Is Not Necessary for Salvation
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Actually, the question or controversy over salvation "by faith alone" or "by faith plus works" is one of the main causes of the schism within the Church and the eventual formation of Protestantism in the 1500s. As many well-intentioned Priests, Bishops, and Lay persons wrestled with the doctrine of "faith plus works", as taught by the Catholic Church, a sort of "splintering" movement took shape which came to be known as the "Protestant Reformation".
Now, here we are 500 years later and there's been little or no movement or compromise by either side toward a more ecumenical bonding. So, the question remains: "Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?" in this case, baptism. Am I saved by believing in Jesus and His atoning work alone, or was Jesus' death on Calvary not quite enough?
Romans 6:3-4 declares: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." The action of being immersed in the water illustrates dying and being buried with Christ; and the action of being raised out of the water pictures Christ's resurrection.
Although water baptism is an important step of obedience, we contend that it is not a requirement for salvation, that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.
Really, when we objectively examine the Scriptures to discern the whole truth on this matter, we find that no one contradicts the doctrine that faith is certainly required for salvation. So, we should start such examination from that vantage point on which all sides agree. And from there, it follows that any interpretation of Scripture that reasons the requirement of any other act on our parts even water baptism might, therefore, render a faulty conclusion. We must be careful to not surrender the requirement of faith in order to embrace any other interpretation, regardless of what we've been taught or believed in the past.
If it seems so clear that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, then why is there disagreement among the churches? The question or controversy stems from some Bible verses that seem to indicate baptism as a requirement for salvation.
And even though they don't mention baptism, nevertheless, we mustn't neglect these best-known verses from James that appear to affirm works as having its part in saving faith.
As we know, the Bible is God's inerrant Word to us written over a period of about 1500 years by 40-some men who "spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:21) In it, God tells us everything He wants us to know, not only about Himself, but also about ourselves and His will for us. Since God is the omniscient and omnipotent self-existent I AM who does not lie (cf. Numbers 23:19), we know His Word does not contradict itself.
Permit me to reiterate a truth that all serious students of the Bible know well: As we study God's Word, we must filter seemingly-contradictory passages through what we know for sure the Bible does teach elsewhere on the same subject. We must consider the whole of Scripture, taking into consideration the cultural and historical setting, and never build a theology on a few verses taken out-of-context.
Therefore, let us examine these verses and others more closely so that we might gain a more thorough interpretation and understanding of this subject.
As we already quoted above, James wrote: "Even so faith without works is dead" (James 2:17), "You see that a man's righteousness is judged by his works and not by his faith only" (v.24), and "For as the body without the spirit is dead, even so faith without works is dead" (v.26).
Certainly, it's easy to see how some might conclude, from these verses, that we are justified by faith and works. How do we reconcile these passages by James with passages written elsewhere, such as...
We could say, as some skeptics and antagonists do, that the Bible frequently contradicts itself and is not the inerrant word of God; or we could dismiss the seeming debate between Paul and James as mere semantics or perhaps errors in translation. Howewver, as we've all been admonished at one time or another to not use verses "out of context" in building doctrine, we would do well to consider each Apostle's words in their context rather than simply disregard them.
Let's read the entire passage in James chapter 2 verses 15-26:
15"If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
In this passage, James is refuting the teaching that a person can have faith and not produce any good works (vv. 17-18). James emphasizes that genuine faith in Christ results in a changed life out of which pour forth good works (vv. 20-26). He is not saying that justification is by faith plus works. Rather, he is arguing that a person who is truly justified by faith will produce good works as a result of the unmerited grace of God granted to him/her. If a person claims to be a believer, but is without "good works", then s/he most likely does not have genuine saving faith in Christ.
On closer examination of Paul's letters, too, we see that there is no conflict between his and James' teachings, as even Paul mentions works in some of his letters. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10 emphasis added)
In other words, Paul exhorts that our salvation should manifest itself in a changed life which would then pour itself out by good works. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV)
James and Paul do not disagree in their teachings regarding salvation. Rather, as two unique individuals each having his own style of preaching, teaching, and writing and each to different audiences they simply have different approaches, or perspectives, in their writing on this subject. Paul emphasizes that justification is by faith alone but not to the exclusion of resultant works while James emphasizes that genuine faith in Christ produces good works.
A Closer Look at the Difficult Passages
In order to state conclusively what this verse teaches about water baptism as a requirement for salvation, we need to break it down grammatically to be sure about what it does say and does not say. One thing this verse clearly teaches is that belief is necessary for salvation, which of course, is consistent with what Jesus said in other passages, for example:
The Grammatic Structure of Mark 16:16
The "Negative Inference" Fallacy
In the same way, "he who believes and is baptized will be saved" is 100% true. The negative inference, "he who does not believe and is not baptized" is an assumption not born out or supported by other Bible teachings or Jesus' own words about salvation. Read the above verses from John 3:18, 5:24, and 12:44 again. Jesus says, "Whoever believes..." while saying nothing about baptism.
