There are few words in the Christian vocabulary that can cause more difference of opinion and friction among believers than the word baptism. Many people will go out of there way to avoid this topic. Better to avoid it then cause dissention they think. To some this is a ticking time bomb best left alone, while others rattle their sabers and accuse all who do not practice water baptism as heathens who deserve to go to hell.
Salvation is an important subject to God. He sent His Son to the cross for it! So, we should not avoid the subject of water baptism and salvation but should go to the Scriptures to find out what they say. As we tackle this matter, please prayerfully consider the subject and let the Word of God be your counsel and the Holy Spirit your teacher. Go to the bible and see if these things are true. I hope you will honestly consider the points brought up in this article and not simply dismiss them because they differ from your position. To help us with are study on whether or not baptism is required for salvation, I thought it might be helpful remind the reader that the word baptism does not always mean to immerse in water.
Below is a short comment on the word baptism by Quinn McAuley.
It is a tragedy that so many people have been led into confusion based on the mistranslation of a Greek word. Most Greek words in the Bible are translated (a suitable English word is used for the appropriate Greek word), but some are merely transliterated (a Greek word is carried over into English). This is true of the Greek word ‘baptismos’. This has caused great confusion because church tradition has taught too many people to read water into every scripture that mentions baptism. In Scripture there are many baptisms (some have counted as many as 17 different baptisms in Scripture). There is the baptism with water signifying purification (Acts 1:5), and the baptism with the Holy Spirit (same verse). Now if words have any meaning, these two are not the same ‘baptisms’. I truly mean no irreverence, but if baptize always means to immerse in water, then the verse should read “For John truly ‘immersed you in water’ with water; but ye shall be ‘immersed in water’ with the Holy Spirit…” This brings up another distinction that must be made. The Jews were to be united to (the correct meaning of the word ‘baptize’ here) the Holy Spirit through Christ. This is Christ placing the Jewish believers into union with the Holy Spirit.
This is different than the baptism of Romans 6. There is no water anywhere in Romans 6. In Romans 6 we have the Christian believer being placed into union with Christ by the Holy Spirit. This is careful language. The believer is united to Christ in death. When Christ died, we died with Him. This blessed union is the foundation for Godly living (Romans chapters 6 and 7). So in Acts 1:5 we have two separate and distinct baptisms, serving two separate and distinct purposes, and in Romans 6 we have a third baptism. Since Scripture only allows the Christian believer one baptism (Ephesians 4:5), which one is it? Is it the Jewish baptisms in early Acts, or is it the one baptism which Paul preaches throughout his ministry?
Has water baptism ever been required for salvation?
Is water baptism required for salvation today? However, before we answer that question, the first question I would like to address is: Has water baptism ever been required for salvation? The answer to this is an obvious Yes. It is written in many places in the scriptures. Peter in Acts 2:38 after telling them that the “Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” calls them to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and in Acts 13:24 Scripture explians that John the Baptist had been preaching baptism for the remission of sins to the Israelites. It was clearly taught that baptism resulted in the remission of sins. Mark 1:4, Mark 16:15-18. A man could not be saved without being baptized; before receiving salvation you must be baptized. Notice the order of the words in Mark 16:16 Believe and be baptized. If you were to write this a formula it would look something like this Believe + Baptism = Salvation; without the baptism you could not receive salvation. So as these scriptures and many more in the gospel record clearly teach water baptism at one time was required for salvation.
If, as we have plainly seen that water baptism was required for salvation, what has changed that water baptism is no longer required for salvation today? It was Christ’s death on the cross and the new relationship it gave us with God.
God through the apostle Paul was going to reveal His new plan for man. Study the “But Now’s” of the Pauline epistles to get an idea of what has been made know and became true of us because of Christ’s death and resurrection. You can search the Old Testament, prophecies, and gospels, and you will not find Paul’s message there. It was a mystery. In these Scriptures, the mystery refers to a truth once hidden but now revealed; a secret now revealed by God. What is this mystery Paul was revealing? God had kept secret the purpose of His will to the world regarding Christ. But now through Paul He has revealed that Christ’s death on the cross is the basis of salvation and that there is now no difference between Jew and Gentile.
In the past He was the Messiah of Israel but now He is the Messiah to the whole world. 1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Our righteousness is not based on the law. No longer is circumcision or animal sacrifices required, or is water baptism required for the remission of sins. Our righteousness, our justification, our salvation is solely based on believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and the ransom he paid on the cross in our behalf. Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
Our Debt Paid
God paid our debt at the cross. Our freedom and salvation was purchased with His blood by His grace, not by water baptism or any other work Ephesians 1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace He died our death. This is the wonderful gift that God has given us. Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Our righteousness comes from Jesus Christ. Romans 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: When the Philippian jailer asked what must I do to be saved. Did Paul say repent and be baptized to receive the remission of sins? NO! Acts 16:30-31 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
We are justified freely, there is absolutely nothing we need to do to earn our salvation; it is a gift given freely by God. Romans 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Today we are saved freely by his grace, not by our actions or observing the law. Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward man. We are saved by faith through grace. Salvation is a gift of God—a gift we do not deserve. Grace is the basis for our spiritual joy and pleasure. Because of God’s love and mercy instead of the sinner being hell-bound as he deserves, he is given eternal life. It is because of this grace that we have peace. God is delivering us from the wrath to come 1Thesolonians 5:9-11 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.
