into, so as to permanently join to." Scripture says that we are "baptized into Christ" (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). The object in these passages is not water—it is Christ Himself. We are "immersed into Christ, so as to become permanently joined to Christ."
This is accomplished in three distinct ways:
Yet, we need to realize that any of the things which manifests our faith in Christ, or publicly joins us to Christ and to the company of believers, is properly termed a "baptism." A verbal confession could identify us with Christ, and join us to the company of believers just as effectively as the water ritual. Granted, water baptism is the normal way for a believer to initially express his faith, and to be numbered among the people of God, but it is not the only or necessary way. Our Lord is not as concerned with the ritual itself as with what it symbolizes and accomplishes.
A comparison of Acts 2:38 with Romans 10:9 reveals that they both teach the same requirement for salvation—namely, a confessing faith...
Acts 2:38 – Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.Each passage requires a changed heart. Acts 2:38 demands repentance, whereas Romans 10:9 says you must "believe in your heart". Repentance and faith are used almost interchangeably in Scripture for one simple reason: true faith is a repentant faith. Or, to put it the other way around: true repentance is a believing repentance. Either way, the faith must be placed in Jesus Christ, since there is no other name given under heaven by which we might receive forgiveness from our sins and access to God (Acts 4:12; 13:38-39), and both passages center our attention upon the Lord Jesus.
Romans 10:9 – that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
Likewise, each passage requires outward evidence of this inward change, in the form of confessing Christ before men. Acts 2:38 commands that this be done by being baptized. Romans 10:9 commands that it be done by verbal confession of Christ. This outward evidence should not be thought of as an additional requirement, but as the natural, inevitable expression of true saving faith.
When we compare Acts 2:38 and Romans 10:9 with one another, we see that Scripture is not as concerned with the mode of expression (i.e. verbal confession versus water baptism) as with the condition of the heart—that it possess the kind of faith which openly confesses Christ before men (Matthew 10:32-33; Luke 12:8-9).
The so-called "faith" that stays bottled up inside where no one would ever guess you were a Christian is no faith at all. If you truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, that He has the power to forgive sins, and that you are a wicked sinner who needs His forgiveness, then you will be so filled with joy and exuberance at knowing Christ that you will bubble over with enthusiasm, confessing Him to others. And... you will gladly join with others who likewise confess Christ as Lord and Savior. Thus, the only true faith is a confessing faith.
Romans 10:9 promises salvation to everyone who believes and confesses. Acts 2:38 promises salvation to everyone who repents and is baptized. We are not justified in importing Acts 2:38's requirements into Romans 10:9 or vice versa. Each passage stands alone as a completestatement of what one must do to be saved.
Thus, we see that anyone who possesses a repentant, believing heart, and who shows it by confessing Christ, will be saved! That confession may be simply verbal, or it could be acted out by submitting to water baptism.
There is no passage of scripture which says that both verbal confession and water baptism are required for salvation. Romans 10:9 assures us that the verbal confession is enough, if it is accompanied by a believing heart. The "fourfold formula" is not Biblical—it contradicts the very passages upon which it is allegedly based!
Water baptism is more than just a water ceremony. The outward ritual is only one of the elements involved in water baptism. To speak intelligently about water baptism, we need to understand all the elements of it.
Water baptism may be viewed in three ways…
The Greek words "baptizo," "baptisma" and "baptismos," when accompanied by the phrase "into Christ" or "into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit," signify immersion into Christ or immersion into the name of the Triune God. It is not immersion into water which is signified by such passages, but immersion into Christ and into the name of the Triune God. The outward ritual cannot accomplish this.
Passages which contain such wording (Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12) do not have water baptism in view, but rather the great work of God which is symbolized by water baptism. Please notice that the word water does not occur in any of these passages.
Ultimately, it is God's work of imputing our sins to Christ and His righteousness to us which saves us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Likewise, it is the Holy Spirit's work of giving us a new heart which issues forth in faith in Christ which manifests our salvation and applies its benefits to our lives (Titus 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 8:11; Galatians 5:22-23).
When God moves in this way, it is His work which unites us to Christ. We are baptized into Christ by the mighty works of God: imputing our sins to Christ and creating a new heart within us. These great works are illustrated in water baptism, but it is God's work, not the water ritual, which savingly baptizes us into Christ.
Finally, this inward change may be expressed in a variety of ways: through faith, repentance, water baptism, obedience, a hunger for righteousness, a delight in God and His Word, and the spiritual fruit of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
Because water baptism is meant to be one of the first such expressions of the inward change, it is often commanded alongside faith and repentance. Because it outwardly illustrates the act of inward cleansing which God performs when He creates a new heart within us, the gospel is sometimes given with descriptive language such as "wash away your sins" (Acts 22:16) or "for the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 2:38). Such commands should not be understood to mean that water baptism possesses the magical ability to remit sins.
There are really three senses in which one may be said to be baptized into Christ:
Water baptism is a ritual ordinance in Scripture. It involves an outward act of applying water to an individual. Some argue that the individual should be dipped or buried in the water. Others argue that the individual should be sprinkled with water. Regardless of what the correct mode should be, the ritual nevertheless entails an individual, water and some act to be performed which involves the individual and the water, leaving the individual wet with water.
However, to view water baptism merely as a ritual is to misunderstand the significance of it. To view it as a saving ritual is to turn it into a magical talisman—for only God can save, through the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ.
Water baptism, like other ordinances of the Bible, involves symbolism. For example, the animal sacrifices depicted the death of Christ on the cross. Circumcision depicted the removal of the sinful nature (Colossians 2:11). In each ordinance, there is an outward physical ritual, and also an underlying spiritual reality of which the ritual is but a shadow or type.
