Baptism has nothing to do with salvation

SPIRITUAL MYTH #6 “Baptism has nothing to do with salvation”

baptismYou 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 16 – The Philippian Jailer was told to, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”. Then he and his family were baptized in the wee hours of that D7K_3325-1981462688-Omorning.

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)

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How should a Christ follower respond to the death of Osama Ben Laden?

I have reframed from writing on the subject of Osama Ben Laden’s death intentionally so that I could have a little more time to process it all. I find myself torn as to the proper response for one who wears the name of Christ. I have listened to numerous discussions on the subject and have engaged in a few myself. I have watched the news reports beginning with the night it was announced to the world. I have viewed the celebrations from around the country and to a lesser degree, the world and have found myself experiencing some of the same feelings. And I have, of course, have read endless comments posted on facebook. Though most are reposts and few are original I have seen the entire gamut of feelings, expressions and reactions to the killing of the world’s most wanted criminal.

All of this has left me wondering and asking. “How should a follower of Jesus respond to a situation like this?” or even, “How would Jesus himself have responded to the news of Ben Laden’s death?” I am not qualified to answer for Him but I do think there are a few things we are pretty sure of about our Leader.

1. I just can’t see Jesus celebrating in the streets and yelling “USA—USA.” Now, don’t mistake what I am saying. I love America. I am as patriotic as any red blooded American. I believe America is the greatest country in the world. But I don’t believe America occupies the most favored nation status in Jesus’ mind. Because America isn’t even the most Christian nation in the world. South Korea holds that distinction. America can’t even be called a Christian nation any more. Sure, America was founded on the pursuit of religious freedom. But for some time now America has been a Post –Christian nation. In fact, Christianity is the only religion in America that is regularly under attack. So I can’t see Jesus joining in all the euphoric celebration.

2. I also can’t see Jesus celebrating the fact that Osama Ben Laden is now going to “rot in hell,” or some variation of that expression. I have heard and read a number of comments to that affect. We forget so easily that “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 God wants all people to be saved and for them to spend eternity with Him and when one of them fails to choose His way he does not rejoice, but rather it breaks his heart. As one person wrote, “I’m glad the mission was carried out, and I agree that hell was made for evildoers/those who do not make Jesus the Lord of their life, however I don’t think it’s appropriate to be celebratory about it. I’ll celebrate the fact that I’m not getting what I deserve instead of someone else getting what they do.”

3. This is the part that I have struggled with the most. How exactly should I feel and respond? I have read all the posts that quote, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls…” Proverbs 24:17 and “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” Ezekiel 33:11. As well as the other side of the spectrum,  “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy” Proverbs 11:10

 Justice has been served, and I am an advocate of justice when someone has been so heartless, ruthless and destructive. I think they have chosen the way of destruction and the end leads to eternal death, not thousands of virgins. That is justice. And there is a part of me that breathes a sigh of relief that he has reaped what he has sown and the wicked one has fallen prey to his own trap. But there is another part of me that tells me that God’s people should be known more for mercy than justice. If we got justice we would all be eternally lost and it is only by the grace and mercy of God that we have any hope at all. Should that not be the spirit that flows from us? Again, I am not in any way advocating that someone like Ben Laden should have escaped justice. I am saying that followers of Jesus should be known more for mercy than justice.

I suppose there are other things that I have been wrestling with and I don’t know if this post has helped sort anything out or just muddied the waters. This I do think we should realize, as much as I love my country and as much as I think America is the greatest country in the world, I believe we are called to be followers of Jesus first and Americans second. And it is easy, in all the hype surrounding an event like this to get caught up in it all. However, I believe this is one of those rare occasions where we, as Christ followers, have a huge opportunity to show a different way to respond to such a world shaking event, a way that will draw people to the Christ we follow before and above the country we love.