Before I begin, so there is no misunderstanding, nowhere in this article will you find that I say water baptism is not important. Water baptism is important and everyone who comes to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance should be water baptized. The problem is, does water baptism save? Does water baptism place a person in the body of Christ? These are crucial questions.
I will refer the reader to the many Scriptural passages and I hope you take the time to look them up for yourself.
The Bible says there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Eph. 4:5). But the Bible also shows us there are many lords, different kinds of faith, and several types of baptism. However, there are groups out there such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Russian and Greek Orthodox, Mormons, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Apostolics (Jesus Only or United Pentecostals), Lutherans, Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, and many others who teach that one MUST be water baptized to get his/her sins forgiven.
No matter what Scripture verses these groups quote, what they have failed to do is prove that water baptism to be the ‘instrumental cause” of regeneration. I will have to say, I don’t find it anywhere. However, I do find where “faith” to be the instrumental cause of regeneration.
Up above I had mention where the Bible talks about one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, and we know there are several of each in the Bible. For instance, there are many lords but one true God. There are different kinds of faith, but one true faith. And there are several baptisms, but one true baptism. Since we know there is one true God, I won’t take time with this issue. Let’s get to the matter of faith and baptisms.
Let’s take faith for example.
This kind of faith cannot save anyone. People have an intellectual faith. It all boils down to recognizing who has the dead faith and those with true saving faith. We can tell if a person has dead faith – his walk will not measure up to what he professes. A saving faith produces a righteous living. A person with true saving faith will walk the talk. He is a new creature in Christ. One cannot have true saving faith without a change in his character. As someone has aptly said, “No man can come to Christ by faith and remain the same, anymore than he came into contact with a 220-volt wire and remain the same.”
Now to the issue of baptism. There is more than one baptism in the Bible (Heb. 6:2). So we must find the one true baptism. Is it city water that places us in Christ’s body, or is it the baptism of the Holy Spirit that places us into Christ’s body? A lot of people hold onto Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38 for baptismal regeneration while ignoring scores of other Scripture that may help us understand the true saving baptism. But we will get to that in a moment. I want to focus on the baptism that places us in the body of Christ.
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.
According to 1 Cor. 12:13, it is by the Holy Spirit that we are baptized into the body of Christ, and “We are all made to drink into one Spirit.”
Now people will read other passages of Scripture and when they see the word “baptism” or “baptized,” they automatically think water! For example, read Romans chapter 6. Nowhere in Romans 6 can “water” be read into the passage, but if we compare Scripture with Scripture, we eventually come to understand it is speaking of baptism of the Holy Spirit. It would be like reading Romans 5 and understanding that “death” means “spiritual death.” “Death” in the Bible does not always mean physical death.
When a person comes to Christ in true faith and repentance, it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that places a believer in union with Christ and other believers in the Body of Christ before he ever gets in water. 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Romans 6:1-4 (see also Titus 3:5) are the central passages where we find this doctrine. Please take time to read it, for we are dealing with “spiritual matters” here.
Another place where “water” is read into a passage is Galatians 3:27.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say water baptism does that. Just because the Scripture mentions baptism, it doesn’t always mean water.
Again, understand that there are PLURAL “baptisms” referred to in the Bible (Heb. 6:2). Therefore, not every baptism refers to water baptism! This verse is one that does not. How do we get baptized into Christ? Did the Bible say it was by “water”? No, “For by ONE SPIRIT we are all BAPTIZED into one body…” City water doesn’t do this!
Do you know what one person told me? He says, “City water is not the issue. God USES THE WATER, BLESSES IT and it is no longer a creation of man but a vessel of God.” (Emphasis mine) Where is that in the Bible? This sounds more like Roman Catholicism.
Baptism into the body of Christ occurs when a person has repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). Everyone who comes to Jesus in faith and repentance SHOULD be baptized! If a person refuses water baptism for no valid reason, then I would have to question the sincerity of his faith, for in this sense it would be a salvation issue. It is the second step of obedience. The first step is to come to Christ in faith and repentance, and then be water baptized. However, this water baptism is not the agent in which to be saved and his sins cleansed, only the BLOOD OF CHRIST can do this.