In the Old Testament, it sometimes appeared that these rituals had certain saving merit, in themselves. However, that was never the case…
Hebrews 10:4 – For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.Whenever saving merit was ascribed to these ordinances, it was to be understood that it was the underlying spiritual reality which was really meant, and not the ritual itself.
Romans 2:28-29 – For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Many of the Jews did not understand this. The Pharisees, for example, thought they could be made perfect through the ordinances themselves, and this was the basis for their self-righteous confidence, piety and arrogance. Many of them relentlessly persecuted Christ and His apostles for teaching that the ordinances did not possess saving merit.
These ordinances did not possess some magical power to invoke the spiritual reality they symbolized.
The Old Testament Jews did not actually receive a new dose of forgiveness from God each time they brought an animal to be sacrificed. Rather, each sacrifice served as a retelling of the gospel—a reminder that we are sinful and cannot save ourselves—that we need a Redeemer who will lay down His life for us, bearing our sins.
Likewise, when a child was circumcised, this did not actually remove his sinful heart. It only served as a picture of the great work which God performs when He takes away our sinful heart.
Water baptism, as an outward ordinance, involves cleansing with water. It is symbolic of the Holy Spirit's inner work of cleansing the soul. Just like the Old Testament ordinances, this New Testament ordinance is simply a picture of a great work of God in saving us from sin and judgment. The outward cleansing does not accomplish inward cleansing any more than circumcision did. It is a picture, ordained by God, and that is all it is.
When Hebrews 10:20 speaks of "a new and living way," it does not mean that the Old Testament ordinances have been replaced by the New Testament ordinance of water baptism. There would be nothing "new" or "living" about such a salvation—it would be the old Pharisaical paradigm of a magical ritual we can perform to save ourselves.
Jesus Christ is "the new and living way." He is a real, living person (rituals, such as water baptism, have no inherent life to themselves). Jesus tells us that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). Thus, He alone is the "living way," and His sacrificial death is a new way, because it departs from the legalistic pattern of ordinances which we must observe to be saved. Salvation is something which He has accomplished.
Sometimes, the Bible seems to ascribe saving merit to water baptism. Paul was told to "… Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name." (Acts 22:16). Are we to assume that Paul could actually wash away his sins by taking a bath? Or, are we to understand that water baptism is only a picture of something which God has done for us—by the sacrifice of Christ and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit—when we "call on His name"?
When you claim that the physical ordinance itself has magical powers of spiritual cleansing, you fall into the same trap of ritualism and self-justification that the legalistic Pharisees stumbled into. We must be careful to view the outward ceremony only as a picture of God's mighty work of salvation, and avoid the errors of the Pharisees.
Water baptism serves as a way for an individual to express his new faith in Christ.
Because of its cleansing imagery, water baptism serves as a confession of sin, and of the need for cleansing and forgiveness.
Water baptism also is a declaration of repentance, and of a desire to live a changed life—one that is dominated by a changed attitude and a proper understanding about God, sin, righteousness, the Bible and Jesus Christ.
Because it is Christ's baptism, the recipient thereby acknowledges that it is Jesus who must save him. Thus, water baptism represents coming to Christ. Indeed, the very word "baptize" denotes a joining to—the Israelites were "baptized unto Moses" by the cloud and the sea (1 Corinthians 10:2)—this means that they were identified with Moses and joined to him as their leader.
Because it is administered by Christ's church, it represents entrance and acceptance into the family of God. It is the church's way of announcing to the individual and everyone else that this person is now numbered among the believers.
Water baptism is a beautiful, concise, divinely-ordained way of expressing all these things—of the believer confessing before men his sinfulness, his need for God's forgiveness, his need for Christ to be his Savior, his desire to live a godly life and his wish to be numbered among the people of God. It is likewise the church's way to publicly declare their recognition and acceptance of him as a fellow believer and a follower of Jesus Christ.
But I would raise this question: Could these things be expressed another way? Couldn't a person confess his sinfulness verbally? Couldn't he confess his need for Christ verbally? Couldn't he acknowledge his desire to follow Christ in holiness and obedience verbally? Couldn't he express his confidence in Christ, and his desire to be identified with the people of God verbally? If so, would not his verbal confession baptize him into Christ just as truly and thoroughly as submitting to the water ritual?
Clearly, this is the case with the thief on the cross…
Luke 23:39-43 – One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? "And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."Here we see (1) his confession of sin: "… we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds …"; (2) his confession of Christ: "… this man has done nothing wrong …"; and (3) his plea to Christ for forgiveness and acceptance: "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" All three were accomplished verbally, without the need of a water ritual. Jesus clearly accepted his verbal confession, promising him that he would be in Paradise with Him that very day. The thief was thus united with Christ by his verbal confession, or, to put it in Biblical terms, his verbal confession baptized him into Christ.
I submit that the various places that the word baptize is used in the New Testament, the emphasis is usually upon coming to Christ. If that coming is expressed by submitting to water baptism, that is great. If it is expressed verbally, that is wonderful, too. The principal thing is that the individual come to Christ in faith, repentance and humility. If he comes to Christ, and is joined to Christ by his faith, then he has been baptized into Christ—with or without the water ritual.
The words "baptize" and "baptism," when accompanied by the phrase "into Christ" (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27) , do not have ritual baptism in view at all. Bible translators have done a disservice by not translating the Greek words "baptizo," "baptisma" and "baptismos." When we see these strange Greek words in our Bibles, we automatically think of the ordinance of ritual baptism. But these words do not imply a water ritual. They do not imply water. They do not imply any kind of ritual at all.
We need to understand that the phrase "baptized into Christ" does not have anything to do with water. It means "identified with Christ" or "immersed into Christ" or "joined to Christ." This is something which, in one sense, only the Holy Spirit can do.
There is another sense—the outward evidence of this inward change—which can be expressed in a variety of ways: through verbal confession, through submission to water baptism, through acts of kindness or through obedience to Christ in ways besides water baptism.
