This is something I read this week in response to a discussion I had on the Other Religions/Doctrine forum with a gentleman over the importance of baptism. I went to book I had by this author, and found this chapter on baptism. Just thought I'd share it, and see if any had oppositional views. So here you go. In Hid Grip, joshua BAPTISM AND SALVATION Dr. Robert N. Wilkin (from the book Confident in Christ ) Grace Evangelical Society The role of baptism in relation to salvation has long been a matter of intense interest. Both Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism have traditionally taught that baptism is the means by which one enters the Church, the Body of Christ. In this way of thinking, there is no salvation apart from the Church. Quite a few Protestant denominations teach variations of this as well, while others offer a mix of traditions, and a few do not practice water baptism at all. Thus, baptism is not an issue that affects only one or two branches of Christendom. The whole tree must deal with this question. Even if you are not in a church that teaches baptismal regeneration (the necessity of baptism for salvation), you have probably been exposed to this teaching. During my four years in college ministry on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, I was often confronted by students trying to convince me that baptism is required to be born again. A few years ago I had a formal debate with a Protestant pastor in Baytown, Texas, a suburb of Houston, before 400 people from his church and denomination. He argued vociferously that no one could go to heaven apart from baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. That debate was a vivid reminder to me that many people believe submission to Christian water baptism is a condition of eternal salvation. I have been baptized not once, but twice. A Serbian Orthodox priest christened me as a baby. Then when I became a believer at age twenty, I was baptized again, this time by immersion, by a Baptist pastor. The Case for Baptismal Regeneration A handful of verses do seem to teach that one must submit to Christian water baptism in order to gain eternal salvation. I will cite the four passages mentioned most often, explaining how proponents of baptismal regeneration use the verses. 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.’” Peter says that you must be baptized in order to receive the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, both of which occur at the point of regeneration. Hence, baptism is a condition of the new birth. Acts 22:16. “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” Ananias had told Saul of Tarsus, later the apostle Paul, that he had to be baptized to wash away his sins. Since the washing away of sins occurs at the new birth, baptism must be a condition of regeneration. Mark 16:16. “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” The Lord Jesus says here that salvation is for the one who believes and is baptized. Baptism is directly stated as a requirement of salvation. 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.” The apostle Peter says here that baptism saves us. The Case Against Baptismal Regeneration * Many passages say that believing in Christ is the only condition. A major problem with the argument for the necessity of baptism as part of salvation is that it contradicts many Scriptures that say that faith in Christ is the only condition for salvation. Because the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, the verses cited above can’t mean that baptism is a requirement of regeneration. The Gospel of John, written after the birth of the church to tell church-age people how they might be born again (John 20:30-31), does not even contain the word baptism. And, while the verb form to baptize does appear, none of its occurrences remotely suggests baptismal regeneration. However, in overwhelming contrast, the word believe occurs ninety-nine times. Over and over again we learn that the one who believes in Jesus has everlasting life and will never perish (John 1:12-13; 3:14-16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-27; 20:31). Either these passages are wrong – more than believing in Christ is required – or else baptism is not a condition of eternal life. * Regeneration occurs at the point of faith, before water baptism. The gospel does not change from person to person. If baptism is a condition of salvation for some, then it is a condition of salvation for all. If there is even one example in Scripture where a person was born again before undergoing Christian baptism, then baptism is not a condition of eternal life. Consider, for example, the salvation of Cornelius and his household. Peter, considered by many an advocate of baptismal regeneration, was sent by God to Cornelius, a Gentile, to tell him how he might obtain eternal salvation (Simon… will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.” Acts 11:13-14). After preaching the death and resurrection of Christ, Peter said, “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). The very next verses say: Cornelius and his family were born again and received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. At the very moment they believed in Christ they were born again. * Baptism is not a part of the gospel message. The gospel message, no water baptism, is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). In 1 Corinthians, in a digression about water baptism, Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect” (1 Corinthians 1:17). If people are saved by hearing the gospel preached, and they are (Romans 1:16, 10:14), then Paul’s statement here shows that eternal salvation is independent of Christian baptism. * Baptism does not mean immersion in water. Most people do not know what the word baptism means. If they grow up in one type of church, they think it means sprinkling with water. If in another type, they think it means immersion in water. The noun baptisma , translated—or actually transliterated—“baptism,” most often refers not to Christian baptism, but to the baptism