FAITH, REPENTANCE, BAPTISM
AND SALVATION: PART TWO
In Part One of this series we looked at how faith and repentance relate to the free gift of salvation. We saw from the Scriptures that faith and repentance do not in any way earn the gift of salvation. We also saw from the Scriptures that faith and repentance are a required response to God’s gift of salvation in order for salvation to be effectuated in our lives.
Is water baptism, like faith and repentance, a required response to the gift of salvation in order for salvation to be effectuated in our lives? While it is apparent the gift of salvation is not granted in the absence of faith and repentance, is salvation withheld if a person isn’t baptized? What are we to make of s Peter’s instruction to his audience in his Pentecost sermon recorded in Acts 2?
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.
Is Peter’s instruction to his listeners establishing water baptism as a New Covenant ordinance that must be adhered to for God’s gift of salvation to be granted? Must a person be water baptized for forgiveness of sin to take place and the gift of the Holy Spirit to be given? Is water baptism by definition the full immersion of ones body in water or can baptism be accomplished by pouring or sprinkling as is done by a number of Christian fellowships? When the Scriptures speak of baptism in association with salvation, is it water baptism that is always being spoken of?
We don’t see baptism as such in the OT. It appears to be a NT thing that began with the ministry of John the Baptist. John was called John the Baptist because dunking people in water was what John did. Why did John do this? From where did John get the idea to baptize people?
The English word “baptism” is a translation of the Greek neuter noun baptisma. The English word “baptize” is a translation of the Greek baptizo which is the verb form of baptisma. There is also a masculine noun form of this word pronounced baptismos which is used in Scripture to designate ritual washing. Another form of this word is bapto and is used to describe dipping into water or some other liquid.
The basic meaning of these Greek words is to dip or immerse into something. It is the verb baptizo that is most often used by Scriptural writers when speaking of someone being baptized following their acceptance of Christ. While water is the primary agent referred to in Scripture relative to how the word baptizo is used, it should be noted that baptisma and baptizo are also used to signify other agents of dipping or immersing. The Scriptures speak of baptism by trial and fire and by the Holy Spirit. The Scriptural writers also use baptizo to signify being plunged or immersed into Christ and into Moses.
For example, Mark 10:35-36 records James and John asking that they be allowed to sit on the right and left of Christ in His glory. Jesus questioned whether they were prepared to be baptized with the baptism He would be baptized with. Here baptizo is not referring to being immersed in water or the use of water at all but being immersed into a trial. It is apparent Jesus is referring to the trial of His crucifixion. In Luke 12:50 Jesus again refers to His impending trial as a baptism when He said: “But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!”
Mark 10:38: You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?"
Luke 12:50: But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!
The Greek baptizo is also used to show immersion by the Holy Spirit and fire. John preached that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Matthew 3:11: "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
In Acts 1 it is recorded that before His ascension, Jesus told His disciples that they were not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
It is recorded in Acts that Jesus told them that John baptized with water, but in a few days they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1:4-5: On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."
We know that the disciple’s baptism by the Holy Spirit was not so much of an immersion as it was a being poured upon by the power of God which was witnessed to by them speaking in a variety of languages when the Spirit of God rested on them. Peter actually describes this as the Spirit being poured out upon them.
Acts 2:33: Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
In Mathew 3:11, John said he came to baptize with water but the one to come after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Matthew 3:10 and 12 indicates that the baptism of fire John spoke of was a literal fire. Here is what John said in its entire context.
Matthew 3:10-12: The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
John appears to be speaking of both the coming of the Holy Spirit and the judgement that was soon to come upon first century Israel. We know the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost and some 40 years later the temple was burned to the ground and much of Jerusalem was destroyed in the war with Rome. First century history shows the Romans with their instruments of war literally reigning fire down upon the temple and the city of Jerusalem which became immersed in flames.
So we see John using the word baptism in ways other than water baptism. The Greek baptizo is also used to signify being baptized into another person. The Israelites are said to have been baptized into Moses.
