Does Baptism Save?
Is water baptism required for salvation? Can baptism save a soul?

Sharon asks: Do baptism and the Cross of Christ work together in salvation? Can a person be saved who genuinely repented of their sins, genuinely placed their trust in Christ's work on the cross and their baptism for the forgiveness of their sins? In other words, this person genuinely believed that he or she could not be saved unless they were water baptized. Does this person's understanding of the Gospel run counter to Ephesians 2:8-9? In our geographic location, one dominant denomination advocates the water baptism as a requirement for salvation.
Question about A Point of Doctrine: Baptism
Motivation - Curiosity: Discussion with friends; Guidance: Support my position
Bible view - The Word of God - [question 18, Saturday, 30-Jul-2011]

Sharon asks a good question about biblical salvation. What, precisely, is salvation anyway?

Dictionary.com defines salvation as 'the act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss, destruction, etc.' This is a good definition when it comes to biblical salvation. A person who is biblically saved is protected from the harm, risk, loss, and destruction of sin.

Ok. What, then, is sin?

Again, Dictionary.com defines sin as 'transgression of divine law.' From the Bible's point of view, a person sins when he or she breaks one of God's commandments. So, for instance, if you tell a lie, you are breaking the 9th commandment (You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. [Exodus 20:16]) or if you make something more important than God in your life, you are breaking the 2nd commandment (You shall have no other gods before Me. [Exodus 20:3]).

The Bible constantly warns against sinning, because it brings trouble and hardship to people's lives. Sin has immediate consequences, causing problems, pain, and sorrow. It also has far-reaching consequences, dooming a person to Hell after he or she dies.

So Bible salvation is protection from trouble now, and from going to Hell in the future.

How is a Person Saved?

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.
- Ephesians 2:8ff [NASB]

Sharon quotes a key Bible verse about salvation. It is shown in the box at the right. A person is saved by 'grace through faith as a gift of God, not works.' Now we have more words that need definition. What is grace? What is faith? What is works?

Buzzwords - Hold on, now. This is getting complicated. There are too many buzzwords. Buzzwords are a turn-off. In modern parlance, a buzzword is a single, short word used to represent a larger thought or idea. Language is full of them. We use them all the time in everyday communication. Buzzwords are, in fact, very efficient forms of communication. But, unless you are familiar with the buzzwords, you miss the meaning of the entire conversation, hence the turn-off.

The table below gives a summary of the buzzwords we have seen so far in Sharon's question. Understanding these Christian buzzwords will help clear our thinking in the matter of baptism and salvation.

SalvationProtection, deliverance from enemies of our eternal soul. Salvation is protection from the harm, risk, loss, trouble, destruction, and eternal consequences of sin. According to the Bible, a person who is saved is protected by God while living, and goes to Heaven upon death.
SinWrongdoing, rebellion against God. Sin is the act of breaking one or more of God's laws, rules, precepts, or commandments
GraceFavor. In the case of God's grace, it is favor that people do not deserve (because they are sinners), but God gives it anyway. Grace is unmerited favor.
FaithBelief mixed with trust. In the case of Christian salvation, faith is heartfelt belief and trust that Jesus Christ is who He says He is: the Son of God who shed His blood to save us from sin. Saving faith is so strong it enables people to turn away from their sin, that is, repent. Saving faith is a gift of God.
WorksThings we do. Good works are things we do in obedience to God with the intent of pleasing Him, such as going to church, helping the poor, or being a missionary.

So the verse in Ephesians (and other verses like it; there are several) says we are saved by God's undeserved favor, through believing and trusting what Jesus says about Himself, and we are not saved by things we do for God.

To answer the question about water baptism, we have to determine if baptism is part of faith or part of works. If faith, then baptism saves. If works, then baptism does not save.