Elsewhere the apostle Paul clearly teaches what is signified in water baptism (buried and raised with Christ) and actually occurs “through faith.” Christians are “buried with Him in baptism, also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). Justification on account of union in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection is brought about “through faith,” and is properly SYMBOLIZED by dipping the new believer in and out of the water.
Again, and this is very important, what one needs to do is prove that “baptismal regeneration” is a true Bible doctrine. It must be shown to be the “instrumental cause” of regeneration.
There are over 100 texts concerning the Bible plan of salvation that prove salvation is by grace through faith. (John 1:12; John 3:16; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:40; John 11:25; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:39; Acts 16:30,31; Romans 3:22; Romans 3:28; Romans 4:3; Romans 4:5; Romans 10:9-13; 1Corinthians 1:21; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 2:8-9, etc. etc.)
Paul had repeatedly emphasized that faith is the instrumental cause of justification (Romans 1:16, 17; 3:22, 25, 26, 28, 30; 4:5, 13; 5:1, 2). If water baptism is taken as the ‘instrumental cause,” then Paul contradicts what he had established, that is, that justification is by faith.
The fact is, Jesus didn’t preach a water gospel. One would have to ignore numerous passages about salvation that didn’t include water baptism at all! (John 5:24; John 11:25-26; John 14:6; Rom. 4:5; Rom. 10:9-13; Eph. 2:8-9, etc. etc. See above passages as well.) Baptism in water is simply a command that should be obeyed for the new believer.
Favorite Verse: Acts 2:38
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remissions of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 2:38 is the most loved verse to prove that water baptism is a requirement for salvation and cleanses one from all sins. One would think this were the only verse in the Bible. What the person fails to do is notice some things Peter said before he came to this point.
The fact is, Peter told his listeners how to be saved way before verse 38. He quotes from Joel 2,
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Does it say “…that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord and be baptized shall be saved?” No. Peter had just told these Jew what they did to their Messiah. The testimony Peter preached to these Jews so stirred them that it “pricked their heart.” They heard the truth and were cut to the heart. They BELIEVED Peter’s message because now they ask, “What shall we do?” They realized what they did was wrong and now what? Just from reading Acts 2 we know they believed Peter’s message.
So what is the problem?
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ FOR the remissions of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Okay, we have a problem, or do we? We saw scores of Scripture above that proves “faith” is the instrumental cause for salvation, but now it seems that water is. Since God does not contradict Himself, we must find out why the supposed discrepancy here.
The problem is with the word “for”. Many people take this to mean “in order to,” or “in order to get.” So what they would have us believe is that a person must be baptized in water “in order to get” remission of sins. Now some people like to get into the “Greek” (which there is nothing wrong with that). The Greek word “for” is “eis”. That word “eis” doesn’t always mean “in order to.” We can prove this by comparing Scripture with Scripture.
Read what Jesus says in Matt. 12:41:
The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at (eis) the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
Notice that the Greek word for “at” is “eis.”
Question: Is this supposed to mean that the men of Nineveh repented “in order to get” the preaching of Jonah? No. Why did they repent? They repented “because of” the preaching of Jonah.
The word “for” can be used in different ways, and therefore it is wrong to assume that it only has one meaning (“in order to get”).
Let’s take another example.
And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
It was in verse 13 that Jesus healed this man and made him clean, but we see in verse 14 that the man was to go offer a sacrifice “for thy cleansing” as a testimony. Does the word “for” mean “in order to get?” It can’t. Why? Because the man already got his cleansing in verse 13! Common sense would tell us the word “for” means “because of” his cleansing. We see that Christ cleansed and healed the man, not the offering. The offering was only a “testimony” to the truth of what has already taken place. This same language is used in Acts 2:38. Baptism in water does not save us, but it is a testimony of the truth that our sins have been remitted when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.
When a person is put in prison for stealing, does it mean he is put in prison for stealing “in order to get” a chance to steal again? No. He was put in prison “because of” his stealing.
Here is another thing we must consider also. Everyone in Acts 2 are Jews, no Gentiles (vs. 4, 14, 36). They were observing a Jewish Feast called Pentecost (v. 1). When Peter said how one is saved (quoting from Joel, see above), and told them what they did to their Messiah, they now wanted to know what they must do, not as individuals, but as a Nation. This is dealing with the question of NATIONAL salvation.
