There are many churches and individuals who believe that people must be baptized in water in order for them to be saved from their sins and go to Heaven when they die. Some churches teach that baptism is essential to salvation. Those churches generally believe that anyone who trusts Jesus, but does not also get baptized in water before they die, must then go to Hell, because they did not perform the “good work” of getting baptized that they might be saved thereby.
Churches believing that baptism is essential to salvation tend to de-emphasize the Blood of Christ as an all-sufficient payment for sin. Instead, they believe that the blood of Jesus is not really sufficient to “cleanse us from all sin”. (See I John 1:9). Instead, they believe that salvation must be obtained through both the good work of Christ on the cross, and through the good work of man in baptism. People who hold to this false doctrine believe that Man therefore becomes a “co-redeemer” together with Christ. They believe in salvation by the grace of God plus the works of man. This is the erroneous belief that Jesus and man both work together to pay for sin, a doctrine also taught by the Popes of the Roman Catholic Church.
One of the most well-known churches teaching that baptism is essential to salvation is the “Church of Christ”. I once heard a man say that he knew of a preacher who was raised in the Church of Christ and stayed in the Church of Christ all of his life. Nevertheless, even though he was a preacher in the Church of Christ, on his death bed he wanted to be baptized “once again”, just to “be sure” that he would go to Heaven instead of going to Hell when he died.
Those churches believing that baptism is essential to salvation often use such verses as Acts 2:38 to support this point of view. This view of baptism held by the Church of Christ can be traced to its founder, Alexander Campbell. Alexander Campbell once said that, “Immersion is that act by which our state is changed” The idea that baptism itself saves, (instead of Jesus alone saving us from our sins through His own redeeming blood shed on the cross), is called “baptismal regeneration”.
The act of baptism is actually a picture of what should have already happened in the lives of believers before they were baptized. Namely, that they have already been forgiven for their sins and therefore they have already been made ready for Heaven by trusting Jesus alone for salvation. This then brings up an interesting question: If all of their sins were already forgiven before they were baptized, then how can there be any sins left over for baptism itself to “forgive” or wash away? Also, which sin will they be sent to Hell for, if someone had trusted Jesus, but then died before getting baptized?
I was baptized a few times before I was actually saved. In fact, all that happened to me on those occasions was that I got wet. I was not saved by getting baptized. When I did get saved by trusting Jesus alone for my salvation, I was e again baptized — but this time out of obedience to Christ! Since I had already been saved, I had no need to try to earn my own salvation by my own good work of baptism. Jesus had already saved me. Jesus did all the saving. It was all Christ.
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SOURCE: I fear that many members in the church of Christ are trusting in repentance and baptism, rather than Christ. We repent on the account of Jesus and his work and a hate for our sin; we are baptized on the account of Jesus work on the cross, the place He remitted sins. If we are looking unto water baptism as the agency whereby we are remitted of sin, we grossly fail to comprehend the work of Jesus on the cross. Doing so, we have turned the grace of God into a system or works whereby our obedience to baptism is efficacious and thus we preach another Gospel.
Remission of sins was a ONCE AND FOR ALL event. The book of Hebrews spells this out clearly. Jesus Blood is not like bull and goats which could NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS. We do not appropriate the work of Christ in Baptism. We are justified “by faith in Hs blood.”
In Acts 2, Peter declared to them the Gospel, the death, burial, and resurrection. They was cut to their hearts and ask what they needed to do about their obvious faith in Christ as their sacrifice for sin. They clearly understood that Jesus remitted sin though His death and was raised that they might live. They knew sin was remitted on the cross, they knew Jesus shed blood not covered their sin, but took it away. Rom. 5:8-10, says: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him: for if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” This verse is very deep and clearly states that we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son (when we were enemies) and it says how we are justified – by His blood. Jesus removed the wall between man and God, now we are justified by faith in the Blood which reconciled us to God when we were yet sinners. The church of Christ are so hung up on Baptism, that they do not even know when we were reconciled to God. By Jesus death we were reconciled while we were enemies while we were yet sinners.
Peter seeing that they had saving faith in the shed blood of Jesus, said; repent and be baptized on the account of remission of sins. The Greek word EIS points like a finger in a particular direction, and in this case, it pointed back to the sacrifice of Jesus – the One who shed His blood for remission of sins. They responded in faith towards the work of Christ. They were not responding as one seeking Jesus blood in baptism, but responding in faith TOWARDS the Gospel.
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Have you ever been in a forum and someone post something like this?
Mar 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
Act 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Joh 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
1Pe 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Sometimes they will not even copy and paste the verses and will just list them like this Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, John 3:5 and 1 Peter 3:21 – and rarely do they add any commentary – they just throw them out there like they prove the necessity of baptism for salvation. Not only is this a prime example of proof-texting and contextomony, there is also something very absurd about this methodology that people use to try to prove water baptism is required for salvation.
A Reduction to Absurdity is a form of argumentation that the apostle Paul often employed. Wikipedia states: “A Reductio ad Absurdum (Reduction to Absurdity) is used to demonstrate that a statement is false by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its acceptance”. So how does proof-texting in the above manner result in an absurdity? It results in taking a few verses, or sometimes as many as a dozen verses, completely out of context of what the rest of the Bible says about Salvation.
One site counts over 31,000 verses in the OT and NT together. And by myopically focusing on a handful of verses, these are a few things that are omitted by this “water gospel”. God has always had a plan of salvation. That plan is and always has been that salvation is by grace and mercy through faith in Christ.
The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world was slain before the foundations of this world. So we see Gods plan before He formed the earth was that He would send His Son to reconcile the world to Himself. This is played out all the way through scripture. In Genesis we see the gospel of grace in proto-type form when God killed animals (shed blood) to cover Adam and Eve and promised that through their seed the head of the serpent would be crushed. Then we see Abraham being justified before God by faith in Gen. 15, before the law, before he was circumcised (Romans 4) and before he was obedient to offer up Isaac (Gen 20). God would send Jesus to make atonement for sin and the expiation of sin. This is seen in the offering of sacrifices for sin in the OT and is vividly seen in the Day of Atonement which looked forward to Jesus’s fulfillment of the law and the prophets which would fulfil the Salvation Plan of God. By faith they looked forward to Jesus’s atonement and we look back.
And in the NT there is much more overlooked by this proof-texting methodology. In the Book of John (which was written so that we “may know that ye have eternal life”) Jesus says 11 times that those who believe in Him HAVE (present tense) eternal life and HAVE (past tense) moved from death and condemnation to life in Him. There are 4 NT books that focus on salvation Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Hebrews that all agree salvation is by grace and the sacrifice of Christ. There are well over 100 NT verses that say we are justified or saved by faith in Christ Jesus. There are dozens that say we are not saved by works. And scripture says several times that salvation is a gift from God (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9 etc.).
So when you step back and consider all that the scripture says about salvation you can see the absurdity and danger of focusing on a handful of verses.
Some who use this methodology might say “All I have to do is post scripture and you have to prove they don’t mean what they say”. That is flat out wrong. By posting these verses as proof-text the poster has the obligation to prove the doctrine they are asserting by doing so. And when you get down to the nitty gritty and examine their proof-texts none of them actually teach water baptism is necessary to be saved. Some of them are not even speaking of baptism or water at all.