of John. And, even when baptisma does refer to Christian water baptism, it is not the designation baptisma all by itself which tells us this. It is only when immersion in water is indicated in the context that we conclude that water baptism is in view. The truth of this is indisputable when we consider that baptisma is often used figuratively in the New Testament. For example, authors of Scripture quote Jesus five times referring to His approaching death as a baptism which He dreaded, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50; see also Matthew 20:22, 23; Mark 10:38, 39). Obviously, this doesn’t refer to Christian baptism! Nor does it refer to Jesus’ own water baptism at the hands of John the Baptist—which occurred three years earlier at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus dreaded His “identification with” sinful man by His death on the cross. Another figurative use of the word baptize is when Paul spoke of the new nation of Israel being baptized into Moses: “All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:2). Clearly this doesn’t refer to immersion in water. It was the Egyptians, not the Israelites, who got wet! And the Israelites were not immersed in water when following the cloud that led them by day. The nation of Israel was “identified with” Moses and his faith in the cloud and in the sea. The basic sense of the term, a sense which includes both figurative and literal uses, is “to identify with,” “to be placed into,” or “to be immersed in.” The context must reveal whether the usage is figurative or literal and what it is that one is being identified with, placed into, or immersed in. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is another waterless baptism: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13; see also Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). Whenever a person is born again, the Holy Spirit baptizes him, or places him, into the Body of Christ, the Church. This is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. * Christiam baptism is the first step of discipleship, not a condition of salvation. The purpose of Christian baptism was stated by the Lord Jesus in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). In the Greek there is only one command: make disciples. It is surrounded by three attendant participles: going, baptizing, and teaching. As the disciples went out, they were to baptize and teach those who believed their gospel message. Baptism is thus the first step in discipleship. It is an act of obedience to Christ’s command. When we are baptized, we publicly identify ourselves as believers. This is why the candidate for baptism is commonly asked, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” or “Do you believe Jesus’ promise that whoever believes in Him has everlasting life?” Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Go therefore and save people by baptizing them and by teaching them.” The means of gaining eternal salvation is by believing the gospel. The way one becomes a disciple of Jesus, something altogether different, is by being baptized and by learning Jesus’ instructions. Therefore, the purpose of Christian baptism is to identify oneself as a believer in Jesus Christ, as one who wishes to follow Him. Ideally, baptism is the first act in following Him. Unfortunately, today many new believers are not told of Christ’s command to be baptized and so they put off baptism, sometimes for years or even decades. When I was a pastor I baptized one of the church leaders who had submitted to baptism as a teenager, but didn’t believe the gospel until his twenties. He had never considered the need to be baptized again until he realized that baptism was for believers. Some born again believers put off Christian baptism because they just don’t feel like doing it. The underlying problem, I believe, is that they don’t understand its importance. It is a public testimony of one’s faith in Christ and desire to follow Him in discipleship. If it was important enough that the Lord gave it to the Church as one of only two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we should certainly obey Him in this. Though it is not necessary for eternal salvation, it is necessary to obey and please God. * Those tough texts don't teach baptismal regeneration. Finally, what about those tough texts on baptism cited at the start? Let’s consider each of them. 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.’” There are various ways to explain this verse. Keep in mind that it can’t be teaching baptismal regeneration, since Peter later told Cornelius and his household that all who simply believe in Jesus receive the remission of sins (Acts 10:43). They believed and received the remission of sins and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” before submitting to Christian baptism (Acts 10:44-48). The key to understanding this passage and the next one is to recognize that regeneration is not mentioned here. Before Gentiles and Samaritans were incorporated into the early church, people were born again before they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Compare Acts 8:12-17 and Acts 19:2, 6. Peter was speaking to Jews who had been in Palestine during the Passover. They were thus responsible for participating in crucifying the Messiah whom they thought of as an imposter. However, when Peter preached at Pentecost, they “were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37)—that is, they believed Peter's message that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and the Savior—and they cried out, “What shall we do?” They already believed the saving message, that Jesus is the Christ, the Giver of eternal life (John 20:31). They were looking for a way to escape the terrible guilt of having crucified the Messiah. Peter told them they must be baptized in order to receive the remission of all the sins they committed against the Messiah, arresting Him, trying Him, scourging Him, beating and spitting upon Him, cursing Him, mocking Him, and crucifying Him. While it is true that the normative