Baptism is Essential to Salvation
The most debated issue concerning the salvation of mankind is whether or not baptism is essential to salvation. Even among those who claim “faith alone” salvation, both confession and repentance are nearly always deemed absolute requirements in order to be saved, and thus these two steps are explained as “inseparable graces” that occur simultaneously along with belief. The claim of salvation by “faith alone” is an obvious contradiction when other elements are inherently attached to the reception of salvation.
One sectarian body contends in its church manual that justification is “solely through faith in Christ” (Hiscox, p. 62). If the word “solely” is assigned its usual and legitimate meaning, then turning from sinful practices through repentance is excluded as a necessary act preceding salvation. But in order to get around this untenable proposition, the same manual later asserts that repentance and faith are “inseparable graces, wrought in the soul by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger, and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God…” (Ibid., p. 64).
In that the Bible certainly evinces faith, repentance, confession, and baptism as distinct acts of personal obedience, the previous citation reveals blatant inconsistency and even hypocrisy. If salvation is “solely through faith,” how can the personal act of turning from sins and becoming obedient to the way of God through repentance also be included with “faith alone”? Such becomes the contradiction of every “alone” method taught for salvation. The sincere and intellectually honest student of the Bible will never be swayed by such verbal gymnastics as exercised by those seeking to dismiss the most simple and succinct statements of Christ and the apostles as to what one must do in order to be saved.
Seemingly, one of the most daunting concepts for many to grasp is the fact that no single Bible verse contains the entire plan of human salvation. If an “only” method actually existed as all encompassing for salvation, the New Testament would not have needed 27 books to teach and explain the plan of salvation, worship, and personal conduct requisite to being found acceptable in God’s sight. The beauty of God’s word is that it is written in such a way as to demand diligence in study. No man will stumble accidentally into heaven, for heaven is a prepared place (cf. John 14:2; Hebrews 11:16) for a prepared people (cf. Luke 1:17; 12:47).
This is why Peter exhorts, “Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10). The word “diligence” - sometimes translated “study” - comes from the Greek spoudazo which Vine defines as “to hasten to do a thing, to exert oneself, endeavor, give diligence” (1996, p. 169). It carries the idea of leaving no stone unturned, or going all out “to make your calling and election sure.” The same word is used by Paul in his exhortation to Timothy to “Be diligent to present yourself to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).
The care involved in handling accurately the word of truth is necessary to every man. To hearken unto the claims of salvation by “grace alone” or “faith alone” is to precariously neglect the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself. Careful hearing and obeying of the Lord Jesus’ commands among sectarian Chrsitianity is closely akin to searching for the illusive Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster, i.e., you hear a great deal about it, but no evidence for such actually exists. The act of baptism was always associated with salvation until the 1520s when Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) of Switzerland began dismissing the necessity of baptism. Men like Martin Luther and John Calvin then began racing away from acts of obedience altogether. Luther insisted that salvation was by “faith alone,” while Calvin championed salvation by “grace alone,” teaching that no man can do anything to alter his eternal destiny! Believe it who will, who can?!?
“What does the Scripture say?” (Romans 4:3). The man heeding the exhortation of both Peter and Paul will not be satisfied long with the errant teachings of philosophers like Zwingli, Luther, or Calvin. Even the most casual perusal of the Scriptures will open the eyes of the one leaving no stone unturned. It is often alleged that baptism is a “work,” and therefore it cannot be associated with salvation based upon the text of Ephesians 2:8, 9). Baptism, as an act of obedience or work of God, is in no way different than the sinner’s belief. It is only men refusing baptism who have designated it as a “work” equal to that which is forbidden in Ephesians 2:9.
Although the Scriptures never speak explicitly to baptism itself as a “work,” Jesus did brilliantly illustrate that the “works of God” are not to be confused with the “work” excluded from salvation in Ephesians 2:9. When the multitude began following Jesus subsequent to the miraculous feeding, Jesus cautioned them, saying, “Work not for the food which perisheth, but [work] for the food which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you (John 6:27). In response, the people asked, “What must we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (vv. 28, 29).
