You Asked: Does the Bible Separate Salvation from Baptism?

Editors’ Note: Send your theological, biblical, and practical ministry questions to along with your full name, city, and state. We’ll pass them along to The Gospel Coalition’s Council members and other friends for an answer we can share.

Jon A. from North Carolina asks:

Mark 16:16 teaches that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” In Acts 8 the eunuch had no “crowd” for whom to make a demonstration; after hearing the gospel, he commanded the chariot to stop so he could be baptized. Where does the Bible ever separate salvation from baptism? And where do we find that baptism is simply an “ordinance” or symbolization, when verses like Acts 2:38, Galatians 3:27, John 1:11-12, and 1 Peter 3:21 seem to say otherwise?

We posed the question to Josh Stahley, a church planter commissioned by The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. He serves at All Souls Church in New York City.


This is an important question that needs a clear answer. There are two primary errors that we can fall into when it comes to our view of baptism. The first is to treat baptism as if it saves ex opere operato, as if something in the water or the ritual itself confers regenerating grace to the recipient.

The second, and more common error in evangelical circles, is to treat baptism as an optional add-on to the Christian life. This error usually arises from right motives: we want to keep the gospel free from any intrusion of works-righteousness, and baptism might seem like a work. However, this view misunderstands the biblical connection between baptism and saving faith.

While the Bible never separates baptism from saving faith, it does distinguish baptism from saving faith. This tension we must hold if we are to faithfully “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Faith and Repentance

We see the connection between baptism and saving faith all throughout the New Testament. Although more evidence could be adduced, in the interest of time, we will look at just two examples that demonstrate this connection.

First, when we read the apostolic preaching in the Book of Acts, we notice that baptism is closely linked to faith and repentance. The apostle Peter’s “gospel invitation” on the day of Pentecost was, “Repent and be baptized. . . . So those who received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:38, 41). This is the normal pattern that recurs time and time again throughout the Book of Acts: repentance and faith immediately lead to baptism (see also Acts 8:12, 38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:8; 19:5). Commenting on Acts 2:37-38, F. F. Bruce rightly states, “The idea of an unbaptized Christian is simply not entertained in NT.”

Second, because baptism commonly followed so closely on the heels of repentance and faith, the New Testament simply assumes that all believers have been baptized (Gal. 3:27). Tom Schreiner points out the remarkable lack of discussion on the topic in the epistles: “It is striking that there is no sustained discussion of baptism in any of the epistles, presumably because the NT authors were writing to those who were already believers and to whom the significance of baptism had been explained upon conversion.”

This only makes sense if the earliest disciples were obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19).

Baptism and Saving Faith

The flip side of this discussion is that the Bible distinguishes between baptism and saving faith. While the reception of the apostolic word and baptism go together, the text does differentiate between them (Acts 2:41). When Cornelius and those in his house heard and believed, they immediately received the Holy Spirit, which in turn provided evidence that they ought to be baptized (Acts 10:44-47).

Throughout his epistles, Paul stresses that it is faith in Christ that saves. Paul doesn’t denigrate baptism. Rather, baptism is a sign that points to the power of the gospel (Rom. 6:3ff.). Baptism is meant to function as a visible sign, not only to the person being baptized, but to the entire Christian community who witness the initiation, that Christ has conquered sin and death, and that we conquer in him.

That’s also the point of Peter’s reference to baptism in 1 Peter 3:21. Peter compares baptism to the flood of Genesis 6, and then says that God has brought us through the waters, just as he brought Noah and his family through the waters. The waters Peter refers to here are the waters of judgment. As Christians, we have come through the waters of God’s judgment because Jesus first went through the waters of judgment for us (Mk. 10:38). Our baptism points to his baptism on Golgotha. Christian baptism is the New Testament’s way of identifying with that judgment and Jesus’ victory over it. In baptism, we are reminded of God’s pledge to bring us through the waters of judgment and raise us up with Christ.

The saving element is not the waters themselves (the removal of dirt from the body), but an appeal to God for a good conscience (confession, repentance, and faith). So baptism functions as a sign pointing to the objective work of Christ and to its subjective effects in the believer. Some prefer to call this an ordinance, because it was “ordained” by our Lord. Others prefer to call it a “sacrament,” because baptism is a means of grace by which Christ displays the gospel to us. While neither term comes from the Bible, both concepts are biblical. Baptism is a visible representation of the gospel and its effects in the life of God’s people.

In this small space, I can’t begin to say everything necessary. For further study, I would recommend checking out Thabiti Anyabwile and Ligon Duncan’s booklet on baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the sermons on baptism here on The Gospel Coalition site.

