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Fighting for the Faith
Does Baptism Save?

In 1Peter chapter 3 verse 18 the apostle writes, ”For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, WHEREIN FEW, THAT IS, EIGHT SOULS WERE SAVED BY WATER. THE LIKE FIGURE WHEREUNTO BAPTISM DOTH ALSO NOW SAVE US”. What exactly was Peter saying here? If I were to make the same statement I would quickly be labeled a “heretic“ by most evangelicals today. But Peter is clearly comparing the eight souls saved by water in the days of Noah to how water baptism (like figure would have to mean water, wouldn’t it?) now saves us. But most of us have been taught that water baptism, or believer’s baptism ( I am not addressing the error of infant baptism in this article) does not play a role in our salvation. It has been explained that water baptism is the first act of obedience, or first ordinance which a newly born again Christian is to agree to do. That water baptism is an outward symbol of an inner change that has already taken place inside of an individual. What is the truth of the matter? Let’s look into the scriptures and attempt to find out.

As we just recalled from the Old Testament, God saved Noah and his family through water and it is paralleled with our own water baptism. In 1Cor. 10:1-2 the apostle Paul does the same thing with the passing of the Israelites through the Red Sea when God miraculously delivered (saved) them from the Egyptians. Paul also figuratively equates that passing, which saved them, with baptism. Also weaved in throughout the Old Testament Law we see God commanding the Israelites to perform various washings with water for cleansing and Ezekiel prophesied that as part of the New Covenant, God would use water to cleanse us from our sins. (Ezek. 36:25-27) So throughout the Old Testament we see references to water as being the method or vehicle, if you will, which preceded or brought salvation to mankind. Could this be the purpose for Christian water baptism? Let’s look a little closer.

As we move into the New Testament we find John the Baptist baptizing Jews in the Jordan for the remission of sins, God once again using water to signify cleansing from sin. From here we move on to Jesus’ own baptism and we find something very significant happen at this event. At Jesus’ baptism, the first Christian baptism, we see Jesus go down, and then come up from the water to simultaneously receive the Holy Spirit. The first Christian baptism, which was a model to fulfill all righteousness, was of water and Spirit at the same time. Then shortly after this event we see Jesus having a conversation with a man named Nicodemus in which He states, “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5) and also in Titus 3:5 we read, “but according to His mercy He saved us, BY THE WASHING OF REGENERATION AND RENEWING OF THE HOLY GHOST.” It might appear from Jesus’ example and these two passages that a washing (water) and a renewing (Spirit) are supposed to occur simultaneously when one is saved or born again. But let’s look a little further. What else does the New Testament teach us about water baptism?

In Ephesians 4:5 we read that there is only one real baptism in regard to the Christian faith. Now we will find baptism used figuratively in a couple of other passages but the only literal immersion is that in water. I’ve heard some people try to make the claim that there are two baptisms of significance, one in water and one done by the Spirit but based upon Eph. 4:5 and our example and passages above, it would seem to make more sense that when we go down into the water we receive the Holy Spirit simultaneously at our ONE baptism. No contradictions or voiding of scripture then. But what else can we find?

Well, in Acts 2:38 Peter, while delivering His first message at Pentecost, tells the Jews that were believing the gospel that they must, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ FOR the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Interesting, if you’re believing, and then you repent and undergo water baptism then you will receive the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost. But haven’t we been taught that baptism should come after the remission of sins and gift of the Holy Ghost? Why does it say the opposite here? Is there anything else to consider?

In Mark 16:16 Jesus Himself said, ”He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Once again, we believe, (and knowing that Jesus stressed the need for repentance throughout His teachings) we repent and then we are baptized BEFORE we become saved. Not “AFTER” as so many teach today. But many will say that the second part of that verse says, “but he that believeth not shall be damned.” and since it doesn’t say that he that isn’t baptized shall be damned, that it must mean that baptism is not an essential requirement to be saved? Is this true? No! It is not necessary for baptism nor repentance to be mentioned also in the second part of this verse because they form a major part of what believing is. Believing encompasses repentance and baptism. So if one is not believing they will naturally not repent nor be baptized so it would be redundant to mention them also. Are there any other passages to consider?

Well in Acts 22:16 the apostle Paul was being exhorted by Ananias to hurry and be baptized. Why? To have his sins washed away. Would this make any sense if he had already been forgiven and saved? No, clearly water baptism preceded or brought forgiveness of sins again in this instance. What about Romans chap. 6 verses 3-4 which read, “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.” Here again, during water baptism we are buried with Him and then raised up to newness of life. What a beautiful description of the new birth which is said to occur here at one’s baptism and how beautifully we see all of these passages in perfect harmony with one another.

Is there any more evidence to examine? How did the early church view this issue? Let’s look at some statements from some very early Christians:

Barnabas- (70-130AD) Believed by the early Christians to be Paul‘s companion. “Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water. We indeed descend into the water full of sins and defilement. However, we come up bearing fruit in our heart, having the fear of God and the trust in Jesus in our spirit.”

Ignatius- (105AD) Believed to have been trained by one or more of the apostles. “He was born and baptized so that by His passion He could purify the water.”

Hermas- (150AD) Believed by Origen to be the Hermas of Romans 16:14. “Before a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead. But when he receives the seal, he lays aside his deadness and obtains life. The seal then is the water. They descend into the water dead, and they arise alive.”

Justin Martyr- (160AD) “Christ has redeemed us by being crucified on the tree and by purifying us with water.”

