Questions on Baptism

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I had a comment come through my email regarding our Statement of Unity on CombatingUnbelief.com.  The question was in regards to baptism and its role in salvation.  I have written more extensively on baptism in an article that can be found on our Q&A Page called “Questions on Baptism“.

THE QUESTION

Your statements about baptism says:
“We believe that though baptism is a subsequent response to the gospel, it is not a part of the gospel message (1 Cor. 1:17)
• We believe that you are saved through what baptism symbolizes; not the physical act, but a pledge of a good conscience towards God (1 Pet. 3:21).
• In other words, though baptism doesn’t save you, you must be baptized if you are saved. If you refuse to be baptized, then it is an outward expression of your rejection to submit to Christ.”
I wanted to ask about this…I’ve had a different understanding on this topic. I’d like to discuss it, but I have no interest in debating it….I used to debate quite often, but found that it produces quarrels and brings about poor fruit (1 Tim. 4:24)
I believe fully that we are saved by grace, through faith, and that salvation through Christ is a gift of God that I could never earn. I also believe that as a new creation in Christ, we are called to live differently than the world lives, that we are to produce fruit.
Your statement says that baptism doesn’t save you….I understand that it brings a pledge of a good conscience towards God, which is what 1 Peter 3:21 says, but that verse also says that baptism saves you, but your statement of unity says that it does not. Many people call baptism a “work.” I have never understood where that belief came from…..if baptism is a work, then why is confessing with the mouth (Rom 10) not considered a work also? I believe that we are saved by faith, through grace, and that baptism is not a work, but something that God has included as part of His gift to us, a way to unite with His Son (Rom. 6:3-5), the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
If you compare the 3 tellings of the account of Saul’s (Paul’s) conversion in Acts 9, 22, and 26, you will find a man who is faced with Jesus, the one he has been persecuting. He now has a belief in Christ. He is blinded and led to a home on Straight street in Damascus….where he fasts and prays for 3 days. He has faith in Christ, he prays for 3 days….we can certainly assume that in those 3 days of prayer he asked for forgiveness, yet when Ananias comes to him, he says, “And now what are you waiting for, get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away, calling on His name.” (Acts 22:16)
I think we would all agree that there is no salvation if we have not been freed from our sins……and we are told here that it is baptism that washes them away…..not by our own “work”, it is a gift of God to have this removal of our sins….but the Scriptures teach here that even after 3 days of prayer and fasting by a man who now believes in Christ, his sins were not washed until he was baptized……the pledge of a good conscience toward God comes by this gift of baptism, because it saves you (1 Peter 3:21)
Again, I wish for no debate or quarrel….I am only passionate for the furthering of God’s Kingdom through the spreading of the Gospel….and I would like to know your thoughts on this.

In Christ,
Michael



MY RESPONSE

Regarding Paul’s conversion accounts, I read them, just as I read Mark 16:16, in the context of the rest of scripture.  I try to interpret scripture with scripture (as I’m sure you do as well).  There are at least 4 ways I see that you can interpret Acts 22:16 which says, “And now what are you waiting for?  Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name.”


1) “Wash your sins away” meant exactly that – the waters of baptism would actually wash Paul’s sins away.  Even if Paul repented and believed immediately on the road to Damascus  he hypothetically would have gone to hell if he died before Ananias got there to baptize him, because it’s the water that actually cleanses sins.

2) “Wash your sins away” meant to do what 1 Peter 3:21 says to do – make that pledge of a good conscience towards God.  In this sense, baptism would be the consummation of Paul’s faith in Christ.  To use a human analogy, sex is the consummation of marriage.  Sex doesn’t make a couple more married than when they pledged their vows.   In this interpretation of that particular scripture, Paul was still saved and would have gone to heaven if He died before getting baptized, but being baptized was the required next step to complete this decision of following Christ.

3) Paul was in need of his sins to be washed (cleansed), even after his sins were forgiven.  We see in 1 John 1:9 (which according to 1 John 5:13 was written to believers) that Christians can be forgiven AND purified (cleansed), even after salvation.  First, you notice in 1 John 1:9 that there is a difference between forgiveness, and cleansing.  Second, both forgiveness and cleansing happens even after salvation.  If you sinned today, Michael, you could confess your sins, and God would forgive you and purify you – even though you have been forgiven and purified.  This is the process of sanctification.  You have been sanctified at the moment of conversion (positional sanctification), but you are also being sanctified continually until you meet Christ face to face (progressive sanctification).  If you have this understanding, then you could interpret Acts 22:16 as meaning that Paul was forgiven, but needed to be cleansed by making his outward declaration to follow Christ through baptism.  