Jesus identifies faith as a work, but it is a work of God. This simply means that faith is commanded by God; and when one obeys, he is not performing a work of merit about which he can boast; rather, he is honoring the work instructed by God unto which every man must be careful to submit if eternal life is to be obtained. Paul, after explaining the result of Christ’s humble condescension as a man and servant, pleaded with the Philippians, saying, “So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
Jesus concisely affirms, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). It is impossible to misunderstand this statement. One may dispute this statement if he wishes, but the statement remains – uncompromisingly stated. It is a fundamental fact of Bible interpretation that the passages that are most crucial to one’s salvation are the easiest to understand. In this passage, two conditions of the total plan of salvation are plainly stated. Appropriate to an outline of the divine requirements, Jesus combines the initial act of obedience – belief – and the final act – baptism – into a promise for salvation. The two acts are joined together as equals by the Greek conjunction kai.
It should appear obvious even to the most amateur student of Scripture that these two items are but representative of the fuller complement of sacred obligations mentioned elsewhere by Jesus. For example, both repentance and confession are unmentioned in this verse, but other passages reveal that both are absolutely essential to one’s salvation (see Matthew 10:32; Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47). The one leaving no stone unturned to make his salvation sure will come to recognize that it is not at all uncommon for the New Testament writers to emphasize certain conditions of salvation without listing the entire catalog of requirements (e.g., John 3:16; Acts 17:30; I Peter 3:21). This is a principle of Bible interpretation that sectarian bodies sorely need to recognize.
Mark 16:16 renders the appropriate order in which the divine conditions must be exercised. As addressed previously, some (i.e., hardcore Calvinist) contend that salvation comes first, certain men having been predestined for salvation apart from any obedience whatsoever. In baptizing infants, Catholicism contends that baptism is administered first, thus procuring salvation, while personal faith develops later with maturity. The majority of Protestantism, however, alleges that faith is the sole act that produces salvation. Subsequent to that, while a person may be baptized for a host of various reasons, one is not baptized for the forgiveness of sins or in order to be saved.
Each of these theories is untenable with the facts related by Jesus and the teachings of the apostles as demonstrated throughout the New Testament. The order of acts held in the previous theories are unknown in the Scriptures, and to teach such as doctrine is to malign the plan of salvation. Jesus taught very succinctly, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” To alter the arrangement in any way is to corrupt the teachings of the Lord!
In reviewing this statement by Jesus, not only in the English, but in the Greek, the grammar makes it certain that both belief and baptism are actions which precede salvation. The personal actions “has believed” and “has been baptized” are both aorist tense participles (a participle is a word that has characteristics of both an adjective and a verb). “An aorist participle usually refers to antecedent time with respect to the main verb” (Heiser, 2005). This means that the aorist action occurs prior to or before that of the leading verb.
In Mark 16:16, the leading verb is “shall be saved.” This verb is future tense as opposed to the aorist tense of the participles. In English, the full force of the Lord’s affirmation is best realized by the NASB translation: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.” Though not common in circulation, Young’s Literal Translation also accurately reflects the Greek tenses: “he who hath believed, and hath been baptized, shall be saved.” Both belief and baptism must be accomplished before one may enjoy the future promise of “shall be saved.” The person refusing baptism in order to be saved is actually refusing his own salvation.
Jesus told Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!” (John 3:5). The Great Commission given to the apostles included preaching the gospel to all nations and “baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). On the day of Pentecost, in the midst of the first gospel sermon, those being convicted of sin by the preaching of Peter cried out, “Brethren, what shall we do? And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins” (Acts 2:37, 38).
In Peter’s answer to these distraught individuals requesting instructions for salvation, repentance and baptism are linked inseparably together as distinct actions which must be obeyed in order to receive forgiveness of sins. The word “unto” translates the Greek preposition eis. Other versions read “for the forgiveness of sins.” The word eis is defined generally as “to, unto, in, into, towards, for, among, in order to, to obtain.” The preposition is used with the accusative case, and thus when used, it is always looking forward to a goal or end result. Peter, in following the instructions of Jesus via inspiration of the Holy Spirit, taught men who had come to believe in Jesus as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36) that they needed to repent and be baptized in order to receive the remission of their sins.
