part of the what is truth? series

The act of baptism is well recorded in Scripture. Not only was it a tradition among the Hebrew people for centuries, but it is what at least one Bible character was know by (John the Baptist) and it was something that Jesus the Messiah did himself. (Matthew 3:13-17) Some other questions about baptism have been answered through the BSF such as exactly what it is and what Scripture says about its purpose, but is baptism required or necessary for salvation?

Many religious leaders today would say, “No!” To conclude that baptism is required for salvation, they would argue, would make salvation “works-based” thereby mitigating or eliminating God’s grace. Their “Scriptural basis” for this would likely come from Paul’s definitive statement in Ephesians 2:4-8 that we are “saved by grace.”


From AllAboutGod.comIs Baptism Necessary for Salvation – The Conclusion
Is baptism necessary for salvation? If the question is concerning water baptism, the answer is no. We are not saved by ritual or works but by “grace through faith.” “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).”


This is classic “Scripture weighting” – where a conclusion is drawn based on one or just a few verse/verses, then all other passages are interpreted through the lens of that conclusion. It also directly contradicts letting Scripture interpret Scripture. Paul says “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), not “some Scripture is more inspired than other Scripture.” So let’s look in God’s word to consider all that He says and then draw some conclusions.

how Scripture answers "Is baptism required for salvation?"

an answer short on commentary and long on Scripture as footnoted1 | please contribute with your comment at the bottom

Salvation is a process beginning with God’s grace1 to all, received by some through their faith in Jesus Christ1,2, and fulfilled in their living Godly lives1,2. Scripture is very consistent on the critical role of baptism6,7,8,9,10. It’s requirement for salvation is stated emphatically3,6 and demonstrated over and over by new converts4,5,9. Specifically, it is the very first “work” of obedience4,6,9, the moment we are cleansed and forgiven of sin and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit6,7,8 – exactly how Jesus appears to be defining being “born again” to Nicodemus11.

Maybe you can only get to a point of saying it’s “important” or will go so far as to say it’s “very important”? You aren’t alone! This is what many say, not willing to go so far as to conclude it is required for salvation. A recent national ad campaign for a website – FindingTruePeace – counsels believers to “consider baptism” — this is after they have been taught to say the ‘sinners prayer’ for salvation.

If that’s your position, where does that leave you? Isn’t that rather ambiguous when one’s eternal salvation/damnation is weighing in the balance? Is that the instruction we see given in any Bible example or the attitude we find in any new believer we read about in Scripture?

Just because one aspect of our salvation is emphasized in one part of Scripture (grace through faith in Ephesians)1, doesn’t negate or minimize other aspects of our salvation mentioned elsewhere in Scripture2,3,4,6,7,8,9. In fact, there are many aspects of our salvation. That these are only possible by God’s good grace is unquestioned…but there are many aspects nonetheless. It is not unusual or inappropriate for an inspired writer to emphasize one aspect over another given the broader context of his message and the overall point he’s trying to make. It explains why Paul would choose to emphasize grace (“grace through faith”)1 given his broader message to the Christians in Ephesus while James emphasizes works (“faith without works is dead”)2 in his letter to Jewish Christians.

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following Scripture Blocks

1

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God gave us a gift of salvation. It was not from our own efforts or the result of any works. In fact, just the opposite. We are to do good works (“walk in them”) as a result of this gift of grace.

Paul reminds the Ephesians of their past lives in sin (vss 1-3) and the great gift they received in Christ.

How does it inform?

God’s free gift (grace) of Jesus Christ is fundamental in saving us. Without this gift (grace) there is no chance of salvation, certainly not through any “work” we could do. The grace is received by us through faith (belief) and should result in us doing good works in His name. This confirms there is no value in faith or works if there is no grace. However, it doesn’t negate the need for faith or works.

Does it apply? Yes

2

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

It’s worthless for someone to say they believe but then don’t obey.  Faith can’t save by itself.  We understand that someone lacking clothing or food isn’t cared for by simply telling them to “be warmed and filled.”  We must give them the things they need.  Likewise, belief without obedience is dead.

James, the brother of Jesus, is writing a very practical letter to Christians of the “dispersion” (dispersed) when encountering trials and the testing of their faith.   He goes on to point out that even demons believed, calling those “foolish” that would consider themselves saved with “faith only”.

How does it inform?

Much like Paul emphasizes the relative importance of grace (and faith), James emphasizes works (from faith). James doesn’t mention grace but that’s not the focus of his message (although, he does allude to it in 1:16-18).

Does it apply? Yes

3

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

Baptism isn’t a bath in the physical sense of bathing. It “saves you” and is your appeal to God for a good conscience.

Peter is comparing the way in which Noah and his family were saved (through water) to the way baptism now saves (also through water).

How does it inform?

The saving element in both instances is the water, therefore water baptism saves us spiritually.

