Bible & Theology

Why Baptism Is So Important2 min read

May 12, 2015 2 min read


Why Baptism Is So Important2 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Baptism. It’s more than a mere “formality” or “tradition.” Nowhere in the Bible do you find it being administered after someone had been reportedly saved. It is never described as “sprinkling.” And not once was it ever used to “join” someone to a particular congregation or denomination (as if denominations existed in the 1st century).

So why should someone be baptized? The Bible says:

To be saved. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). “Baptism […] now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21, ESV).

For the forgiveness of sins. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).

To wash away sin. “Why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

To be born again. “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

To enter the body (the church) of Christ. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).

To put on Christ. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27).

To get into Christ and His death. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Rom. 6:3).

To begin a new life as a follower of Jesus. “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).

To be buried and raised with Jesus. “Having been buried with Him in baptism” (Col. 2:12).

All of these verses state in different ways the simple truth about baptism. Baptism, if done correctly, is the point at which one identifies with Christ and is saved from sin (cf. Rom. 6:17-18).

Therefore, you are confused if you want to be baptized “because I have already been forgiven” instead of “because I want to be forgiven.” You are confused if you want to be baptized “because I am in Christ” instead of “because I want to get into Christ.” You are confused if you think you must be baptized “because I am already born again” instead of “I want to be born again.” You are confused if you think “I will be baptized next week when it is convenient for me” instead of “what hinders me from being baptized right now?”

The Bible is clear about the purpose of baptism and the point at which one becomes a Christian. Therefore, shouldn’t we be clear on this too?

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

Ben Giselbach is the pulpit minister at the Edgewood church of Christ in Columbus, GA. He and his wife Hannah have two children, Ezra & Colleyanna. Ben is a graduate of Freed-Hardeman University and has written three books in his You Are A Theologian Series: Thinking Right about the Bible, Thinking Right about God, and Thinking Right about Salvation.
  1. Ben Cameron

    The end of Acts 2:38 reads "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, AND ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Why was that left out of "why baptism is so important?"

    • Ben

      Because the gift of the miraculous indwelling of the Holy Spirit has ceased ever since the New Testament was completed (1 Cor. 13). Additionally, the ESV widget installed on this site allows you to hover your cursor above the scripture reference and see the entire verse. No relevant text to the article was intentionally left out.

      • Lisa Reynolds

        I believe you need to do some studying on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Sir. He was given once for all and at one time bestowed gifts to those whom he soever willed. Now the miraculous gifts have passed away because Jesus proved who he was. However, Christians still have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and he helps us cultivate these things as we grow deeper in Christ.

        • Ben

          Is the Holy Spirit in me? Yes, and so is the Father and the Son. 1. The Spirit is in me (1 Cor. 3:16) 2. The Father is in me (2 Cor. 6:16) 3. The Son is in me (Eph. 3:17; Rev. 3:20) And yes, the Spirit - so long as we keep in step with the spirit (Gal. 5:25) - will produce in us the fruit you mentioned (cf. Gal. 5:22-24). And the way we keep in step with the Spirit is through the Spirit-inspired writings of the apostles.

          • Tim

            Great point! Many do not see that it is not a literal indwelling. Scripture talks of us dwelling in Christ and God. Literally? No. How? In relationship, fellowship, togetherness, and like mindedness.

          • Rolf Miller

            In light of 1Cor.6:19, I do not understand how it can be thought that, though not miraculous today, the Holy Spirit does not actully indwell those in Christ. After all, those in Christ are where all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily (Col.2:9).

          • Ben

            No one, to my knowledge, argues that the Holy Spirit does not indwell Christians. The question is how does the Spirit indwell Christians. The answer: representatively - in the same manner as the Father and the Son representatively indwell Christians. Just as the Lord did not literally dwell in the O.T. temple (but it was His dwelling place none-the-less), the He does not literally dwell within us today (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19-20).

      • WNorris

        You are mistaken, the gift of the Holy Ghost has NOT ceased, nor will it EVER cease as long as mankind keeps seeking more of God. You may have parts of the puzzle -- but you are missing a key piece. People are receiving the Holy ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues DAILY sir. I am proof. God does not change, His ways are still higher than our, I encourage you to search out more truth. You will not be disappointed. Take a look here, and see what you find out. There is more, deeper things than what you have so far...

        • Ben

          This is wonderful! Please, raise my grandfather from the dead! E-mail me and we can set up an appointment to meet at the cemetery.

  2. Doug

    Seriously? Lol. The first paragraph is false. Great start to the article. 1. The 3000 in Acts 2: They accepted the word (the bible says all who believe in Jesus as Savior will be saved), then were baptized. 2. Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:" 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God. Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” The rest is either misinterpretations of the quoted scripture, or a confusion of correlation vs causation (which seems to be the more prevalent problem with the insistence of this doctrine) If you want elaboration, just let me know. Sorry for the sarcasm. I just keep running into this debate over and over with no real "answers" from anyone claiming this belief. It's to the point of being comical.