Irenaeus- (180AD) Was taught by Polycarp who had been discipled by the Apostle John. “Scripture says, “and he dipped himself seven times in the Jordan.” It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized. Rather this was a symbol for us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean from our old transgressions by means of the sacred water and the invocation of our Lord. We are spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, just as the Lord has declared, “Unless a man is born again through water and the Spirit, he will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Irenaeus- (180AD) “When we come to refute them (the Gnostics), we will show in its proper place that this class of men has been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God. Thus, they have renounced the whole faith. For the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus was for the remission of sins.”

Theophilus- (180AD) The things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this also could be a sign of men being destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and bath of regeneration- as many as come to the truth and are born again.”

As far as what the early Christians believed, (from 70-200AD) it appears that they universally believed that water baptism played a vital role in salvation. As a sidenote, the only early group who taught that baptism did not play a role in the actual salvation process were the Gnostics, a heretical group from the apostle John’s time. Now it is true that doctrine should not be derived merely from history but the scriptural evidence we put forth earlier combined with these testimonies makes for a very compelling case, in my opinion.

So, why does the church today see it the other way around? The primary reason - is because they are desperate to hang onto their “cheap grace” or “easy-believism” message. The message that proclaims that there is absolutely NOTHING you have to do to be saved. This false gospel makes the Lord Jesus’ teachings heretical as He told us that there was much for us to do! But instead of viewing the Master’s teachings as foundational, and viewing Paul’s epistles in light of Jesus’ teachings they look to Paul only and thereby void Jesus’ teachings.

So now what? We’ve examined the pertinent passages regarding this issue and have found that the apostle Peter’s statement that “baptism doth also now save us” is a truism. The early Christians clearly believed the same thing. So what role does water baptism play in our salvation? Peter tells us in that same passage which we examined at the beginning of this article,” The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, BUT THE ANSWER OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE TOWARD GOD) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Water baptism is our answer, our expression of faith if you will, when we turn to God (repent) and then obtain a good conscience toward Him. Today the sinner’s prayer is used in a similar fashion but nowhere in scripture will you read of a sinner’s prayer. Water baptism is the method, or vehicle, that God has ordained from which a repentant sinner is supposed to express their faith to Him and it is supposed to be at this same juncture when a person will receive forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and in essence, be born-again.

But one might argue that they were clearly saved (born-again) prior to their water baptism and I must admit that my experience was the same. So does my experience contradict all that I’ve been trying to prove here? No, the Bible clearly teaches that we are justified by our faith. That is not in dispute. We are not justified by water. But God requires that we express our faith by repenting and being baptized before He grants us salvation from sin. Once again, the sinner’s prayer has become the vehicle today by which one is told to express their faith. Most would believe that the sinner’s prayer precedes or simultaneously occurs with salvation yet no one would claim that the prayer itself justifies us before God. Baptism was intended to be used in the same manner. It was to be our answer of a good conscience toward God, not the sinner’s prayer. It was to lead us to salvation. The whole purpose of this article is to determine if God intended that water baptism be used as the vehicle for one to express their faith, and if it has been proven that He did, then shouldn’t that be the method we should be using today?

Finally, was I saved prior to my water baptism? Yes, I believe I was. I believe God saved me from my sin because He saw that I had genuine faith. If the preacher would have told me that I had needed to be baptized then I would have gotten baptized because of my faith. But I was told to say a prayer and God chose to honor that because of my faith and in spite of that preacher’s error. Praise God that He is bigger than our errors but that does not mean that we shouldn’t use the method of water baptism that He has ordained. It is essential, as subjects of His kingdom, to do things His way. That is my plea to the church.

Now I know all you heresy hunters will try to have a field day with what I’ve written in this article. One thing I ask, I’ve heard all of your explanations on why the scriptures I’ve quoted do not mean what they say. Some of you have gone to great lengths to explain away every one of them. But one thing I’ve noticed, you will exhaust such great energy in trying to make these passages void that you never attempt to prove your own position from scripture. I maintain that there is not ONE single passage which will support clearly, the notion that water baptism was intended to be an act of obedience after one has already been saved. Before you begin searching I will briefly mention two passages which I do not believe satisfy the criteria listed above. The mention of the thief on the cross is one which usually comes to the forefront, but he died under the Old Covenant, before Jesus rose from the dead, before the Holy Spirit was given, and even before the command to baptize in the Great Commission was given. Next up is Acts chap. 10 which was clearly a very unique, monumental event, Jews witnessing God’s acceptance of the Gentiles for the first time. In the gospels, Jesus had instructed the disciples not to go the way of the Samaritans or the Gentiles. Because of this fact and the fact that the Jews did not believe that salvation was for the Gentiles should make it very easy to see why the disciples might be somewhat apprehensive about accepting either of these two groups without first witnessing a miracle, a confirmation of God‘s acceptance. Peter was given a vision from the Lord to be convinced to go to Cornelius and the sign of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues was needed and given to prove to the Jews that God would now be accepting of the Gentiles. The Bible says that the Jews require a sign (1Cor. 1:22) and it also says that speaking in tongues is used as a sign (1Cor. 14:22) and this was the sign given to Peter and the Jews on this occasion. After this sign Peter then immediately said “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized.” strongly implying the necessity of the cleansing in water and they were then immediately baptized. Also, to further accent this point we read in Acts 11 of how when Peter returned, the Jews disputed with him and rebuked him for going to the Gentiles, and only after Peter described the miracles that had occurred did they believe that God had indeed accepted the Gentiles also. So, with that being said, go searching and focus on making a more compelling case from scripture for your position than I have put forth here. If you can, I will acknowledge my error, but if you cannot, then begin to do things God’s way and preach the need for repentance and water baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Ghost. May God bless you as you search out and confirm His eternal truths.

 

 

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