Are We Saved by Baptism?
NCW 69: August 2000 - January 2001
Q. Why do you evangelicals say that baptism is not a requirement of salvation when clearly it is? If it wasn't necessary, then God wouldn't have commanded the ordinance, would He? As I recall, Noah was saved by water (1 Pet.3:20) just as Christians are (Mk.16:16).
A. To begin with, we cannot speak for the whole evangelical movement, only ourselves. However, they are broadly-speaking correct: baptism does not save anyone. That is not, however, to say that baptism is not a divine requirement of believers.
There are many different kinds of salvation, moreover. Salvation from sin is not the same as salvation from flooding even though the latter may be a prophetic type of the former. The scriptures you cite do not support your contention, moreover:
"Whoever believes and is baptised shall be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mk.16:16, NIV).
Firstly, this is the only passage in the New Testament where baptism seems to be connected with the act of salvation. However, the second clause shows that it is only faith that saves, in the same way that a lack of faith leads of condemnation: notice that not being baptised is not a condition of being condemned since it is omitted.
Secondly, baptism itself is a symbol of the salvational process, and is not itself a part of it, water baptism being a representation of being totally immersed in Christ. In other words, passive belief is not enough - the believer must also be immersed into Christ Himself.
Baptism is a fruit of salvation and is symbolic of what it really means to be saved, namely, immersed totally into the death and resurrection of Christ.
As for Noah, it was his faith that saved him, since without it he would never have devoted his whole life to building the ark. The "saving" aspect of the water was physical, not spiritual, and applied not only to him but to all the animals on the ark too. You did not cite, I notice, the following verse:
"...In it [the ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolised baptism that now saves you also - not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Yah'shua haMashiach (Jesus Christ)" (1 Pet.3:20-21, NIV).
Here it is clearly stated that the physical water does not save but the "resurrection" power of Christ. Water, which in this instance is only good for washing off dirt, cannot wash off sin - only genuine faith in the resurrection power of Christ can do that.
Thus the flood symbolises baptism, and baptism symbolises salvation. Nothing more, nothing less. The flood was a figure of baptism in that in both instances the water that spoke judgement (in the flood the death of the wicked, in baptism the death of Christ and the believer) is the water that saves. Baptism is a symbol of salvation in that it depicts Christ's death, burial and resurrection and our identification with Him in these experiences (Rom.6:4). In reality, therefore, believers are saved by what baptism symbolises - Christ's death and resurrection. The symbol and the reality are so closely related that the symbol is sometimes used to refer to the reality.
Baptism is also a "pledge of a good conscience", or in other words, it is a covenant or commitment on the part of the believer in all good conscience to make sure that what baptism symbolises will become a reality in his life. It is also an external witness to the world that a person is a believer - that he is taking the name of Christ (i.e. 'Christian') upon himself.
The apostle Paul said: "...all of us who were baptised into Christ were baptised into his death. We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may have a new life" (Rom.6:3-4, NIV).
In the early New Testament Church, before schism and denominationalism raised their ugly heads, baptism followed conversion almost immediately, such that the two were virtually considered to be one event (Ac.2:38). The close proximity of belief and salvation in the statement made by Christ, viz. that "whoever believes and is baptised shall be saved" (Mk.16:16) therefore makes perfect sense. So although baptism is not a means by which we enter into a vital faith relationship with Christ, it is closely associated with faith. Baptism depicts graphically in a kind of drama what happens as a result of the Christian's union with Christ, which comes with faith - through faith we are united with Christ, just as through our natural birth we are united with Adam. As we dwell in sin and became subject to death in father Adam, so we now have died and have been raised again with Christ - which baptism symbolises.
In saying that baptism is but a symbol of salvation we are not excused from ignoring the ordinance for the simple reason it is a commandment of Yah'shua (Jesus) which we are required to obey...in faith. If baptism is in any sense a saving ordinance, it can only ever be in a secondary sense. Thus a person who accepts Christ as his Saviour in the Sahara Desert and cannot be baptised because there is no water in which to be immersed, if he subsequently dies without ever being baptised will, of course, be saved without the ordinance of baptism. It is in this sense that faith alone saves. But if a person, knowing the commandment to be baptised by immersion, deliberately chooses to ignore it, and asserts that his mind/heart-faith in Christ is enough, then is not his disobedience evidence that he is not fully saved, since he refused to fully immerse himself in Christ and His requirements? I believe so. Absolutely. God judges us by our heart but we live in a physical sphere and have been told that our deeds in this sphere will also be judged. Failure to be baptised would constitute a sin of omission and, if wilful, possibly signal that the person in question really has not received Christ as his Lord and Saviour, but only a personally constructed image of Him. Such would, in my mind, truly be dancing with death and jeopardising his salvation.
In conclusion, then, baptism provides a powerful illustration of what faith in Christ really means, destroying any notions that Christianity is a nominal faith that does not require 100% commitment, submission and obedience. If a person's baptism is used to meditate on this truth, then it will become a potent reminder throughout the believer's life of just what his faith truly means, and what God expects of him. We are literally to be buried in our Lord, putting to death all personal ambitions and projects with a view to arising into an entirely new life. As an ordinance we have physically partaken in, it will continue to teach and reveal to us the sublime truths of our faith. To do this it must be done properly by complete immersion and not by sprinkling or pouring, neither of which convey the essential message of total discipleship but rather suggest we may adopt what we like and discard what we do not. When Christ Himself was baptised - He who had no sin - it was to emphasise and to set the example of His complete submission to His Father and our Father in Heaven, Yahweh. In His case it was not a saving ordinance, for He had no need of salvation, being its Author. His participation in the ordinance sends a clear message both to the person who thinks baptism may be ignored, and to the person who believes that it saves, that neither are right - we are to imitate our Lord and to understand that that the ordinance is an outward pledge or covenant of obedience and discipleship quite apart from being an invaluable spiritual teaching tool.
This is the Bible doctrine of baptism and is the only one there is.
This page was created on 19 January 2001
Last updated on 19 January 2001
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