The Necessity of Baptism

The Necessity of Baptism
by Phil Sanders

As honest seekers of the truth, we cannot be interested in counting noses as to who believes what. Counting noses does not determine truth, and God does not take opinion polls. Truth is not determined by what people believe but by what God has said in His Word. Culture and time do not change the “faith which was once for all time delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Nor can we be interested in becoming an eternal judge; God never assigned that task to any man. Jesus declared that His word would judge us in the last day (John 12:48). This will be the case regardless of what anyone thinks or feels in his heart. Our task, then, is to find out what He said. We are not interested in who is right but in what is right.

The preaching of truth demands conviction. Conviction has a way of drawing lines. We probably share many convictions with regard to our faith in Jesus, our agreement on the inspiration and authority of His Word, our trust in the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from sin (Rev. 1:5), and our unwavering belief that He will come again to judge us. Jesus was never hesitant to proclaim that He was the only way to the Father (John 14:6), that unbelievers will die in their sins (John 8:24), or that the impenitent will perish (Luke 13:3,5). If we read such verses, remember that the authority is not in me the messenger but in the Lord, who will judge us according to HIS word.

In this discussion we assume that those who are listening love the Word of God and hold the Bible to be the authority for their beliefs and practices. Any other assumption of a Christian audience is unworthy of consideration. Consequently, we must ask the question, “What does the Bible say?” No one should ever be asked to believe anything except what can be clearly seen in the Bible. Dear reader, feel free to test us in this matter. Having said these things, I think it best for the time being for us to examine the Scriptures to see whether my thesis with regard to the necessity of baptism for salvation is correct. We’ll be looking at several Scriptures (usually from the NASB), making comments and asking questions. Read the quotations from your favorite version and examine the context to see if these things are so. The Bereans were noble because they searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul taught was so (Acts 17:11). Again, do not believe what you read here; believe what you can read in your Bible.

I. Acts 2 and the Day of Pentecost

ACTS 2:36-41 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ– this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard {this}, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And Peter {said} to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receise the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had receised his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

The people on the day of Pentecost were pierced to the heart because they realized that they were responsible for the death of Jesus, the One that God had made both Lord and Christ (their Messiah). Jesus required that they repent and be baptized “so that your sins may be forgiven” (NIV of 1973). The universal promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy was for them and their children and all that God shall call. Peter, using the imperative mood, said that the condition to be met before the promise was given was twofold: repentance and baptism. To assume that eis (“for” the forgiveness of your sins) means “because of” (the forgiveness of your sins) distorts Peter’s simple answer to the question, “What shall we do?” Apparently the people at Pentecost understood that baptism was required because they were baptized that very day. They wanted to know, Peter told them, and they gladly responded. With regard to eis, this Greek word is used some 3,000 times in the New Testament and has a variety of meanings. Context is always the final determinant of the meaning of any word. In this context, the phrase “for the forgiveness of your sins” is a response to the question, “What shall we do?” A parallel example of this phrase can be found in Matt. 26:28, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Did Jesus die so that we might have forgiveness or because our sins were already forgiven? (Let me also suggest that you investigate Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3.) I have included a page from a lexicon that defines what eis means in Acts 2:38. The Bauer-Gingrich-Danker lexicon, the best available today, tells us that eis in this passage denotes the purpose of their baptism and that its purpose is so that their sins might be forgiven (p. 299). Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament translates this phrase, “to obtain the forgiveness of sins, Acts ii. 38” (p. 94). The 1971 edition of the NIV translates the phrase “so that your sins might be forgiven.” The New Evangelical Translation (1990), which has come on the scene in the last five years translates this passage: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ so that your sins will be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.” The Easy-to-Read Version (1990) translates it: “Change your hearts and lives and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ. Then God will forgive your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” McCord’s New Testament Translation of the Everlasting Gospel reads: “Change your hearts, and let each one of you be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins might be forgiven, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” See also the Williams, Phillips and Goodspeed translations.

Take note also of verses 40 and 41. If man does nothing towards his own salvation, why did Peter say, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” and why did they respond to this admonition by baptism? (You might notice the stronger statement in the NIV of verse 40: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!”) What does this suggest? Does man have any part in his salvation? Is repentance a work? Is faith a work? See John 6:28,29. Does faith ever act? See John 3:36; Rom. 1:5; 16:25,26; James 2:14-26.