When we see such outward evidence of an inward change, it provides a basis for the confident assurance of salvation. In this sense, baptism is sometimes said to "save" an individual—since baptism is normally one of the first evidences of salvation.
There are passages in the Bible which say that the person who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16) or that the person who repents and is baptized will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Both sides agree that everyone who genuinely believes and is baptized will be saved. That is not the point of disagreement. The issue is whether a person who believes and is not baptized would be saved. These passages do not say whether water baptism is essential to being saved or not.
Here's an illustration:
It was a sultry summer day when Mark and Susan complained to Mom about being too hot. Mother replied "Why don't you change into your swimsuits and run through the lawn sprinklers? That will cool you off." That's just what they did. When little brother Joey saw them running through the cool spray, he decided to join them, but he forgot to change into his swimsuit first. All three children found relief from the summer heat, even though little Joey did not obey Mother's command to change into a swimsuit.Notice that Mother's statement involved two commands and a promise…
The point is this: When two things are commanded for salvation, you cannot automatically assume that both are required. Certainly, both together are sufficient. Certainly, both ought to be done.
There are at least two occasions in Scripture when people who believed and repented were saved without being baptized. The thief on the cross was never baptized with water, yet he was with Christ in Paradise the day he died (Luke 23:43). Cornelius and his household received the miraculous gift of the Spirit, by which God showed that they were already saved, before being baptized by Peter (Acts 10:44-48).
Notice what Peter promised his hearers on Pentecost if they would repent and be baptized—
Acts 2:38 – Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."But Cornelius received "the gift of the Holy Spirit" before he was baptized:
Acts 10:45 – All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.This shows that he received the forgiveness of his sins prior to his baptism and that baptism, though important, was not a requirement for receiving this gift.
The Bible teaches that faith and repentance, not ceremonial works, are the things which ultimately matter with God—
Psalm 51:16-17 – For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.David could actually say that God "does not delight" in ceremonial works—even though God commanded them! Ceremonial works are repugnant to God if not done in faith and contrition. Faith and repentance are the marks of salvation. Ordinances are intended merely to display or illustrate God's saving works.
We are not saved because we believe or are baptized. Rather, faith is the gift of God—a gift which demonstrates that He has already saved us:
Ephesians 2:8-10 – For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.Likewise, repentance is God's gift to us:
Philippians 1:29 – For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
Acts 11:18 – When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life."Salvation does not depend upon our own will, works or obedience, but upon God's will and works and on Christ's perfect obedience in laying His life down for us.
2 Timothy 2:25 – with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,
This does not mean that willing, working or obeying are not important. It simply means that they are not the basis by which we are saved. Those to whom God gives faith will choose Christ, perform good works, and obey Christ's commands. They will not always make the right choices, their works will not always be good, and they will not obey perfectly. The Christian life is a perpetual battle with sin, but the overall character of the Christian's life is one of good choices, godly works and loving obedience. And, the true Christian grows in these graces over the course of his life.
Every false religion bases salvation upon what man does. In contrast, Biblical Christianity bases salvation solely upon what God does for us. Look carefully at the following passages and ask yourself what part man is said to play in his salvation…
Ephesians 2:4-10 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Titus 3:4-7 – But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
2 Timothy 1:8-9 – …God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,
Ephesian 1:3-6 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
The object of our faith is to be the Lord Jesus Christ and His redemptive death on the cross. When we suppose that water baptism is absolutely essential for salvation, we make it an object of faith alongside the Lord Jesus. One of the greatest errors in baptismal regeneration theology is that it makes an idol out of water baptism. Jesus alone is no longer the Savior… He must now share that honor with our act of obedience to baptism.
But the gospel never calls upon us to trust in water baptism for salvation. True, baptism is commanded, but never is it held forth as an object of faith. Yet, if water baptism plays such a crucial role in salvation, then that is precisely what it is… an object of faith.
Before receiving baptism, I view it as the one thing which can save me. Having received it, my confidence is based upon having received baptism. My baptism becomes my savior. In all this emphasis on water baptism, Jesus and His Cross takes a back seat. We become so busy focusing on baptism that we lose sight of what truly saves an individual… namely, Christ and His Cross.
It is clear in Scripture that baptism was only secondary and external. Cornelius and his household were saved and received the gift of tongues prior to being baptized (Acts 10:44-47). It was only after Peter had witnessed their salvation that he ordered them to be baptized. Water baptism does not actually remove sins… it is only symbolic of what God has done for us through Christ's death and in us by the Holy Spirit's work of regeneration.
It is often argued that salvation requires obedience, and since Christ commanded baptism, we must obey this command in order to be saved.
If this argument is true, then it either means (1) that perfect obedience in all things is required for salvation (i.e. we must be sinlessly perfect), or else (2) that the command to be baptized is in a separate category from all of Christ's other commands.
It is true that God demands sinless perfection. However, it is false to say that we, even with the help of the Holy Spirit, can attain to this standard in our own hearts and lives. We sin daily. Even our best efforts are stained with sin. But, thankfully, the sinless perfection which God requires of us, He has provided for us in the person and work of His blessed Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our salvation does not depend upon our own sinless obedience (if it did, no one would be saved!). Rather, God has imputed Christ's sinless perfection to us. We are saved by an external righteousness—the righteousness of Christ—not by our own personal righteousness.
On the other hand, if the command to be baptized is in a special category of commands—commands which must be obeyed in order to be saved—then this is a legalistic salvation—the same kind the Pharisees pursued. Paul writes about such forms of legalistic salvation…
Romans 10:2-4 – For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Paul did not say "to everyone who believes and is baptized." He also did not say "Baptism is the end of the law for righteousness …".
God has not given us a law (i.e. "be baptized") which can impart life to us...
Galatians 3:21-22 – Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.Rather, it is all those (and only those) who have faith in Jesus Christ who will receive God's promise of salvation.
