About a week ago, a brother from my church called me asking for some assistance. His problem was that a new convert in his small group had been targeted by another religious group. The religious group eventually planted its claws in this new convert and he was telling my brother (the small group leader) that he was confused about his salvation. The religious group told him that baptism is a requirement for his salvation, but his small group leader was telling him that is false teaching. The religious group told my brother to meet and discuss this issue with the new convert. So, I and another brother from my church started to prepare an outline to specifically defend what the Bible says about salvation and baptism and give it to our brother to use. I wanted to share this outline with everyone (which has been cleaned up and turned into a blog), so we all can see the truth about this matter.
Most Christians are familiar with what apologetics is—the rational defense of our Faith for those outside our Faith. But what do we call it when we have to soundly defend the truths of our Faith from others who claim to be sharing truth from within the same Faith? This “defense within” is called polemics. This outline is a polemical writing meant to defend the truth about salvation from the false teaching of salvation through baptism.
1. Putting Acts 2:38 in Context
Acts 3:19: In Peter's second message he addresses a different crowd about salvation and leaves out water baptism, but mentions repentance and faith.
Acts 8:35-37: Phillip clearly makes it plain to the Ethiopian Eunuch that belief proceeds water baptism.
Acts 10:34, 42-27: Peter clearly makes it plain that belief proceeds water baptism.
Acts 16:30-33: Paul and Silas clearly make it plain that belief proceeds water baptism.
In Acts alone we see 2 Apostles and 2 church elders who have taught that believing is what saves and baptism proceeds but is not a necessity for salvation.
2. Putting 1Peter 3:21 in Context
(The same Peter in Acts 2:38 now speaking in his own Letter/Epistle)
What is Peter not saying? Peter is not saying water baptism saves a person, because that would contradict the point Peter makes in verses 18-20; which is Jesus died for sin to save people from God’s judgment on sin, just as the Ark saved Noah and the 8 souls from the water. The water didn’t save anyone. The water was God’s judgment on the world (Gen. 6).
The Ark is an Old Testament prefigure of Jesus. And just as the Ark carried them through the water, our Ark—Jesus, after we believe in Him as shown by multiple people in the multiple passages in Acts—leads us to the water in baptism.
This point, belief in Jesus first for salvation and then baptism proceeds, goes along with Peter’s introduction in 1Peter 1:17-25. If he showed us in chapter 1 that it is the blood of Christ and the Word of God that redeems us, why would Peter teach a blatant contradiction in chapter 3 that baptism saves us?
3. The Apostles learned their theology on salvation from the Old Testament and from Jesus who affirmed it (i.e. the theology of salvation) in the New Testament.
Matt. 26:26-28: Jesus confirming that it’s through His blood where we receive the forgiveness of sins.
The Old Testament clearly teaches that God required blood (of animals) to provide forgiveness for the people. Hebrews 9-10:18 talks about the blood of Jesus being the fulfillment of that Old Testament requirement for the forgiveness of the sins of those who believe. If the blood of Jesus does this, what need/function is there for baptism? There is nothing left to do! The blood Jesus shed when He died as a sacrifice/atonement for sin has paid it all. God’s wages for sin has been paid in full!
This clears up what Mark and Matthew penned in the last chapter of their gospels (Mk. 16:16-17, Matt. 28:18-20). These two learned their theology from Jesus and the Old Testament (Mark from Peter and the Old Testament, but Peter learned his from the Old Testament and Jesus). Thus, this understanding is essential because in both we see belief still precedes the act of baptism, and if belief is absent (not baptism, but belief) the person is not saved.
4. Putting Eph. 2:1-9 in Context
Anything added to the grace of God freely given in the life and death of Jesus Christ, and our faith (our believing) in what God’s grace through Jesus Christ has done, is works! God’s grace and our faith is it for salvation. Baptism is a work! Furthermore, before Apostle Paul nailed this point in chapter 2, he actually introduced his letter to Ephesus by making it clear that it’s through God’s grace in Jesus’ blood and our belief in what God did through Jesus that we have forgiveness and redemption (Eph. 1:7, 13-14, cf. Col. 1:13-14).
5. Putting John 3:3-8 in Context
The context of the term “water” in John 3:5 is ambiguous (to some extent). It could mean water as in physical birth (flesh v.6), baptism (but that would be a work added to grace and faith which contradicts scripture, so that’s out), or water as the washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit in Titus 3:5-6. The point Jesus is making in John 3:3-8 is the same point he reiterates in John 6:63, the Spirit gives Life (eternal life), the Flesh profits nothing. The water is not what gives life to the person dead in sin and trespasses, but rather the Holy Spirit.
Scripture does not, will not, and cannot contradict Scripture. Whatever verse/passage is pulled out, it MUST stay in line (agree with) the whole scope of Scripture, not just part. If not, then whatever the interpretation of that verse/passage is should not be taken as biblically sound and thus not accepted, since the whole biblical context doesn’t agree with it. We can conclude with this, water baptism does not save a person. Salvation is through the grace of God in the blood of Jesus and our believing in what He’s done—death/atonement and resurrection. Anything more than this is a false gospel!