Does it apply? Yes

4

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized? And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Philip begins with a Scripture [Isaiah] and shares the good news of Jesus.  The eunuch sees water and wants to be baptized, so together they go “down into” the water where Phillip baptizes the eunuch.  When they “came up out of” the water, the Spirit takes Philip while the eunuch joyously returns home to Ethiopia.
Phillip is sent by the Spirit of God to teach the eunuch who is reading Isaiah while he’s traveling back from home from visiting Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. When they see water, they stop in order for the eunuch to be baptized.  We hear not more about Ethiopia, but history records it to have a great Christian history.
How does it inform?

The eunuch was convicted by the “good news about Jesus” and apparently understood from Phillip that baptism was required. He wanted to be baptized immediately. (Seems that if it was just symbolic he would have waited to be home with his family and friends?)

Does it apply? Yes

5

And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And he said to him, Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

He [thief on the cross] asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom.  Jesus responded that he would be Him in Paradise that very day.

The crucifixion of Jesus and a remarkable confession by a thief that obviously knew who Jesus was and what his death (and resurrection) would mean (“come into your kingdom”).

How does it inform?

Jesus clearly promises salvation without the man’s opportunity of being baptized. Of course, Jesus is God so he certainly has that right but also this is before he has come into his kingdom through his death, burial and resurrection. The new covenant isn’t in effect, therefore being baptized into Christ isn’t yet relevant.

Does it apply? No

6

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brothers, what shall we do? And Peter said to them, 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.

A crowd hears Peter’s sermon and asks what they must do [to be saved]. Peter says repent and be baptized.

Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Clearly, they believed his message (that Jesus was the Christ). More were continuing to be saved and they began meeting together as the Lord’s church.

How does it inform?

A direct question and direct answer. We also see a bit of a summary of events in vs 41 – they received the word, were baptized, and vs 47 – the Lord added them to the church.

Does it apply? Yes

7

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,

God appeared in the form of Jesus and saved us, not based on our merit but by His mercy, by the “washing of regeneration” and by renewal of the Holy Spirit, poured out fully through Christ.

Paul’s letter of encouragement to a young preacher, Titus.

How does it inform?

A concise summary of the “saving process” – God’s free gift, our baptism, the Holy Spirit’s renewing. (Close parallel to Peter’s answer to the crowd in Acts 2:38-396 – repent, be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.)

Does it apply? Yes

8

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions. He makes the point that sin should be avoided by reasoning that anyone that “died to sin” could not continue to “live in it.” Finally, he reminds them that all who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death.

Paul is making the broader point of the richness and fullness of God’s grace toward sinful man (chap 5) before turning to man’s response (and responsibility) for salvation.

How does it inform?

In his conclusion, Paul makes the direct connection to baptism and Christ’s death. In other words, nobody shares in Christ’s death except through baptism. He further states the benefits to “dying with Christ” as:

  • being united with him in resurrection (vs 5)
  • no longer being enslaved to sin (vs 6); being “free from sin” (vs 7)
  • living or alive with him (vs 8)

Do we conclude from Paul’s argument that these benefits are received without being baptized? Of course not!

Does it apply? Yes

9
But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Philip preached the good news about the kingdom of God and Jesus, and as they believed they were baptized, both men and women.

The persecution of Christians by the non-believing Jews has begun and as a result the gospel news is spreading beyond Jerusalem into Samaria (vss 4-5).

How does it inform?

The reaction for believers is to be baptized.

Does it apply? Yes

10

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

What’s the point of people being baptized on behalf of the dead?  If the dead are not raised, why are people baptized on their half?
Paul is making a great defense for the resurrection of Jesus and what that means for the Christian’s faith.  Without Jesus being raised, their faith would be “in vain” (vs 14), they’d still be in their sins (vs 17), the dead “in Christ” would have truly perished (vs 18) and everyone else “in Christ” should be “most pitied” (vs 19).  He then shifts to highlight what will happen because He was resurrected and confirm the raising “at his coming those who belong to Christ” (vs 23).
How does it inform?

Paul, the one who emphasized God’s grace in another letter1 equated those “in Christ” as the “people baptized”.

!! study note: context very important here !!

Does it apply? Yes

11
Jesus answered him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus said to him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus answered with a truth: unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus didn’t understand and asked how someone that is old be born again as he can’t enter back into his mother’s womb?  Jesus answered expounding on the same truth: unless one is born of water and the Spirit [born again] he cannot enter [see] the kingdom of God.

Jesus is approached at night (in secret) by Nicodemus, a Pharisee and “ruler of the Jews” (vs 1).

How does it inform?

Jesus is definitively stating what is required to enter the kingdom of God (e.g. salvation). Does “born of water” here mean baptism? We can’t be certain with this passage alone, but it would mirror exactly Peters answer to the question, “What must we do?” in Acts 26.

Does it apply? Yes

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