Although the second half of the passage in Mark 16:16 affirms the negative "he who does not believe," it does not affirm the negative supposition for baptism. It does not say, "he who is not baptized will not be saved." For us to infer such is an unwarranted assumption with no other Scriptural support.
The passage states a fact that baptized believers will be saved. It says nothing, however, about believers who have not been baptized.
At the heart of the matter is the question: What does the preposition "for" mean? Does it mean "in order to receive" or does it mean "because of"? I take aspirin for a headache or cough medicine for a cold and cough. Am I taking these in order to get a headache or cold? Or, am I taking them because I already have a headache or cold?
As we have already discussed in this lesson, we can only discern what an isolated verse of Scripture teaches by filtering it through other passages on the same subject and looking at other usages of certain key words (in this case, "for"). We already know, too, that the Bible teaches salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind which would include the work of baptism (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).
This verse in Acts deserves a closer look and a breaking down of all segments to be sure we have a full understanding of what Peter said and what God intended. It definitely seems to say "be baptized . . . for the forgiveness [in order to be forgiven] of your sins."
This passage uses the Greek word eis which is translated "for" here and is also translated "at" in other passages. Those who hold to the belief that baptism is required for salvation assume the word translated "for" in this verse means "in order to receive or get". However, in both English and in Greek, there are three possible meanings of the word "for":
Since any one of the three meanings listed above could fit the context of Acts 2:38, we need to study further to determine which one is correct.
Let's look at how the preposition "eis" is used in another unrelated Scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 12:41, "The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here." Here, "eis" is translated "at", which means "as a result of". (emphasis added)
So, clearly, the interpretation of this passage is that they repented "because of" or "as a result of" Jonah's preaching, not "in order for Jonah to preach" (ludicrous, I know, but I felt I needed to say it in order to make my point crystal clear). In the same way, Acts 2:38 may well communicate that the people would be baptized "as a result of" or "because" they had believed.
Furthermore, this interpretation is consistent with Peter's next two messages in Acts where he associated forgiveness of sins with only the act of repentance and faith in Christ. In both of those instances, Peter never mentioned baptism (cf. Acts 3:17-26; 4:8-12). Question: If water baptism were indeed a requirement for salvation, can we presume that Peter would carelessly neglect that instruction on other occasions and put people's eternal souls at risk? Of course not!
Three Other Verses that Use "Eis" If one is consistent with the way the preposition "eis" is used in the rest of Scripture, we must conclude that Acts 2:38 is indeed referring to their being baptized "because" they had repented and received forgiveness of their sins. Some other verses where the Greek preposition "eis" does not mean "in order to obtain" are Matthew 28:19; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 19:3; 1 Corinthians 1:15; and 12:13.
If one is consistent with the way the preposition "eis" is used in the rest of Scripture, we must conclude that Acts 2:38 is indeed referring to their being baptized "because" they had repented and received forgiveness of their sins. Some other verses where the Greek preposition "eis" does not mean "in order to obtain" are Matthew 28:19; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 19:3; 1 Corinthians 1:15; and 12:13.
Concerning Ananias' words, "...be baptized and wash away your sins", we need to examine them in the context of the whole preceding narrative in Acts 22:10-15 where Paul recounts the experience.
10"And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.'
In the above passage, we see that Paul had already come to faith in Christ before coming to Ananias to receive his sight. How can we know this? Because God called (appointed) him for ministry prior to his coming to Ananias and prior to his baptism. Is it reasonable to think that Christ would commission Paul if he were not yet saved? Although some churches today might reject the notion that Paul was saved before baptism, it seems obvious that God certainly was not conflicted concerning Paul's salvation and eligibility for ministry.
Thus, we can logically conclude that Ananias was either referring to the symbolism of baptism in the name of Christ or that he was quite possibly referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, not water baptism. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, he understood that baptism is a picture of God's inner work of washing away sin.
As Paul wrote later: "But now the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of God's Spirit have washed you and made you holy and acceptable to God." (1 Corinthians 6:11 CEV emphasis added) Where is water baptism mentioned in this verse?
However, in using this verse to support baptismal regeneration, we ignore the context of the passage. Let's examine it in its immediate context.
23"Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.
Here, Paul is scolding some in Galatia who were turning from the true Gospel to a false gospel that cannot save, as he had written at the beginning of his letter in Galatians 1:6-10
6"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel
The false gospel or "distorted" gospel, as Paul called it mixed works of the Law, including circumcision, as a requirement for being saved. Really, this is no different than those who add baptism as a requirement for salvation.