  • Mitchell Hammonds

    It is possible that God saves apart from baptism… the thief on the cross is a prime example. But this is hardly the norm. Why use a preacher to proclaim the gospel of Christ? Why not simply boom it from heaven’s gates and watch everyone shutter in belief? I think it is because God has chosen to work through specific “means.” Elements we are familiar with… water, bread, wine, and the spoken word. Sure the elements are nothing in and of themselves but it is combining the elements with His word that makes the sacraments what they are. God could create faith apart from “hearing” his Word… but he doesn’t. He works in us through a preacher by our hearing it. The same can be said for water, bread and wine.

  • Giertzian

    I have, over the years, talked to many Calvinists, in person and over the Internet. I always ask them, “Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are among God’s elect and are saved?” There are generally two reactions to that question: (1) A long and rather painful pause after which they say, “I hope I am. I do believe in Christ.” or (2) A quick, “Yes, I believe in Christ.” Now, let’s be honest here and admit that many Lutherans would answer in somewhat the same way. But here is the problem.

    [Unfortunately there are some cranks who roam the Internet claiming to be Lutherans who also fall into this error. You shall know them by their sixth grade-level photoshopping skills. ]

    If our confidence that we are saved is based on our feeling that we have faith, we will flounder. The answer we must always give to the question of “Do you know you are saved?” is not, “Yes, because I have faith” but rather, “Yes, because Christ Jesus died for me” and of course, in my opinion, the very best answer of all is simply to point people to Luther’s explanation of the Creed and say, “Here, this puts it very well.”

    Never look to your subjective feeling that there is faith in your heart. Always, always, always, look to Christ and what He has done for you and the whole world. Do not confuse faith in faith, with trust in Christ. There is a key difference. If you believe you are a child of God because you feel you have faith, this is no better than the Mormon who tells you about the “burning in his bosum” or the Muslim who tells you he feels the Koran is true, etc.

    Salvation rests on objective realities that have absolutely nothing to do with feelings or emotions. Faith is merely and only the receiving hand God gives us and into which He pours His good gifts, it is not the cause of our salvation.

    We are Christians, not Faith-ians.

    From Cyberbrethren Lutheran Blog. Nov 20th 2012.

  • Steve Martin

    Great comments (above)!

    Faith in God, and what He has done, is doing, and will yet do.

    Not faith in faith.

    This is where the external Word, which includes Baptism and Holy Communion come in. It is from OUTSIDE of ourselves, to us, and can be fully trusted in. Totally apart from anything we do, say, feel, or think.

    Baptism is God’d Cross (death and resurrection), in concrete, tangible form, in the personal history of the believer.

    Jesus commanded it. And He’s not in the business of commanding empty religious ritual just for kicks.

    He carries the freight in our Baptism.

    You can count on it.

  • Lou G.

    This is an excellent article, with some awesome Gospel Coalition resources that the author has linked to, for anyone wishing to research various denominational traditions.

    To dovetail on what Michael wrote above, which I agree with, I’d also like to add that is possible for one to be baptized and yet not be saved.

    The above characterization of faith that Steve and Giertzian have given is perplexing to me. Granted, I am often perplexed at the seeming strawman that many Lutherans construct when discussing salvation and Calvinism. The matter of faith has always seemed quite simple to me and best expressed by Paul in Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 ESV) Thus, anyone who bases faith on their emotions or feelings is simply not expressing a Calvinist view of faith.

    Sola Fide! – Didn’t Luther write that Sola Fide is the article on which the church stands or falls? It’s confusing to me then why Lutherans give so much pushback on the issue of faith today?
    I also recall this:
    Article IV Of Justification
    Our churches by common consent…teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4. Augsburg Confession, 1530

    • Daniel Broaddus

      Also, when you found Article IV did you happen to look a bit further down?

      Article IX: Of Baptism.
      Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.

      Yes, the Augsburg Confession and the entire Book of Concord (the Lutheran Confessions) confess Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, along with Word and Sacrament, Law and Gospel.

      • Lou G.

        Daniel, yes, I’ve read that. As a presbyterian, my main concern is with the Lutheran mischaracterization of reformed faith as some type of work. That obviously goes entirely against all of the basic premises of Calvinism. As far as your quote, I won’t comment about the baptism part, but will state that Anabaptists are typcially not at all Calvinistic (Menonites, Amish, the Brethern, etc..)..
        Thank you though, as I’m always interested in learning more about the Lutheran tradition and creeds. Blessings in Christ, Lou.

  • Daniel Broaddus

    Lou G. I think you might enjoy studying the differences between Calvinists and Lutherans. There seems to be a rift between them that Lutherans would describe as the “Radical Reformation.” When the Lutheran Reformation originally took place they did so as protesting catholics. Consequently, Lutheran theology is more medieval/ancient than it is scholastic. This is not so in the case of Calvinism. Some might be deceived into thinking that these two theologies are similar due to the Calvinist emphasis on monergism; however, when the logical consequences of magisterial Calvinist reason are worked out to their end, one is only left with the answers that Giertzian suggested.