4) You could interpret Acts 22:16 as meaning that Paul didn’t actually repent and believe until Ananias came and gave him the final message from God, and a call to respond.  Similar to the story with Cornelius in Acts 10.  Cornelius prayed to God regularly (just as Paul prayed for days).  Cornelius saw a vision (just as Paul saw a vision).  Cornelius was told to send for Simon/Peter.  Paul was told that Ananias would come to him.  Peter gave Cornelius the gospel and told him and his household to be baptized with water… Ananias gave Paul God’s message and told him to be baptized.  So, you could say that Paul wasn’t saved before Ananias got there because he didn’t really believe, and it took the final words of Ananias to get Paul to the point where he would receive Christ and be baptized.  

Also, it’s interesting to note that in the account of Cornelius, he and his household were told to be baptized AFTER they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:47-48).  

I would go with interpretations 2, 3 or 4… I probably lean more towards 4, but I’m open to the other two as well.  Based on the overwhelming evidence of Scripture against the first option, I would immediately have to rule that interpretation out. I saw from your first email that you read 1 Peter 3:21 differently.  You said, “the pledge of a good conscience toward God comes by this gift of baptism, because it saves you”, but I would encourage you to just read the verse at face value.  There’s no way it says that, unless you read it into the text.  In context, Peter is comparing Noah’s arc to baptism, saying that Noah’s baptism “symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.”  Just read it again, carefully.  He DOES say that baptism saves you, but then quickly interjects by clarifying that it’s NOT the removal of dirt from the body (not the physical act of washing in the water)… “BUT” – that’s an important word.  Don’t leave out the “but”.  “But” means, “it isn’t the removal of dirt from your body that saves you, what saves you is what’s coming after the word ‘but'”… “but the pledge of a clear conscience towards God”.  Two very important words in that verse: “not” and “but”.

You mentioned, also, that confession wasn’t a work, but Romans 10:9 says that if you confess, then you will be saved.  I agree that confession is not a work, unless you are saying that it was your confession that saved you.  In other words, if anyone is entrusting their eternal salvation based upon a time in their life where they made a confession of Christ, then I would say that the were wrong.  That’s one of the reasons so many people are going to hell in America – they were told by some preacher “Romans 10:9 says to confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and you’ll be saved…  do you want to repeat a prayer after me where you confess Jesus as Lord?”  Then they walk them through the “sinners prayer” and leave many false converts with an empty assurance of salvation based on their confession.  I’ve met people who actually believe that their confession saved them, even though Jesus clearly wasn’t their Lord.  I also met several people who believed that baptism saved them, even though Jesus clearly wasn’t their Lord.  Confession, baptism, repentance… these are all things we do BY FAITH.  that’s the key.  It’s all by faith.  Faith has evidence.  If there’s no evidence, there’s no assurance that there’s genuine faith.  That’s the whole purpose of Combating Unbelief.  Visit our About Page and click on “why call it combating unbelief”.  

I know you said that you don’t like to debate, but there’s nothing wrong with debating.  It is scriptural, profitable, and necessary.  We are debating, but we’re doing it in a civil way.  

Don’t get me wrong, Michael.  Arguing that baptism isn’t a prerequisite to salvation isn’t therefore saying it’s not important, or even mandatory.  I would never, EVER dissuade anyone from being baptized by telling them that its not necessary for salvation.  Just as I would never tell anyone that they wouldn’t need to confess Jesus as their Lord.  I would tell them emphatically to confess Jesus as Lord, repent, and be baptized.  Then, I would clarify that you could have an empty confession, and a meaningless baptism if you don’t really mean it. 


I believe I wrote clearly my stance on baptism in the article I referred you to.  The only thing I would like to add is the reason I wrote about it so directly in our Statement of Unity.  Combating Unbelief is primarily an evangelism resource website.  Our goal is to equip and encourage saints to spread the gospel.  We say, along with Paul, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17).  We believe that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16); and that if baptism isn’t part of the preaching of the gospel, then it is not required for salvation.  My hope is that Christians would preach the gospel, and that those who respond would be baptized – but Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel. 

I hope this helps Michael.  Thanks again, and God bless!
Sean Tambagahan  

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