FAITH, REPENTANCE, BAPTISM
AND SALVATION: PART THREE
In Part Two of this series we looked at the various ways in which the Greek words translated as baptize and baptism are used in the NT. We saw that the English word “baptism” is a translation of the Greek neuter noun baptisma and the English word “baptize” is a translation of the Greek baptizo which is the verb form of baptisma. We saw that the basic meaning of these Greek words is to dip or immerse. We saw that while both baptizo and baptisma are predominately associated with water as the agent of dipping or immersing, this word is also used by NT authors to signify being immersed into a trial, into fire and into Christ. Several times Scripture speaks of being baptized by the Holy Spirit. Here the Holy Spirit is seen as the baptizing agent and not water as the baptizing agent.
We discussed how water was used in OT times to signify the washing away of sin and speculated that his may be why John used water baptism in association with repentance. We recited a number of NT examples of water baptism taking place in association with repentance and placing faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We saw that water baptism appears to be an expected response to ones expression of faith in Christ.
Is baptism more than an expected response? Is it a required response? Is water baptism required for salvation? If a person acknowledges the sacrifice of Christ and does his best to live a repentant life but never gets baptized, is such person shut out from receiving salvation? Some will point to Mark 16 as evidence of baptism being required for salvation.
In commissioning His disciples to preach the gospel to the world, we find it recorded in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus said whoever believes and is baptized will be saved and those who do not believe will be condemned.
Mark 16:15-16: He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
It may be noteworthy that Jesus didn’t say whoever does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned. He only said whoever does not believe will be condemned. However, what is more noteworthy about this passage is that Jesus may not have said any of the words recorded in Mark 16:15-16.
The entire segment of Mark 16:9-20, is not found in a number of ancient Greek manuscripts of the NT. Several Greek manuscripts that do include this passage have marginal comments noting that earlier Greek manuscripts do not have these verses. Other Greek manuscripts mark this passage with asterisks or other such markings to indicate this passage is of questionable validity. It has been noted by scholars that the vocabulary and style of writing associated with this passage is not consistent with that found in the rest of Mark’s Gospel. A number of recent English translations of the Scriptures place Mark 16:9-20 in brackets and provide commentary as to the spurious nature of this passage.
Since the authenticity of Mark 16:15-16 is in serious doubt, I believe it prudent not to use this passage as support for or against any conclusions as to the association between baptism and salvation and, therefore, I will not do so.
Side Note: There are groups of Christians in the southeast United States generally referred to as Appalachian snake handlers. Some of them have died over the years handling snakes in their church services. They believe their handling of snakes is their confirmation of their faith in what Christ is reported to have said in Mark 16-17-18:
Mark 16:17-18; And these signs will accompany those who believe:… they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all.
Now if Christ didn’t say these things, those that practice snake handling are doing so based on false information. This demonstrates how careful we must be in drawing conclusions about what we read including what we read in the Scriptures. Things are not always what they appear to be.
We have seen that baptism is used in a variety of ways in the NT Scriptures and that this word is not always used to designate water baptism. However, we have also seen that water baptism is the predominate manner in which this word is used by scriptural writers.
In Part One of this series we saw how faith and repentance are required responses to the gift of salvation offered by God the Father through Jesus. It appears that without faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus with its correlated commitment to be obedient to God, the salvation generated by Christ's death and resurrection cannot be applied to an individual. What about water baptism? Is water baptism a required response to the death and resurrection of Jesus? Must a person be water baptized in order to receive salvation?
If water baptism is required for salvation, is the mode of baptism limited to immersion in water as some believe, or can baptism include sprinkling and pouring as many believe, which includes over a billion Catholic Christians along with many protestant groups. If water baptism is absolutely required for salvation and can only be defined as complete immersion into a body of water, does that mean that those who are not baptized in this manner are not saved? What about infant baptism? Catholics Christians believe in and practice infant baptism as do some Protestant groups. Why do they do this?
Some believe water baptism is a replacement for circumcision. This is based on a statement Paul made in his letter to the Colossians which we discussed in Parts One and Two of this series.
Colossians 2:11-12; In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
Because Paul correlates circumcision with baptism in association with putting off of the sinful nature, some see baptism as replacing circumcision as the sign or mark of the New Covenant. When God established a covenant with Abraham, circumcision was instituted as a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham. Circumcision confirmed Abraham’s willingness to obey God and God’s response to Abraham of making him a great nation.
Water baptism appears to be a confirmation of our repentance toward God and faith in Christ which allows for the gift of salvation to be effectuated in our lives. Therefore, baptism is seen by some as the New Covenant circumcision. Under the Old Covenant, circumcision was a confirmation of ones commitment to the will of God and God's commitment to respond to that commitment with blessings. Under the New Covenant, baptism is seen as our commitment to righteous behavior and faith in the sacrifice of Christ which results in the blessing of our being reconciled with God. As was true of circumcision confirming the covenant between God and Abraham and his descendants, baptism is seen as confirming the covenant we enter into with God via faith in Christ and repentance toward God.
