SPIRITUAL MYTH #6 “Baptism has nothing to do with salvation”
You often hear it said in evangelical circles, “Once you give your life to Christ, you need to be baptized as the first act of obedience. However, baptism has nothing to do with your salvation. You are saved simply by placing your faith in Jesus Christ and repeating the sinner’s prayer.”
I think that’s a partial myth that needs to be debunked.
There are actually two sides of the mythical coin associated with the ordinance of baptism. One is that baptism in and of itself saves you. Parents tell their children, “Of course you are a Christian, we had you baptized shortly after you were born”. The implication is that infant baptism, performed against your will, was sufficient to forgive your sins and guarantee you eternal life in heaven.
Some treat immersion as an adult in much the same way. They will say, “Of course I’m saved. At age twelve, I was baptized by immersion at the end of a new member class.” Again the idea is conveyed that baptism alone makes a person a Christian. This misconception is termed, “Baptismal regeneration” in theological circles.
Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly teaches that salvation is granted to those who choose to place their trust in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross and not their own goodness. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” John 3:16, Romans 3:28, Romans 10:9, Hebrews 11:1 all make it very clear – the first step of obedience is to place our faith in Christ.
The other side of the coin is the very popular misconception that since we are saved by grace through faith, baptism has nothing to do with salvation. Baptism is just an act of obedience. We trust Christ then, sometime later, we are immersed in water as a symbol of what happened to us when we were saved.
But the ordinance of baptism is more than an act of obedience. It’s more than a symbol or, “an outward sign of an inward grace.” Baptism was originally intended to be a means of receiving Christ’s grace. It’s a God-given benchmark that testifies to the fact that we are beginning a new life in Christ.
When Jesus healed people, He often requested an act of obedience as a test of faith. “Go show yourselves to the priests”. “Go wash in the pool of Siloam”. “Stretch forth your hand”. When the needy persons obeyed, they were healed. Their efforts didn’t heal them, Jesus did. But their step of faith was when they were made whole.
In New Testament times when needy sinners put their faith in Christ they were not commanded to repeat the sinner’s prayer, raise their hand or sign a card, although those responses can be helpful. Those who believed in Jesus were instructed to repent of sin and be baptized. And they responded by doing so as soon as possible.
It’s not a myth that we’re saved by faith in Christ. It’s a myth that we receive salvation by just repeating the sinner’s prayer. Read through the conversion stories in the book of Acts and ask two questions: (1) What was required of those who wanted to accept Christ as Savior? (2) When did they respond to Him by being baptized? Here are a few examples:
Acts 2- Those who believed the first gospel message were told to, “… repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins”. Three thousand people were baptized that very day. (Acts 2:38-40)
Acts 8 – When the Treasurer of Ethiopia believed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah he requested that the evangelist Philip baptize him immediately, in a pond along the road he was traveling.
Acts 22 – Three days after Saul of Tarsus had been humbled by Jesus’ appearance to him outside Damascus, Ananias asked him, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16)
Someone may protest, “Are you saying that a person can’t be saved without being baptized?” What about the thief on the cross? He was saved and Jesus said nothing to him about being baptized.” Yes, but he was still living in the Old Testament dispensation – the blood atonement and bodily resurrection hadn’t yet been completed. Jesus, God in the flesh, promised the dying thief he would be in paradise when he requested it.
“Well, what about a dying soldier who makes a death-bed confession? What about a person who is physically unable to be baptized? Won’t they be saved if they just put their faith in Christ?”
We certainly hope so. We can only trust God’s grace is sufficient in those instances. But the assurance of salvation is promised to those who demonstrate their faith by repenting of sin and being baptized into Christ. Dr. Jack Cottrell, Cincinnati Christian University professor, points out, “Baptism is not the first step a convert takes as a Christian; it is the last step the sinner takes to become a Christian.”
If you were trained to instruct converts to receive Christ by repeating the sinner’s prayer but they refused to repeat the prayer, would you conclude they are saved? You would probably have doubts about the legitimacy of their faith. Jesus promised, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
God offers the free gift of salvation through the atoning death of His Son on the cross. A believer’s response is repentance and baptism. To refuse to obey is evidence of insufficient faith. James said, “… faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)
Simon Peter taught that just as the flood waters buoyed up Noah’s ark and saved his family, “…this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:21)
Dr. Beauford Bryant, Milligan college professor, often said, “Baptism is a tomb and a womb. A tomb where, by faith, we die with Christ and a womb where we’re born again into His Kingdom.”
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-5)