Paul's message in the entire letter to the Galatians is clear: We are not justified by works. "...yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:16 emphasis added)
You can see the entire context of justification by faith alone in Christ alone throughout the first three chapters of Galatians. Paul reinforces that message in Galatians 3:26 "...for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith." We see that Paul does not waver in any of his writings wherein he asserts that salvation is "through faith in Christ Jesus". In order for baptism to have any meaning at all, it must be preceded by faith. While baptism is important as a way of identifying us with Christ, it only has meaning if it comes from saving faith, which always comes first.
What Type of "Baptism"?
There is more than one type of baptism spoken of in the New Testament. Therefore, is it logical to assume that Paul is speaking of water baptism when there is no evidence to support that assumption? The question we should be asking here is: "How do we get 'baptized into Christ'?" We can find the answer to that question in the following verses:
"You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." (Romans 8:9 emphasis added)
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and all were made to drink of one Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:12-13 emphasis added)
The determining factor for whether or not someone is a Christian is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. And the baptism that puts us "into Christ", or makes us a part of Christ's Body is the baptism "in one Spirit".
Clearly, the baptism Paul speaks of above in 1 Corinthians and in Galatians 3:27 is not water baptism. Rather, it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit whereby we are "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13-14). When the Holy Spirit indwells us, then we become part of Christ's Body.
John the Baptist said that he was sent to "baptize with water", and he prophesied that Jesus was the One who "baptizes with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33). At the point at which we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are then "baptized into Christ".
Water baptism is symbolic of what is accomplished in our spirit when we are baptized into one body by one Spirit. Therefore, we can conclude that the baptism Paul speaks of above in 1 Corinthians and in Galatians 3:27 is not water baptism. Rather, it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit whereby we are "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13-14). When the Holy Spirit indwells us, then we become part of Christ's Body.
The Bible clearly teaches, and we can say with absolute assurance, that belief or faith is both a condition and a requirement. However, can we say the same about the act of water baptism? Does Scripture the whole of Scripture, without contradiction or controversy give absolute assurance that a person who is not baptized is not saved?
While we can attach any number of conditions to the requirement of faith, Scripture asserts that the person is still saved whether they meet any one or more conditions relating to salvation (such as good works, for instance). As such, no one can state with absolute assurance and authority that water baptism is necessary for salvation.
Before we dismiss this all-important question/concern/controversy, let's examine other Scripture references that tell us plainly and conclusively the requirement(s) for salvation.
The above Scripture references most assuredly affirm that faith is a requirement for salvation. However, there is no indication in any of those verses that anything else is required. Doesn't it stand to reason that, if baptism were a requirement for salvation, Jesus and the Apostles Paul, John, and Peter would have said so? Would they really neglect so great an issue when people's eternal souls were involved? I seriously doubt it.
Let Us Reason Together
Of course, we know this passage is really about the divisions among the Corinthian believers. Nevertheless, how could Paul possibly say, "I thank God that I baptized none..." or "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel..." in verse 17 if baptism were truly necessary for salvation? If that were the case, then reason dictates that Paul was really saying, "I thank God that you were not saved..." and "For Christ did not send me to save..." How absurd is that deduction!
Also, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, when Paul provides a detailed outline of the Gospel, why would he not mention baptism if it were indeed a requirement?
1"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
If baptism were a requirement for salvation, how could Paul possibly present the Gospel and not mention baptism?
A Few Practical/Historical Examples
Although some have attached the condition of water baptism to saving faith, there isn't a single verse in the Bible that says if a person is not baptized, then s/he is not saved.
If baptism were required for salvation, then no one could be saved without another person being present to baptize them. This, then, puts restrictions or limitations on God's grace based, not on His love, but on human will and ability.
If water baptism were truly a requirement for salvation, why wouldn't the Apostle Paul write: "In him we have redemption through his blood and baptism, the forgiveness of sins..." (Ephesians 1:7) He didn't write it because he and the other Apostles and early Christians knew that God's saving grace is purely His work, from start to finish as Paul affirmed in Philippians 1:6 when he wrote: "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (emphasis added)
Let's take Jesus at His word!
At the very point of faith what we call "saving faith" a believer possesses all the promises and blessings of salvation (cf. John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 20:31; Acts 10:43; 13:39; 16:31). Read John 5:24 above again.
Baptism is a testimony of our faith and a public declaration that we believe in have placed all our faith in Jesus Christ.
Requiring anything in addition to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is a "works-based" salvation. To add anything to the Gospel is to say that Jesus' death on the cross was not sufficient to purchase our salvation. To say we must be baptized in order to be saved is to say we must add something our own good works and obedience to Christ's death in order to make it sufficient for salvation. This is a presumptuous contradiction of Scripture which diminishes, or weakens, Jesus' atoning death.
Jesus' payment for our sins is appropriated (applied) to our "account" by faith alone. Therefore, as we stated before, we now state again: baptism is an important step of obedience for every new believer after salvation, but it is not a requirement for salvation.
for the AOCI Bible Training Institute