To say that the command to be baptized is in a special category of commands which must be obeyed to be saved is similar to the Catholic Church's classification of sins into "mortal sins" and "venial sins." Failure to be baptized would be a mortal sin, whereas all other sins would be venial sins.
It is true that, if a person rebelliously refuses to be baptized, even though he admits it is what God commands, then his rebellious attitude demonstrates that he does not have true faith in God, and thus we might conclude he is unsaved. On the other hand, if a person neglects baptism out of ignorance or misunderstanding, then there is no reason to view him as rebellious against God, or to question his faith or his salvation.
God made provision under the Old Testament Law for sins of ignorance—when an individual transgressed a law of which he was ignorant. Such a sin was indeed a sin, but God provided forgiveness for such sins (Leviticus 5:17-19). Is God less gracious in the New Testament than He was in the Old?
And, again, if we set water baptism up as something which must be believed, then we make it a rival of the Lord Jesus. He alone is to be the object of our faith—not He plus a water ceremony. Scripture never tells us we must trust in water baptism for salvation. We must avoid all forms of ritualistic idolatry.
The English words "baptize" and "baptism" are transliterations of the corresponding Greek words "baptizo" and "baptisma." These Greek words do not necessarily imply a ritual ordinance. They simply mean "immerse," "identify with" or "join to." The object in which the object is immersed, or to which the object is joined, need not be water. (In fact, in Scripture, water is never spoken of as the object of baptism.)
Baptizo and baptisma are used in a variety of ways in the New Testament, and do not necessarily refer to a ritual ceremony. Here are some of the other uses…
Matthew 3:11 – … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.The baptism with the Holy Spirit speaks of the spiritual power which Christ gave to the believers on Pentecost. Although we often think of the miraculous gifts, He also gave evangelistic boldness and spiritual unity and concern for one another (Acts 2:44-46; 4:13, 31-33). While we should not expect miraculous gifts today, it is certainly proper to pray for boldness and unity, and for other gifts by which the church may be edified (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Mark 1:8 – "I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
Luke 3:16 – … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
John 1:33 – "I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.'
Acts 1:5 – for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
Acts 11:16 – "And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'
1Corinthians 12:13 – For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
The baptism with fire speaks of judgment. Scripture sometimes regards baptism as a pouring out (see Acts 2:17). Fire was poured out in judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24); fire came down from heaven to consume the sacrifice when Solomon dedicated the temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-3); fire came down from heaven to consume Elijah's sacrifice on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:38); Elijah called for fire from heaven to consume the soldiers who had come to arrest him (2 Kings 1:10-12); and the disciples were eager to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54). The last battle in Scripture will end when fire comes down from heaven to destroy God's enemies (Revelation 20:9). All of these can properly be referred to as "baptism with fire."
Mark 10:38-39 – But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to Him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.Our Lord spoke of His impending death on the cross as a "cup" and a "baptism." There is no ritual ordinance involved here... rather, the outpouring of God's righteous wrath upon our blessed Savior in payment for our sins.
Luke 12:50 – "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!
1 Corinthians 15:29 – Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?The meaning of this passage has been much debated. If this is speaking of being ritually baptized on behalf of others (such as is practiced in Mormonism), then it is not a baptism commanded or endorsed by scripture. More likely, it is speaking of those who come to Christ because of the testimony of Christian martyrs. Whether "baptized" refers to ritual baptism or simply to being "joined to Christ" makes little difference under this interpretation.
1 Corinthians 10:2 – and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;These events served to authenticate Moses as God's chosen leader. The plagues on Egypt had demonstrated that God was speaking through Moses, but when the Egyptian army attacked the Israelites at the Red Sea, they witnessed God's power and concern for them firsthand. When God, through Moses, delivered the Jews from Pharoah's armies once and for all, Moses became to them both a hero and a representative of God.
The cloud and the sea protected the Israelites from the Egyptians. By following Moses, the Israelites found God's providential hand of protection and care watching over them. To belong to Moses was to enjoy God's blessing.
When the sea engulfed the Egyptians, it also blocked the pathway by which the Israelites had escaped from the Egyptians. They could no longer return the way they came. They had to remain with Moses and follow him wherever he went.
In these ways, the Israelites were joined to Moses by the cloud and the sea. The word "baptized" refers to their being "united" with Moses, or "identified" with him. Likewise, our coming to Christ to be identified with Him and with His people can be referred to as a baptism unto Christ, or, equivalently, as becoming joined to Christ. This visible union with Christ could be accomplished via water baptism, or through verbal confession of Christ alone. Either way, it is proper to speak of our coming to Christ as our being baptized unto Christ (see Romans 6:2-3; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12).
Let's take a closer look at specific passages:
Mark 16:16 – "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned."Although the customary way for an individual to be publicly joined to Christ was through the water ritual, yet the word "baptized" does not imply or require a water ritual. If a person embraces Christ by faith, confessing him openly and unites with other Christians, then he has been baptized into Christ by his confession of faith, whether or not he actually participates in the water ritual. Confession of Christ outwardly unites us with Christ and His people, and this is ultimately what the word "baptizo" denotes—union with Christ.
John 3:5 – Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.This is a reply to Nicodemus' question, in verse 4:
"How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?"Jesus replies by saying that the second birth is different from the first birth. The first birth was a watery birth. The second birth is a spiritual birth. To enter God's kingdom, it is not enough to have the watery birth—one must be born of the Spirit as well. "Water" here refers to physical birth by a human mother (the kind Nicodemus was thinking of), because of the outburst of water that precedes or accompanies childbirth when her "water breaks."
It is also possible that "water" here is a synonym for the Spirit. In the following chapter of John, Jesus told the Samaritan woman about the "living water" which He gives to people:
John 4:10, 14 – Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." ... but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."A well of water springing up within us is a beautiful figure figure of the Holy Spirit's activity within the believer, providing an unceasing fountain of inward purity, cleansing and refreshment.
