Sunday, May 31, 2015

ON BAPTISM – Part 1 (A Few Basics)

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:

Three-fourths of planet earth is made up of water, but there’s not enough water in the world to wash away one single sin.  It’s not the water, and it’s not the ritual; the washing away of sin is only done by trusting in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross.  We believe that there are many who are going to Hell because they are trusting in the fact that they were baptized.

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…


  1. Russell,

    Baptism is the New Testament parallel to circumcision in the Old Testament. If circumcision is no longer necessary for our salvation, as ruled out by the Jerusalem counsel of Acts chapter 15, then why would Baptism be necessary for our salvation?


  2. Hi Jesse,

    Yes, that’s exactly my point! But circumcision was NEVER a means of salvation, even in the Old Testament, since Paul tells us that Abraham’s circumcision DID NOT save him (Romans 4:9-10). This concept seems to be really hard for Catholics (and others) to grasp. They can’t seem to tell us WHY Abraham’s circumcision didn’t save him, even though it was a God-ordained act of obedience! (Genesis 17:10-11) The simple answer is because it is a WORK, and works don’t save! The same can be said for water baptism.

    1. Hello Russell,

      Thanks for answering my question. I was not quite sure if baptism truly played a role in our salvation or not. The issue became confusing to me because I have examined several arguments for and against the theory of baptism being mandatory for our salvation. I cannot wait until you write an article refuting some of the "proof texts" that advocates of this heresy misuse. In all reality, the "baptism saves" or the "salvation by faith and works" position is rather illogical and is offensive to the Lord. Scripture tells us that we have been "forever perfected by one offering"(Hebrews 10:14) and "by the grace of God, we have been saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thus, believing in the single perfect sacrifice made by Jesus Christ is sufficient to bring us to eternal salvation with God in heaven. If we are thoroughly perfected by the work of Christ, then nothing else can save us from eternal damnation in hell. Adding "works" or anything else would imply that His work on the cross is inadequate and that Christ died in vain. We are either saved by faith or by works. We cannot have it both ways. Russell, think about it! If we could get the Catholics (and others who believe such) to see this false reasoning, then spreading the Gospel would become much simpler! Do you know of anything that can help Christians understand that baptism does not save?


  3. Russell:

    I have NUMEROUS PROOF TEXTS that prove you are WRONG! Baptism is essential to salvation and is evident from Mark 16:16; John 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21; Gal. 3:27; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 16:30-33, and James 2:24

    From your Roman Catholic buddy,

  4. Russell:

    Are you biblical or unbiblical?


  5. Hello again Jesse,

    I totally agree with you on this! You ask if I know of anything that will help Catholics and others understand that baptism doesn’t save. I think (and HOPE) that these articles are a good start in helping them to see the simplicity of the gospel and the truth concerning baptism. God bless!

  6. Hi Jonathon,

    Hey, I just posted Part 2 of this series on baptism, and some of your proof texts are addressed in this part. Some of the others will also be addressed in the final Part 3.

  7. Hello “X”,

    You ask if I am biblical or unbiblical. Well, I try to be as biblical as possible in my writings (and I am hoping that all who claim to be Christians do the same).

    Is there something else behind your question?

  8. Yes, baptism is a "a sign, a symbol, a visible representation of what happened to us when we surrendered to Jesus," but what sort of sign or symbol is it?

    Its a sacramental sign, and sacraments are particular types of signs, which, as Article 25 of the 39 Articles tells us, are not just "badges or tokens," but "EFFECTUAL signs of grace" and "SURE witnesses." [emphases mine].

    In other words, baptism, while inseparable from faith -- it cannot work 'ex opere operato' (at least not as that phrase is commonly understood) -- is not just a reminder of something that already happened in the past (it is that, but its not *just* that). It is both a sign and a seal of faith, completing and making fully efficacious a faith already underway. As John Gill (no Romanist, but a staunch Calvinist) said, it is in baptism that "faith discovers itself."

    A useful analog is the conception and birth of a child.

