Monday, 19 October 2009

Is Water Baptism Tied to Salvation?

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons
"It is only at our peril that we change something that the Lord has said into something that He did not say. Everything He says matters, and He means every word of it." (Watchman Nee)

I was thinking about baptism today. What is the significance of it and how do the biblical examples compare with the norms today? Mark 16:16 says, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Acts 2:38 says, "Repent and be baptized ... and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Have modern Christians downplayed the importance of water baptism? Have we reversed the order Jesus gave in Mark 16:16? The order Jesus gives is: (1) Faith, (2) Baptism, (3) Salvation. Unfortunately, we often seem to have changed the order to be, (1) Faith, (2) Salvation, (3) Baptism (which we often then treat as an option rather than a command). Why is that?

For some time now I've been of the opinion that the modern institutional church has been teaching a wrong idea of salvation. Somewhere along the line we have fallen into error. No, I am not promoting the idea of baptismal regeneration. I am not saying that the act of baptism will save a person, as though something that you and I "do" could lead to salvation (ie., works). However, I think that what the Scriptures teach is that baptism is inseparably tied to salvation as a sort of other side of the belief coin.

I'm reminded of the deacon in an institutional church, where I served as pastor, coming to me about his son's request to be baptized. He was concerned that his son was not mature enough in the faith to undergo baptism. Some of you might be asking, "So, what is wrong with that father's concern?" What was wrong was that the deacon's concerns showed a false understanding of baptism and salvation. Somewhere along the line he, like many of us, developed a slightly twisted understanding of the doctrine of baptism and its role in salvation.

The way I read it, the order in the New Testament is always, (1) Belief (faith), (2) Baptism, (3) Salvation (and being counted amongst God's people). Baptism ALWAYS fell hard and fast on the heels of the initial belief in Christ; they believed and were IMMEDIATELY baptized.

Someone has said, "Salvation is not so much a question of sins forgiven, or hell avoided, as it is of a system that we come out of." What system is that? The world system. Unfortunately, what we seem to follow too often today, is a "worldy" Christianity. Too often today we seem to be the church that is "still in the world," as opposed to the church that has "come out of the world." Too often someone looking in and comparing the world of the Christian and that of the non-Christian would see no significant difference between the two. Even the non-Christian knows this as characterized by their often discernment of "hypocritical" Christians. The hopes, dreams, and desires of the non-Christian are almost exactly like the hopes, dreams, and desires of the Christian.

The problem is, we seem to have NOT come out of the world. Could it be that salvation, among other things, is the act of coming out of the world? And if so, is that why baptism is also so closely tied to faith. Most of us will acknowledge that baptism is the identification with the Lord Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. The Greek for "baptism" is "baptizo," which literally means to "put under." (This in itself is an argument for baptism by immersion, as opposed to other modes, but I'm not going to address that at this time.)

But why do we stop there? Baptism also rightly concerns salvation from a fallen, sin defiled, world system. Someone once said, "Salvation is an exit from a doomed world system." In other words, could it be that "life" is the coming out whereas "death" is the staying in?

The world in Noah's day died through burial in water. Noah and those with him in the ark not only escaped drowning, but more importantly, they were the only ones to come out from a sin-infected and corrupt world system. Through water they received salvation.

We would to well to meditate on 1 John 2:15 which says, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is NOT in him" (emphasis mine). This begs the question, if we continue to love the world, have we really been saved? I wonder.

Someone asked Jesus, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But He will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from'" (Luke 13: 23-25).

Who are the ones outside knocking and being denied entry? I believe that it will be those who have never really been saved out of the world's system. It will be those who thought they were saved, but in truth they were only religious. The problem was, they still loved the world, but unfortunately for them, that then meant that they did not and could not truly love God. They claimed they had been saved, but the salvation they talked about was not a biblical salvation that God wants for each of us.

Matthew 7:13-14 says, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

What is the wide gate and the broad road? It is the love and participation in the world system. To borrow a phrase from the world of business, it is the being a "team player" with them in their worldly (and thus, not godly) system. Unfortunately, that wide gate and broad road is not just full of non-believers; it is also full of those who think they are Christians by virtue of their twisted understanding of salvation. Unfortunately, they still love the world and that love will cost them dearly.

Jesus said, "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32). What was the lesson there that Jesus wanted us to remember? The problem was that she was offered salvation. She may have even thought that she was saved. The problem was that, while she and her family had started to come out of a sinful and doomed world system (salvation), her turning around and looking back proved that she still loved the world and this in turn, proved that the love of God was not in her (1 John 2:15). This in turn meant that she was on the wide road (like most people - including some so-called Christians) that leads to destruction.

Maybe that is why we so often read of Jesus saying to those who thought of themselves as believers, "Be gone, I don't know you." They thought they were saved, but unfortunately they had a twisted understanding of salvation. Salvation comes only after (1) Faith, and (2) Baptism. Once we have truly died to the ways of the world (symbolized by baptism), then only are we truly saved. Only by NOT loving the world have we truly received salvation.

Anyways, that's the way I see it. Peace.


  1. I believe that it is a waste of time for Baptists/evangelicals and Lutherans/orthodox Christians to discuss the Doctrine of Baptism without first agreeing on the "HOW" of salvation. Unless we come to agreement on how God saves sinners, our respective views on Baptism will never make sense to the other group, and our debate over Baptism will always end in a stalemate, as it has for the last 500 years.

    So how does God save sinners?

    Does God save sinners by this method?

    1. A sinner hears the Gospel and is convicted of his sin and his need for a Savior.
    2. The sinner makes a decision to believe, based on his intelligence and the maturity of his decision-making capabilities.
    3. The sinner asks Christ to save him and repents of his sins.

    Or does God save sinners by this method?

    1. God predestined, before the world existed, that you would be his child.
    2. Then, at some point in your life, at a time of his choosing, not yours, God quickens your spiritually dead soul by the power of his Word, gives you the free gift of faith, creating belief and repentance.

    Baptists and Lutherans/orthodox are in full agreement that it is by faith that we believe and repent in salvation. Our difference is HOW the sinner acquires faith. If faith is a gift from God, then salvation is truly free. If faith is produced by the sinner's intelligence and mature decision-making capabilities then the sinner is providing assistance in his salvation.

    Does God need or allow the assistance/cooperation of the sinner to save him?

    Unless we can reach agreement on this crucial question, Baptists and Lutherans/orthodox will never agree on the Doctrine of Baptism.


    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    1. Thanks for sharing, Gary. Peace & Blessings :)