Acts 2:38 – Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.Again, this passage does not mention water, and the words "be baptized" refer to our outward union with Christ, through confessing Him and uniting ourselves with the community of believers. We can confess Christ either verbally (Romans 10:9) or through water baptism.
Acts 22:16 – 'Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'The expression "wash away your sins" looks beyond the outward act of cleansing the body to the inward work of the Holy Spirit, cleansing the heart. The essential element is "calling on His name," whether the symbolism is enacted through water baptism or not. Scripture promises salvation and forgiveness to all those who "call on His name" (Romans 10:13). Those who genuinely call upon Christ for salvation have already received a new heart from God, because they would never call upon Him for salvation from their old sinful hearts.
Romans 6:3-5 – Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,This passage is often misunderstood because of the assumption that the words "baptized" and "baptism" always imply the water ritual. The Greek words "baptizo" and "baptisma" used here speak of union. The passage could be rendered in this way:
Or do you not know that all of us who have been united with Christ Jesus have been united with His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through our union with His death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,It is not the removal of dirt from the flesh which allows us to "walk in newness of life" (1 Peter 3:21). Rather, it is our union with Christ by the new heart given to us by His Holy Spirit. This is symbolized by water baptism, it is true. But water baptism does not cause it.
The "likeness of His death" referred to here is not being submerged beneath the water, but ceasing to follow our sinful desires and to follow Christ instead—just as our Lord humbled Himself to do His Father's will by going to the Cross to suffer and die for us (Philippians 2:5-11).
Likewise, "the likeness of His resurrection" has
nothing to do with emerging from the waters of baptism—it refers to our
future glorification with Christ in His heavenly kingdom.
Galatians 3:27 – For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.Again, we need to understand that the phrase "baptized into Christ" has no special reference to water baptism, but simply means "united with Christ." It could be expressed in this way:
For all of you who were joined to Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.We are joined to Christ when we come to Him by faith and confess Him as Lord (John 6:37; Romans 10:9). The word "baptized" has no automatic reference to water (see Mark 1:8; 10:38; 1 Corinthians 10:2; 12:13).
We are "clothed with Christ" as the Holy Spirit brings forth His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23), conforming us to Christ's image (Romans 8:29).
Colossians 2:12 – having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.This has no reference to a "watery burial," but to God's great work of identifying us with Christ, so that His death becomes our death, His burial becomes our burial, and His resurrection becomes our resurrection. The word "baptism" speaks of this great work of God, identifying or uniting us with Christ. The word "water" never appears in this context, and there is no reason to suppose that water baptism is intended by the word "baptism."
Hebrews 10:19-22 – Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.When Hebrews speaks of "a new and living way," it does not mean that the Old Testament ordinances have been replaced by the New Testament ordinance of water baptism—there would not be anything significantly new or living about such a way of salvation. It would merely repeat the error of the legalistic Pharisees, who thought they could receive forgiveness and attain to righteousness through the observance of ceremonial law.
The "new and living way" is Christ Himself, and His death on the cross—His blood and His flesh, given for us, and the application of His redemptive merits to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This is what the Old Testament ordinances symbolized, and it is what water baptism symbolizes.
This passage clearly says that we enter the holy place "by the blood of Jesus" and that the "new and living way" is by passing through the "veil, that is, His flesh."
He then exhorts us to "draw near"…
Moreover, the washing of the body (#4) follows the cleansing of the heart (#3), which shows that baptism is a response to an already cleansed heart. To say that water baptism cleanses the heart is to reverse the order of these two statements. It also denies the teaching of 1 Peter 3:21 which says that it is "not the removal of dirt from the flesh" which is able to save us.
Finally, we should note the parallelism between #3 and #4…
1 Peter 3:21 – Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,Peter qualifies the sense in which baptism "saves" us. It is not the "removal of dirt from the flesh" (i.e. not the outward water ceremony) which saves, but rather the "good conscience toward God." This good conscience comes to us by "the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5), which occurs prior to baptism, when the individual trusts in Jesus Christ (faith is the evidence and fruit of regeneration). Water baptism is an outward sign and symbol of the forgiveness one already possesses through the Cross of Christ, and of the inward cleansing which God has already wrought in his heart.
There were some in the Corinthian church who began to boast about their baptism. Some bragged "I am of Paul," and others boasted, "I of Apollos," or "I of Cephas," or "I of Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:12).
Paul condemned this partisan spirit, and, in so doing, demonstrates that water baptism is not as important as some would lead us to believe:
1 Corinthians 1:14-17 – I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.Paul was thankful to God that he had baptized none of the Corinthians except Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas. He could not remember whether there were any other Corinthians whom he had baptized! These are strange statements indeed if baptism is essential for salvation! Paul would be saying "I am glad that I did not save any of you except …" and "I cannot remember whether I saved any others by baptizing them."
Moreover, he contrasts baptism with preaching the gospel when he says "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel." In saying this, he admits that baptism is not a necessary part of the gospel. Preaching the gospel is one thing, baptizing is another.
Some would say that Paul only meant that he delegated the responsibility of baptizing to someone else, so that no one could say that they were baptized personally by the apostle himself. Yet, some claimed to be "of Christ" (verse 12), and Scripture assures us that Jesus did not personally baptize anyone (John 4:2).
What the Corinthians were claiming, therefore, was that they were baptized under the ministry and direction of a particular man. Those who were baptized under Paul's ministry, whether personally by Paul or by one of Paul's helpers, would claim "I am of Paul." Those who were baptized under Apollos' ministry, whether personally by Apollos or by one of his helpers, would claim "I am of Apollos." Likewise with Cephas and Christ.
