Baptism is a controversial subject. While true that there are many ordinances administered by the denominations that are called “baptism” the Bible recognizes that there is only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5 ). The “one baptism” of the New Testament must have the right action, immersion, and the right subject, a penitent confessing believer, and the right element, water.
Interestingly enough while most churches require baptism to enter it is also true that most think it is unimportant for salvation. Given the minimization of baptism in the religious community it is nonetheless interesting that some denominational theologians are now conceding to the dismay of their own brethren that baptism is an significant part of conversion. One such writer says, “Any view of baptism which finds it a rather embarrassing ceremonial extra, irrelevant to Christian salvation, is not doing justice to New Testament teaching… Baptism is an indispensable aspect of conversion along with at least four other elements: repentance, faith, confession and regeneration.” Granted such bold statements are few but at the same time they are also simply the words of uninspired men. Our concern is what the Scriptures teach concerning the role of water baptism in the salvation of man.
It would certainly be beneficial to examine all of the passages in the New Testament that discuss the “one baptism” (Matthew 28:19,20 ; Mark 16:16 ; Acts 2:38 ; Acts 8:5-6 , 13-13; Acts 8:35-38 ; Acts 10:44-48 ; Acts 16:13-15 ; Acts 16:30,31 ; Acts 18:7-8 ; Acts 18:24-19:5 ; Acts 22:10-16 ; Romans 6:3-6 ; 1 Corinthians 6:11 ; 1 Corinthians 12:13 ; Galatians 3:27-28 ; Ephesians 5:26-27 ; Colossians 2:10-12 ; Titus 3:5 ; Hebrews 10:22 ; 1 Peter 3:21 ). However, it is our intent in this study to defend the necessity of water baptism as it relates to the justification of the sinner. In other words, “Does the justification of the non-Christian take place in absence of obedience to the commandment of baptism?”
The scriptures clearly teach that we are justified by faith in Christ and what He has done through his death, burial and resurrection. Justification of the sinner has always been on the grounds of faith and not on the basis of any standard of human righteousness. The book of Hebrews affirms that from Adam to the present generation, all men that are saved are saved by faith. Thayer defines the Greek word for “faith” (pisteuo) as being “used especially of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus, i.e., a conviction, fully of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah – the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ.” While most protestant denominational teaching would agree with the scripturallness of salvation by faith it is must also be noted that a majority supply the word “only” in their affirmation of their teaching concerning justification. In doing so one would be forced to accept that justification is before and without obedience. The Scriptures clearly refute such teaching for they reveal that God has always required that men exercise their faith by obedience.
The writer of Hebrews says, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9 ). Those who are saved are those that obey and those that obey do so because of their faith in the one who commands them to obey. For example, Hebrews 11:7 states, “By faith Noah…prepared an Ark to the saving of his house by which he condemned the world, and became heir of righteousness which is by faith.” By faith Noah obeyed God and became an heir of righteousness. Can it be said that Noah becomes an heir or righteousness apart from his obedience to the command of God to build the ark? Certainly not. The building of ark was essential to Noah’s redemption as one saved “by grace through faith.”
Having established that God has always required that men exercise their faith by obedience we now are able to turn our attention to the role of water baptism in the conversion of the sinner. We would find agreement with most men in the fact that God justifies mankind by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. No one will be saved from sin by anyone other than Jesus Christ through the power of his resurrection. This was the conclusion of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 , that apart from the resurrection of Christ preaching is in vain and men are lost in their sins. While true that the text mentions the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as the gospel that Paul preached many have concluded baptism is no part of the gospel. However, an examination of the text simply proves that Paul’s commission was the same as the other apostles. He was to preach the gospel. The apostle never says that baptism is not part of the gospel. When men hear and believe the preaching concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, the baptizing takes care of itself. The point being that baptism cannot be administered apart from faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
In keeping with the example of Noah as one who was declared righteous through an obedient faith, we read the words of Peter as he says,
“…Who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:20-21 ).
Just as the flood separated Noah and his family from the sinful world from which they had come and upon which God had poured out destruction (2 Peter 3:4-6 ) our own deliverance from a sinful world is by Jesus Christ, the agent of our salvation. Note that the phrases: “through water” and “through the resurrection” do not affirm that baptism is our Savior, for Jesus is our Savior. Nor does the apostle affirm that we are saved by baptism alone, for he says that baptism “saves…through the resurrection of Jesus.” The problem for so many is that in emphasizing the death and resurrection of Christ, they fail to recognize the necessity of obedience, i.e., baptism, as necessary to justify the sinner. Noah built and entered the ark by faith and he was saved (Hebrews 11:7 ). It was the ark that Noah entered by faith that saved. Again we are reminded that Noah does not become an heir or righteousness apart from his obedience to the command of God to build and enter the ark. The non-Christian who is baptized through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is saved. Just as the entering of ark was essential to Noah’s redemption as one saved “by grace through faith” so to is the entrance into baptism essential to the non-Christian’s redemption as one saved “by grace through faith.”
In obeying Christ’s commands we are making an appeal to God as we faithfully submit ourselves toward Him, trusting not in ourselves, but in “the working of God” (cf 1 Peter 3:21 ; Colossians 2:12 ). When we choose to obey God our souls are purified (cf 1 Peter 1:22 ) and we are justified by faith. Our faith is in the resurrection of Christ, not through a ceremonial cleansing. No man who understands water baptism trusts in himself, the water or anyone other than Jesus Christ the Son of God.
God promises salvation to all those who exercise a faith that obeys his will. One cannot maintain that baptism is necessary in order to obey Christ, yet deny that such obedience is necessary to salvation. It is undeniable that baptism is in accordance with faith that leads to salvation because our faith in the one who commands us to obey Him. Have you become an heir of righteousness through faith? Only if you from the heart obeyed Christ seeking His will and intent, the remission of sins in order to be saved, whereupon He added you to His body the church of Christ.