Non-Negotiable: Believer’s Baptism for the Remission of Sins9 min read
The word “Satan” means “adversary,” and the word “devil” means “slanderer.”1 According to 1 Peter 5:8, the devil is, literally, our accuser.2 The devil, then, is a deceiver who lies to us in order to have a reason to accuse us (John 8:44). We might reasonably suppose that, of all the subjects about which the devil wishes to deceive people, near the top of the list would be the requirements for accessing salvation. If the devil can lead us to believe the wrong answer to the question “What must we do to be saved?” (cf. Acts 2:37; Acts 16:30), then he will have won a great victory. So let us be clear about the topic under consideration, and let each of us ensure that he has done what the Bible says he must do to be saved.
Each of the terms in the title of this article is important. By “believer’s baptism for the remission of sins,” I mean immersion administered to one who believes in Christ as the Son of God, in order to obtain the remission of his sins. This statement is a summary of what the Bible teaches about baptism. Consider each part of the statement in turn:
Baptism is immersion. “Baptism” and “immersion” are synonymous. Immersion is the meaning of the New Testament Greek word transliterated into the English word “baptism.”3 It means “an act of immersion,” a “plunging” or a “dipping.” A form of the word occurs in John 13:26-27, where Jesus “dips” or “baptizes” the morsel of bread that He then gives to Judas Iscariot. Given this original meaning of the word “baptism,” it is literally impossible to speak of a baptism by sprinkling or pouring.
But even if we knew nothing about the original Greek word for “baptism,” we could determine the mode of baptism by observing that both Philip and the Eunuch went down into the water for the baptism (Acts 8:38), and that baptism is portrayed as a burial (Romans 6:1-11). If people attempt to administer “baptism” by pouring or sprinkling, they fail.
Baptism is for (in order to obtain) the remission of sins. The apostle Peter said, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). While the English word “for” can be used in a backward-looking sense (“I am sad for my dog has died”) or a forward-looking sense (“I am going to the store for some bread”), the New Testament Greek word translated “for” in Acts 2:38 is always forward-looking.4 As Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he said, “[T]his is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The Greek and English constructions of the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” in Matthew 26:28 are exactly the same as those in the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins” in Acts 2:38. Obviously Jesus died not because forgiveness of sins already had been achieved, but in order to achieve it. And we are baptized not because we already have accessed forgiveness, but in order to access it. Not just any immersion into water (e.g., swimming in the ocean to hunt for shells) is salvific, but that particular immersion that has remission of sins as its objective.
But again, even if we knew nothing about the original Greek terms, we could tell that baptism must be done for the purpose of obtaining the remission of sins by observing the following, plain passages:
- Acts 22:16. Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’
- 1 Peter 3:21. [B]aptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
- Galatians 3:27. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
From these passages we observe that a person has not had his sins washed away until he has been baptized; he has not been saved until he has been baptized; he is outside of Christ until he has been baptized.
Baptism occupies a special role among all of those things that God expects people to do. For example, God expects people to help the poor (1 John 3:17). And yet, nobody argues that a person cannot be saved until he helps the poor; he can become a saved person and then help the poor. Baptism is different. God expects people to be baptized, and until they do, they remain a lost (even if they help the poor). Again, baptism is in order to obtain the remission of sins.
Only believers are candidates for baptism. Who would want to be baptized into Christ while believing that Christ was an impostor or otherwise unable to reconcile us to God? Baptism is for salvation, as we have seen (1 Peter 3:21), and a person cannot be saved without believing in Jesus as the Son of God (John 8:32; Romans 10:10). So, no one can be baptized biblically without first believing in Jesus. We have no New Testament record of anyone being baptized prior to belief; in particular, we have no record of infant baptism. An infant, lacking the ability to choose sin, has no need of forgiveness anyway (Ezekiel 18:20; cf. Matthew 18:3-4).5
There are some prominent objections to the simple, biblical truth that I have presented here. Consider four of them
“Baptism is a beautiful symbol, yet baptism does not result in our salvation.” Baptism symbolizes a number of realities (i.e., circumcision, the flood, and the burial and resurrection of Christ), but the Bible never says that baptism symbolizes the removal of sins prior to immersion.6 And the passages we already have seen clearly teach that baptism is more than just a symbol. Paul baptized the Philippian jailer immediately, in the middle of the night, risking terrible consequences—because baptism is essential to salvation (Acts 16:33).
“We are saved by faith and not by baptism. There are many verses that teach only that we should believe in order to be saved. For example, John 3:16 says that if we believe we will be saved.” The argument is that a sinner is saved at the moment he believes the proposition that Jesus is the Son of God, or prior to doing any works of obedience. But many passages that mention only faith in connection with salvation say nothing of repentance. Does anyone really believe that folks are saved just by believing, without repenting of their sins?
What, then, is going on in passages such as John 3:16? Saving faith is trust that leads to obedience (James 2:14-26), and so “faith” in many passages is used as a synecdoche—a part of the whole of obedience. This makes sense, for if someone does not believe in Jesus he will never obey Him. On the other hand, if someone truly believes (trusts!) in Jesus, he will do whatever Jesus asks.7 John 3:16 says that “whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” but Jesus had just said “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Belief may be mentioned alone as a condition of salvation in one verse of Scripture and yet stand for the whole of obedience leading to salvation. See this in action in Acts 16:31-33:
[Paul and Silas—CC] said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.
“Baptism is a work, and we’re not saved by works.” The Bible teaches that we are saved by some works but not by others. For example, belief itself is a work that God expects us to do (John 6:29). Consider the following charts, and the accompanying Scripture references:
God requires works of obedience. Obedience is not equivalent to earning or meriting salvation, any more than depositing a gifted check for $1,000 is equivalent to earning the money. The gifted money must be appropriated to the recipient’s account, and the gift of salvation must be appropriated to our souls. This appropriation occurs on God’s terms.
Have you submitted to the baptism of the Bible? Contact PlainSimpleFaith if you would like to study more about how to be saved.
- “σατάν, σατανᾶς,” Bauer, F.W., et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. Electronic edition (hereafter BDAG); “διάβολος,” BDAG.
- “ἀντίδικος,” BDAG.
- “βάπτισμα” BDAG.
- “εἰς,” BDAG; cf. Wayne Jackson, “Dallas Professor Rebuffs Common Quibble on “Eis”, Christian Courier, https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/395-dallas-professor-rebuffs-common-quibble-on-eis (n.d.).
- For a discussion of the innocence of infants, see Caleb Colley, “The Problematic Concept of a Sinful Human Nature,” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=3749 (2010).
- For more information on baptism as a symbol, see Dave Miller, “Is Baptism a Symbol?,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=11&article=1232 (2003).
- For more information on this point, see Eric Lyons and Kyle Butt, Receiving the Gift of Salvation (Montgomery: Apologetics Press, n.d.).