Paul was willing to say that he was thankful to God that he had not baptized any others (i.e. that he had not directed any others to be baptized), if such a baptism would cause such strife and division among the brethren. He was also willing to separate baptism from the gospel: people could be saved through the preaching of the gospel without administering water baptism to them.
Water baptism was only a symbol of God's saving work, and Paul recognized this fact. He would not elevate a mere symbol to the same stature of Christ and His Cross, as though the water ritual were somehow as necessary to salvation as the great work it symbolized.
When you think of water baptism as an act which man can perform to bring about a spiritual work such as regeneration, then you are treating water baptism like a magic wand, a crystal ball or a "lucky" rabbit's foot. It is well known that sorcerers seek to invoke spiritual powers by means of magical trinkets, talismans or amulets, or by special rituals, such as seances.
Such ideas are doctrines of demons, given by deceitful spirits, just as celibacy and dietary restrictions are (1 Timothy 4:1-4). We must never suppose that God's spiritual power can be invoked through ritual ceremonies. Our source of spiritual power is Jesus Christ and His Cross. God is sovereign in the exercise of His graces, granting His Spirit when and to whom He pleases (John 3:8; 1 Corinthians 12:11; Galatians 1:15-16).
The Pharisees fell into the trap of supposing that an animal sacrifice could actually cleanse them from their sins, or that their circumcision had some magical power to make them acceptable to God. Scripture clearly denounces such ideas.
The animal sacrifices were given by God, and were a good thing, so long as they were properly used. Their intended purpose was to prefigure Christ's death on the Cross. When a person brought a sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered, he was not to imagine that this little creature could take away his sins. Rather, he was to think of the Lamb which God would provide for his redemption—"the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).
But even when he thought about his sacrifice properly, he did not receive forgiveness by bringing the sacrifice. By bringing a sacrifice, he was only manifesting the faith and forgiveness he already had.
The Mosaic ordinances were never able to invoke the spiritual reality they symbolized. It was an error to suppose they could. New Testament teaching does not sanctify this error. Christ did not die on the Cross so that we could now have a ritualistic salvation. It is just as wrong to impute saving merit to water baptism today, as it was to impute saving merit to circumcision or animal sacrifices in the Old Testament.
By trusting in their rituals to save them, the Pharisees had forsaken the one thing which could truly save them: namely the Cross of Jesus Christ. Even when we suppose that baptism only saves us as a means of receiving the merits of Christ and His Cross, we still view baptism as a pillar of our salvation. It becomes an object of faith, because we trust our baptism to save us. It becomes a centerpiece, or fixation, as we vehemently defend the notion that a person must be baptized to be saved.
In short, it becomes an idol. Rather than preaching Christ and His glories, we preach the glories of water baptism. Rather than bid the unsaved to focus their attention on Christ and what He has done on the Cross to save us, we instead focus their attention on something they must do to be saved. We teach them that baptism is the only thing that can save them, and, once they are baptized, we teach them to trust in their baptism for whatever little assurance is afforded under such a system.
In each instance where Christ should be the object of faith, we teach them that water baptism is the key thing which saves them, and which they should trust for salvation. Thus, baptism displaces Christ as the object of our faith.
It is a serious error to erect a ritualistic idol as a rival to our blessed Lord.
When you teach that you can be saved by obeying the command to be water baptized, you thereby teach salvation by human works. You are saying in effect that God has ordained a command which, if we obey it, will procure for us eternal life.
But Scripture declares time and again that salvation is God's work. He does not do 99% and let us do our 1%. Salvation is entirely of the Lord—all 100% (Ephesians 2:10; Jonah 2:9).
Time and again, Scripture denies that salvation is by any work that we can perform.
Romans 4:4-5 – Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,We contradict such passages when we claim that God has given us a command or law which can save us.
If it is true that one must be water baptized for salvation in order to be saved, then the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians who have ever lived were lost. Those who translated our Bibles, those who have written the hymns we sing, those who proclaimed Christ to far-away peoples, even those who were faithful unto death, would be lost—destined for eternal destruction in hell.
The doctrine of baptismal salvation erects a false standard of righteousness. Rather than looking for the fruit of the Spirit, sacramentalists look for baptismal documents to determine the spiritual state of an individual. True Christians who show ample evidence of the Holy Spirit's manifest work in their hearts are rejected as being unsaved, just because they were not baptized a certain way.
Those who believe that you must be water baptized for salvation have thus divided Christ's body, refusing fellowship to those who have obeyed Scripture's command to simply believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31).
God says that all who believe will be saved—every single one of them—whether or not they receive water baptism (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9; Ephesians 2:8-10; etc.). Whenever you add other requirements for salvation, you drive a wedge between believers, thereby dividing Christ's church.
One of the seven things which God hates is "...one who spreads strife among brothers" (Proverbs 6:16-19). Water baptism was meant to unite Christ's church, not divide it (Ephesians 4:1-5).
It is easy to see how a naïve reading of certain selected passages might lead to the baptismal regeneration position. The author first came to Christ in such a church, and understands how persuasive these passages and arguments can be to a new believer.
Much misunderstanding is eliminated once we recognize that the words "baptize" and "baptism" do not necessarily denote a ritual ordinance. They speak of an immersion into something with the result that the one baptized is permanently united with that substance, person or object. To baptize someone into water would be to permanently unite him with the water, drowning him ("baptizo" is sometimes used this way in ancient Greek literature).
The Bible sometimes says we are baptized with or by means of water, but it never says we are baptized into water. We are said to have been baptized into Christ, into His death, and into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Water baptism can effect this in an outward sense only. That is, by water baptism, we can make a public confession of faith in Christ and His redeeming work, and publicly identify with the family of God.
But water baptism cannot effect the inward change necessary to make someone a true Christian. When a person submits to water baptism, it is by faith—a faith which issues forth from the changed heart he has already received from God.