    • Ben

      1. There is no way around the wording of Acts 2:38, both in English and Greek: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins..." Repentance and baptism must both be in order before one can enjoy the "forgiveness of sins." Yes, the Bible does teach that all who believe in Jesus will be saved (e.g. John 3:16), but we must also define "belief" before your argument is valid. Biblical "belief" is more than just mental assent; Biblical "belief" means obedience (John 3:36). Also see Mark 16:16. 2. Yes, the household of Cornelius received the miraculous "pouring" of the Holy Spirit - something not seen since Acts 2:1-4 - signifying that God was officially offering salvation to Gentiles as well as Jews. But this in no way suggests that Cornelius and his household was saved at this point. Cornelius, too, had to "repent and be baptized" for the remission of his sins. Acts 2 and Acts 10 are the only recorded instances of Holy Spirit baptism occurring - and Holy Spirit baptism did not save anyone. Today there is only one baptism (Eph. 4:4-6). "The rest" are not misinterpretations, but clear readings of Sacred Writ. No further sarcastic elaboration is required.

      • Tim

        Does baptism save? I've had people say, no. How can they miss 1 Peter 3:21 and Mark 16:16? Both these passages say it "saves." (we know not by itself but by the blood of Christ we wash away our sins Acts 22:16, Rev. 1:5)

        • Rolf Miller

          Indeed! As elsewhere noted, baptism is into Christ's death (Rom.6:3). Christ's death is where He shed His blood for forgiveness (Mt.26:28).

    • Charles Young

      Acts 2:41 says those who receive his word were baptized. It does not say they accepted the word, then were baptized. Adding a comma and the word "then" changes what the verse says. There is no "then" in the verse.

      • Doug

        It also doesn't say that they were added to the kingdom BECAUSE they were baptized. Saying that "those who believed were baptized" doesn't prove the need for baptism. Baptism was a commandment from Jesus, yes. That is not up for debate. It's a public profession of your faith in Him. "Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven." Matt 10:32. Nothing in this verse proves otherwise. It is a simple statement saying that the people who were there that heard the word and believed, those people were baptized. Same grammatical style as the statement "All those who bought tickets to the movie got popcorn on the way in." It conveys no more information than what is explicitly stated. Except, that if your're reading it in order, it actually does say that they believed first (condition for salvation across multiple scriptures) and then were baptized. "all those who accepted his word were baptized" It gives a specific order. they accepted the word. Then they were baptized.

        • tony

          Being baptized for the remission of sin...that is not the same as being baptized as an outward sine of faith in Christ. And you won't find the latter anywhere in scripture. You will find the first though. If God's word is Holy, then the statement "for the remission of sin" is what baptism is for. If the Word is not holy then there is no reason to be a Christian.

    • Paul

      Doug, I'm pretty baffled by your first statement. Perhaps you could provide scriptures that show someone being baptized after they were saved. Perhaps you could provide scriptures that show where someone was sprinkled. My point is of course that the opening paragraph is solid and scripturally sound. To your point 1. I provide this scripture. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (‭Matthew‬ ‭7‬:‭21‬ NKJV) To your statement "misrepresentations of Scripture" I have to ask how those scriptures can be understood in any other way? Baptism "saves us", puts us into Christ, the Lord adds us to his body after it, it washes away our sins, etc. That is a nice and solid stack of scriptures that prove the baptism is essential to our salvation. And I submit there is no alternative understanding of those passages.

      • Doug

        Short answer right now because of lack of time: 1. All 3000 saved in Acts 2 (explained in an earlier reply to Charles Young 2. Cornelius and his family in Acts 10. Peter baptized them after seeing that they had the Holy Spirit. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is only for saved people (John 14:16-17) So if the HS only comes to saved people........then how could they have had him if they were not saved? Your Matt 7:21 scripture is kind of off point sir. I was referring to the 3000 that the bible clearly said were saved. Are you saying they weren't? Or are you trying to play the language game about "what do you mean by belief?" If that is the case, I refer you to my earlier reply to the author. We must assume sincere biblical belief for this discussion. Yes, there were people that faked it. But they wouldn't be counted as saved anyway, so it's a moot point. As to the misinterpretations: The author referenced several scriptures that are clearly metaphorical in nature. " we were buried with him...." (the Rom 6:4 reference) Clearly nobody is being physically buried in the ground or in a tomb and then dug out. The baptism is a metaphorical picture of the death. There are others, but that was a quick easy one. (again, lack of time) I'll elaborate as I have time if you wish.

        • Ben

          1. One must do the will of the Father to be saved; not merely 'mentally assent' or pay lip service. Action according to faith in the Word is required (Jas. 2:24). That is the point of Matthew 7:21. 2. Baptism is metaphorical, but can something not be both metaphorical and required? The Lord's Supper that Christians are to partake of every first day of the week (Acts 20:7) is also metaphorical, but is it no less essential?

    • luke

      Doug really? The first paragraph is true. Acts 2 They accepted Peters words and did what he said. Then they were saved. And those who continued to do what Peter said were saved as well as days went on. They Repented and was Baptized then Saved according to Scripture. And where is the verses that say one believed and was saved then was Baptized? Why can"t one wrap their thoughts around what the word Believe refers to in Scripture? The article is so right on. Now I see why people are convinced Baptism is not part of Salvation. Its because they are taught by man doctrine. Christ himself said Go and Baptize. Do you really think its for nothing? We are instructed throughout scripture how to achieve Salvation. And what it means to believe. If it is only John 3:16 what do we need the church for? And if one can never lose Salvation , whats the church for?

