One of the most contentious topics theists seem to be debating among themselves is whether or not it is essential for a lost soul who has decided to give their life to Christ to be baptized in water in order to receive salvation. In general, theists seem to accept and acknowledge the meaning of water baptism as a great thing. However, a lot of them doubt the necessity of it for various reasons. One of the most widely used argument in support of their belief: the thief on the cross. Thus, they conclude that one is saved by faith and faith alone. On the other side of the coin, others stress the significance of water baptism to obtain redemption and have all sins remitted.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” ( Colossians 2:8, NASB). When talking about soul-saving, we must be very careful with what we believe, who we follow, and what we teach. Lack of understanding, following the traditions and system of the world and improper use of the scriptures will lead to one’s own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). At the end of the day, it is not about what people think, feel, or say when it comes to the salvation of one’s soul. It is about what the Almighty Creator has set, said, and established through His Word.
So, is water baptism (full immersion in water) commanded or optional? Did Christ and the apostles merely recommend baptism to the world, or did they demonstrate its essentiality?
THE THIEF ON THE CROSS
As the Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus hung on the cross on Calvary for six hours, He was hanging between two thieves. One was cursing the Lord and tempting Him, saying if He was truly the Christ, He would save Himself. The other, however, was repentant and acknowledged Christ as Lord. As a result, Christ declared, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:39-43). It can be fairly understandable that such a beautiful and heart-touching passage of the repentant thief could prove one is not saved by water baptism, but by faith alone. However one must recognize and understand the dispensation that was still in effect until Christ said “It is finished” and gave His last breath on the cross: the Mosaic Law. By such ability to distinguish the Old Testament from the New, the lines that are blurred and strung together will become clear and separated, distinct.
One thing is for certain, the thief was still under the law of Moses, and therefore under John the Baptizer’s baptism. Additionally, there is a high probability that the thief had already been baptized due to the fact that everyone in Judea, Jerusalem, and all the region around Jordan were baptized by John, which the thieves were possibly from (Matthew 3:5-7, Mark 1:4-5). After all, Christ is the only Person Who has the power on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:7, 10). The thief and Christ were both on earth, so Christ forgave him under the law of Moses.
“BY FAITH ALONE”
Supplementing the thief on the cross, some theists use this scripture: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as the result of works, so that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). With this misunderstanding of the verse, they conclude that by faith alone we are saved. Nevertheless, nowhere in Paul’s or the other apostles’ epistle did they give the slightest implication that faith ALONE saves us. Adding on to the Word with this very word is treading dangerous waters. What Paul meant by writing this was refuting the legalistic idea that only performing good works will get us into heaven. The legalist believes one doesn’t need faith, just good deeds. Paul corrected that belief. By God’s abundant grace and act of what He has done for us we are saved through faith, and it is because of our faith and love in Him do we become obedient to the Almighty and do what He commanded. Baptism is not a work or a good deed, but an obligation for man everywhere and the first step towards salvation.
By night, a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus came to speak with Jesus. He flattered Him with words like “we know You were sent by God because of Your miracles.” Christ lightly brushed it aside and went straight to the important matter of salvation: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3: 1-5). Nicodemus didn’t understand such a statement, and understandably so. What did Christ mean by this, and when would such a command come into effect? It wasn’t until after His death on the cross did we become under the New Covenant.
When the Lord carried the heaviest burden no man could’ve ever achieved to the cross, He took the sins of the world with Him with His body being sorrowfully heavy. As He died, the sins of the world died with Him. After being raised from the dead and His ascension back into Glory, those sins that were with Him before did not come back with Him. Paul the apostle, moved by the Holy Ghost, wrote a powerful epistle to the Christians in Rome about the meaning of baptism and its significance:
“…do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:3-7).
The obedient step coming to the water doesn’t clean the flesh of our bodies, but it saves us, purging us from the sins we had living in the world through lust (1 Peter 3:20-21).We are experiencing the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; as a result, we become united with Him. One cannot become united with Christ by a simple “come into my heart Lord Jesus” prayer and continue living life as usual. Christ the Lord made the commandment Himself about water baptism. That decision one has made is because of his good conscience towards God (a repentant heart), wanting to change the life he was once living for the world and now becoming a servant of righteousness. Our old self was crucified with Christ, our old self died with Him, and the new us was raised with Him.
On the day of Pentecost when the church of Christ was established in Acts 2, Peter spoke to the people about Christ and what was needed to be done in order to receive the Holy Spirit and be saved: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).Such a statement was not a recommendation; neither did he make an implication that by faith alone one was saved, but told them an act that was essential to do.
My dear readers, I strongly encourage you to study the scriptures below.
(Postscript, I did not create this chart.)