Isaiah 66:8 states,
…shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brougth forth her children.
This has to do with the “nation” of Israel.
Rom. 11:26 says,
And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.
It is dangerous to put Acts 2:38 as the model for salvation. Water baptism is simply a public declaration of already coming to Christ in faith and repentance. The same thing the Jews did in Acts 2. Like Joel says, “that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Please note that the Holy Ghost was initially poured out on the Jewish disciples on the day of Pentecost APART from being baptized in water [Acts 2:1-4]). Though they believed (“pricked in their heart,” and “what shall we do?”), they could not get the “gift of the Holy Ghost” until after they were baptized in water. It put them on the spot to publically declare Jesus as the true Messiah whom they have crucified, and going into the water was a public declaration of their faith in spite of knowing that they could face fierce persecution from other Jews (being baptized in the NAME of JESUS would do this). Just the fact that they went to the water showed their faith! But this verse and other verses have been perverted so much that a great number of people think that water baptism saves – that salvation is not complete until they get in the water to have their sins washed away. City water does not wash away sin, only the blood of Christ can do this.
It is clear from the Bible that the gospel was to go to the Jews first (Rom. 1:16), and the first seven chapters deals with Israel (1:6-8; 2:36; 3:12; 4:8-10; 5:31; 6:7-14; 7:1-60. When we come to Acts chapter 8, we have the Ethiopian saved before water baptism (Acts 8:36-37). He couldn’t get baptized in water unless he confessed and believed with all his heart! In Acts 9 we have Paul (Acts 9:3-18) saved before water baptism. Whenever he recalls his conversion experience, he relates it to this time. Then we have Peter preaching in Acts 10 where the Holy Ghost falls on these Gentiles BEFORE they are water baptized.
In Acts 2 the Jews could not get the gift of the Holy Spirit until AFTER water baptism, but thereafter we see individuals received the gift of the Holy Ghost BEFORE baptism in water. And if we really want to confuse you, there were people who did not get the gift of the Holy Spirit until the laying on of hands! (Acts 8:17) Why not push this verse to prove that one must have the laying on of hands before they can get the Holy Spirit?
There are a number of cults who will take Scriptures and twist them to fit their own brand of theology. They take passages of Scripture as “proof texts,” but in reality are taking verses out of context. The results of this is teaching heresy. We must study to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).
Water baptism is important, but it is not the gospel. Paul said,
For CHRIST SENT ME NOT TO BAPTIZE, but to preach the gospel.
The Thief on the Cross
If water baptism is so essential to salvation, Paul would have never said the above. The dying thief was saved and did not get baptized in water. Jesus saved him (Luke 23:42-42). Many want to say that was the time of the Old Covenant. This is just a bogus explanation while not studying this issue very carefully. From that day the thief was with Christ as he was promised. This can be proven by Scripture. It is true Jesus made the promise to the thief while they were both still under the Old Covenant (which we know was not fulfilled until Jesus died). But understand this, the issue is not WHEN Jesus made the promise to the thief, the issue is, under which covenant did the thief die? The thief died under the New Covenant! The Scriptures says when the soldiers came to break the legs of the crucified victims, they marveled that Jesus was already dead, but take note that the two thieves were still alive! The New Covenant was ushered in at the death of our Lord Jesus, and anyone who died from that point on died under the New Covenant!
Then we have the issue with Mark 16:16:
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
They want to focus on the wording “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” In other words, salvation is not given to the person until he believes AND is water baptized.
But what does the next part of that verse say? “…but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
The above verse does not say the person is damned because he did not believe and was not baptized. His condemnation is because he did not believe. People can get baptized in water all day and still not be saved.
John wrote that we are cleansed by the BLOOD OF CHRIST, not city water. Romans 3:25 says,
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 forebearance of God.
