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?
- Have you been baptized? If not, what is stopping you?
- Do you feel like you understand baptism?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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