      • Doug

        Refer to my earlier comments for the Acts 2 explanation. It's not hard to wrap your head around the ACTUAL steps to salvation. It's stated multiple times. Believe in Jesus (which, as stated repeatedly above includes repentance and confessing Him as Lord. They are not added steps. You literally can not truly believe in Him without those things) and you will be saved. Very simple. The author, and those who believe like him, are the ones that make it hard. I'm reminded of the early Jews who were trying to force circumcision on the gentile believers. With respect, your last 2 questions are way off. Pointless at the very least. Borderline heretical at the worst. The church has nothing to do with our salvation. Jesus Christ and his sacrifice is the only thing that matters in the determination of whether or not we're saved. While we are instructed to "not forsake the gathering of bretheren" attending a church has no bearing whatsoever on our status as saved or not saved. None. And even if you can lose your salvation (a whole other can of worms we don't have time or room to discuss in this thread), what possible way could the church change that? Yes, they could reproach us and instruct us, etc. But no church, regardless of who is in it or what name is on the door, can save you. Period. As I said. pointless argument at least. Claiming the church has anything to do with status of salvation...borderline heretical.

        • Ben

          Which steps of salvation should we use? The Bible's conditions to salvation, or Doug's? Can we pick and choose, like Doug, or should we examine all the conversion accounts of the Bible and compile an exhaustive list? Why should we limit believing in Jesus to include repentance and confession, but not baptism? Sounds like you too are teaching a "works" salvation, just not a "works" salvation that includes baptism. Why pick and choose, instead of accepting the New Testament as a whole? Peter commanded that the house of Cornelius be baptized (Acts 10:48). He did not command circumcision - because circumcision was not a part of God's plan of salvation (Acts 15). The truly heretical teaching is the suggestion that the church has nothing to do with your salvation. The church IS the kingdom (cf. Matt. 16:18-19), and when we are saved, we are added to that kingdom (Col. 1:13). To be added to the kingdom, we must be born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). When we are saved, we are added to the body (1 Cor. 12:13), which is the church (Eph. 1:22-23). The church is the sphere of the saved. All who are saved are in His church, and the church is comprised of all who are saved. Concerning Hebrews 10:24-25, the author clearly says that it is wrong to elect not to attend the standard meetings of the congregation. To choose not to attend for frivolous reasons is a sin, and the author of Hebrews gives some very stern warnings about those who elect to sin (Heb. 10:26-31). Of course, no congregation can condemn me or you, but Christ can.

        • tony

          If the word of God is all Holy and it says "repent and be baptized for the remission of sin," which it doe... and it says, "those that believed were saved" which it does...isn't it easy to see, being that God's word is Holy and the things and reasons for doing those things are commands from God, that we should be Baptized for the remission of sin and not for an outward sign of inner grace? One is in the Bible and one is not. It is a common non denominational belief that baptism is non essential for salvation, but that is not biblical by any means. The evidence you have seen with your own eyes, whether you accept what God says is true is your own business, but heresy is adding to God's word or taking away from it. Saying that baptism is an outward sign of inner salvation or grace, and that it is not essential to baptism is flat out opposite of what the Bible says.

        • Jacob Jones

          You leave out one crucial part to faith that our brother Paul writes under inspiration in Galatians 3:26-27 and that is baptism. Paul many times includes baptism in faith. He ends and closes his letter to the Romans in Romans 1:5 and 16:26 on "the obedience of faith". He want the Romans to get that obedience comes as part of justifying faith. He explains in great detail on justification in chapters 3-5. He concludes the final part of obedience in chapter 6 when he mentions baptism and in 6:17 on being obedient from the heart where the context of chapter 6 is water baptism. You can't get much clearer than that.

  3. Scott

    I'm not sure if you will consider my comment relevant to this article, but your argument seems to me to be that if someone does not understand the purpose of baptism or that it is immersion then it is not valid. If this is so, then would someone's understanding about the collections in 1 Cor. 16:2 not being a church treasury; the fact that the Lord's Supper is a full meal in 1 Cor. 11:25; and that neither Timothy nor Titus were "gospel preachers" in the modern sense of the term not invalidate that person's beliefs on those topics? If I am correct in thinking that your argument is that perfect understanding of a subject (baptism, collections "at home," forbidding to eat meat, etc.) is necessary for its validity, then shouldn't many in coCs be worried about their own beliefs not being based on perfect understanding?

    • Ben

      Concerning you comment about 1 Cor. 16:2, some today (like you) argue that the "storing" was to be at home, but that would be incompatible with the idea "that no collections be made when I come," for if it were stored at home, it would have to be gathered when Paul came. It was to be separated at the residence from the amount not to be given, then cast into the treasury. Even so, such an obscure argument has little relevance to this topic. Additionally, there is no evidence that the Lord's Supper was a full meal in 1 Cor. 11:25, nor do I know what you mean about a "modern sense" of the title "gospel preacher." Aren't all Christians to be proclaiming the gospel? We do not need a "perfect" understanding of all matters before we become Christians. In fact, I doubt anyone can ever have a "perfect" understanding of anything until perhaps he/she goes on to glory. Yet, the Bible is very clear what one must do (and for that matter, understand) to become a Christian. You must understand whatever the recipients of the gospel in the Biblical accounts of their conversion knew by implication. When we are "born again" (John 3:3-5), we have the remainder of our spiritual lives to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and His New Testament (cf. 1 Pet. 2:2). But to be baptized, for example, without the intention of receiving the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), would be an invalid baptism.

