IS WATER BAPTISM ESSENTIAL FOR SALVATION?
Some religious groups that claim to be Christian, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, teach that in addition to professing faith in Jesus Christ, one must also be physically baptized for salvation.
This belief, also called “baptismal regeneration,” forms the basis for a works plus faith doctrine that requires physical water baptism to be performed upon a new convert by authorized personnel within the religious institution before members consider the convert “saved.” There are several problems with this belief. First of all, when Scripture expounds on the salvation process, rarely is physical water baptism even mentioned. Instead, emphasis is given to faith (belief/trust) in Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and repentance (confessing and turning away from sin) to make Jesus Christ Lord and Savior. Secondly, as the following Scriptures explain, salvation is said to be “by faith” alone, apart from the works of human righteousness. Notice that baptism is not even mentioned in any of these verses:
Thus, if one adds the work of physical baptism to the salvation process, this would invalidate Scripture’s emphasis upon justification by faith alone and fall under the condemnation of Scripture that explains:
Thirdly, when physical baptism is mentioned in Scripture, it is given in the context of Christian discipleship and used as a sign of true saving faith (Matthew 28:19; Acts 10:47). Since there is a difference between what Christians “do” in obedience to Christ after salvation and what is given as a necessary requirement for salvation, we believe that the first act of obedience a true follower of Christ should participate in is baptism, but it is not an essential part of the salvation process. This can be clearly seen when we examine the passages that speak of baptism:
In this passage, Jesus clearly articulates what he means by proclaiming that one must be “born again.” In response to Nicodemus’ question about how a person can be physically “born” twice from his “mother’s womb,” Jesus explains that the first birth is “of water” by being “born of the flesh” (i.e., out of the womb), while the second birth is “of the Spirit” which is the making alive of one’s “spirit” through a spiritual baptism. Titus 3:5 explains:
Here we see that the “washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” is a reference to the spiritual birth or baptism spoken of by Jesus when He told Nicodemus that he must be “born of the Spirit.” This spiritual baptism occurs at the moment a person places his faith in Christ, just as Jesus promised that He would send His Holy Spirit to indwell His followers:
It is noticeable that in none of these passages is the physical act of water baptism given as a prerequisite to the spiritual baptism of being “born of the Spirit” during salvation. Rather, emphasis is given to the indwelling and sealing of the Holy Spirit immediately upon trusting Christ for salvation.
Here the term “baptism” is clarified as “not of the removal of dirt from the flesh” (i.e., water baptism), but rather “an appeal to God for a good conscience” —that is, baptism by the Holy Spirit who regenerates and renews the spiritual side of a person so that they can have a “clear conscience” through Christ before God. Thus, this passage does not support baptismal regeneration.
Here again, we see “baptism” being used as a symbol of the spiritual baptism that occurred when one died to the sins of his old life and made Jesus Lord and Master (Romans 10:9). This is the picture that physical water baptism gives. Falling backward into the water (releasing the whole body to be submersed into the water) is the picture of a person who spiritually dies to the sinful pleasures of his old life, just as Jesus physically died to pay for mankind’s sins. Then, when the person is physically raised up out of the water, it pictures the spiritual renewal of the Holy Spirit given to help the person “walk in newness of life,” just as Jesus rose from the dead through the power of God’s Spirit. 2 Corinthians 5:17 explains:
Next, consider the example of the thief who died next to Jesus at Luke 23. Although he was not baptized when he placed his faith in Christ, Jesus promised him:
Finally, consider that Paul excluded water baptism from the preaching of the Gospel when He said:
While this verse is often used to support baptismal regeneration, the real dispute in this verse is over the use of the word “for” in the phrase “for the forgiveness of your sins.” There are two ways one can interpret this word:
Reconciling this passage with the rest of Scripture, we would hold to the second meaning of the word “for” being applied here so that the verse in essence would be saying: “...be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ [on account of] the forgiveness of your sins.” Thus, Acts 2:38 would be viewed as proclaiming that because one’s sins are already forgiven through faith and repentance, one should also become baptized.
Another way to interpret this passage is to view the word “baptism” used in this passage as a reference to the spiritual baptism described at Titus 3:5 where the “gift of the Holy Spirit” regenerates and renews the spiritual side of a person. This would also fit with the context of this passage where it proclaims that one would “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” upon being baptized. If baptism in this occurrence is a reference to the spiritual baptism of the Holy Spirit that occurs at the moment that a person places his faith in Christ and is saved, it would also agree with the testimony of Acts 10:44-47 where we read that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given before physical water baptism took place:
Thus, either interpretation of this passage fits with the context of Scripture that demonstrates that salvation occurs by faith in Christ alone, prior to water baptism.
Notice that this passage describes the washing “away” of sins. The only question is whether this occurs with the act of being “baptized” or the act of “calling on His name.” We would view it as being connected to the latter phrase, “calling on His name.” Thus, the washing away of sins would occur the moment a person calls upon the name of Christ for salvation, not at the moment of physical, water baptism.
While Mark 16:16 comes the closest to teaching baptismal regeneration, it still falls short when one considers the second part of the verse that proclaims that the only person who is “condemned” is the person who does not believe. Thus, a person is “condemned” for failing to believe in Christ, not for being un-baptized. So, even with this passage, one can argue that the baptism mentioned in the first part of the verse is a reference to the act of obedience that occurs after the “belief” that saved the person is professed.
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