1 Corinthians 1: 1-2: For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
We know that God, through Moses, parted the sea and the Israelite’s walked through the sea on dry land. A cloud followed Israel by day. Paul sees this as symbolic of the people being baptized into Moses who was their appointed leader. Here people were not literally immersed into water as appears to be the case with John’s baptism but water is seen as providing protection.
We know the Egyptians all drowned in the water after the sea returned to its normal self. Egypt is sometimes used as symbolic of sin in the Scriptures. Paul may be using the Egyptians drowning in the sea as symbolic of sin being left behind in the ritual of water baptism when we are immersed into Christ as Israel had been immersed into Moses.
Peter, in referring to the Noachian flood, speaks of the flood waters symbolizing the waters of baptism where baptism appears to be seen as a confirmation of our turning from sin enabling us to be recipients of the salvation made available through the resurrection of Christ.
1 Peter 3:21: this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Is Peter saying that it is baptism that saves you? No he is not. Peter is viewing baptism as a confirmation of repentance when he speaks of baptism as a pledge of a good conscious toward God. Peter then shows that it is through the resurrection of Jesus that salvation is accomplished. The Living Bible, which is not a translation but a paraphrase of the Scriptures, provides a good perspective on this passage.
1 Peter 3:21: That, by the way, is what baptism pictures for us: In baptism we show that we have been saved from death and doom by the resurrection of Christ; not because our bodies are washed clean by the water, but because in being baptized we are turning to God and asking him to cleanse our hearts from sin (LB).
One additional use of baptizo in a non water sense is found in chapter 12 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here Paul speaks of being baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that is seen as the agent of baptism whereby we are thrust into the body Christ which elsewhere in Scripture is seen as the church.
I Corinthians 12:13: For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks….
Why did the Jews of John’s day respond to this man who appeared to them wearing garments made of camel's hair and wearing a leather belt around his waist, a guy who was living on locusts and wild honey? They responded to John because first century Israel was expecting the Messiah to appear in their generation. Some thought John was that Messiah. But, as we know from Scripture, John was the forerunner prophesied by Isaiah to lay the ground work for the coming of the Messiah.
Baptism, as practiced by John, is not in evidence in the OT. From where did John get the idea to baptize in water for the remission of sin? God may have simply given this protocol to John through revelation. On the other hand, John may have been following OT symbolism of water being used to signify cleansing from sin.
Isaiah 1:16: When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong,
Ezekiel 36:24-25: "`For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.”
Psalm 51:1-2: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
It may be because water was used in OT times as signifying the removal of sin that John got the idea of water baptism for the forgiveness of sin. John was still living under the Old Covenant. It would have been quite normal for him to use Old Covenant imagery in his ministry of repentance. Just as water was used in OT times to signify cleansing from sin, so John used water baptism as confirmation of ones willingness to repent and change the direction of ones life.
The Scriptures show John the Baptist preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Some may question how John’s baptism of repentance could forgive sin. Don’t the Scriptures teach that it is only through the sacrifice of Christ that sin can be forgiven?
Mark 1:1-5: The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way" -- "a voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Here baptism is seen as an outward demonstration of ones willingness to repent. Does the act of baptism in and of itself forgive sin? Does baptism remove the death penalty that sin produces? Scripture teaches that only through the death and resurrection of Jesus can the death penalty for sin be removed.
When John was baptizing, the death and resurrection of Jesus had not yet occurred. As one commentator I read put it, those baptized by John received forgiveness on credit so to speak as did those in OT times when animals were sacrificed. Hebrews 10:4 clearly teaches that the blood of sacrificed animals could not take away sins. Only the shed blood of Christ can do that.
All forgiveness of sin prior to the sacrifice of Christ appears to be provisional. It all was looking forward to the eternal forgiveness that would become available through the Christ event. It is apparent the baptism of John was designed to prepare people for the soon to occur ministry of Jesus.
