Baptism and Salvation

Baptism is one of the two sacraments we as Christians have been asked to keep (the other is the Lord’s Supper). There is a lot of confusion about the purpose of baptism and it’s meaning. It is to have a very real effect on our lives.

This paper shows how baptism is connected with our need for daily salvation.

Baptism, repentance and remission of sins: What is the order?

"But when they believed Philip announcing the glad tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women. And Simon also himself believed; and, having been baptised, continued constantly with Philip; and, beholding the signs and great works of power which took place, was astonished. And the apostles who were in Jerusalem, having heard that Samaria had received the word of God, sent to them Peter and John; who, having come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for he was not yet fallen upon any of them, only they were baptised to the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8v12-17).

But Crispus the ruler of the synagogue believed in the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptised." (Acts 18v7-9).

"Then Peter answered, Can any one forbid water that these should not be baptised, who have received the Holy Spirit as we also did? And he commanded them to be baptised in the name of the Lord." (Acts 10v46-48).

"And Philip, opening his mouth and beginning from that scripture, announced the glad tidings of Jesus to him. And as they went along the way, they came upon a certain water, and the eunuch says, Behold water; what hinders my being baptised? And he commanded the chariot to stop. And they went down both to the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptised him. But when they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and the eunuch saw him no longer, for he went on his way rejoicing." (Acts 8v35-39).

These experiences in scripture indicate that the persons concerned repented and believed before they were baptised. In other words, they had faith, were baptised and then in the case of the Samaritans they received the Holy Spirit; whereas Cornelius and his house received the Holy Spirit before baptism. People received the gospel, accepted that it applied to them, trusted in the Lord Jesus and were thus baptised as sinners. This must be referring to the salvation of the soul.

He that believes and is baptised shall be saved, and he that disbelieves shall be condemned." (Mark 16v16).

And Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God may call. And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, Be saved from this perverse generation. Those then who had accepted his word were baptised; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls". (Acts 2v38-41).

"For ye, as many as have been baptised unto Christ, have put on Christ. There is no Jew nor Greek; there is no bondman nor freeman; there is no male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3v27-28).

"And now why lingerest thou? Arise and get baptised, and have thy sins washed away, calling on his name." (Acts 22v16).

But these scriptures showing the teachings (not experiences) seem to show that baptism comes before, or it is by baptism that we get, remission of sins/putting on Christ/being saved. This is in contradiction to many other scriptures that clearly show that faith alone is required for salvation (see below). So there must be a form of salvation which is not connected to the salvation of our souls with which baptism is concerned.

Baptism and Salvation

I have spoken to some people who believe that someone must be baptised as well as having trusted in the Lord Jesus before they can be saved. We have been noticing that a number of scriptures do connect baptism and salvation. See again Acts 22v16 and Acts 2v38-41 above but also:

For Christ indeed has once suffered for sins, the just for [the] unjust, that he might bring us to God; being put to death in flesh, but made alive in [the] Spirit, in which also going he preached to the spirits [which are] in prison, heretofore disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited in [the] days of Noah while the ark was preparing, into which few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water: which figure also now saves you, even baptism, not a putting away of the filth of flesh, but the demand as before God of a good conscience, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 3v18-21).

But then see the following:

Therefore having been justified on the principle of faith, we have peace towards God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5v1).

“For every one whosoever, who shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved.” (Romans 10v13).

“Be it known unto you, therefore, brethren, that through this man remission of sins is preached to you, and from all things from which ye could not be justified in the law of Moses, in him every one that believes is justified.” (Acts 13v38).

“Now one of the malefactors who had been hanged spoke insultingly to him, saying, Art not thou the Christ? save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost thou too not fear God, thou that art under the same judgment? and we indeed justly, for we receive the just recompense of what we have done; but this [man] has done nothing amiss. And he said to Jesus, Remember me, Lord, when thou comest in thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him, Verily I say to thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23v39-43).

