So we are on our third week and our third question in our iDoubt: Questions about Faith series. We have covered the questions: “What does it mean to be a disciple?” and “What is Salvation and Can you lose it?” Today we tackle the question, “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or is it simply a public declaration?” We’ll find out that again this question is strongly tied into our discussion about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, to follow him with your life and not just a mental ascent to a series of propositional truth phrases. That is why we began our series seeking to wrestle to the ground the concept of being a disciple of Jesus, and then seeking to answer the questions based on the dialogue and discussion around discipleship.
So the question for today again is “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or simply a public declaration?” Now it might seem like this is a simple question to answer from our thoughts and from Scripture but let’s dive deeper into it, and we’ll see it isn’t as simple as it seems. There are various Scriptures that talk about baptism and its’ relationship with salvation. Let’s read two and see what we might learn and how we answer this question about salvation and baptism. And we’ll see that on the surface it might look like these two different Scriptures actually differ in their understanding of the relationship between salvation and baptism.
Let’s look at Acts 10:44-48 first then we’ll turn to 1 Peter 3:21.
Acts 10:44-48 is part of the encounter of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion and Peter. Earlier in the chapter we see that Cornelius has a vision and in the vision God tells him to send people to Joppa to have Peter come and visit him. He sends 3 people to find Peter. Almost at the same time Peter has a vision where a sheet comes down from heaven filled with unclean animals (representing the Gentile population) and God tells Peter to get up and eat. Peter turns him down, and God tells him to not label anything God calls as clean, unclean. The three men get to the house, call for Peter, tell him the story, and Peter goes back with them realizing that God was telling him the gentiles weren’t unclean. Peter preaches the gospel to all who gather including Cornelius and verse 44-48 pick up the rest of the story and their response to Peter’s preaching, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
So let’s break down what happens in order. Peter preaches the gospel, the Holy Spirit comes upon his hearers, they receive salvation, Peter says “no one can stand in the way of these gentiles being baptized.” And then they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. It didn’t say that they got baptized and then received the Holy Spirit and salvation. Salvation came when each one of these Gentiles responded to Peter’s message with believing faith in their hearts, so that they were saved while they listened. Once they had received faith, baptism then was a recognition of the salvation that they had already received. Not one of the circumcised could object to Peter’s statement and decision to baptize these gentiles because as he put it, “they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” They realized that the Jewish believers and the Gentile believer’s were now on the same footing, there was no division anymore between Jew and Gentile. And so then these Gentile believers, after hearing the message of the Gospel, receiving the Holy Sprit, were then baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
But what exactly is Baptism anyway and what does it mean? Baptism can be described as a symbol and a pledge. It is a symbol, or an external sign of an inward change or an external sign of an interior faith. And it is a pledge to all who witness it to continue to die to self, and raise to new life in Christ. Most Anabaptists believe that baptism is an initiation into “membership” in the church and also see it as a boundary marker for the church community “over and against the world.” Baptism is not a means to salvation but a sign of it. The early anabaptist (or sometimes called The Radical reformers) believed there were was what they called a 3 Fold Baptism. The first fold was the baptism of the Spirit. This meant when the Spirit came upon people, they confessed their sin, they gave their lives to Jesus, and they began to walk in obedience to Jesus. The second fold was the baptism in water. One of the early Anabaptist said this about baptism in water, “Baptism in water in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit ... is nothing other than a public confession and testimony of internal faith and commitment.” And the last fold was Baptism of blood. Now when we hear this we immediately think martyrdom, and many early Anabaptists were indeed killed party because of their belief in believer’s baptism. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that. It means that even after baptism and seeking to be obedient to Jesus, followers of Jesus would still face the constant struggle of the flesh and of this world. The Killing of the old man (or women) so to speak was the third, panful and continual baptism.