experience is for people to enter the Body of Christ with a clean slate in terms of fellowship forgiveness (1 John 1:9), these were exceptional people and exceptional times. They hadn’t entered the Body of Christ yet, though they already believed and had eternal life. They also hadn’t received fellowship forgiveness yet. For Jews guilty of crucifying the Messiah, they had to repent of those sins and submit to Christian baptism to receive fellowship forgiveness and to receive the Holy Spirit and be placed into the Body of Christ. In Acts 10:43-48, however, Peter presents the normative experience, one which soon became the experience of all, which is the reception of the Spirit and fellowship forgiveness at the moment of faith and regeneration. Admittedly, this is not a widely held explanation of Acts 2:38. However, it is, I believe, what Peter meant. We know that Acts 2:38 is not an absolute statement of the condition for all people to receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit, since Peter told Cornelius and his household that all they had to do was believe in Christ for these things (Acts 10:43). Acts 22:16. “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” Ananias told Saul of Tarsus, the apostle Paul, that he had to be baptized to wash away his sins. Saul was also a Palestinian Jew guilty of crucifying the Messiah. He too needed fellowship forgiveness, what Ananias calls the washing away of sins. We know from Galatians 1:11-17 that Paul, by his own testimony, did not receive the gospel before men, but directly from Jesus Himself. He believed the gospel and received eternal life on the road to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him and led him to faith. Mark 16:16. “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” Many commentators have noticed that the Lord specifically says that condemnation is for disbelief (Jesus made the same point in John 3:18), not for disbelief plus failure to be baptized. Thus whatever the first half of this verse means, the second half clearly indicated that the basis of escaping eternal condemnation is merely believing in Christ. There are several ways the first half of the verse can be understood. Some suggest that the baptism here is Holy Spirit baptism. Thus the point would be that those who believe in Christ and are placed into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit will be saved. Zane Hodges suggests that the salvation spoken of here refers to more than the reception of eternal life. Whenever Luke and Paul use the word save, they always use it to refer to the full package, eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Since Jews who were in Palestine during Jesus’ crucifixion needed to believe and be baptized to receive the full package, the Lord in this summary statement includes faith and baptism for reception of the “salvation.” While both of these views are possible, I am inclined to a third view. The expressions salvation and save refer to deliverance of some kind. This most likely refers to salvation from the wrath of God eternally requires only belief in Christ (Mark 16:16b; Romans 10:10a). To escape it here and now includes, and is symbolized by, baptism or by confessing Christ. Therefore, Jesus is speaking in a summary statement of the conditions of escaping the wrath of God eternally, by believing, and temporally, by believing and obeying. 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.” Two questions must be answered. What type of salvation and what type of baptism are in view here? First, what kind of salvation and deliverance does Peter have in mind? The type behind the antitype is the salvation of Noah and his family from physical death through the ark. This had nothing to do with spiritual salvation from hell. Likewise, Peter was almost surely speaking of believers being saved here and now from the judgment of God. The apostle Peter said here that baptism saves the believer from God’s judgment here and now. As Noah was already a believer, so too were the people mentioned in 1 Peter 3:21 who needed salvation or deliverance. Second, is this referring to Holy Spirit baptism or Christian water baptism? Most likely Christian water baptism is in view, since it is “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” When a believer is baptized he is taking the first step of discipleship. That step is “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” If a believer jeeps taking steps of obedient discipleship, following through with the implicit commitment made at baptism, then he will be saved from God’s judgment here and now. The four texts we have considered must harmonize with other Scriptures which say that eternal life is conditioned solely on believing in Christ. It is unwise to develop a doctrine using difficult texts and then twist the meaning of simple texts to fir that understanding. Instead, we must develop our doctrine based on the simple texts and let that understanding guide us in interpreting the tough texts. Be Baptized, But Not to Gain Eternal Life The bottom like is this: if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you should be baptized as soon after you come to faith as is feasible. Since only those who believe in Christ are to be baptized, and since all believers already have eternal life (John 3:16), only people who are already born again are baptized. As I mentioned, I was baptized at age twenty, shortly after I came to faith in Christ. The reason I chose to be baptized was not to be born again. It was because I was so grateful for the eternal life that Jesus had given me that I chose to obey Him and be baptized. Don’t be confused. If you think you must be baptized to go to heaven, you don’t believe Jesus’ promise, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). He didn’t say, “He who submits to Christian baptism has everlasting life.” The sole condition is to believe in Him for eternal life. Believe His promise and you will know you have eternal life. Then, by all means, be baptized in order to please the one who has given you such a marvelous gift.