Water baptism, like the ordinances of the Old Testament, illustrates and symbolizes spiritual truth. The water ritual is a picture of the judicial removal of our guilt by the sacrifice of Christ. It is also a picture of the inward cleansing performed by the Holy Spirit when He regenerates our hearts.
However, like the Old Testament ordinances of sacrifices and circumcision, water baptism has no power to effect the spiritual truth it illustrates. It was the self-righteous Pharisees who thought the ritual ordinances of the Law could make them righteous. We must avoid making the same error lest we fall under the same condemnation.
Scripture often declares that we are saved by faith, in passages which make no mention whatever of water baptism. The Philippian jailer asked "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30) and the apostles replied "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved." (Acts 16:31). They did not add "… and get baptized." But they did baptize him! That's true, but they never gave him reason to believe that he must be baptized to be saved. On the contrary, faith was all they commanded. We contradict the Bible to say that more was needed.
We are saved by Christ alone, through His death at Calvary. When we add ritual works to the finished work of Christ, as things necessary for salvation, we essentially dethrone our Lord. The object of our faith is no longer Christ alone, but Christ plus our own obedience to baptism. This contradicts the many scriptures which say that we are saved by faith, apart from works (e.g. Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5; etc.). It also makes an idol of water baptism, since we look to it for salvation as much as to Christ. Our God is a jealous God—He does not take kindly to idolatrous ritualism.
Let us therefore confess that we are saved by Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for God's glory alone. This is the clear testimony of God's authoritative Word. There is no basis in Scripture for legalistic ritualism or salvation by human works.
Those who teach that water baptism is required for salvation generally subscribe to the idea that salvation depends on what man does, and, consequently, that any true believer could fall away from salvation through disobedience, or by deciding not to believe. Such a "salvation" is utterly foreign to Scripture, and is not even worthy of being called "salvation."
In his first epistle, the apostle John wrote about certain "antichrists"…
1 John 2:19 – They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.In this passage, John admits that people sometimes "fall away." However, the ones who fall away were "not really of us"—they were never actually saved! John affirms that, if they had been saved, "they would have remained with us" and their leaving proves that they were never really saved… "but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us."
We need to understand what it is that people fall away from. They do not fall away from salvation, but rather from their profession of faith in Christ. Those who possess genuine faith and repentance will never fall away.
But why not? Why couldn’t a person who genuinely trusts in Christ later fall away? Scripture tells us that genuine faith and repentance are given by God…
Ephesians 2:8-10 – For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.This passage says that faith is "not of yourselves" but is instead "the gift of God." Lest there be any confusion, Paul continues, saying "we are His workmanship." True saving faith cannot fail because it is given and sustained by God…
Philippians 1:6 – For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.Scripture plainly says that it was God who began the "good work" in us, and that He will perfect it (the NIV reads "carry it on to completion"). So saving faith is a work started by God, and sustained unto completion by God.
Later in the same chapter, Paul reaffirms that faith is something which God grants to us…
Philippians 1:29 – For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,Likewise, Scripture teaches that repentance is something which God grants or withholds, according to His good pleasure…
Acts 11:18 – When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life."But couldn’t a person exercise his own faith or repentance, without God giving it? Scripture says that our sinful hearts don’t want to repent from sin or believe in Jesus Christ. Sure, a sinner could believe and repent, if he could love a holy God and hate sin. God even commands sinners to believe and repent. Yet, men are so inwardly corrupt that they will stubbornly refuse to repent and believe unless and until God changes their hearts.
2 Timothy 2:25 – with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,
Apart from the new life which God gives, no one seeks God…
Romans 3:11 – "THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;"Unless God draws a man to Christ, no one is even able to come…
John 6:44 – "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.We were still dead in our sins when God made us alive with Christ…
Ephesians 2:4-5 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),Scripture speaks of conversion in a variety of ways….
As a new birth…
John 3:3 – Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."As a heart transplant…
Ezekiel 36:26 – "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."It is like the original creation, when God spoke light into existence…
2 Corinthians 4:6 – For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.Notice that each of these pictures calls for something which we cannot do of ourselves… the dead man cannot choose to rise from the dead, the baby cannot choose to be born, light could not choose itself into existence; and no doctor can perform a heart transplant on himself. Each picture is carefully chosen by God to teach that salvation is by His choice and power… not ours.
Consequently, Scripture often declares that the saints are kept by God, and cannot lose their salvation:
Christ gives eternal life to His sheep, and they will never perish...
John 10:27-30 – "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. "I and the Father are one."In the Greek, "perish" is the word "destroy" in the middle voice, so verse 28 could be translated "... they will never destroy themselves..." Not only are they safe from attack by outsiders who might try to take away their salvation—they are even safe from destroying themselves through disobedience or unbelief. They are safely held in the Father's hand, and no one—especially not themselves—is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. Neither saint nor sinner can overpower Almighty God.
Likewise, nothing can separate us from the love of God...
Romans 8:38-39 — For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.What does he mean by saying "neither death, nor life"? How could "life" conceivably separate us from God's love except by disobedience or disbelief? Yet, the apostle assures us that "life" cannot separate us from God's love. If we are truly objects of God's love, then nothing in this life (or the next, for that matter) can separate us from God's love. And, if he omitted any possible thing which might be thought able to separate us from God's love, he covers that possibility too, by saying "nor any other created thing." Are you a "created thing"? If so, and if you are loved by God, then you cannot separate yourself from God's love. The apostle's wording is far too all-encompassing to leave a loophole for an individual to separate himself from the love of God.
Scripture plainly declares in these and numerous other passages that every true believer will never perish, but must infallibly be saved by the power of God from God's eternal wrath.
Revelation 22:19 is sometimes cited to show that a believer's name can be removed from the Lamb's book of life.