We are not suggesting that man earns his salvation; this is clearly denied in Eph. 2:8-10 and Tit. 3:3-5. Works of obedience do not mean that we earn or merit salvation; they merely prove the faith and heart of an individual who says he will follow the Lord (Rom. 6:16-18). Titus 3:5 says that God saves us through the washing of regeneration–that’s baptism. Baptism is the means by which HE saves
us. We are not the savior but the saved. Yet, Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him (Heb. 5:8,9). The Holy Spirit is given to all who obey Him (Acts 5:32). Whoever “does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:31-35). The wrath of God abides on the person who does not obey (John 3:36, NASB). In the sense of obedience, we choose our eternal destiny. This is exactly what Paul says in Rom. 6:16-18: We obey from the heart a form of doctrine, by which we are delivered, and are then freed from sin. The form we obey is revealed in this context; it is baptism (Rom. 6:3-7).

Tit. 3:3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceised, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and {His} love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,

The means by which He saved us is baptism, the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. If God chose this means, how can we refuse?

ACT 2:47 praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. If the 3000 responded to the admonition “be saved” by being baptized and were added to them (v. 41), and if the saved were added to their number (the church); does it follow that baptism was the point at which they were saved and added to the Lord’s church?

II. A second passage to consider comes from the account of Paul’s conversion. When were Paul’s sins forgiven?

ACT 9:1 Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who art Thou, Lord?” And He {said,} “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do. ”

ACT 9:9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

ACT 9:11 And the Lord {said} to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying,

ACT 22:16 ‘And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’

Though Saul (later known as Paul) had seen the Lord and talked with Him, though he fasted for three days and three nights, and though he was praying, it was not until Ananias came to him and baptized him that his sins were washed away. He was to told what he must do. He was to get up and be baptized and wash away his sins. This is how we call upon the name of the Lord. Ananias came to tell him what he must do. Was it necessary for Paul to be baptized to have his sins washed away? Read Acts chapters 9 and 22 in context. Tell me when Saul’s sins were forgiven. Why was Paul still in his sins after three days of praying?

III. Rom. 6:1-7 Who and when is one freed from sin?

ROM 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have become united with {Him} in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also {in the likeness} of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with {Him,} that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

What does it mean that we are baptized into his death? Did Jesus not shed His blood in his death? (John 19:34) When did Jesus have newness of life, before or after his resurrection?

When do Christians have new life? before they are buried and resurrected or after? When do we unite with Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection?

Do we die to sin and become freed from sin when we are baptized into his death?

Why were we crucified with Him?

When were we crucified with Him?

When is our body of sin done away with?

IV. Jesus Himself gives the rule as to who enters the kingdom in John 3:1-7.

JOH 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”

JOH 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and 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. “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

Is it necessary for one to be born again to enter the kingdom of God?

In his explanation why does Jesus couple together the new birth of water and the Spirit?

How does this passage compare to Titus 3:3-7?

What is the washing of regeneration?

V. Who does the work in baptism?

COL 2:11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,

The phrase, “be baptized,” is a passive imperative. The one doing the baptizing is active and the one being baptized is passive. The passive one allows himself to be baptized. He is being acted upon. Who does the saving? Is baptism a work of man or a work of God? Who made us alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions? God saves us in baptism. By uniting us with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, God forgave us all our transgressions. If we are forgiven at all, it is God who does the forgiving! God chose baptism as the time when the blood of Jesus is applied, because it is at baptism that we are buried and raised with Him. When are we made alive together with Him?

VI. When people are baptized into the wrong thing, they seek to be baptized again into Jesus Christ.

ACT 19:1 And it came about that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found some disciples, and he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they {said} to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”

And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

These disciples of John had incomplete knowledge of the Truth. They did what they thought was right, but they did not know all the facts. They knew they needed to be baptized again to be right with Jesus Christ. When people today are baptized incorrectly, isn’t being baptized again the right thing to do?

MAR 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.

Some say:

He who has believed is saved and may be baptized later if he chooses.

Mark 16:16 says:

He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.

Which of these two ways best describes you?

Which do you know is right and cannnot be wrong?

Which of these two ways do you wish to follow, knowing that one day you will face God and that your soul may be required of you?

MAT 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and {yet} it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.

“And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.”

Which of these items do you think describes the wise man?

Which of them do you think describes the foolish man?

(Men) He who has believed is saved and may be baptized later if he chooses.

(Jesus) He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.

(Men) Just say the sinners prayer with me and you’ll be saved.
(Peter) Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

(Men) Just come down and pray with me at the mourner’s bench.

(Acts 22:16) Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

(Men) Baptism does not now save us. (1 Pet. 3:21) Baptism does also now save us.

Think, my friend, do not let something that is different keep you from searching the Scriptures to see if these things are so.

We share all these things with a heart of love, desiring only that you diligently search them out. Truth is never an enemy, though it may separate the wise man from the foolish man. Do not get sidetracked by counting noses. Jesus said that only those who enter by the narrow way enter into life (Matt. 7:13,14).

For the truth and the cross, Phil Sanders (Philipdea)