  4. Anthony

    Smh. Legalism arguments. So my brother in law, who accepted Christ but was hit by a car hours later before his family could be at his baptism. your statements, he is in hell? Ludacris. Do you honestly think God is that fickle? Stuff like this article is exactly why people are leaving/running from the church. You will sit and argue semantics over bible translation and interpretation. ..but you will gladly ignore the call to take the gospel to the lost. The claim you make that the indwelling of the spirit no longer happens is also ridiculous and is false teaching. Shame on you.

    • Ben

      Your comment is bitter, but it does allow an opportunity to respond do common criticisms made against Christians, so I will answer. "Legalism arguments." The word "legalism" isn't found in the Bible, so we need to define our terms. If by "legalism" you mean "trying my best to follow God's Word," then yes - guilty! If by "legalism" you mean "binding where God has not bound," you are mistaken. The passages I cited about baptism (1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; John 3:5; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:17-18) couldn't be clearer. I simply want to follow what God has commanded in His Word. If that makes me a "legalist," so be it. But name-calling is rarely fruitful. "So my brother in law..." I'm deeply sorry to hear about the death of your brother in law. I'm so glad that I am not the Judge - God is. Your brother in law will stand before a most Just and Gracious God, and aren't we thankful the Perfect Father will be his judge, and not a mere man? I have no power to condemn anyone to hell, nor do I ever want that responsibility. However, I am charged to teach what the Bible very clearly teaches. If God commands baptism for the remission of sins, so will I. I am playing God when I start altering the clear teachings of scripture. Shame on me if I ever diminish what the Bible teaches. I do not pretend to have all the answers, nor am I aloof to this emotional argument you gave. But because I walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), I must teach the Word of God (Rom. 10:17) and let Him be the final judge. I simply want to be found faithful. "Argue semantics over Bible translation and interpretation." Every human must interpret the Bible. Your comment is an interpretation in and of itself. "Interpretation" is neither good nor bad. But there is such a thing as good interpretation and bad interpretation. God intends for us to interpret His Word correctly. God loves us enough to give us a revelation that can be understood. And thankfully, God's command to be baptized - and the reasons why - is abundantly simple. "You will gladly ignore the call to take the gospel to the lost." What an arrogant statement. In what way am I guilty of this? "The indwelling of the Spirit." Is the Holy Spirit in Christians today? Yes, in the same manner that the Father and the Son are in Christians today. The Spirit dwells in Christians (1 Cor. 3:16); the Father dwells in Christians today (2 Cor. 6:16); the Son dwells in Christians today (Eph. 3:17; Rev. 3:20). BUT, the miraculous "gift" indwelling of the Spirit is not applicable to Christians today. The Bible says the miraculous indwelling of the Spirit was meant to be temporary (1 Cor. 13:8-12). The miracles performed in the New Testament, and the miracles that supposedly are performed today, are obviously not the same thing. I read the New Testament, then I look at those who profess to perform miracles today. Their miracles are imaginary and only based upon feelings. But the same cannot be said about what so plainly happened in the N.T.

    • Doug

      Wish I could "like" comments on here. Too used to facebook. lol For what it's worth, my condolences for your loss. And again, for what it's worth. I fully believe that if he sincerely accepted Jesus, then you will see him in Heaven. To think that the God of the universe, who made and controls everything would be trumped by lack of water is, indeed, ludicrous.

      • Ben

        Someone who fears God, but does not believe in the essentiality of baptism, would never suggest that even if baptism was essential God could be "trumped" by it. Such a comment is troubling.

  5. Chris

    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.

    • Ben

      I love that passage. But I suppose you are citing it here in an effort to make the bungling 'baptism-is-a-work-and-we-are-not-saved-by-works' argument. This is one of my favorite arguments to squelch, because of how much it cheapens God's magnificent plan of salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says we are saved by grace, and grace alone. Only God's good grace can save a miserably lost sinner like me. And I come in contact with that grace by faith in Christ - not by my own meritorious deeds. In other words, I'm not saved by works of merit, but by works of faithful obedience (Jas. 2:24; John 3:36). To relegate baptism to the "works of merit" category is a disgusting insult to God's grace. By God's grace, He has extended a means by which I might be saved: repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). Both repentance & baptism require something I must do. To argue with God over His prerequisites to His grace is infantile. Or, to use an illustration of Jesus, to argue over the necessity of being born of "water and the Spirit" (John 3:5) makes about as much sense as the Israelites arguing with Moses over the necessity of looking at the brazen serpent for healing (John 3:9-15).

  6. Gene

    Ben, the gift of the Holy Spirit promised in Acts 2:38 is not related to miraculous manifestation but His indwelling. One purpose of immersion into Christ is for forgiveness - justification. Another is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit - for sanctification. Baptism is the sinner's response of faith in God's command and promise.

