You’ve Got Baptism All Wrong

November 19, 2013


You’ve Got Baptism All Wrong

waterYou’ve got baptism all wrong… 

…if you think baptism will remove temptation. 

Those who believe this are in for a rude awakening. Perhaps Jesus faced the greatest amount of temptation immediately after His baptism (cf. Matt. 3:13-4:11). Since a servant is not greater than his Master (cf. John 16:13), we shouldn’t expect the devil to treat us any differently. The same temptations we experienced before baptism will be present after baptism.

Temptation is still a reality for every Christian (cf. Gal. 6:1). “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (Jas. 1:14-15). Yet, Christians are promised a “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13) from temptation (though the “way of escape” might not always be easy).

…if you think baptism will solve all of life’s problems.

Baptism isn’t a “cure-all” for all of your problems. Your marriage problems, financial problems, health problems, and bad habits won’t magically disappear. The problems you had before will still exist after you become obedient to the Lord. Christians are not immune to life’s trials (1 Pet. 1:6-7), but Christians have a different attitude toward trials when they arise. “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ […] But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:31, 33).

…if you think baptism will save someone who isn’t a penitent believer.

To be saved, one must be born of both “water and the Spirit” (John 3:5), not merely “of water.” Just as we are not saved by “faith alone” (Jas. 2:24), we are not saved by “baptism alone.” Scriptural baptism is for the person who has believed in Jesus Christ (John 8:24; Rom. 10:10) and has repented of his/her sins (Acts 2:38). If you are unwilling to rid your life of sin, your baptism will be in meaningless.

…if you think baptism assures eternal salvation.

Baptism will not do diddly-squat if you resume living a life of disobedience to the Lord. In other words, you’re not “once saved, always saved” after baptism. Of course, baptism is how we get “into” Christ (Gal. 3:26-27), but Christians can forfeit their salvation. The Bible communicates this in no uncertain terms. “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability” (2 Pet. 3:17). See also Hebrews 3:12-19; 1 Corinthians 10:12; Galatians 5:4; Hebrews 6:4-6; 2 Peter 2:21-22.

…if you think baptism occurs after one is saved.

Sadly, many are under the illusion that one must simply “believe” in order to be saved (that is, “believe” as in “merely mentally accepting Jesus as Savior”). Proponents of this teaching argue that baptism is a ‘work,’ and that because we aren’t saved by ‘works,’ baptism cannot be essential to salvation. Yet they will teach that baptism is an important step of obedience for two reasons: (1) it is how you make your salvation public, and (2) it is how you ‘join’ the church of your choice.

Yes, we are saved by belief (cf. John 3:16). Yet, to believe, as taught in the Bible, means to trust and obey. Belief and obedience are inseparably connected (cf. John 3:36). While works of merit cannot save anyone (Eph. 2:1-10), by God’s grace we are saved by means of faithful obedience to Him (Jas. 2:14-26).

How can one be saved if he/she refuses to obey the Lord’s plan of salvation? Baptism is necessary in order to be saved. Baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), brings newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4), puts one into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27), and brings salvation (1 Pet. 3:21). Those who “repent and are baptized” are “added to the church” by the Lord (Acts 2:47). 

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.

Question: What are some other misconceptions people often have about baptism?

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. Brian Giselbach

    Your third point is particularly relevant to adulterous marriages. In order for baptism to be effectual by the grace of God one must repent of sin (including any worldly, sensual entanglement). A person will search in vain to find baptismal sanction for adulterous marriages in the New Covenant.

  2. […] Ben Giselbach suggests, “You’ve got baptism all wrong.” […]

  3. Greg

    You've got baptism all wrong ... how important is Christ's death, burial, and resurrection to salvation? Oh he believed the scriptures and believed God would raise him up and save him from death. He knew it! He believed it ... and that was all he needed! And as a symbol of his belief, he went ahead and died, was buried, and arose on the third day. But it wasn't necessary because he had already accepted God as his father, savior, and friend. All those prophecies, they were just symbolic of the spiritual rebirth and would have been fulfilled in a spiritual sense if Jesus would have bypassed the optional death, burial, and resurrection. Back to my original question. How important is Christ's death, burial, and resurrection to salvation? It is everything! Making baptism a mere "work of man" minimizes the act of love for the Father and for us that was on displayed upon a blood stained cross and the victory over death and sin that was on display in the empty tomb.

    • Ben

      AMEN Greg! How important is Christ's death, burial, and resurrection to salvation? As you said, "It is everything!" Amen! And you are EXACTLY right in saying, "Making baptism a mere “work of man” minimizes the act of love for the Father and for us that was on displayed upon a blood stained cross." But if you are suggesting that saying "baptism is essential to salvation" is the same thing as saying "baptism is a mere work of man," you would be deeply mistaken. I am saved by the blood of Jesus through wholehearted obedient faith (see Hebrews 11), which, under the New Covenant, happens to culminate at the point of baptism. Isn't God's grace wonderful? Who am I to argue with His plan (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21)? It is not baptism which saves, but my obedience to God's entire plan of salvation (which includes baptism) that saves. Baptism is no "mere work of man." God designed it! And to say that it is not essential is like an Israelite, freshly bitten from a fiery serpent, saying, "I don't need to actually look at Moses' brazen serpent to be healed - I just have to acknowledge it exists" (John 3:14-15; cf. John 3:5). It is the blood of Jesus that washes away sins (Matt. 26:28). And how do we come in contact with that blood? By being "buried with Him through baptism into death" (Rom. 6:3-4). To suggest that it is possible to be saved without baptism today, in reality, is to suggest that it is possible to be saved without the blood of Jesus.