There is an interesting account in Acts 19 relative to John’s baptism ministry. Paul was passing through Ephesus where he found some disciples and asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They told Paul they hadn’t heard of there being a Holy Spirit. Paul then asked them what baptism they received. They replied it was John's baptism.
Acts 19:1-6: While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.
Paul told these disciples John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He then explained that John told the people to believe in the one that would come after him which was Jesus. On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.
It is apparent from this account that when Mark writes that John came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, it was a baptism that signified repentance in anticipation of the forgiveness of sin that would be facilitated through the death and resurrection of Christ. This is why Paul baptized these disciples into the name of Jesus and proceeded to lay hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit which other Scriptures show is associated with receiving the down payment or seed of eternal life.
As was true of John’s ministry, Jesus also preached repentance in that He taught obedience to the tenets of the Kingdom of God. Scripture records that as people came to believe in Jesus and respond to His teaching, His disciples baptized these people.
John 4:1-2: The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.
As people came to respond to the teaching of Jesus they were baptized by his disciples as a public confirmation of their decision to repent and follow the teachings of Christ. Their faith, repentance and baptism did not pay the penalty for their sin. It did not earn them salvation. As covered in some detail in Part One of this series, salvation is a gift of God and cannot be earned. Faith, repentance and baptism are a response to the gift of salvation.
In the case of those who expressed faith in Christ and repented and were baptized prior to Christ’s death and resurrection, they did so in anticipation of what was to come. It prepared them for the salvation that would become available to them through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This salvation is tied to receiving the Holy Spirit which was first made available as an indwelling dynamic of eternal life on that first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus.
Peter, in his Pentecost message, told his audience to repent and be baptized and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Notice that Peter refers to the Holy Spirit as a gift just like Paul refers to salvation as a gift in chapter 2 of his letter to the Ephesians which was discussed in Part One of this series. Receiving salvation and receiving the Holy Spirit appear to be two sides of the same coin. To receive salvation is to receive the Holy Spirit and to receive the Holy Spirit is to receive salvation. Paul associates receiving the Holy Spirit with receiving salvation.
Ephesians 1:13-14: In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (RSV).
The Scriptures associate receiving the Holy Spirit with having a down payment so to speak of eternal life which is to say a down payment of salvation. Salvation, eternal life and being in the Kingdom of God are all associated with being indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Jesus made it clear to Nicodemis that one must be born of the Spirit to enter the Kingdom.
John 3:3-8: "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
It is often believed that when Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about being born of water Jesus is speaking of water baptism. However the context is physical birth versus spiritual birth. Nicodemus is certainly thinking of physical birth when he questions how one can reenter his mothers womb to be born a second time. Jesus appears to contrast physical birth, which involves coming through the watery birth canal, with spiritual birth which is a non-physical dynamic. Jesus appears to associate being born of water with being born of the flesh when he says flesh gives birth to flesh. He contrasts this with being born of the Spirit which he compares to being like the invisible wind. Water baptism does not appear to be what Jesus is addressing in his conversation with Nicodemus.
Peter said that upon repentance and baptism, the Holy Spirit would be given. As we have seen, indwelling of the Holy Spirit appears essential to receiving salvation to eternal life. Since Peter tells his Pentecost audience to be baptized and they will receive the Holy Spirit, is he telling them that water baptism is necessary to receiving the Holy Spirit? It is interesting that we have a Scriptural record of some Samaritans being baptized into the name of Jesus but not receiving the Holy Spirit until Peter and John laid their hands on them.
Acts 8:14-17: When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
So here we see the Holy Spirit being given only after hands are laid on these Samaritans who had sometime before been baptized into Jesus.
By contrast, we see Cornelius and his family receiving the Holy Spirit prior to being baptized. We are all familiar with the account of Peter and his associates preaching the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius and his family. They believed what Peter shared with them and the Holy Spirit descended on them witnessed by their speaking in tongues. This having happened, we find Peter saying the following:
Acts 10:47- 48: "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
This brings us to the passage in Colossians we briefly looked at in Part One where Paul compares circumcision and baptism.