While this seems incredibly easy to understand, numerous sincere people (and maybe you are one) have been distracted from fully obeying the gospel by misguided teachers who fail to comprehend the urgency of heeding all the New Testament teaches concerning what is required in order to enjoy salvation. Baptism is rejected upon many grounds, but none that remove it from the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Three thousand of those on Pentecost gladly received the word of truth and were baptized (Acts 2:41).
The essentiality of baptism immediately comes into focus when reading the 6th chapter of Romans. Paul speaks of baptism as the burial of the dead body of sin, allowing for a new man to be raised from the baptismal grave to live with the resurrected Christ (Romans 6:1-11). This same thought is expressed to the church at Colossae, Paul saying, “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11, 12).
Baptism is an act of obedience wherein one expresses his confidence in the power of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to affect pardon from sins. Paul makes it very plain that when one is buried with Christ through baptism, it is into the Lord’s death, thus contacting all the benefits derived in and through His death. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead to the glory of the Father, even so, when one is raised from the burial of baptism, a “newness of life” is gained (Romans 6:4). The power to save rest solely in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and penitent believers access that power by humbling submitting to the Lord’s requirement to replicate His death, burial, and resurrection in the action of baptism.
No man can be “raised” with Christ who has not died to self and “buried” the old man of sin in baptism. Neither can any man be in Christ who has not clothed himself with Christ in baptism. Paul told the Galatians, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (3:27). The Bible only teaches one way in which a man may become clothed with Christ, and that is through total and complete obedience to the Gospel, being “baptized into Christ,” wherein Christ becomes the garment worn by all that belong to Him (3:29). Baptism is the final act of obedience which allows God to place the sinner into Christ who is righteous, washing away our sins in His precious blood (cf. Acts 22:16; Revelation 1:5).
Paul describes the church as the bride of Christ that he loved “and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). After enumerating a great list of sins that will keep many out of heaven, Paul acknowledges to those in Corinth, “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11). Titus was told, “but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (5:3).
These three passages describe baptism as the time when the sinner is “cleansed” or “saved.” It is not the water that removes the sin, but the burial in water allows the sinner to contact the blood of Christ shed in His death. Paul says we are “baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3), and John explains how He “released us from our sins by His blood” (Revelation 1:5). The biblical picture of baptism clearly reveals it as the time when the sinner buries his old self and evil practices in order to be raised “a new creature” in Christ Jesus (II Corinthians 5:17), being washed of his sins by the blood of the Lamb.
Baptism is essential to salvation. The apostle Peter unequivocally affirms that baptism is involved in our salvation. Just as Noah and his family were transported from an old world of sin and corruption into a new life through the flood, so we, too, through baptism, are moved from the world of defilement into a redeemed covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. In comparison to the salvation afforded Noah through the flood, Peter writes, “And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21).
There is absolutely no merit or attempt to earn salvation by humble obedience to baptism. In fact, the opposite is clearly represented. The one submitting to baptism is actually submitting his own life to death, acknowledging that in his own sinful identity, he is unfit for heaven. Absolutely no trust is placed in the old man for righteousness; thus, the sinful man is voluntarily sacrificed in death, being buried in baptism, that a new man might be raised in Christ Jesus the Lord. Refusal to die to one’s self is to reject Christ as Lord, there being no way to serve two masters. The act of baptism allows God to change the status of fallen man from sinner to saint; from a child of the devil to being “born again,” becoming a child of God.
Belief in Jesus Christ and the gospel changes the heart; repentance changes the conduct; confession changes the Lord of life; and baptism changes the status. Have you been baptized for the remission of sins? Have you put Christ on as a garment by being baptized into Him? Though ten thousand angels may cry against the necessity of baptism, the words of Jesus continue to resound across centuries of time: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). What hinders you from obeying the Lord today?
Heiser, Michael S. (2005), Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Oak Harbor: Logos
Hiscox, Edward (1890), The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches (Philadelphia: American Baptist
Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White (1996), Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old
and New Testament Words: with Topical Index (Nashville: T. Nelson).