This also demolishes the false teaching of “Jesus’ righteouness” (his obedience) imputed to the believer and therefore all past, present, and future sins are forgiven – that God doesn’t see you anymore – only Christ (as though God were morally blind). The Bible says no such things. When we come to Christ in faith and repentance, it is FAITH that is imputed for righteousness (Rom. 4:5). All our PAST sins (see also 2 Peter 1:9) are forgiven and we are declared and treated as righteous, just as David was (even though there is sin on our record, but it is no longer counted against us!). No one stays in this good standing if they continue to sin, only those who do righteousness! (1 John 3:7) This is so important that we are warned,
Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. (1 John 3:7)
“Impute” does not mean “transfer.” Nowhere does the Bible say Jesus’ obedient life was transferred to you. Moral character cannot be transferred from one person to another.
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
There is nothing in those verses that mentions baptism. Being born again has nothing to do with our bodies changing physically. Our nature does not change. Being born again simply means a “moral change”.
Jesus told Nicodemus about being “born again,” but Nicodemus did not understand. Nicodemus was looking at the physical aspect of what Jesus was saying. He says, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” Jesus responded, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not know these things?”
Nicodemus was a teacher of Israel and did not know these things when he should have. The Old Testament speaks of a God giving us a new heart (Psa_51:16-17; Eze_11:19; Eze_36:26.) But this new heart is not given until we repent of our sins; until there is a moral change. (2 Cor. 7:10-11; Titus 2:11-14)
Do not be like Nicodemus and fail to realize that the new birth is a “moral change,” not a physical or metaphysical change. Until there is repentance (stopping of sin), there is no moral change. Until then, the holy Spirit is not given (Acts 5:32)
Jesus never taught a water baptism that saves. Let’s look at some examples of what Jesus taught when it comes to salvation:
- John 1:12, “as many as received Him .”-no water baptism mentioned there.
- John 3:14, “Whosoever believeth”-no water baptism mentioned there.
- John 3:16, “Whosoever believeth on Him”-no water baptism mentioned there.
- John 3:18, “Whosoever believeth on Him”-no water baptism mentioned there.
- John 3:36,”He that believeth on the Son”-no water baptism mentioned there.
- John 5:24,”He that heareth and believeth”-no water baptism mentioned there.
John 3:1-16 does not teach baptismal regeneration. Jesus never taught water baptism as a means of salvation.
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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Notice that “water” is not mentioned at any point in Romans 6, or anywhere in Romans for that matter. The word “baptism” literally means to be dipped or immersed into something, but not always or necessarily in water. It says we are “baptized into Jesus Christ,” but it mentions nothing of water baptism. Remember what we were told in 1 Cor. 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.
We are immersed into the body of Christ by the holy Spirit, not by city or river water. This is a baptism by the holy Spirit.
Water baptism is a physical act that testifies to a spiritual event that has already taken place, just like it did in Acts 2. They were first “pricked in their hearts” before they ever got in the water.
Early Church Fathers
In order to prove baptismal regeneration by water, many will turn to the early church “Fathers” (not to mention that the title “Fathers” is a violation of what Jesus said in Matt. 23:9) as though the early church fathers were infallible. The support for baptismal regeneration is always referred back to the early church fathers, rather than Scripture. Don’t get me wrong, I will agree with them as long as it is line with Scripture, but once a teaching departs from Scripture, it’s time to reject the teaching. Even in Paul’s time there were people who were corrupting the word of God. Paul told the people of God in Ephesus that false teachers would try to influence them after his departure. The saints were not to do or believe whatever some “apostolic successor” would tell them to do or believe. If people want to fully put their trust in the early church fathers, there will be some teachings that are in direct contradiction to the teachings of Christ and Scripture as a whole. For example, Tertullian taught that Mary was a perpetual virgin. Jerome argued that she was, and tried to explain away references to Jesus’ ‘brothers and sisters’ as cousins. Epiphanius agreed with Jerome that Mary was a perpetual virgin, but he tried to explain the ‘brothers and sisters’ being the children of Joseph from a former marriage. Here we have three different ‘church fathers’ who have different views about Mary. If we turn to Scripture, we know Mary was a virgin until Christ’s birth and had other children later by Joseph.
Also, such men as Cyprian, Tertullian, and Origen also taught purgatory. We know purgatory is not taught in the Scriptures; however, why is it that those who are for baptismal regeneration will not go to them for the support of purgatory?