Revelation 22:19 reads "tree of life" in all the Greek manuscripts …
Revelation 22:19 (NAS95) – and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.You can verify this by consulting various translations of the Bible… the NIV, NASB, etc. Dr. Robert C. Newman writes "The reading ‘book of life’ in Rev. 22:19 is found in no Greek manuscript." (Dr. Allan A. MacRae and Dr. Robert C. Newman, Facts on the Textus Receptus and the King James Version, Anaheim: Foundation Press, 1975.)
There is no passage which, in the Greek, says that God will remove a person’s name from His book of life. Nor is there any passage which says that God writes our names in the book of life when we are saved.
The names in the book of life have been written there from the foundation of the world! Scripture says that, when the Antichrist appears, if anyone’s name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, that person will follow the Antichrist and worship him…
Revelation 13:8 – All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.
Revelation 17:8 – "The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.
The word "enlightened" does not mean "made alive." It comes from a word for "light," not "life." It is true that these people had received certain "light" or "understanding," and had even participated in the miraculous gifts given by the Holy Spirit. Yet they did not possess a changed heart. They "fell away" from the light they had received, and from the faith they had professed. However, they were never truly saved, because the writer of Hebrews says, in verse 9, "But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way."
The advantages of enlightenment, tasting the heavenly gifts, etc., as wonderful as they were, did not constitute "things that accompany salvation." The writer was convinced of better things than these concerning his readers.
This passage has often been misunderstood due, in large part, to the assumption that "partakers of the Holy Spirit" refers to their having been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. However, this expression means only that they had received certain miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit, such as the ability to speak in tongues. It is often assumed that only a true believer could ever possess such gifts, but there are scriptural examples of unbelievers who possessed these gifts.
For example, Judas possessed the miraculous gifts. Matthew 10:1 says that Jesus gave to all twelve disciples the power to cast out demons and to heal the sick. If Judas had not received these powers along with the other eleven, they surely would have been suspicious of Judas. Yet, when Jesus announced in Matthew 26:21 that one of them would betray Him, none of them suspected Judas, but instead exclaimed "Surely not I, Lord?" (verse 22). There is absolutely no question that Judas possessed the miraculous gifts, but was never saved.
Another example is given in Matthew 12:24-27, when our Lord responded to the charge that He cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul. He answered by asking them "If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out?" (Matthew 12:27). He suggests that the Jewish priests were able to cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit, even though many of these priests were unsaved.
When Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12:31 "... And I show you a still more excellent way," he demonstrates that love (one of the nine characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit—Galatians 5:22-23) is a more excellent way than miraculous gifts. This teaches us that regeneration, which produces love, is a more excellent way than the miraculous gifts, such as tongues and healing. In other words, it is quite possible to possess the miraculous gifts without having a new heart!
Note that Hebrews 6:6 says that it is impossible to renew such people to repentance. Indeed, we might inquire how a baptized believer who falls away is to be restored. Surely, he is no different from any other unbeliever (except under a greater condemnation for having rejected the truth he once embraced). This would suggest that he needs to be rebaptized. But, would that not be the equivalent of crucifying Christ again (as verse 6 declares)?
The theology of baptismal regeneration ought to leave no room for restoration. If those who believe in baptismal salvation honestly believed Hebrews 6 to mean that a true believer can fall away from his faith, then they should admit that there is no possibility for such a person to be restored.
This inconsistency in the way they interpret Hebrews 6:6 suggests that they do not believe just what the passage says (as they so often claim), but that they instead interpret passages to fit their preconceived theology.
The word "branch" does not mean "child." To call a "branch" a "child" is to put your own interpretation on the Bible, rather than to believe just what it says. If this passage were speaking of the parent-child relationship, then it says that Christ disowns His own children, which would make Him out to be an irresponsible parent.
Instead, the passage speaks of two kinds of branches. One kind is firmly attached to the Vine and lives and grows by receiving nourishment from the vine. The other kind is just "hanging on"—outwardly attached to the Vine, but not rooted in the Vine. If you have ever examined a grape vine, you will notice these two kinds of branches… some healthy and vigorous, the others withered, weak and brittle.
So what is meant by these two kinds of branches? In verse 2, Jesus says that one kind bears fruit and the other does not. Among those who claim to belong to Christ, there are some who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit and others who do not. The former are truly saved, the latter are not.
This passage is not talking about true believers falling away, but teaches us that, among those who outwardly follow Christ, there are both believers and unbelievers. You can tell them apart by the fact that the believers bear fruit and the unbelievers do not.
The apostles often admonished the saints to flee impurity, but this does not imply that the saints were in danger of losing their salvation. In Ephesians 5:3-16, Paul exhorts the saints not to live like the unsaved (vs. 7). In verse 8, he affirms that we are children of light and now exhorts us to "walk as children of Light." Such statements do not suggest that we can lose our salvation through disobedience. They only teach us to bring our conduct into harmony with what we actually are. It is like when my mother used to tell me to "Act your age!"
Our eternal relationship to God cannot depend upon our own obedience. Would a mother threaten to send her child to an orphanage for disobedience? Is our relationship to God based upon mere works, when human family relationships are based upon the faithfulness of the parents to love and care for their children? Are human parents more devoted to their children than our heavenly Father is to us?
Matthew 7:11 – "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"Moreover, in any true church there are likely to be both those who are truly saved and also those who appear to be saved but are not. The epistles were written with both types of people in mind. To those who were truly saved, the apostle would reassure them by telling them that they had been chosen and predestined by God and were eternally secure in Christ. To those who erroneously assumed themselves to be saved, the apostle gave warnings about God’s coming judgment upon the lost. This is no proof that those who actually were saved could ever be lost.
In summary, true believers cannot fall away from their faith because true faith is given by God. Yet, in any church, or gathering of those who profess Christ, there is a possibility that some of the individuals do not possess genuine faith. These "mere professors" can and will "fall away" from their profession of faith (1 John 2:19).