And so when we break it down baptism is about obedience and discipleship. We seek, as followers of Jesus, to live and walk like he walked. Jesus was baptized so we should as well. But the waters of baptism are not salvific or regenerative. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important or not necessary. Plenty of places in the New Testament salvation and baptism are intertwined. Many places when the gospel was preached and received the texts say the people “believed and were baptized.” Always in that order. And when the jailer in Acts 16 asks what he could do to be saved, Paul and Silas answered him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” The jailer and his family did so, and then they were baptized. Also the story in Acts 8 where Philip shares the gospel of Jesus with the Ethiopian Eunuch, the Eunuch pulls the chariot over near some water, and asks Philip basically, “what can stop me from being baptized” and we see Philip and the Eunuch getting out of the chariot, going into the water, and Philip baptizing the Eunuch.
So from the whole of Scripture it looks like an open and shut case regarding our question, “Is Baptism mandatory for salvation or is it simply a public declaration?” It seems like everywhere we turn salvation and baptism are linked, in that people come to believe in the Lord Jesus, are saved and then are baptized. It seems pretty clear that salvation happens first, and then people in accordance with following Jesus are baptized as believers. That baptism is not a means of salvation but a sign of it. But is it possible then to be a follower of Jesus, be a disciple, and not be baptized as a believer? I believe it is possible. It is possible to be saved without being baptized. But another question that I have is if Jesus was baptized, and we are to follow his example, his lead, and have our lives emulate his life, shouldn’t we follow his example of being baptized and then be baptized ourselves as believers?
But let’s take a look at another Scripture that on the surface might seem that it contradicts the idea that baptism itself isn’t salvific. Let’s look at 1 Peter 3:21 which says, “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” From a quick first reading it looks like Peter is saying that baptism saves. But let’s take a deeper look at what he is saying to see if that is indeed what he is saying. In this text (3:20) Peter is making the connection between Noah and the ark and baptism. He is saying that Noah’s building of the ark to rescue his family points forward to baptism. Noah’s ark involved people begin rescued through the great flood and is a fairly obvious picture of baptism. And so the flood is an antitype of baptism. The flood and Noah's ark symbolizes baptism and baptism symbolizes salvation. Just as the water of the flood washed away sin and wickedness and brought a new world with a fresh start before God, the waters of baptism does the same thing, providing a passage from the old to the new. From death to life.
So baptism washes away sin and wickedness just like the flood, but Peter is careful here to point out that it isn’t the actual water of baptism that saves us but the spiritual reality behind the immersion in water. In fact, it is quite evident at the end of the passage what saves us. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:21 shows us that the water of baptism symbolizes a spiritual cleansing through the power of the Holy Spirit gained through Christ’s victory over death. Baptism then places us alongside the Messiah in his victory over death, sin, evil and hell by his resurrection. Baptism means that we die and then we raise to new life with the Messiah.
So I believe it is pretty clear from the whole of Scripture that salvation and baptism are linked together. That Scripture calls us to be saved and to show that salvation, that inner faith outwardly through the sacrament of baptism. But this doesn’t mean that baptism is in anyway salvific or brings salvation. Only belief in Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection brings that salvation. But at the same time, salvation is worked out in fear and trembling, and every day when we get up. And I believe part of that working out of our salvation, is being a disciple, and seeking to follow Jesus, his life, and his example. And I truly believe then that as a disciple of Jesus, if we want to follow him that that will eventually lead us into the waters of baptism. Do I believe baptism is mandatory for salvation? No, they are as I said two different parts but are linked together in Scripture. I would encourage anyone who has either not been baptized before (at all) or who was baptized as an infant before coming to faith in Jesus for yourself, to pray and seek God and see if he might be calling you to seal your commitment to him in the waters of baptism. To symbolize your inner faith externally by being baptized. To go down into the waters, dying to yourself and your old flesh, and rising out of the water into new life with Jesus. I would be more than happy to sit down with anyone, answer questions, and have a dialogue about baptism.
So let’s unpack this question a little bit further together. What are your questions about this question, the Scriptures and/or the message? What are your thoughts about the connection between salvation and baptism? How does this play out in our missional engagement in the wider world? What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?
1. What thoughts, comments, questions, insights, etc.. do you have about the question, the Scriptures and/or the message?
2. What are your thoughts about the connection between salvation and baptism? How does play out in our missional engagement with the wider world?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?