    • Ben

      If the gift in Acts 2:38 is miraculous, then it has indeed ceased. I believe it was the miraculous manifestation of His indwelling, simply because it was spoken in the context of the miraculous (i.e. Acts 2:1-17, 33). Additionally, every other time the word "gift" is used in the NT in connection with the Holy Spirit, it is miraculous (Acts 8:20; 10:45; 11:17; Eph. 3:2-7; 4:7). Yes, obviously baptism must the sinner's response of faith - otherwise it would just be getting wet. Noah built an ark out of faith and was saved (Heb. 11:7); his obedient faith is what saved him. Had he not built the ark, he would not have been saved. Likewise, baptism isn't just a "response" - it is a necessity to be saved.

  7. Irma

    The thief on the cross was not baptized and Jesus said "today you will be with me in paradise"

    • Ben

      Oh? How do you know - without a doubt - that he was not baptized? Is it not possible that earlier, before he became a thief, he was a disciple of the John the Baptizer (or even a disciple of Jesus Himself - how else would he have known so much about Christ?) in the preceding years? And if so, is it not at least possible that this man might have been baptized for the forgiveness of his sins (Mark 1:4; John 4:1-2)? Let's not be so clumsy as to say "the thief on the cross was not baptized;" we do not know if he had been baptized or not. For all we know, in Luke 23, the thief on the cross could have been an erring child of God. More importantly, however, how the thief on the cross was saved makes no difference. Whether or not he was baptized is entirely beside the point. The thief lived under a different Divine dispensation than we do today. Jesus had not yet died, and certainly had not been resurrected. Jesus' last Will and Testament (the Divine Law patterned in those last 27 books of the Bible) had yet to take effect (Heb. 9:15-17). The thief did not yet live in an age where baptism was required to enter the Kingdom (as if the Kingdom even existed before the death of Christ). Additionally, Jesus had the authority to forgive sins personally and directly (e.g. John 2:5). He can forgive anyone He wants. All we can do is follow His Word today. Who are we to alter His word? At the time of His death, His authority is found in His testamentary "will" (Heb. 9:15-17). And in His will, baptism is specifically one of the terms of pardon (see above article). Jesus also did not tell the thief to repent. Are you suggesting that repentance is not required to be saved? (Acts 2:38)

    • luke

      Oh my dear Irma. Do you and I have to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be saved? The answer is of course we do. But how could the thief on cross believe that? He had not rose from the dead yet. Don't you see that a persons will and testament does not go into effect until one is dead? Christ instructed us after his death what we need to do to be saved. If the plan of our salvation was to be just like the thief on the cross, then Christ didn't need to rise from the dead.

    • John

      Irma you are making an assumption that isn't proven in the scriptures. How do you know he that he had not been baptized? I know he wasn't on the cross but what about prior to the cross? I can't say for sure he was either but it isn't a good idea to make assumptions. I know he went to heaven but that is really all we know.

  8. SVett

    Great points. I am so amazed though, how clearly the Bible states one must be baptized, you can show the Scriptures that clearly state it..... And then others try to say....why it doesn't actually say that, that it isn't necessary, or that one is a legalist. The Bible says baptism saves us (1 Pet 3:21) among all the other things you mentioned..... I believe God, rather than men. Thanks for posting this article, brother.

    • Will Ray

      No one is saying the bible doesn't say be baptized, the point that is discussed is whether you are saved first, the baptized out of obedience, or whether one isn't saved until baptism.

      • Ben

        What about repentance? Can one be saved before repenting? Both are lumped into Acts 2:38. What about entering the Kingdom? Can you enter the Kingdom before you have been born of water (John 3:5)? Baptism is the way in which we are buried with Christ and are cleansed by His blood (Rom. 6:3-4). There is no indication in God's Word in the conversion accounts that one was saved prior to baptism. Another point that should be stressed: baptism must always be done "out of obedience" - for we cannot be saved without obeying the gospel. "...whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life" (John 3:36). The denominational world's "faith-only" (i.e. "mental assent"-only) doctrine is not found in the Bible. Biblical faith means (1) hearing God's word (Rom. 10:17) and (2) then subsequently believing God's Word with obedient trust. The crowd in Acts 2:37 obviously "believed" (mentally accepted the fact that Jesus is the Messiah). According to the denominational world, Peter should have responded, "You already believe. You are saved. Now let's schedule your baptisms a few weeks from now." No, there was something they had to do to be saved by God's grace: repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38).

        • Will Ray

          "There is no indication in God’s Word in the conversion accounts that one was saved prior to baptism." I thought you had already discussed the thief and Cornelius or was that another thread?

          • Ben

            Yes, I did. Go read them, so I won't have to mention the part about Hebrews 9:15-17 and Christian dispensation not having started yet.

          • Will Ray

            If it was discussed, why did you say "There is no indication in God’s Word in the conversion accounts that one was saved prior to baptism.”?

          • Doug

            Can't reply to Ben's comment, so I will here: The thief may fall under the dispensation theory, but Cornelius was well after.

          • Ben

            Right, so Cornelius and his household, upon hearing God's redemptive plan, were baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 10:48).

  9. Sam

    The denominationalist and the world make too much out of baptism. They think so much of it as a work of merit, and not a faithful act of obedience, that to speak of it as necessary for the forgiveness of sins and salvation it somehow denies the grace of God when it is in fact the acceptance of the grace of God by faith.

  10. Melanie

    Great job defending the faith in love and patience, Ben.

  11. Allan

    You did a fine job defending the truth Ben. I was impressed with your reply to the comment about the brother in law who died before baptism. Very well expressed.