    His illustration may be a bit dramatic, but the gist of what he’s suggesting is that the locus for proof of salvation for the Reformed is nothing other than himself! As he so accurately articulated, there is no concept of faith in anything other than one’s own faith (or works). This has everything to do with your comment about one being able to be baptized but still not saved.

    Christ died for the sins of the world (a notion Calvinists would reject or hermeneutically explain to mean ‘not the world’). Consequently, the payment of blood for sins has been done. You the individual partake of His death and resurrection in baptism. Baptism happens much the same as Christ’s death on the cross has happened. It can never be undone. You must place your faith on Christ that through His death and resurrection (i.e. baptism) you are made a child of God (Mark 10:38,39, Matthew 3:13-17). Faith, then, is placed in Christ and His gifts and not our ability to have faith, in our ability to have faith in an abstract concept.

    • Lou G.

      Daniel, The “Radical Reformation” did not consist of Calvinists or Reformed, so I think the Lutheran characterization is misguided if it is based on this premise.

      • Daniel

        Thanks for responding Lou, and I think you’re correct. If the Lutheran characterization is based on wikipedia then yes, it’s misguided. However, that characterization is understood to define all those reformers who exceeded/wildly deviated from the Scriptural reformation of the Augsburg Confession, et al. I’m not saying I equate Anabaptists with Presbyterians, but I think both have exceeded the true good of the reformation.

        Slightly related, but this video is a response to an article posted on this blog almost a year ago. In it, a Lutheran pastor talks about the reasons why Lutherans are generally not as welcome in “evangelical” circles as say, everyone else. In it you’ll get a grasp as to why Lutherans would call the Reformed, and most Protestants, the product of the radical reformation.

        • Lou G.

          Thanks for the video. It looks very helpful.
          Happy Thanksgiving in the Lord.

    • Lou G.

      I’ve come across these mischaracterizations of Calvinism on a number of Lutheran authors’ blogs, and it is very sad that certain theologians have distorted the Calvinist faith so badly.
      “what he’s (Giertz) suggesting is that the locus for proof of salvation for the Reformed is nothing other than himself!”
      You see, this is an absolutely false assertion – an opinion, perhaps, but only that.
      Here is what Hodge states:
      “A person either believes the gospel, the offer of eternal life, or he doesn’t. It really isn’t relevant how he came to believe it, whether his or her reasons were good ones or not. The issue is not how a person came to believe, but whether or not he does… If someone does believe the offer of eternal life—as the Bible presents this offer—he will also be sure that he has eternal life. This is what we mean when we say (by) assurance… The nature of the gospel message is such that, when a person believes it, he necessarily has assurance of eternal salvation.”

      If a Calvinist finds someone who lacks assurance, we don’t tell him to believe harder or to conjure up an emotion. We simply present the gospel message as delivered by the saints and the apostles and by faithful ambassadors throughout the ages. We trust God that if the person is saved they will respond by believing the Truth of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit bears witness to their faith when enjoined with the sacraments, including the preaching of the Word. This is the standard Calvinist belief, as I understand it. No Calvinist I’ve ever met would knowingly tell someone that they just need to believe better or to place the locus on himself in some way.
      The whole point theologically is to get the locus off of oneself, one’s works, one’s deeds, one’s emotions, etc…

      Thanks for the exchange. I do enjoy learning about Lutheranism from the historic faith and do hope you also will consider studying reformers for yourself from the primary sources. Blessings in Christ, Lou.

      • Daniel

        Absolutely! Thank you, Lou, for the exchange. I hear what you’re saying about the “angry blogposts” and have to admit it’s discouraging at times. I think one of the first things we (American Christians) have to learn is how to engage in effective conversation. This would require an elevation of the intellectual playing field as well as an increase in grace. Blessings! Happy Thanksgiving!

  • John

    I regret that the argument over baptism has often been over whether it is “necessary” for salvation or not. That seems a bit like asking the question, “Is it necessary for me to love my neighbor in order to be saved?” Well – yes and no.

    It is also unfortunate that when one makes a statement like “baptism is necessary for salvation,” there is immediately an accusation of a belief in baptism as conferring salvation ex opere operato. The American Restoration Movement, for instance, has often received the charge of believing in “baptismal regeneration” because of their use of “necessary for salvation” language in regard to baptism – yet the movement has consistently argued that baptism is for believers only – i.e., those who have faith.

    I like the tension offered in the answer to this question, though I wish the question about length of time between profession and baptism, and the lack of biblical support for the baptism to be in front of a gathered church had received more attention.

