For centuries, men have debated the issue of whether water baptism saves souls or not. Catholics, Orthodox, and even some Protestants would say, yes, water baptism does save a person, or at least contributes to his salvation. But we would certainly disagree with that conclusion. So, today we will look at just a few basic thoughts on baptism.
No doubt, many of you are familiar with the old story of a group of blind men who were attempting to describe an elephant by touch. One man is holding the trunk and begins to describe that part of the elephant. One is feeling the elephant’s side and he describes that. Another is holding and describing the tusk, another, the ear, etc., etc. And thus, they all have a different view of what an elephant is. But what they are overlooking in their descriptions is the fact that they are all neglecting to take the whole elephant into account.
And it is much the same way with particular groups who read certain Bible verses concerning baptism, like Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, and 1 Peter 3:21 and insist that water baptism saves the soul. But again, the problem is that they are not looking at the “whole elephant,” i.e., they are not taking the whole message of Scripture into account.
First and foremost, a thorough study of Scripture will reveal that a person is saved by the grace of God, through faith (in the Person and suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross), apart from any type of works that we do (e.g., Titus 3:5, Ephesians 2:8-10, Romans 4:4-5, 11:6). Of course, good works certainly do have an important role in the life of the Christian, but they don’t save us. We have a number of articles on this specific topic that demonstrate this fact. (Don’t forget to see the “Comments” section of each article, as well). See here:
The conclusion of these articles is simply that works cannot save us. Good works are an expression of thankfulness to God for saving us. They are the result of true salvation, not the cause. We don’t earn salvation through them. Helping your neighbor, giving to the poor, following the Ten Commandments the best you can, being honest, not hurting anyone… these are all good things, and God expects us to do these. But again, none of this saves us. And baptism is no different. It is a good work that does not save.
But there are also those who would agree that good works don’t save a person’s soul, but yet, they still want to believe that our sins are forgiven in the ritual of baptism. So, trapped in their own dilemma, they will insist that baptism is not a work. And since it is “not a work,” they can still believe that baptism saves. Problem solved, right? No, this argument is invalid for several reasons. See here:
If baptism saves, then a person is necessarily an unbeliever before his baptism. But never do we see an unbeliever baptized in the New Testament. Water baptism is for the believer. It is for one who is already saved, the one whose heart has been changed by God.
Ok, so if it is NOT for salvation, then what is the purpose of baptism, then?
Baptism is the parallel to Old Testament circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12). The purpose of circumcision was to identify with God, and circumcision has always been a SIGN of the covenant that God had with His people (Genesis 17:10-11). But it was not circumcision that saved Abraham, but rather, his faith (Romans 4:9-10). In the case of adults, if we want to be honest, there is certainly more “commitment” in the act of circumcision than in the act of baptism. Yet, Abraham’s painful circumcision DID NOT SAVE HIM. Likewise, neither does baptism (circumcision’s New Testament parallel) save anyone today. Baptism is simply a testimony, a (usually) public identification with Christ. It is a sign, a symbol, a visible representation of what happened to us when we surrendered to Jesus. Baptism is to show the world that we have “died” with Christ, we are “buried” with Him, and we are also “raised” in newness of life and in submission to Him.
Baptism is a bold statement declaring your allegiance to Jesus Christ, and your commitment to serving Him. Things are different today, since the great majority of people in America getting baptized are not risking their lives in doing so. The early church faced death and persecution for those who identified with Christ. During the early church period, if you were baptized, you were often marked for death. But back then, most were not ashamed of their Savior, and they were willing to die for Him. This is one reason why baptism is closely associated with salvation in the New Testament. Water baptism didn’t save them, but it certainly demonstrated their level of commitment.
Lest anyone accuse us of “hating” or “dishonoring” baptism in any way, this is not the case at all. We respect baptism and acknowledge it as a very meaningful, God-ordained activity. It is a profound and important event which all Christians should do and it should not be taken lightly. Baptism is one of two church ordinances, the other being communion, or “breaking bread” / the Lord’s Supper. Communion is a symbol that points back to what happened to Jesus on the cross, and baptism is a symbol that points back to what happened to us, the believer, when we submitted to God and allowed Him to change our hearts and lives.
Another thing to remember when dealing with this topic is that, not every verse that mentions “baptism” or “baptized” is speaking of water baptism. We will get into this more later on.
In Part 2, we will discuss popular Bible verses on baptism. Stay tuned…