About Baptism

Q – I want your take on Baptism. Is it essential for salvation? Is this a two part series or is it truly believing Christ died for my sins enough? I have been baptized, but I want to know how this works.

Jim – There are indeed churches that insist on baptism as a condition of salvation. But, I have always approached such debates this way: if you are going to state something as being universally true (like “you must be baptized in order to be saved”) then all you need to do is find one exception and it is no longer a universal rule.

In other words, if I can find even one person in the Bible who is assured of salvation, despite not having been baptized, then I can safely conclude that baptism is not essential to salvation. And, of course, such a person exists. The thief on the cross next to Jesus gives no evidence of understanding any doctrine, having any church affiliation, or being able to perform ANY meritorious act of obedience in attempting to secure his eternity. He knew one thing and one thing only. He knew to look to Christ. And, of all the people who appear in the pages of Scripture, no one had a more secure word from Jesus than that thief did –

“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

So, if we can conclude with any certainty that the thief was saved without baptism, then baptism is not essential for salvation. And, I think that’s a pretty safe conclusion.

Now, what is the point of being baptized? Well, for one thing we ought to do it because it is commanded by our Lord.

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt 28:19-20)

According to the Apostle Paul, this baptism is to be undertaken by believers as an outward profession of their alignment with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection –

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:” (Rom 6:3-5)

“Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” (Col 2:12)

Paul also argued that baptism led to unity within the church –

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Eph 4:1-6)

Now, some argue that baptism is as essential to salvation as faith and belief are. They get this idea from reading Jesus’ words recorded by Mark –

“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:15-16)

The argument contends that since Jesus said that those who both believe and are baptized will be saved, then those who are not baptized are lost. But, Jesus did not stop where their argument stops. He went on to form the contrast between the saved and the unsaved. And He did not declare that the un-baptized would be lost. Rather, He stated that the unbelieving would be lost.

So, faith in Christ is the essential element in salvation. By our faith in Christ we will submit to baptism as an open declaration of that faith. Remember that such an open alignment with Christ could get you killed during the first several hundred years of the church’s existence. You really had to be committed in order to submit to baptism. Today, baptism is a much more comfortable, less dangerous ritual.

But, we submit to baptism out of obedience to Christ. We are baptized to identify ourselves with Christ. But, a person may indeed believe in Christ and die prior to undergoing baptism. They are not in any jeopardy. Christ is sufficient to secure our eternity. Our baptism is simply a declaration of our faith in Him.

Q – Okay, so I threw the thief on the cross out to the person that has made this a question for me and he simply stated, “Christ was still alive when the thief was on the cross. Therefore that negates the thief being someone that required baptism. Your take??

Jim – My take? Well, that’s certainly one of the more peculiar arguments I’ve ever encountered.

What your friend appears to be arguing is that salvation is accomplished through synergy – Jesus made salvation possible, but we make it actual through some activity of our flesh; in this case baptism. Some Catholics say that membership in their church is essential. Some Pentecostals say speaking in tongues are essential. Some Landmark Baptists say that being baptized by someone who was baptized by a Landmark is essential. Some Oneness Pentecostals say that being baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is a faulty baptism and you must be re-baptized into the single name of Jesus. It goes on and on….

I reject all of those notions. And, I reject them most strenuously. If the Bible is true, the single sacrifice of Jesus “perfected forever” those whom He sanctified (Heb. 10:14) That means that we – His chosen, elect church of the redeemed – were secured eternally by the work He finished at Calvary. There is nothing we add to His finished work.

We do not add our faith – faith is a gift. We do not add our repentance – repentance is the work of the Spirit. We do not add our good works – our best works are filthy rags. We do not add our decision – we did not choose Him, He chose us. We do not add anything at all to His final, complete and wholly effective redemptive work.

Your friend would have us believe that Jesus did not actually save anyone. He merely made salvation possible provided someone gets dunked under the water and proper words are said. In that case, salvation is dependant on the person. I reject that wholly and completely.

Secondly, baptism was a common practice among Israelites long prior to Jesus. Think: “John the Baptist.” Now granted, John’s baptism was a form of repentance from sin, not signifying the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (which had not yet happened). But, the question before us is whether baptism is ESSENTIAL to salvation. So, I contend that the thief’s salvation without baptism is adequate proof that it is not; the question of whether Jesus was alive or not is secondary. The question we are debating is a question of requirements for salvation. Are we to believe that baptism was not essential as long as Jesus was alive but then suddenly, after Calvary, a new requirement for salvation was added? Salvation, whether before or after the cross, has always been accomplished the one and selfsame way – through faith in the Redeemer.

This is so important. I do not know why people wrestle with it. Salvation is accomplished wholly and completely by Christ. The only requirement is faith in His finished work, which faith is a gift He gives to the very people He has deigned to save.

Now, as for evidence that baptism is not an absolute requirement for salvation, when Jesus rose from the dead, many graves in Jerusalem were opened and the “saints that slept” rose and went about speaking in the city. (Mat. 27:52-53) It’s impossible to believe that these resurrected “saints” (“hagios” – holy, separated for God’s own use) were not saved. Yet, since they all died prior to the resurrection, none of them would have submitted to “believer’s baptism.” So, I not only have one exception – I have many exceptions. Hence, baptism in Jesus’ name cannot be categorically argued as absolutely essential to salvation.

This argument about whether Jesus was alive or not is a red herring. It muddies the discussion. If people are ever saved without being baptized, then baptism is not a stipulation in salvation. Plus, this thinking reduces the efficacy of Christ’s work and brings our fleshly efforts up on par with Christ’s atonement, making us not only the deciders of our fate, but the completers of the work. And, that is not only unbiblical, it’s downright heretical.

Lastly, what would your friend say about children who die in the womb? Or, mentally retarded folk? If we believe that the two requirements to salvation are faith and baptism, are dead babies and mentally deficient folk lost? Or, is it our job to force baptism on them regardless of their faith? The Bible does not give any precedent for that approach.

No, salvation is of the Lord. He can save the unborn eternally on the basis of Jesus’ finished atonement. He can have mercy on the retarded through the grace established in Christ. Learn what this means – “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Rom 9:15) I will not limit that compassion to only those who had the good fortune to be either born or intelligent.

Anyway, I think you catch my drift. Sorry to be so rough, but I reject this sort of thinking with great prejudice.

Yours in Him,

Jim Mc.