Water baptism is seen in Scripture as an outward demonstration of faith and repentance. Baptism appears to flow from the expression of faith and repentance. Faith is acknowledging Jesus as Savior and Lord and repentance represents a change of behavior commensurate with that acknowledgement. Baptism is the explicit demonstration of that acknowledgement.
While one could argue for baptism being a replacement for circumcision, it must be remembered that Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, speaks of circumcision in spiritual terms as a putting off of the sinful nature as opposed to the physical act of cutting the foreskin. He then ties this spiritual act of circumcision to being buried with Christ in baptism through faith in the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead.
Paul is here using circumcision in a spiritual sense. Paul isn’t talking about physical circumcision as he clearly indicates. He is speaking of a spiritual circumcision which he analogies to baptism. Is Paul teaching that water baptism is a replacement for physical circumcision? Since Paul is speaking of circumcision in a spiritual sense, he may be speaking of baptism in spiritual sense as well. As discussed previously, some believe Paul isn’t using the Greek baptizo here to describe water baptism but is using this Greek word to convey our dying and being resurrected with Christ which is accomplished not through water baptism per se but through faith in the power of God as Paul writes.
As covered in part two of this series, Paul speaks of us all dying with Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15: Obviously we don’t physical die with Christ. We spiritually die with Christ in that we all die to sin by having Christ’s payment for sin applied to us. Paul may be using the word baptizo here in Colossians as spiritually being immersed in Christ’s death and spiritually raised with him through faith.
Some use Paul’s seeming correlation between circumcision and baptism to justify infant baptism. Since Paul associates circumcision with the putting off of the sinful nature and ties it in to baptism, it is felt infants should be baptized in order to put off the sinful nature believed to be inherited from Adam. Since under the Old Covenant circumcision was done when an infant was eight days old, it is believed under the New Covenant infant baptism is simply a replacement for circumcision.
Under Catholic theology, infant baptism is based on the premise we humans are born with an intrinsically sinful nature which predisposes us to sin. This doctrine is largely based on the teaching of fifth century Catholic theologian Augustine who taught that the whole human race existed in Adam and when Adam sinned we all sinned. Since it is believed that through baptism sin is expiated, it is believed that infants must be baptized to save them from eternal damnation due to being born in Adam and therefore being born in sin.
Some Christian groups that practice infant baptism do so under the premise that such baptism enters one into a covenant relationship with God. Since under the Old Covenant, circumcision entered one into a covenantal relationship with God and infants were circumcised shortly after birth, it is believed infants should be baptized shortly after birth to facilitate such covenantal relationship.
There is no explicit evidence of infant baptism in Scripture. Those who believe in the necessity of infant baptism will point to several events recorded in Scripture as implicitly supporting infant baptism. In Acts 16 there is the record of Lydia in the city of Thyatira responding to the gospel message followed by her and her household being baptized. In Acts 16 we have the account of the Philippian jailer being baptized along with all his family. Because it was the entire household of Lydia and the entire family of the Philippian jailer that were baptized, it is assumed there were children and possibly infants involved. However, there is no direct evidence this was the case.
There is no mention of infant baptism in early extra-Biblical writings until the time of theologians Origin and Tertullian in the late second and early third century. In three separate writings Origin mentions infant baptism as traditional and customary. Tertullian advised the postponement of baptism of little children and the unmarried, but mentions that it was customary to baptize infants, with sponsors speaking on their behalf.
I will not here address the issue of whether we are born sinners or become sinners. I address this issue in detail in Chapter Eleven of my series on this website entitled, "The God of Jesus." However, as already pointed out in this series, it is not baptism that removes the penalty for sin. Whether we are born sinners as taught by the doctrine of original sin or we become sinners through disobedience to God, what saves us from the penalty for sin is the sacrifice of Christ.
Jesus took our sin upon Himself and paid the penalty for our sin. Faith, repentance and baptism do not save us. Faith, repentance and baptism are our response to the gift of salvation made available by God through the Christ event. As already covered in this series, repentance toward God and faith the sacrifice of Christ appear to be required responses to the God given gift of salvation in order for that salvation to be effectuated in our lives. An infant does not have the cognitive ability to express such a response to the gift of God. Therefore, infant baptism doesn’t appear to have any significance relative to the granting of salvation.
Some will ask if it is only through repentance and the expression of faith in Christ that one can receive salvation, does this mean infants that die are shut out from receiving salvation. This involves the greater issue of what happens to the billions of people who have lived and died having never expressed faith in the sacrifice of Christ, repented of sin or have been baptized. This issue is somewhat addressed in Chapter Eleven of my series entitled, "The God of Jesus" and discussed in detail in parts four and five of my series entitled, "What Happens After Death."