  12. Barbara Straight

    All it should take is when Jesus said" those who believe and have been baptized shall be saved" to convince anyone that baptism is essential. Anyone that doesn't see that must have their eyes closed or their hearts.

    • Doug

      Actually, there is more to that verse that you left out. The back half that says "those who do not believe will be condemned." Makes no mention of lack of baptism. If Jesus, who never said anything without purpose, was stating that baptism is essential for salvation in that statement, then why didn't he say the lack of baptism would condemn us? Put aside the "well, they didn't say repentance in every passage about salvation either" type argument. Look at the entire verse. If this was the "here are the absolute conditions for being saved" verse, then why didn't He mention the lack of baptism in His "here's what causes you to be condemned" part? It was the same sentence, so it's not like He forgot. Also, please see my earlier reply to Ben regarding the Negative Inference Fallacy. You also have other verses where Paul said that Christ didn't call him to baptize, but to preach the gospel. (1 Corinthians 1:17). Seems odd that the person with more revelation, and whose teachings we rely on more than anyone (other than Jesus himself) would make such a statement. If baptism essential to being counted as saved, then why would Paul make that statement. If Jesus really did say that we have to be baptized to be saved, then why would Paul directly contradict that. And if he did, then why weren't his teaching thrown out as false? Kinda makes you wonder......

      • Ben

        What is baptism without belief? It makes no difference if one is baptized without belief – it’s just a bath. Which is a good enough reason for Jesus to condemn anyone who does not believe. I might also add, I know of no reasonable person who ever claimed that Mark 16:16 contains an exhaustive list on what to do to be saved. Jesus mentions “belief” and “baptism,” but obviously one must also confess (Rom. 10:8-9) and repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Additionally, Jesus did not define “belief,” so we must allow Scripture to define our terms as well. You are taking 1 Corinthians 1:17 out of context, which by itself says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” The context, verses 11-16, which says,

        (11) For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. (12) What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (13) Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (14) I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, (15) so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.),” ESV
        Clearly, Paul is not saying that baptism is not essential. Such would be ignoring the context, as well as contradicting his other writings, like Romans 6:3-7 and Galatians 3:26-27, which demonstrate that Paul viewed baptism as essential to salvation. 1 Corinthians 1:11-17 show that Paul was concerned about those in the church who were placing significance on who baptized them. It was become a problem, because Christians should not be divided (1 Cor. 1:10). Paul was not separating baptism from the Gospel. In 1 Corinthians 1:17 he was employing an ellipse – a literary trick used to place special emphasis on the missing part of what Paul is trying to stress. He was not merely baptizing, but preaching the message of the Cross! It is, after all, the blood of Jesus that saves us through obedience in baptism, not water itself (Rom. 6:3-4; Mark 16:16). Paul is saying that his primary mission was not just to baptize people, but to teach the whole gospel. Teaching the gospel obviously leads to baptism (Acts 2:40-41; 10:48; 18:4, 8). And when people are baptized, the focus should not be on the water, but on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. It seems that Paul, much like Peter in Acts 10:48, preferred others to do the baptizing (though Paul occasionally baptized, as 1 Cor. 1:11-17 clearly teach).

        • CDB

          Not to mention the fact that later in the very same letter he states matter-of-factly, 1 Corinthians 12:13 "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit." It was a given that "all" of his recipients (Christians in Corinth) had been baptized.

  13. Hiram kemp

    Acts 2:38 can give a man his spiritual fix or a spiritual fit,it's all up to you,,we have got to get to the point where the Bible and all that it teaches on a subject are good enough

  14. Patrick Hefley

    You are leagalizing scripture to the point of nonsense. Lets look at the implication to non-belivers on what you are saying. You need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ, but if you accept this free gift you must be emersed under water or it's all for nothing. Say what you want to exclude other Christians who have accepted salvation but have not been baptised. But my friend be careful who's listening. Jesus was not sent to this earth for us to squable over who is saved or not saved. He came to save us by his grace and the most important thing we are asked to do, is to bring the lost to Him. Look at your motivations for this, are they to prove you are right and the millions of Christians who belive otherwise are wrong? I along with many others will tell a world that needs Jesus, about His great love. While you and many others will tell Baptist, Lutherans. other denominatios, and many other evangelical Christians they are going to Hell if they are not Baptised

    • Ben

      I'm "legalizing scripture to the point of nonsense"? I suppose the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18). The implication of what I am saying is this: to be saved, we must "repent and be baptized every one of us for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). The Bible is remarkably straightforward! Those who haven't followed Acts 2:38 aren't technically "Christians," as you failed to observe. How can I be a Christian if I refuse to submit to the clear teachings of His New Testament? It is indeed a devastating thought - knowing that millions of self-identifying "Christians" haven't submitted to the gospel as clearly outlined in Scripture. I am not the judge - Jesus is. I will let Him decide how to handle those who have not obeyed the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8). As for me, I will simply proclaim the words of the apostles. My job is not to send people to hell - but to tell people that to be saved, they must hear the gospel and have faith (Rom. 10:17), repent of their sins - realigning their lives to that of God's Word, and be baptized into Christ for the remission of sins. I'll let God handle whatever 'gray' areas men choose to relish in.

