Thursday, June 21, 2018

Are You Washed? - Does Baptism Save?

Please examine this topic with an open mind and an open Bible.  What's gospel? How can we be saved?  Does water baptism save?  Can a ritual bath or shower bring forgiveness?  Is a water rite the climax of a “salvation process?”

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16).  This is a good rap on the Gospel in capsule form.  Isaiah 53 is also an incisive summary of the Good News and baptism is not discussed (cf. Jn. 12:37,38).  Paul made it clear that faith is the key (not baptism):

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures ... Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed (1 Cor. 15:2-4,11).
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Rom. 1:16,17).

Paul told those in Corinth, "I because your father through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15). If baptism were part of the gospel he could have said, “I become your father through a ritual washing."  Did Paul baptize many at Corinth?

I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, ...  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel - not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. ... For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:14,17,21).

Baptism is a work (Matt. 3:14,15).  God "saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy" (Titus 3:5).  "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8,9, cf. Rom. 11:6).  Consider this passage from Colossians chapter two:

In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands.  Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead (Col. 2:11,12).

This speaks of spiritual circumcision and spiritual baptism.  Both baptism and circumcision are outward symbols that refer to inward change (Deut. 10:16, 30:6; Lk. 3:16, Acts 7:51).  These rites symbolize our departure from our old wicked ways into a fresh life with God.  "And he [Abraham] received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.  So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them" (Rom. 4:11).  Baptism, like circumcision, is a symbol of salvation, not a button you push in order to obtain heaven.

In Exodus 13:9,16 "sign" is used to mean "reminder" and "symbol."  Abe was saved before circumcision (Rom. 4:8-10).  Inward circumcision of the heart is our crucial need (Rom. 2:29).  No outward ritual saves us.  God saves us through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Galatians clearly teaches that adding works to grace destroys the real gospel:

Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.  You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Gal. 5:3-6, cf. 6:15)

The contrast is between works, such as baptism, and grace (a free gift), between circumcision (an outward action) and faith.  Baptism can't give life, only Jesus can!  See Acts 15:1-11.  Why then be baptized if it isn't required for salvation?  Jesus commanded it in Matt. 28:19, isn't that reason enough?

What about Acts 2:38?  "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  Be sure to check out the context (Acts 2:14-41).  Peter's central Scripture passage is Joel 2:28-32 (vv. 17-21).  Joel spoke of God's promise to pour out the Holy Spirit and he didn't point to baptism but concluded with, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  

The believers at Cornelius' house received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18).  What does "for" mean in Acts 2:38?  "For" is a very broad word: "Jim jumped for joy!" “Sue was given a ticket for speeding." The Greek word for "for," εἰς (eis) can mean “with reference to," "in relation to," "concerning," "because of" etc.  Consider the following uses of eis:

  • "they repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Lk. 11:32)
  • "about" (Eph. 5:32)
  • "take pride in himself" (Gal. 6:4)
  • "beyond" (2 Cor. 10:13)
  • "while he stayed in the province of  Asia" (Acts 19:22)
  • "I baptize you with water as a sign of your repentance" (Matt. 3:11, Phillips)

The thing we have to do in order to gain forgiveness according to the book of Acts is believe in Jesus and repent of our sins: Acts 3:19; 4:4; 10:43; 11:20,21;  13:38,39,48; 16:31; 18:27.28.  Search "baptism," "faith," "repent" and "believe" in the New Testament and prayerfully seek God's will to resolve this issue in your mind.

What about Jn. 3:5? "I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."  First, think context (Jn. 3:1-21).  In this passage "born of water" occurs only once, while believe is mentioned seven  times.  Jesus said, "unless a man is born again. he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Jn. 3:3).  "Born again" can also mean "born from above" which tells us that this new and different kind of birth comes from God.  Jn. 1:13 points out that than new birth doesn't come from man's efforts but from God alone.  

In John 3:4 Nicodemus is thinking on the physical level and seemingly seeking salvation through his own abilities.  As "Israel's teacher" he should have thought of Ezekiel chapter thirty six:  

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ez. 36:25-27)

Note the parallels with John chapter three.  Ezekiel is speaking of a spiritual change brought about by the Holy Spirit not an outward ritual required to get to heaven.  Similarly, Isaiah makes a comparison between water and the Spirit (Is. 44:3).  Elsewhere in John we see that Jesus compares the Spirit with living water (Jn. 4:10-15; 7:37-39).  We're born again through the Gospel contained in the Word by the Spirit (1 Cor.  4:15; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23), not by water!  John doesn't contradict himself, we're saved through faith, not water (Jn. 1:12; 3:36; 5:24; 6:28,29,47; 8:24; 11:25-27).  Are you a believer?

... these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (Jn. 20:31)Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (Jn. 3:18)Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God ...  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? ...  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 Jn. 5:1,5,13)

Faith - not water.  Let us know what you think about baptism ... 

Further Reading
Bob Ross has written on Campbellism and the "restoration movement" (Acts 2:38 or bust).
Jay Adams, famous as a pioneer in the Biblical counseling movement, has written a short but sweet book on baptism.
In the 1800's, James W. Dale produced an exhaustive four volume work on the uses of the word "baptism" from the Scriptural, Patristic, Judaic and Greek contexts.