Does Baptism Save?

Baptism is kind of weird. Whether you believe in dunking or sprinkling, whether you believe in baptizing babies or adults only, it’s difficult to connect the dots between getting drenched with water and trusting the Lord with your life. And yet, there seems to be a strong connection between the two in the Bible. In fact, some Scripture passages might even lead you to believe that there is not just a strong connection, but that baptism is salvation, or that you aren’t saved without being baptized. And since there are Bible verses that could give us that impression, we should not just assume that it isn’t so. Instead, we should seriously consider what the Word is saying to us. One passage of Scripture that used to really bother me has become my favorite verse on the subject.

1 Peter 3:21 “Baptism… now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Seems pretty clear to me.

It’s difficult to argue with those four words, “Baptism now saves you.” We tend to respond to confusing passages of scripture with statements like, “Well, that doesn’t mean…” But if we did that here we would have to say, “’Baptism now saves you’ doesn’t really mean that baptism saves you.” We’re not just talking about the implications of the Bible; we’re disagreeing with it word for word.

So what do we do with verses like this (and there are others: Acts 22:16, Colossians 2:12, Acts 2:38)? Instead of being freaked out and confused by them, let’s seek to understand them. God didn’t have Peter say it this way to confuse us, but to lead us into worship by understanding His truth and His heart.

How baptism saves.

If you grew up in the church, you may be familiar with something called “The sinner’s prayer.” This is a prayer the non-Christian prays who wants to come to Christ. It’s often composed of a list of confessions such as, “I confess that I am a sinner, and I trust that you have made a way through the cross… In Jesus Name” The purpose of this prayer was to ask Jesus to forgive our sins. Baptism seems to serve the same purpose in 1 Peter 3:21.

This verse 1 Peter tells us that baptism is literally a prayer: “an appeal to God for a good conscience”.  It does not save in some mystical or magical way, but rather in the same way that the sinner’s prayer “saves.” Namely, that God is faithful to answer the prayer for salvation. Baptism is in a sense a prayer and a public declaration of our dependence on God. When we are baptized, we are declaring before God and the Church that we are fully trusting in Jesus to take away, not only our sins, but also our guilt, and give us a clean conscience. The word “Gospel” means “good news” and the promise of a clean conscience before God is great news! 

Can you be a Christian without baptism?

This question, in one sense, has a very simple answer and in another, a very difficult answer. Technically the answer is yes. You can be a Christian without baptism. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). No work can save, not even baptism. Faith alone, through grace alone saves us. But it also isn’t enough to stop there.

We cannot simply say we don’t need baptism when Acts 2:38 says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” You may argue that Peter isn’t intending to say that baptism saves, and you may be correct, but the fact that he puts them together, almost as if they are synonymous, should tell us something. No, salvation doesn’t require baptism, but throughout the scriptures and church history they walk hand-in-hand and take place at the same time. This is very different than what we see today. A person may be a Christian for years and never be baptized. That simply isn’t biblical. Baptism is the outward expression of the inward reality called salvation. They were never meant to be mutually exclusive.

So can a person be saved without baptism? Technically, yes. However, if someone has not been baptized it would cause me to question if they really understood salvation. So in that sense, a person may not be saved if they haven’t been baptized. Baptism and salvation do not have a cause and effect relationship, but baptism gives expression to salvation and salvation gives meaning to baptism. If baptism is a symbolic “cleansing” or “washing” away of our sins and “an appeal to God for a clean conscience,” then shouldn’t it be done in tandem with salvation?

Questions:

  1. Have you been baptized? If not, what is stopping you?
  2. Do you feel like you understand baptism?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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7 thoughts on “Does Baptism Save?

  1. Hi Kenneth. Interesting post. At first glance, it seems like you kind of took both sides of the issue here, but are siding more on the baptism is not necessary for salvation side. I’m of the conclusion baptism is required in order to be saved, and if a person has not been baptized, they have not become a Christian. I find when Ephesians 2:8-9 gets cited against that conclusion two different issues are being conflated. Who gives the opportunity of salvation, which obviously only God does that, versus how does one receive salvation, which seems to be through obeying the Gospel as 2 Thessalonians 1:8 seems to indicate, and that Gospel to be obeyed appears to be conveyed in Mark 16:15-16 (belief and baptism for salvation), with disbelief of that gospel condemning. With regards to works, I conclude that verse is referring to works of the law, as Paul seems to consistently speak against that not justifying a person in his other letters. To my knowledge, baptism was never a work of the law. Hope I provided some things for thought.

    Peace in Christ. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your response. Honestly, I somewhat feel like I am on both sides of the issue. While I don’t believe baptism saves, I do know that Scripture seems to make the two a pair.
      That said, the scriptures makes clear again and again that we are saved by putting our trust in Jesus and obeying Him (obedience being the natural fruit of faith in Christ).
      I find that most people (and you may be an exception) who believe that baptism saves are a bit inconsistent in this regard. For example, Catholics believe baptism saves and yet they only baptize about twice a year. So if someone professes faith in Christ months before they are to be baptized and then dies, most people don’t believe those people go to hell. So even their belief that baptism saves is really that while baptism may be an efficacious mystical sacrament, faith is really what saved that person (though they wouldn’t usually admit that). The thief in the cross is generally the example that is brought up, who was never baptized and yet, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” says Jesus.
      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to your reply.