    From the moment of conception, a distinct human individual exists in his mother's womb. It is the moment of conception, not the moment of birth, at which a new life comes into being. But is only through birth that the process begun in conception comes to full fruition, and indeed conception has no goal or purpose without birth.

    Similarly, when a person believes on the name of Jesus Christ, they are in a sense "conceived" as an adopted son of God. A new life in the Spirit exists from this moment. But it is in baptism that the believer actually born again and named as as a son of God.

    I'm convinced that something similar to this is the only way to preserve both what the New Testament teaches about justification by faith, and the importance it places on baptism, which is never conceived of as a sort of nice bolt-on to a new life in Christ already begun some time before, but as an integral part of the believer's new birth.

  9. Hello Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comments.

    You are saying that baptism is MORE than just a sign, and you attach “sacramental” value to it. But “sacraments” (or any other such works) that effect salvation are not a biblical concept. Sacraments are, by definition, “signs that produce grace.” But there are some serious problems with this concept. See this article:

    If baptism is “an integral part [i.e., part of the CAUSE] of the believer’s new birth,” then what do you make of all the verses from the apostle Paul that specifically tell us that we are saved by faith, APART FROM the merit of our works (Romans 3:20-22; 3:28; 4:4-5; 4:9-10; 11:6; Galatians 2:16; Titus 3:5)?

  10. Dear Russell,

    This post is despicable. Everybody in the early church believed believed that infants should be baptized for THE REMISSION OF SINS. The consent was unanimous. Nobody even imagined baptism as being a mere public declaration of faith. That kind of reasoning did not show up in Christianity until 500 years ago. That only proves how lowly you view the sacrament of baptism. It is more than "just a symbol" signifying official entrance into the Church. Yes, everybody who isn't baptized in going to hell! You act as though the entire early church got it wrong until the timing of the Reformation. You literally take the Bible out of its historic, theological context to form your own view on baptism. This saddens me. Shame on you. What have you to say for yourself?

  11. Hello Tim,

    You said a number of things I’d like to address. You said:

    “You act as though the entire early church got it wrong until the timing of the Reformation.”

    But Tim, you’re acting as though you know everything that all the early church fathers ever said. Do you have all records of each and every church father on each and every topic he wrote about? Were you present there with them at that time to take a survey?

    When you say that EVERYBODY in the early church believed that infants should be baptized, or that NOBODY imagined baptism as being a mere public declaration of faith, you are implying that you have checked with “everybody.” Catholics love to emphasize “unanimous consent” concerning the fathers on any given topic, but this is simply unprovable.

    Like I said before, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. No doubt, we don’t have ALL the writings of any single church father, much less all of the writings of all of the fathers. We have SOME writings of SOME fathers, and we have an idea what SOME of them believed, but this doesn’t prove anything.

    Tim, you, like many Catholics, trust the fathers. But do you know that some of the fathers contradicted each other? Some even contradicted THEIR OWN teachings later on in life. You see, the fathers were fallible, just like we all are today. But if you want to use the writings of the fathers, why not go ALL THE WAY BACK to the ORIGINAL fathers – that is, to the writers of Scripture? To Jesus, Himself, and to the writings of the apostles? You will have a “more sure word” there (2 Peter 1:19).

    If you really did read all of the article, what I said at the beginning about us needing to take the Bible as a whole, is very relevant. If you take Scripture, in its entirety, observing all the examples it gives concerning water baptism, and understanding the doctrine of justification, then you will come to the conclusion that baptism does not save. What is “despicable” is the idea that mere humans think that they can merit salvation by doing a particular ritual, or work. That’s saying that Jesus didn’t do enough on the cross. Is that what you want to say, Tim?

    This is the crux of the issue. By the way, I go on in Part 2 and Part 3 in this series to further explain why baptism does not save. Maybe this will answer some of your questions.

  12. Russell,

    I wanted to bring to your attention this excellent article on Roman Catholic baptism:

    It also functions as a great illustration as to how Roman Catholics disagree amongst each other. So much for the unity argument!

  13. Hey Jesse,

    How's it going? Thanks for the link. I'll definitely check it out.