  15. Joe

    Please comment on the doctrine of baptisms, plural, discussed in the Bible. Could it be you are baptized into Christ on your acceptance of the Gospel, water baptized as obedience, Holy Spirit baptized to overcome sin in our lives. Paul said the Gospel was of first importance in 1st Corinthians 15, he said there that acceptance of Gospel is what saves you. He also said he was not sent to baptize. I believe in immersion, and was obedient to it, just not sure as a condition of salvation, Paul certainly did not put it on par with trusting the Gospel. Paul later said he knew only Christ and Him crucified again placing Gospel acceptance over any doctrine of baptisms.

    • Ben

      The "doctrine of baptisms" (KJV, Heb. 6:2), by most modern literal translations (e.g. NIV, ESV, NASB, HCSB), is translated "instruction about washings." The Greek word for "washings" is not baptisma (neuter), which is the form regularly used for the teaching of baptism in the New Testament, but baptismos (masculine), which is regularly used to describe the washings and cleansings prescribed under the Mosaic Law (Thayer's - 1889, p. 95). There is some debate among scholars as to what exactly the Hebrews author is talking about. Most scholars, including me (though I'm not much of a scholar myself), believe the author is urging his Hebrew-Christian audience to leave behind the old Jewish ceremonial washings. I suppose there was some confusion about "washings" during the first century among the Jews (cf. John 3:25). I think in Hebrews 6:1-2 the early Hebrew Christians, with their Jewish cultural background, are being told to "move beyond" such discussions over Mosaical rituals and move on to maturity. While we find several kinds of baptisms in the Bible (such as the baptism of "fire" (which you DON'T ever want!) and the baptism of the "Holy Spirit" (which is no longer applicable to us today) found in Matthew 3:11), there is but one baptism today (Eph. 4:5) - the only baptism required today and essential to the unity of the faith. We are commanded to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins today - such is the teaching of the so-called Great Commission (Mark 16:15-16). While other washings, by the authority of God, may have been utilized for the preparation of the coming of Christ (i.e. John's Baptism, Matt. 3:11), there is only one baptism today. You are taking 1 Corinthians 1:17 out of context, which by itself says, "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." The context, verses 11-16, which says,

      "(11) For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. (12) What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (13) Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (14) I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, (15) so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)," ESV
      Clearly, Paul is not saying that baptism is not essential. Such would be ignoring the context, as well as contradicting his other writings, like Romans 6:3-7 and Galatians 3:26-27, which clearly demonstrate that Paul viewed baptism as essential to salvation. 1 Corinthians 1:11-17 show that Paul was concerned about those in the church who were placing significance on who baptized them. It had become a problem, because Christians should not be divided (1 Cor. 1:10). Paul was not separating baptism from the Gospel. In 1 Corinthians 1:17 he was employing an ellipse - a literary trick used to place special emphasis on the missing part of what Paul is trying to stress. He was not merely baptizing, but preaching the message of the Cross! It is, after all, the blood of Jesus that saves us through obedience in baptism, not water itself (Rom. 6:3-4; Mark 16:16). Paul is saying that his primary mission was not just to baptize people, but to teach the whole gospel. Teaching the gospel obviously leads to baptism (Acts 2:40-41; 10:48; 18:4, 8). And when people are baptized, the focus should not be on the water, but on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. It seems that Paul, much like Peter in Acts 10:48, preferred others to do the baptizing (though Paul occasionally baptized, as 1 Cor. 1:11-17 clearly teach).

      • Joe

        Well-reasoned arguments. Thank you.

  16. Tanya

    Nice job, Ben! We just studies these very verses tonight with a young lady who wanted to know more. Every time I study this, it just confirms to me that obedience is part of faith. If we don't trust in what Jesus said about being born again, then what can we trust? Those are His words and He has all authority. It's his plan. Follow it if you want to be saved. I am thankful that you talked about the fact that we, as humans, don't have the right or the ability to judge someone's soul. Only God can do that. Our job is to teach the plan! Thankful for people like you who are using your spirit of boldness to be Jesus's mouthpiece. I am going to pray tonight that God starts opening people's hearts to this truth so they can be set free from the binds of sin.

  17. Todd

    Baptism is important! Not as a formality, not as a tradition, but as a place to experience in the physical realm what God has done for us in the spiritual realm. Some research of the Greek word "baptizo" reveals that in New Testament passages this is referring not to a washing but of permanent immersion. If you are permanently immersed in water its not going to end well! But a permanent immersion into the likeness of Jesus Christs death ( a death to sin) leads to salvation. Romans 10v8-10 But what does it say?"The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and BELIEVE in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be SAVED (Greek "sozo" saved, healed, delivered, made whole), for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses resulting in salvation. Believing and accepting that Jesus died the death that we deserved is what "saves" us. Believing is the first step. Mark 16v16 from the words of the Saviour "He who has BELIEVED and has been baptized shall be saved; but he has disbelieved ( not he who hasn't been baptized in water ) shall be condemned". Oh, and there's verse 17, These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover". No mention to an end of miracles or Holy Spirit gifts. Acts 22v16, water cannot "wash away our sins". If it could we would all just take a bath and everything would be fine, and the Lord Jesus would not have had to endure the cross. We are "cleansed by washing of water BY THE WORD". John 3v5 in the context of the discussion between Nicodemus and Jesus about how to be "born again" the water Jesus is referring to is not a baptismal pool but a womans ambiotic fluid. We must come into the world with a body first and then our spirit must be reborn or "saved".