While we can't ascertain for certain from the Scriptures the status of infants and small children who die at a young age, it is instructive that Jesus taught that we must receive the Kingdom as little children in order to enter it. Jesus equates being humble as a child with being great in the Kingdom
Matthew 18:2-4: He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Mark 10:13-15: People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
These two passages of Scripture tell us something very important about being in the kingdom which other Scripture equates with having eternal life. Humility is the key to eternal life in the kingdom. Humility involves faith and repentance. Jesus sees the quality of humility in little children and indicates that it is humility that must be present in ones life to enter the kingdom. I think this bodes very well for the future of children being in the Kingdom regardless of whether or not they are baptized with water or meet any other requirements that may pertain to a cognitively able adult.
Is Baptism Required for Salvation?
Let us now address the issue of whether baptism is required for salvation. From what we have covered so far in this series, it appears that our response of faith and repentance to the salvation already provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus is a required response in order for such salvation is to be effectuated in our lives.
While salvation is a done deal in that the sacrifice of Christ has paid the penalty for sin, it is apparent we must believe in the salvific efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice and then act on that belief in acknowledging Christ as not only our savior but also as Lord of our life. As previously discussed, faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin. To express faith in Christ is to acknowledge Christ as our Lord and our willingness to be subject to His will. As previously discussed, we must demonstrate our faith in God by how we conduct ourselves, otherwise such faith is meaningless.
Faith expressed through works of righteousness in response to the salvation God has provided appears to be the one single dynamic that is required for the gift of salvation to be effectuated in our lives. We see this in Paul’s letter to the Romans. In Romans 4, Paul tells the story of Abraham and Sarah being told by God that they would have a son in their old age. Paul speaks of how Abraham did not weaver in his belief that God would make it possible to procreate even though they were well past the age for procreation.
Romans 4:20-21: Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
Paul then shows how Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. It was credited to him as righteousness because Abraham believed God would do what He promised. God would make it possible for Abraham and Sarah to have a son in their old age. No doubt God had to manipulate the physiology of Abraham and Sarah for this to happen. Abraham believed God would accomplish this.
Abraham’s faith was a response to the promise of God that Abraham would have a son. It must be noted, however, that Abraham’s faith is not what produced a son. God performed a miracle in facilitating Sarah’s pregnancy by making it possible for her to have a child many years after she passed the age for child bearing.
God has performed a miracle in facilitating our salvation after we have already been condemned to death because of sin. Our faith doesn’t produce salvation. Our faith is our response to the promise of salvation just as Abraham’s faith was a response to the promise of God that he would have a son.
Paul goes on to analogize Abraham being credited for righteousness to our being credited for righteousness by our expression of faith in God
Romans 4:23-25: The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness--for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Romans 5:1-2: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
To be justified is to have our sins forgiven and to stand before God without sin. Paul teaches that such justification comes through faith. Paul teaches we have access to the grace of God by faith. Faith doesn’t save us but it provides access to the salvation God has provided as a gift through His grace. Faith, expressed through submission to the will of God (repentance), appears to be a required dynamic relative to salvation being effectuated in our lives.
What about baptism? Is baptism a required dynamic for salvation to be effectuated in our lives? We saw in Part Two in this series that baptism was routinely performed upon believers when they expressed belief in the Christ event and what that event signified. Is baptism a required follow-up to the expression of faith and repentance or is it an optional ritual that provides public confirmation of ones faith and repentance towards God but has no direct bearing on having access to salvation?
Paul wrote we are justified through faith and it is through faith we gain access to salvation. Paul says nothing about baptism giving us access to salvation. As I discussed earlier, some see baptism as the NT circumcision and as circumcision was a required ordinance under the Old Covenant, so is baptism a required ordinance under the New Covenant. However Paul clearly shows that circumcision was not what justified Abraham or anyone else. In speaking about the crediting of righteousness to Abraham Paul writes the following:
Romans 4:10-12: Under what circumstance was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Again we see that faith is the critical dynamic for having a relationship with God. Faith is our response to what God has promised. With Abraham, God promised a son who would become the starting point for a great nation. Abraham responded in faith to the promise of God and acted on that faith and it was credited to him for righteousness. The sign of circumcision was added as a confirmation of the righteousness Abraham attained through faith.
The key here is that righteousness was assigned to Abraham before the ordinance of circumcision was established. Paul wrote that Abraham is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised in order that righteousness might be credited to them.
God has promised salvation to us through the sacrifice of Christ. If we respond to what God has promised in faith and act on that faith through changed behavior, we are credited with righteousness. To have salvation is to have a righteous standing before God. As circumcision was a confirmation of the righteousness that Abraham attained through faith, so baptism is a confirmation of the righteousness we have through faith in the sacrifice of Christ.