The writing of the early church fathers are no more the inerrant word of God then are the writings of John Calvin, Martin Luther, Max Lucado, Robert Schuller, Billy Graham, John Knox, Benny Hinn, Joesph Smith, etc.. While some truth can be seen in their writings, all their writings are not the standard of truth; they must agree with Scripture. People who want to believe Mary was a perpetual virgin can go to the writings of the “church fathers” and then can read that doctrine back into the New Testament even when Scripture does not support it. If Scripture does not support a particular teaching, no matter who it is from, it must be rejected.
All through Scripture we see water baptism typically follows one’s saving faith as an act of obedience after being saved. Again, water baptism is a physical act that testifies to a spiritual event. But does the actual act of being baptized get one to heaven? No. Nowhere in Scripture does it say one, “cannot be saved without water baptism,” or “an unbaptized believer is not saved.” There is no Scripture to support this.
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
The above is used to prove water baptism saves. Notice though the ones who are saved are DRY. The ones who got wet are the ones who drowned!
What saved Noah and his family? Was it the water or the ark? Those in the ark escaped the flood. Corresponding to that figure baptism now saves us–not the washing off of material defilement, but the craving of a good conscience after God–through the resurrection (Weymouth translation). In other words, we are saved by that of which baptism speaks–the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Remember, the eight souls that were saved were in the ark, they were not swimming in the water. The ark was a type of Christ.
This baptism is described as “…THE ANSWER OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE TOWARD GOD…” The only way anyone can have a good conscience is through the process of repentance (2 Cor. 7:10-11), and their conscience is purged “by the blood of Christ,” not by water. A person must go through repentance before he steps in water. His conscience is cleansed before he goes through the “like figure” which is the symbolic act of water baptism. Salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone, not water.
Submersion in city or filtered water does NOT purge away sin from the heart of man. (Matt. 23:26; Mk. 7:20-23; Acts 15:9; Heb. 1:3; 1 Pe. 1:22). The Bible declares ONLY the blood of Christ has the POWER to truly cleanse the soul from the corrupting influence of sin and deliver believers from the evil of this present age. (Matt. 20:28; Jn. 8:36; Ro. 3:24-25; 6:14; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 1:7; Titus. 2:14; Heb. 9:14; 2 Pe. 1:4; 1 Jn. 1:7; Rev. 1:5).
The water in baptism merely represents a consecration and a witness to the world that you have ALREADY been born into the family of God. (Lk. 24:47; Mk. 4:12; Acts 20:28; 26:18; Ro. 8:16; 2 Co. 5:18; Col. 1:20; 1 Pe. 2:9; 1 Jn. 3:9). The Bible confirms the Holy Spirit was initially poured out on the Jewish disciples (On the Day of Pentecost) APART from immersion (Acts 2:1-4). Cornelius and the Gentiles were baptized with the Holy Spirit and received remission of sins BEFORE they were submerged in water. (10:44-48). Man’s heart is cleansed, washed and sanctified by ‘the washing of the water BY the WORD,’ not by city or river water. (Jn. 3:5; 15:3; 17:17; Eph. 5:26; Titus. 3:5). Man becomes ‘born again’ (moral change) ONLY through the WORD of God which lives and abides forever. (Matt. 7:24-27; Lk. 8:11-15; Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12; Ro. 10:17; Jas. 1:21-22; 1 Pe. 1:23).
Because God looks on the HEART (rather than the outward appearance), an authentic baptism must be preceded by the circumcision made WITHOUT hands through a genuine death in repentance. (1 Sam. 16:7; Mk. 1:4; Lk. 3:3; Acts 13:24; 19:2; Ro. 2:29; Ro. 6:3-7; 13:14; 2 Cor. 7:10-11; Col. 2:11-12; Gal. 3:27; 5:24). In Christ you rise to newness of life and become a NEW man, (babe) teachable, and led by the Spirit of truth. (Jn. 14:16; 16:13; Ro. 12:2; 8:29; Eph. 2:10; 4:22; Col. 3: 8-11; Titus. 2:14; 1 Pe. 2:1-3; 1 Jn. 2:27). ONLY true believers are to be baptized into the faith (Acts 20:21; Ro. 6:4-6; Col. 1:14; Rev. 1:5).
Water baptism is a physical act that testifies to a
spiritual event that has already taken place.