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.
Here Paul 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. Some commentators believe he also may be using baptism in a spiritual sense and not at all speaking of the physical act of being immersed in water?
Some theologians have conjectured that Paul, in several of his writings, is not speaking of physically being immersed in water as symbolic of our dying with Christ but is simply saying that through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus we are symbolically buried and raised with Christ. We are immersed into Christ’s death and raised with Him in His resurrection. This perspective is further advanced based on what Paul said to the Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15: For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
Paul speaks of us all dying with Christ. 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. Is it possible that Paul, in some of his writings, is not using the word baptizo as pertaining to water baptism but is simply speaking about being spiritually immersed in Christ’s death and spiritually raised with him through faith? To the Galatians Paul speaks of through baptism being clothed with Christ.
Galatians 3:27: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Is Paul saying that through water baptism we are immersed into Christ and thus have become clothed with Christ or is He using the word baptism to signify a spiritual immersion into the death of Christ which results in us being spiritually clothed with Christ which is to say we have been given the Spirit of God? There is one additional passage of Scripture that could be interpreted as Paul using the Greek baptizo in spiritual terms and not as reflective of water baptism.
Romans 6:1-8: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Its been conjectured that Paul may not be using baptizo in this passage to signify water baptism but to signify our being immersed in the death of Christ and dying to sin with Christ and with Christ resurrected to righteousness. This transformation is seen as occurring through faith and repentance with water baptism simply being an outward confirmation of this transformation but not in anyway facilitating this transformation.
As covered earlier, the Greek words translated baptize and baptism in our English Bibles is used in Scripture in ways other than to signify immersion in water. John the Baptist contrasted his water baptism for repentance with Christ baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Christ spoke of His crucifixion as a baptism. In these cases, the word baptizo is used to signify being immersed or plunged into something other than water. Some feel Paul at times uses the Greek baptizo not to signify being literally immersed in water as was true with John’s baptism but spiritually being immersed or plunged into the death of Christ and spiritually resurrected with Christ.
Whether this is how Paul is using the word baptism in some of his writings is uncertain. What we do know for certain is that the Greek words translated into English as baptize and baptism are often seen in Scripture to be associated with water baptism. John baptized with water. The disciples of Jesus baptized with water. After Paul’s conversion, Paul was baptized with water. The Gentile family of Cornelius was baptized with water. From the context of Act’s chapter 2, it appears the nearly 3000 that were added to the church after Peter’s Pentecost sermon were baptized with water.
When Phillip preached to the Samaritans as recorded in Acts 8, they were baptized, including Simon the Sorcerer. All indications are that this was water baptism. Also in Acts 8 we have the account of Phillip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch where it is clear that this was water baptism. In Acts 16 we see Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, being baptized along with her family. Also in Acts 16, we see Paul and Silas baptizing the Philippian Jailer. Acts 18 speaks of many Corinthians being baptized.
We see that water baptism appears to be an expected response to ones expression of faith in Christ. Is water baptism more than an expected response? Is it a required response? We saw in Part One of this series that faith and repentance is a required response to the sacrifice of Christ in order for that sacrifice to facilitate our salvation. We saw that repentance flows from our faith in Christ and without repentance faith has no efficacy.
What about baptism? Must one be baptized in order for the sacrifice of Christ to facilitate our salvation? What about infant baptism? Various Christian groups practice infant baptism for the purpose of expiating the supposed inherited sin from Adam so that an infant that dies isn’t eternally prevented from obtaining salvation? Is this a scripturally supported practice? Must baptism be total immersion in water or does sprinkling or having water poured over ones head get the job done? If baptism by immersion is the only proper form of baptism, are the billions of Christians who have only been sprinkled or poured on not really baptized? We will address these issues and more in Parts Three and Four of this series.