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      1. That’s the distinction that I think often gets conflated. People of my conclusion, or speaking for myself at least, don’t argue baptism alone saves. We argue obedience to the Gospel saves, which involves baptism as every salvation occurrence in acts seems to show. Without baptism, it seems one has not fully obeyed the gospel that saves as 2 Thessalonians 1:8 seems to state is a requirement for avoiding punishment into a fiery hell.

        With regards to the Catholics, not sure why that’s their position, but I don’t agree with it. I conclude one has to fully obey the Gospel. And with regards to the thief on the cross, I would suggest because that’s before the command of salvation that Jesus gives in Mark 16:16, that’s not an accurate proof of denying baptism as a part of obtaining salvation. I would suggest it’d be like the Israelites using Issac as an example not to follow the Law. Issac is out of the timeline in which the Law was a stated requirement to the Israelites.

        Thanks for the allowance to share my thoughts. Hope I’ve continued to add more thoughts for pondering.

        Peace in Christ. 🙂

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      2. I don’t disagree as much as you might think. I totally agree that obedience to the gospel is required, and that baptism is a part of obedience to the gospel. That said, I also believe living a righteous life is part of obedience to the gospel, and none of us live a righteous life perfectly this side of eternity. In the same way, I would say that baptism is part of obedience to the gospel and it is (at least in most cases) a sin to not be baptized. But I don’t believe that sin costs you your salvation.
        As far as the thief on the cross, even if it was technically Old Testament, in the Old Testament it was required to be circumcised to be a part of the covenant people. Either way, the sign of the covenant (baptism for NT, circumcision for OT) wasn’t obeyed by the thief on the cross. And he was still in paradise that day.

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      3. Hmm. You can correct me if I’m misunderstanding, but it seems as if you might be conflating obedience to the gospel in order to avoid a fiery hell with living a righteous life. But it would seem by your logic of tying those two together, that none of us can obey the gospel that’s expressed as necessary to obey in order to avoid a fiery hell. I find it more logical then to say obedience to the gospel is more specifically the requirements stated in Mark 16:16 that Apostle Peter expressed to the people in Acts 2:38. And with baptism being a part of that specific achievement of “obeying the gospel”, baptism would not seem to merely be a sin that one is committing if they don’t do it, but an active disbelieving of the gospel to be obeyed and thus condemning a person.

        With regards to the thief again, I would suggest it actually can’t even be concluded the thief was never baptized. After all, he could have encountered John the Baptist in his lifetime and received the baptism of repentance. But of course you might say it was still not the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, so to even further push the suggestion that he didn’t have to be baptized because of his death before the requirement, we also know Jesus had the authority to forgive sins of people right in front of him in his lifetime (Mark 2:10), so knowing the thief would die before he makes the specific statements of requirement to become saved, Jesus opts to forgive his sins right then and there in allowing him access to paradise.

        But I would say that in my estimation I’d find it a stretch to generalize this one person’s specific experience in that specific moment, as a teaching of how salvation occurs, when we have specific statements given of how to become saved, and occurrences all throughout Acts that followed those specific statements.

        Peace in Christ. 🙂

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      4. Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t see any indication in scripture that there is a different between what you’re calling “obedience to the gospel,” and living a righteous life. But if you can explain why you think there’s a difference I’m happy to hear you out.
        I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but the theif on the cross. If Jesus could simply forgive someone without any other requirements while he walked the earth, why can’t he do that now? Furthermore, the reason I would give an example if an exception is because if there is ever in any case an exception to the rule then the rule may not quite be what we think it is. My assumption is that even you believe there could be exceptions to the Baptism rule (death bed conversion for example), but there is never any exception in any circumstance to the requirement of putting your faith in Christ.

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      5. Sure, allow me to expound on my position by laying out the verses for our eyes to read. So for my starting point, 2 Thessalonians 1:8 states, “dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” So we both see and agree here, there is a requirement to in scripture’s phrasing, “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” to avoid retribution which is eternal destruction stated in the next verse. The question that would come to mind if you and I were both novice readers would be, what does it mean to “obey the gospel of Jesus Christ”? Where I conclude that specific meaning is given to us is in Mark 16:15-16. Those verses state, “15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16“He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” We see the words “preach the gospel to all creation”, and immediately after, a command to be obeyed that the person who believes and is baptized will be saved. This is what logically seems to me to be obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I may ask for understanding your conclusions, what verse do you reference tying obeying of the gospel with living a righteous life? I do not disagree that one must maintain commitment to faith after becoming saved, but I do not agree that this maintaining is what grants the initial receiving of the gift of salvation.

        To answer your question, Jesus forgives our sins now through obedience to the Gospel. But while he was alive, as evidenced in Mark 2, he forgive people’s sins right there. And it’s good to find exceptions to enhance our understanding to a full scope, but I suggest to you the thief on the cross is not a legitimate exception. I would suggest to you that a legitimate exception would be an example of a person who did not get baptized after Jesus gave the command of being baptized as a part of becoming saved.

        To your death bed conversion suggestion, I believe if God being a just God set the perfect parameters for one receiving salvation involving baptism, the right people will rightfully be saved. And it’s important to consider how we understand when faith in Christ is confirmed. I would suggest to you Acts 16:31-34 shows us that one’s faith isn’t legitimate until after they’ve been baptized.

        I’m really enjoying this discussion by the way. Good iron sharpening iron conversation.

        Peace in Christ. 🙂

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