Again and again salvation is linked to the Lord Jesus Christ without mention of water baptism. At the fall we violated God’s holiness and became a slave to sin. Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; God through Christ has purchased us out from slavery. God is Justifying the believer, declaring the believer righteous freely by His grace. Romans 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is nothing we can do to merit our salvation, it is only by Christ’s blood can we be declared righteous. Romans 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; What God is telling us today is that it is because of the blood Christ shed on the cross that we are saved.
God raised up a new apostle to preach the good news of the true meaning of the cross. Galatians 1:1 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) Paul did not receive this gospel from man but from direct revelation from God. Galatians 1:11-12 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Now if one plan was being superceded by another where in scripture can we find this change taking place? It was with the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 where Israel rejected Christ for the last time. This is where God began to set Israel aside, so that he could reconcile both Jews and Gentiles into one body. In fact after Stephen’s stoning you will not find any more miracles being recorded in Jerusalem.
It was at this point God began winding down His existing program “the law” and introducing His new programs “ the mystery” through Paul. Ephesians 3:1-9 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
God’s Word is progressive. God remains the same (Holy, righteous, unerring, etc.) but how he deals with man through history changes. Before righteousness was imputed to man through conditions of the law. Two of the most common ways this was accomplished was through animal sacrifices (Lev 4:14,22,28, Heb 9:22) and water baptism . These things were required along with many other tenants of the law but God had something better in mind. He had a one time sacrifice in mind. Previously man was under the yoke of the law. The law was perfect and just. It demonstrated that man could not live up to God’s perfect standard; a standard that must be satisfied if man was to enter heaven and fellowship with a Holy God. The law pronounced man guilty before a Holy and righteous God, sentencing man to eternal separation from God. But God in His mercy and grace gave His Son as a one-time sacrifice so that we may have life. Amazing!
The book of Acts describes the transition from one program to another. The law program was slowly being phased out while the mystery was being introduced. This means for a while aspects of both programs were in existence. The period of Acts was written between 48 to 55AD and the following books were written during this time period: Galatians, I & II Thessalonians, I & II Corinthians, and Romans. The book of Corinthians was written about 55 AD and in I Corinthians 8-13 Paul is telling us that the sign gifts like prophecy, tongues, … shall cease, fail, and vanish. That we only know and prophesy in part. We are like a child without full understanding but some day we will have full understanding then we will put away the prophecy, tongues, and other sign gifts and become mature adults. Paul is telling us we do not have a clear picture yet or full understanding. Paul illustrates this by using an analogy of a mirror (mirror at that time were usually polished metal that distorted the image.) With them you could not get an accurate likeness of the image. But Paul then goes on to finish the analogy by saying some day we will see clearly. He emphasis this point by saying we only know in part; we do not yet have the full knowledge but some day we will have the full knowledge.
Paul received the knowledge of the mystery gradually over a period of time and when Corinthians was written Paul only knew part of God’s plan but about five years later when he penned the book of Ephesians Paul had the full knowledge of the mystery. In the following verses again you can see Paul using the Greek word epiginosko, which emphasizes a full or complete knowledge. Ephesians 1:16-19 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, and Colossians 1:9-10 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; What a wonderful possession this is for the body of Christ. Once it was revealed and the full knowledge of it was made known, we stopped seeing in part. Instead of seeing in a mirror darkly we are now seeing clearly. This is what makes the mystery so special because we have been blessed with the whole truth.
God has called up Paul to be an apostle to preach this good news of grace. Now that grace is being preached water baptism is no longer required for salvation. During this transition period Paul did baptize a few people but you will never find it written anywhere that he did this for the reemission of sins. Remember Paul did not get the whole truth of the new gospel all at one time. God delivered it to him in several direct revelations over a 10 to 14 year period. Once Paul had the full knowledge of the mystery, he ceased to baptize people. Later Paul even makes mention that he is thankful he did not baptize more and even an attitude of non importance regarding baptism can be seen in his writings 1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
Paul was called to preach salvation! Now if Paul was appointed by God to preach the good news of salvation and if salvation as some say was suppose to be by water baptism and no where in any of his letters do we find Paul proclaiming “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” then Paul was negligent in his duties. The message at one time was water baptism but that is not the message for now! For Paul did not preach salvation by baptism but salvation by grace. (Ephesians 2:8-9) In fact Paul even says he was not sent by God to baptize I Corinthians 1:17. He was preaching an entirely different message; a message he received from the risen glorified Christ. Water baptism is taught nowhere in his salvation message.