      • Greg

        Not sure if you my "tongue in cheek" narrative and/or my own attempt to keep things short made things confusing. No problems with your reply. We are saved by the blood of Jesus through whole hearted obedient faith which, under the New Covenant, happens to culminate at the point of baptism. I have been talking with some non-denominational believers who think baptism is "a work of man", and not essential to salvation; however, they believe baptism is something all Christians should do because it is a "symbol" of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. In fact, they believe it is something they should do shortly after being "saved".

  4. Robert Guinn

    Good thoughts Ben! To answer your question, "What are some other misconceptions people often have about baptism?" I communicated my thoughts in my article from last month: http://spiritualjava.org/2013/10/31/baptismal-myths/. Keep up the good work brother!

  5. Matt Burnett

    Great article Ben. This has been on my heart a lot in the last couple of weeks. Ephesians 2 - We are saved by God's grace through faith, not of works, yet.. Are you saved by works? NO James 2 - Faith without works is dead. Are works necessary for a complete faith? YES Romans 6:3-4 - So where is grace? In the blood of Christ. Baptism unites us with the blood Can I receive the grace without being united with the blood? NO Most agree that the blood of Jesus saves us, but many hold in their hearts that there's a "spiritual/figurative" baptism. Consider Col 2:11-13. Taking God's word for it is an ultimate submission of spirit and will. It is not only NOT being baptized that keeps people from God's grace but the rebellious spirit that says "I decide how grace is applied." The confusing part for me in the past is that there are those who have fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) who do not have the Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). It's a difference between knowing someone and being known by some one and being impacted and affected by someone VERSUS being adopted as a son or daughter (Romans 8:12-17). When we see the fruits of the spirit in a friend, we need to realize that they are seeking God and that God is seeking them too! Getting the brain going this morning. Very edifying bro!

    • Ben

      Great thoughts, Matt! Thanks for getting my brain going this morning too!

    • Aaron J. Dodson

      Good article Ben. Keep up the good work

  6. Linda

    I am sorry Ben, I thought the was a Christian church, but began to read more and realized you do not believe in salvation by faith alone. This is a heresy and I will remove from this mailing list. Please read Ephesians 2: 8,9 Baptism does nothing for your salvation, for it is a work. If grace is no more grace then it is a work. My God died for me, gave me the faith to trust in His Son for a sacrifice on my behalf for my sin. I can do nothing for God! Jesus paid it all!

    • Ben

      Linda, We are saved by grace, and by grace alone. You are absolutely correct in pointing this out; Ephesians 2:8-10 makes it abundantly clear that there is nothing I can do to earn my way into heaven. Yet, "faith" comes by the Word (Rom. 10:17), so true "faith" must be based upon the Word, not on some talking-point or phrase I've heard from my preacher. The only time the Bible uses the phrase "faith only," it is preceded by the words "not by." James wrote, "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). How do we make sense of this? Is Paul, in Ephesians 2:8-10 saying we're not saved by works, while James, in James 2:14-26, saying that we are saved by works? Here is the lesson: We are not saved by works of merit, but by works of obedience. God, in His wonderful grace, has provided all of mankind a way to be saved: By obeying - and remaining obedient to - His plan of salvation. Jesus used "belief" and "obedience" interchangeably in John 3:36. Why? Because belief and obedience are inseparably connected. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36, ESV). If I asked you, Linda, what I needed to do to be saved, what would you tell me? Would you say, "Just accept Jesus into your heart, believing in Him?" The crowd asked the apostle Peter what they needed to do to be saved in Acts 2:37. Peter said, "repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). It's obvious that they already believed in Jesus, yet there was something they had to do to receive the remission of their sins (namely, two verbs: "repent" and "be baptized"). The point is this: My faith comes in contact with God's grace at the moment of baptism. Baptism is how I come in contact with the cleansing blood of Jesus (cf. Rom. 6:3-4). To suggest that I can be saved without being baptized is to suggest I can be saved without the blood of Christ. That is the real heresy. And I must continue to walk in faithful obedience if I want to continue being cleansed of sin by the gracious blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7).

  7. Jason Phillips

    Colossians 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. ASV Its not work of man but the work of God. Good article Ben.

  8. Anonymous

    Great thoughts! This is a good post. I believe that baptism is essential for salvation. Can I ask your thoughts - and if you could please share scriptures with me - on 1) Will children (say age 8) who die still go to heaven if they have not been baptized and 2) What age do you personally think is the "age of accountability"? I will be honest because my child is almost 9 and not baptized and I am getting a little scared. I know that it is up to him, and I can't force him, but I am still scared. Thanks

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