Questions about Water Baptism

Questions about water baptism have been argued over and over throughout the centuries since Jesus commanded us to do it:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 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.
- Matthew 28:18ff [KJV]

These questions have caused great divisions in Christendom, and entire denominations have formed over baptism and other considerations like it. Jesus told us to do it, but He did not go into much detail. So we argue. After all, arguing is what people do best!

(Aside: It is sad that there is so much division over water baptism. To AFTB, it is not a major doctrine of the Church. It is important; but far less important than, say, clearing the air on our buzzwords in the table above.)

Here is a list of questions about water baptism:

  • Why baptize?
  • Does baptism save a person?
  • Is baptism necessary for salvation? (Sharon's question)
  • Should all infants be baptized?
  • Should only infants of Christian parents be baptized?
  • Should infants not be baptized, only adults?
  • Is sprinkling with water enough for baptism?
  • Is full immersion in water the only valid baptism?
  • What words should be said during a baptism ceremony?
  • Does water baptism equate to baptism in the Holy Spirit?

As you can see, there is plenty here to argue about!

Only the first question (Why baptize?) is not up for grabs. Jesus commanded us to do it. But all the other questions remain. In this article we address Sharon's question: Is baptism necessary for salvation? We will present both sides of this argument, then draw a conclusion.

Yes, Baptism is Part (or All) of Salvation

The Roman Catholics are the biggest proponent of baptism and salvation. In fact, Catholics believe that baptism itself saves a person. It is called baptismal regeneration wherein the act of baptism, properly administered, causes a person to be born again, or regenerated, as in John 3:

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
- John 3:3 [KJV]

Roman Catholics do not restrict themselves to the Bible as their sole source of spiritual truth. Edicts, interpretations, and teachings from Church history through the ages are added to the Bible, along with several religious books that are not accepted by Protestants or Jews. Nevertheless there are several Bible passages that support the Catholic view, shown below.

Further, certain Protestant denominations align, at least partially, with Roman Catholicism. Paedobaptist Protestants (paedo meaning child) such as Lutherans and Episcopalians teach that children of believing parents should be baptized as infants, thus inducting them into the covenant community of the Church.

Several Bible passages defend Roman and paedobaptist views, with the most compelling in Mark chapter 16:

He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:16 [NASB]

The coupling of believing (faith) and baptism with the conjunction 'and' strongly indicates that faith and baptism work together in salvation.

Again, in Paul's letter to Titus there is a passage that indicates similar tieing of baptism to salvation:

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
- Titus 3:4ff [NASB]

In this verse it is clear that God saves not based on our deeds which we have done (works) but based on His mercy (grace), aided by a washing (immersion, baptism) of regeneration and renewal. The idea of washing is certainly tied with water baptism, so the verse can be interpreted that it is necessary for salvation.

In the next example a similar tieing water to salvation takes hold:

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.
- John 3:5 [NASB]

It is not a long leap to connect Jesus' words 'born of water' to 'baptized.'

In another place in the Bible, Peter is talking to a group of Jews about Jesus Christ. The Jews respond in a positive manner, with faith, 'pierced to their hearts,' and Peter then instructs them about baptism, re-inforcing the connection of faith with baptism:

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?' 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 2:36ff [NASB]

Here it clear that baptism added to repentence forgives sin (that is, saves) with the additional benefit of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Further, the apostle Paul appeals to the Old Testament ritual of circumcision as a parallel to water baptism. Dating all the way back to the time of Abraham in Genesis, the outward sign of God's covenant with His people has always been circumcision of all male children on the eigth day after birth (an argument for infant baptism). Paul expounds on circumcision as being a fore-runner of water baptism in this verse:

in Him (Jesus) you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 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.
- Colossians 2:11ff [NASB]

With the five Bible scriptures quoted above (there are others as well), the case for the necessity of baptism as a pre-condition of salvation appears completely opened and shut. But it is not opened and shut. Each scripture has a counter-argument as presented in the next section.