God through Paul introduces a new baptism; this is a spiritual baptism, not a water baptism. The Holy Spirit performs this baptism not man. 1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. This baptism places us in the body of Christ and we are identified with His death, burial, and resurrection.
This Baptism represents our old man, our sin nature, the one we inherited from Adam being crucified and buried with Christ and then we have been raised as a new creation in Christ, to walk in newness of life. Romans 6:3-4 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. The water baptisms practiced in the past were only a representation of the real thing. They were for the purpose of making known Christ to prepare Israel for the Messiah. This cleansing ceremony was performed in order to cleanse Israel of its sins. It is only Christ’s blood that can save us. All the ceremonies performed in the past were only shadows of the saving power of Christ’s blood. Hebrews 10:4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
We are not to rely on our works but Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. It is our spiritual baptism into Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection on the cross that gives us life. Our righteousness comes by Christ’s work on the cross, not ours. Romans 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. This was made know to the apostle Paul directly by God, not by man. God revealed His secret purpose of Christ’s death on the cross to Paul.
Once Paul began proclaiming this message and the full knowledge of the truth of the ONE baptism of Ephesians 4:5 became known, water baptism ceased. For we no longer needed a representation because we NOW posses the real thing; Christ. We are not to put our faith in dead works but in the risen glorified Christ. For today there is only ONE baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit which unites the believer with Christ and places us in the body of Christ. This one baptism identifies us with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. We as believers all share the same inheritance, the same spiritual blessing, the same hope, etc. We have all these things because we are “in Christ”.
To get a feeling for some of the blessings we have received because of this baptism by the Holy Spirit, count how many times just in the first chapter of Ephesians where you find the term “in Christ”. Because of this ONE baptism we are now members of the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
Another example of shadows being replaced by the reality of Christ’ sacrifice can be seen with circumcision. Circumcision was also a required mandate of the law but as with water baptism we no longer perform this ceremony. Circumcision means to cut away. This ceremony was performed at the cross of Calvary. God made a circumcision at the cross; when Christ died, our sins were cut away from us. Colossians 2:11-12 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. Again this demonstrates the completeness we have in Christ. It is this spiritual baptism that makes us complete in Christ. All God requires of us is faith in Christ. That means we do not need to do one more single thing to receive salvation, nor could we.
There is only one baptism and that is strongly emphasized in Ephesians 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Note all the one’s. One is the number of the body of Christ. There is only one body. There are seven one’s here and in the scriptures the number seven represents perfection. In these verses you can see our completeness in Christ. There can be no two’s here. That means there can not be both a physical and Spiritual baptism. There can only be one and these verses clearly teach this is a Spiritual baptism, leaving no room for water baptism. We have the real thing, we do not need representations; we are complete.
Paul was teaching the Word of God, the mystery, the gospel of grace. This was God’s good news of salvation. Salvation was totally by the grace of God, no longer by the tenants of the law. The old instructions were being replaced by new instructions. The climax of this new truth was to be revealed in the book of Ephesians. Not only baptism, but also circumcision, animal sacrifices, speaking in tongues, and other sign gifts were phased out as the new glorious truth of what Christ’s death accomplished for the believer was being revealed through the apostle Paul.
An analogy that might help make this concept clearer is: The company you work for is preparing an important proposal for their biggest client. The future of the company depends on this proposal. You have been selected to represent your company and give the presentation. Before going to the meeting you go to the file to get the proposal. In the file you find two different proposals; one prepared last week and one prepared a year ago. Which proposal do you bring to present at this important meeting? You bring the most recent one of course because it reflects the most current specifications regarding your clients business. If you brought the old proposal you would lose the business, because you did not offer them a solution for their current needs.
We need to rightly divide God’s Word and apply the proposal He has prepared for us. 2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. God’s word is progressive and throughout history He has changed how He deals with man. Now through Paul, God has revealed His purpose previously kept hidden (the mystery). God has now made known the highest truths. Before we only had symbols or types but now we have the real thing. Now that we have been given and know the mystery of God, and received the full knowledge of the meaning of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, God has given us new marching orders that reflect that truth. These marching orders supercede the previous orders issued by God. If we fail to follow these new orders but continue to preach water baptism, circumcision, and the other tenants of the law for salvation, we are not following God’s instructions for us today.
By ignoring the truth of the Cross that was revealed to us in the Scriptures through the apostle Paul, we make the sacrifice of His Son to be of no worth. This is a tragedy that will leave you spiritually bankrupt. Salvation can only be on the merits of Christ’s saving work on the cross of Calvary. If we approach God with water baptism or any other work, we insult God.