Beginning with Abraham and throughout the time the Old Covenant was in force, circumcision was a commended practice for the Israelites and any Gentile that joined to their community. With the advent of the New Covenant, circumcision is no longer a required practice. Is water baptism a required practice under the New Covenant? As we have seen, faith, as witnessed by behavioral change, is very intimately tied to receiving the gift of salvation. It appears in Scripture as a precondition to the granting of salvation. Is water baptism a precondition to our being granted salvation? The Scriptural evidence would say no. The Scriptural evidence consistently points to faith and repentance as the precondition to receiving salvation.
The Scriptural evidence consistently points to faith and repentance as the precondition to receiving salvation with baptism as the outward confirmation of that precondition. The physical act of baptism is a confirmation of the spiritual act of faith and repentance. Faith and repentance are spiritual acts. Water baptism is a physical act.
Acts 2:38; "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 3:19: Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.
Water baptism, as seen in the NT and historically in the Christian community, is an expected public confirmation of ones commitment to Christ. Water baptism is clearly seen to be an expected practice subsequent to being converted. However, baptism does not appear to be a precondition to receiving the gift of salvation as is true with faith and repentance. Baptism appears to be an affirmation of the salvation that has been already effectuated in our life upon our expression of faith and repentance.
There is no Scriptural reason to believe that a person who expresses faith toward Christ and repentance toward God and dies before he has the chance to be baptized goes to his grave unsaved. Many who come to Christ in faith and repentance don’t get baptized until weeks or months later. There is no Scriptural reason to believe such people have not had salvation granted to them because they haven’t yet been baptized. We are not justified by baptism. We are justified by faith in the gospel which is the massage of salvation through Christ. There are some sixty passages in the NT that speak of salvation being granted through faith where baptism is not mentioned.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul writes that salvation came to the Corinthians by faith in the gospel he preached to them and then he goes on to define the gospel as Christ dying for our sins, being buried and raised the third day. Paul does not mention baptism as a condition of salvation. In 1 Corinthians 1:17 Paul wrote that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel. Paul appears to distinguish between baptism and the gospel.
It is evident from the Scriptures that water baptism is not a precondition to salvation. You don’t have to be baptized in water to receive salvation. However, the Scriptures clearly show that water baptism always follows faith and repentance. It is an expected public confirmation of ones having been granted salvation through faith and repentance.
Paul was baptized following his conversion. Cornelius and his family were baptized after their conversion and after having received the Holy Spirit. Those that accepted Peter’s Pentecost massage were baptized after their expression of faith and repentance. Acts 8 records it was after the Samaritans believed the gospel messaged that they were baptized. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized after he expressed belief in the gospel message. Lydia and her family and the Philippian jailer and his family were baptized after confessing their belief in the gospel message.
All these folks were granted salvation subsequent to their professed faith in Christ and willingness to repent. They did not have to wait to be water baptized for salvation to be granted. They had already been baptized, that is spiritually immersed, into Christ through faith and repentance. Water baptism, as seen in Scripture, appears to simply be the customary ritual that was being used and is still used today to signify ones turning to Christ in faith and repentance. It is a public demonstration of ones faith and repentance.
The purpose of baptism appears to be the same as that of circumcision under the Old Covenant. In Romans 4 we read how Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith. One of the meanings of the Greek word translated “seal” is to confirm. Like circumcision, baptism appears to be a confirmation of ones having received salvation through faith and repentance. In this respect, baptism can be looked upon as the New Covenant circumcision.
Under the Old Covenant, circumcision was a commanded ordinance. Failure to be circumcised resulted in being cut off from Israel. Is baptism a commanded ordinance under the New Covenant? Is there a penalty to be paid for not being baptized? Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus gave these instructions to His disciples:
Matthew 28:19: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Baptism is seen as the expected response to becoming a disciple of Jesus. It is seen as the expected confirmation that one has placed faith in Christ, repented of their sin and chosen to obey God. While the NT does not show salvation to be denied if a convert is not baptized, the Scriptural example is to be baptized and if we are going to base our Christian practices on what we see in Scripture, one should be baptized in obedience to the protocol seen in Scripture.
This takes us to a discussion as to the mode of baptism. The Greek words for baptism have the basic meaning of immersion or dipping. Many believe immersion means to fully submerge a person in water. This is seen to symbolically represent being plunged into the death of Christ and when lifted out of the water to symbolically represent being resurrected with Christ. For those who take this approach, baptism means full immersion and can’t mean anything but full immersion. Others believe baptism is accomplished through being sprinkled with water or having water poured over ones head to signify a cleansing from sin. We will take up this issue in Part Four of this series.