No, Baptism is not Necessary for Salvation

As much as the Roman Catholics support tieing water baptism to salvation, probably the Baptist denominations are the most vehement about separating the two.

In this section we re-present each of the five Bible verses above and annotate them with the case against the necessity of baptism for salvation. Note: In the next section we draw our conclusion on the matter.

He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. [Mark 16:16, NASB]

On first reading, this verse seems to tie baptism directly to faith (belief) with no room for any other interpretation. Also, it clearly shows that lack of faith (disbelief) results in condemnation, the opposite of salvation. Thinking about it further, however, reveals that the verse does not say anything about faith without baptism. What happens then? Is baptism really a prerequisite for salvation? In fact, the verse does not address this question at all, but leaves it open, as indicated in this simple graphic:

Mark 16:16
Mark 16:16 does not address the question at hand: is baptism necessary for salvation?

In fact, there are counter-examples in the Bible that address the question 'can an un-baptized person be saved?' and the answer is 'yes.' The most prominent example is the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus at the crucifixion. See Luke 23:40. The thief responds in faith to Jesus and receives a great promise from the dying lips of Jesus 'Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.' The thief was certainly saved, but he died before being baptized.

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 [Titus 3:4ff, NASB]

The idea of washing and pouring out brings a mental picture of water, but, in fact, water is not mentioned anywhere in this verse. Baptism implies immersion. In this case, the baptism is explicitly in the Holy Spirit, not water, so water baptism is not active in salvation.

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. [John 3:5, NASB]

Unlike the prior verse, this verse mentions water explicitly. But what does 'born of water' mean? It could imply water baptism, but it could also imply bodily fluids associated with human reproduction. Interpreting this verse to mean that water baptism is necessary for salvation is a long stretch.

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?' 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 2:38, NASB]

The account of salvation for this group of Jews is very exciting. It was the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the crucifixion, when God poured out His Spirit on mankind in a way prophesied in the Old Testament years before (Joel 2:28, etc.). Peter delivered a short sermon, and Jews responded with heartfelt faith. They were 'pierced to the heart' and, at that point, saved. In response, they wanted to know what to do next. Peter instructed them to be baptized. So the baptism came after salvation, it was not a per-requisite for salvation.

in Him (Jesus) you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 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. [Colossians 2:11ff, NASB]

The entire New Testament book of Galatians deals with the question of 'adding to' the Grace of God. Back at the beginning of the Church a few years after Jesus' death and resurrection, a group of teachers in Galatia (Turkey today) wanted to add Jewish circumcision to saving faith. When he hears this news, the apostle Paul goes ballistic, writing his letter to the Galatian church and warning that this group should be thrown out and their teachings completely nullified. It is what theologians call legalism, wherein circumcision, baptism, or a hundred other 'good things' are added to simple faith for salvation. Legalism cripples Christians. Paul is so upset, he calls the Galatians 'fools.' It is an important matter.

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
- Galatians 3:1ff [NASB]

Our Conclusion

With all respect and understanding for Roman Catholics, paedobaptist Protestants, and the millionos of people who sincerely believe in saving merits of water baptism, AFTB rejects the idea that it is required for salvation. Legalism has no part in the Christain walk. We are saved, and we live, by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. In fact, if there were anything at all a sinful person could do to attain salvation or warrant God's favor -- anything such as submitting to an ordinance, participating in a sacrament, obeying God's law, being baptized, going to church, giving money, or dieing as a martyr -- Jesus did not have to die on the cross. His death would be in vain:

I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
- Galatians 2:21 [NASB]

Should I Be Baptized?

Yes. It is a public confession before others of your committment to Jesus Christ and the Christian walk, acknowledging and pledging yourself to be dead to sin and alive to God. Jesus commands it.

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

No. Adding baptism, or anything else, frustrates the Grace of God.

Mon, 26-Jun-2017 03:44:53 GMT, unknown: 642327 ABsESnykOUwzY
main_action=