Baptism is quite clearly connected with salvation in some of the sections above and yet it is quite clear in other scriptures that salvation from our sins is by faith alone. The section about the thief on the cross clinches the point when the Lord says that he would be with Him in paradise and yet there was no possible way the thief could be baptised. All the thief had was faith and it was on that basis he received blessing.

The Bible isn’t contradictory so there must be a way to explain why remission of sins and salvation is connected with baptism when the whole point of the gospel in scripture is that we are saved and justified by faith.

One explanation is that the Jews needed to outwardly separate from the sins of the Jewish nation who crucified Christ. So the sins washed away in baptism presumably were the outward sins of the nation from which they were disassociating themselves. Their own personal sins were forgiven in repentance and they were exiting the Jewish nation with all it stood for in the rejection of the Lord in baptism.

Another thought for consideration are the several types of salvation in scripture.

  • Salvation from our sins (see Acts 2v21, Acts 4v12, Romans 8v24, 1 Corinthians 1v18, 1 Corinthians 15v1-4, etc).
  • Salvation from the present world (see Acts 2v40, Romans 15v31, Titus 3v3 – an ongoing process?, 1 Peter 4v17-19, see also Romans 7 and 8 plus John 17v9-11).
  • Salvation still to come (see Romans 5v9, 1 Corinthians 3v15, 1 Corinthians 5v5, Hebrews 9v28).

So, there is a completed, present and future aspect to salvation. Our sins have been forgiven and washed away by the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross. We are at present being saved from our sinful flesh and the world around us with the help of the Holy Spirit (see also Galatians 5v17). We shall be saved completely when the Lord comes for us and takes us out of this world where we shall never be troubled by unbelieving mankind or sin again. Perhaps we can think of it like this: Our souls have been subjugated by the Lord, our spirits are now being subjugated by Him as we learn His will passing through a world that persecutes us and finally our bodies will be subjugated being changed to be like His glorious body.

Romans 6 speaks about baptism in the context of living for Christ on the earth. 1 Corinthians 12v13 connects baptism with Christ’s body which is on earth. John the Baptist connected his baptism with a change in attitudes of life. Therefore, baptism must be in relation to present salvation. If it was necessary for past or future salvation the Lord would have ensured that the thief on the cross had a miraculous baptism or he would have told him that he couldn’t be saved because he wasn’t baptised. Thus, baptism must be linked with sanctification, i.e. being set apart for God and living for Him (see Titus 3v5).

"And ye are complete in him, who is the head of all principality and authority, in whom also ye have been circumcised with circumcision not done by hand, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of the Christ; buried with him in baptism, in which ye have been also raised with him through faith of the working of God who raised him from among the dead." (Colossians 2v10-12).

Colossians 2v10-12 connects baptism with circumcision. While there are some differences (e.g. circumcision was only for males, baptism for all) this does connect baptism with earth which, like circumcision, is also a sign of a covenant. This would make sense explaining why there was no need for the thief on the cross to be baptised. He had only hours to live and he was physically condemned to death in the world. He had put his trust in the Lord Jesus and he wasn’t actually going to be living in the world anymore. A deathbed convert is the same. They have but moments to live. There is no need for baptism because they aren’t going to be in the world anymore and don't need present salvation for life.

Does baptism confer anything on a person?

No, the previously mentioned scriptures (and many others besides) on salvation from sins show that all that is necessary for eternal salvation is to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. “For with the heart is believed to righteousness” (Romans 10v10). It seems to be a personal exercise whereby someone is identified with Christ, rejecting the world valuation of Christ and submitting to Him in his rule over their life, being marked out for God. By doing so we are associated with what is the Lord’s on earth in His sight, i.e. His body on earth. It is with the purpose of living then as reckoning ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. Peter shows that it is with the purpose of enabling us to live with a good conscience before God. It has nothing to do with eternal salvation but rather with present salvation from the influences of an evil world. I suppose that every believer should be constantly going through the baptism exercise everyday despite baptism itself only needing to be done once. We must always think nothing of ourselves and give everything to the Lord, submitting to His will.

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