    • Ben

      Todd, Either one repents and is baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), or he does not. If baptism really were a requirement for salvation, how could Peter have said it any more plainly? Thank you for introducing Romans 10. In verse 1, Paul said he was praying for Israel's salvation. Then, in verses 8-9, he said how they could be saved: by confessing with the mouth and believing with the heart. According to Romans 10:8-9, to be saved, someone must perform a "work" - confess! Are you suggesting that baptism is not essential to salvation, but verbal confession is? This verse certainly makes "salvation by faith only" (i.e. "mental assent-only") advocates uncomfortable, because it requires someone to do something to be saved. (Maybe God really does want us to do something to be saved.) Obviously, Romans 10:8-9 plainly refutes the "salvation by faith alone" theory (also refuted by James 2:24), because it makes salvation conditional on man's actions. It highlights the stupidity of taking any passage regarding salvation in isolation from others that address the same subject. It especially demonstrates the foolishness of drawing "faith-only" conclusions by isolating texts such as John 3:16, Acts 16:31, Rom. 3:28; etc. Frequently, when "faith" phrases like "righteousness by faith" (Rom. 9:30; 10:6) and "word of faith" (Rom. 10:8) are used, they are actually synecdoches (shorthand expressions) used to refer to the entire grace-system in contrast with the Mosaical Law system. Just as perfect obedience was the core of the Mosaical Law, faith is the core of Christianity. "Faith" is mentioned so frequently in the New Testament due to it's essence, and the frequent absence of other actions (like confession, repentance, and baptism) should not cause them to be understood as "non-essentials." It is wrong to assume any single NT passage contains an exhaustive list of conditions for salvation - even Romans 10. Is believing "that God raised Him from the dead" (Rom. 10:9) all that one must believe? Every serious student of the Bible I know would admit that one must believe more than this, such as having "faith in His blood" (Rom. 3:25). Thus, the content of faith in Romans 10:8-9 shows that this is not meant to be a comprehensive, exclusive list of conditions to be saved. We must look at all the salvation passages to conclude what is required to be saved. Paul already explained the essentiality of baptism and the point at which one is saved in Romans 6:3-4 - he does not need to repeat it in Romans 10:8-9. Incidentally, confession is inseparable from baptism. Confessing Jesus as Lord is sometimes referred to as "calling on the name of the Lord" (Rom. 10:13), which is also found in Acts 22:16 in connection with baptism, which you so astutely observed. Acts 22:16 reads, "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name." Grammatically, there is no escaping that baptism here was "washing away our sins." The power isn't in the literal water, but baptism performed "by faith" (i.e. Rom. 10:8-9). Additionally, Paul was told to be baptized as soon as possible. I simply plead with you to honestly read Acts 22:16. It is impossible to take away the essentiality of baptism. John 3:5 is spoken specifically to refute the idea of a literal birth and ambiotic fluid. Being born again necessitates being born "of water AND the Spirit." Again, honesty is necessary in this discussion.

  18. Ben

    A friendly reminder of my comments policy: I would really hate for you to write a comment longer than the post itself, only to have wasted your time. Several comments have failed to make it through moderation. Also, I wouldn't suggest taking it upon yourself to respond to every thread; those comments, too, will not make it through moderation.

  19. Joy

    What about the thief on the cross? He was not baptized, and I believe he is in Heaven! Jesus died on the Cross for our sins, shed His precious blood that we may have forgiveness of our sins. Baptism is one of the two ordinances, the other being The Lord's Supper. Baptism is very important, but I do not believe you have to be Baptized to be saved.

    • Ben

      The argument is commonly made (common as the dirt on the ground, and worth about as much), "I simply want to be saved like the thief on the cross." But you can't, and let me explain why. Do you believe Moses and Elijah were saved? There is no question they were; Matthew 17:1-3 proves this. What if I said, "You can't be saved like Moses and Elijah"? You would agree. Why? Because they lived under a different divine Law than we do today. To say, "I want to be saved like the thief" is like saying, "I refuse to pay income tax because George Washington never did, and he was the father of the United States." The income tax was created in 1862 to support the war with the South. George Washington was under a different law than you and me - and so was the thief. Like Moses and Elijah, the thief died under the law of Moses. That law was in effect until Jesus died. When Jesus did die, His last will and testament went into effect - not before that (Heb. 9:13-17). The simple fact is this: While Jesus was on earth, He had the authority to dispense blessings directly based upon the circumstances at hand. Men, who are alive today, do that all the time. But at the moment of death, authority is made resident in one's testamentary "will." And the last will & testament of Jesus includes the terms that specify baptism as a condition of pardon (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; Gal. 3:26-29; etc.). You can't be saved like the thief because you live under a different law. And here's the irony: If you try to be saved like the thief on the cross, you will be found rebelling against the Will of Christ, and you'll end up in rebellion like the other thief.

    • Luke

      Joy, I ask this kindly, but did you even read the comments above before posting your own? The thief on the cross has already been discussed in significant detail. This is a significant part of the reason why religious discussions are frequently unfruitful: people talk past each other without even taking the time to listen (or read) what the other side has said.

  20. Frank Wallis

    Luke. Ben answered Joy's question and you slugged her in the stomach. You owe her an apology.

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