  • Ryan

    Hi Joah,

    First, I fail to see how 1 Peter 3:21 indicates baptism is a “reminder” of God’s pledge to us. Instead, 1 Peter 3:21 says baptism SAVES US: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, 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” 1 Peter 3:21 (ESV)

    Second, Ezekiel 36:25-27 is an Old Testament prophesy of baptism, often cited without verse 25: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (ESV)
    Our Lord connects giving us a new heart with “sprinkl[ing] clean water” on us. Baptism is the prophecy–baptismal regeneration.

    Third, What happened when Jesus was baptized? The Holy Spirit came upon Him.

    Fourth, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3)

    Fifth, can you point me to an early Church document, or any Christian, who supported baptism as symbolic? Here is one of many examples against that: “Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and MAY OBTAIN IN WATER THE REMISSION OF SINS FORMERLY COMMITTED, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the layer the person that is to be WASHED calling him by this name alone…And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.” Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61 (A.D. 110-165).

    And, Irenaeus (The great fighter of the Gnostics in the 2nd century): “For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.'” Irenaeus, Fragment, 34 (A.D. 190).

    I look forward to your response,

    • Ryan

      Sorry, meant to say “Josh”!

    • Jr

      Ryan: While tradition may lead one to believe “water” in John 3 means the rite of Christian baptism, I do not believe an exegetical study of the text does. A few points to follow but let me first say this: I believe in baptism. If someone were to confess faith to me walking on the road I would find a body of water immediately. Not because I think the water has some mystical properties, but because our Lord commands it (obedience), it is the witness of Scripture and history, and it symbolizes something wonderful. That said…

      … the problem with such an interpretation (that John 3 refers to water-baptism) is that it makes no sense to the historical Nicodemus in context. In 3:10 he asks, “How can these things be?” and Jesus answered to the effect that “you, being a teacher of Israel, should know what I’m talking about.” Thus, Jesus is explicit that He fully expected Nicodemus to understand what He was talking about regarding the re-birth by water and spirit. This would effectively eliminate any notion of the rite of Christian baptism as the interpretation of “water” in 3:5, because Nicodemus could not possibly perceive the allusion to a nonexistent sacrament.

      In short, if one were to say Jesus is talking about the Christian rite of physical-water baptism then they would be forced to admit that Jesus’ answer has zero relevance to the historical Nicodemus. Instead, we must allow context to drive interpretation. Ignoring the context, not only in regards to Nicodemus’ question in v.10, but also in v.4, is not the way to go here.

      You are on the right track with your mentioning of Ezekiel 36:25-27, as this makes much more sense in regards to Jesus believing Nicodemus, being a teacher of Israel and thus knowing the Scriptures, should know what He is talking about. But again, it is a stretch to link “water” in that text to that of physical-water baptism. It is more exegetically sound to see “water” in John 3 as a picture of the operation of the Holy Spirit as a signaling of a new begetting. This kind of eschatological cleansing and renewing is promised by the OT prophets and is echoed in the Dead Sea Scrolls, (see Isaiah 44:3, 32:15, 59:19; Zech 12:10; 1QS 3:7-9, 4:21; 1QH 16:12). See also 1 Cor 12:13 and Titus 3:5 for explicit NT references to this point.

      Additionally, this spiritual interpretation sheds light on John 3:8 in light of Ezekiel 37, where Ezekiel preaches to the valley of dry bones. Nicodemus could well have understood that Jesus affirmed the necessity of man being cleansed and totally transformed by God’s Spirit (spiritual water/born of the Spirit) just as the texts cited above do.

      If one wanted to look for another alternative, “water” to mean amniotic fluid is even more contextually appropriate than water-baptism. Consider Jesus telling Nicodemus that he should know that to enter the Kingdom of God requires birth from God (above/born-again) by the Spirit and not simply being born a Jew by nature (by the flesh) – John 3:6.

      Do we baptize? Absolutely! When? I believe at the moment of confession. Does the water save? No. What/Who does? God does. How? Sovereignly, by His Spirit. As it is written, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit,” John 3:8.

      Additionally, the early church is all over the board in this matter. The second century, which you cited, has some faults in the matter of baptism. As you quoted Justin Martyr as saying, baptism was for “sins formerly committed;” and this led many to not be baptized until their deathbeds because they thought any sin after baptism would nullify forgiveness. This is just one example, and it was, I believe, in error.

      But in reality, when we are born-again, all of our sins, past-present-future, are forgiven and never again remembered. This is our hope of righteousness in Christ. We no longer have an Accuser. We have salvation. Praise be to God.

      Grace be with you –

      • Ryan

        Hi Jr,

        Thanks for your reply.

        I believe your opinion about Nicodemus is built on faulty foundations. There indeed was such thing as Jewish baptism; Jesus’s transfiguration of Jewish baptism was to connect it with receiving the Holy Spirit. That, then, was the difference between the baptism of John the Baptist, merely a baptism of repentance, and that of Jesus/Apostles, a baptism that effects the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit (with repentance a prerequisite part of the sacrament).

        You say: “It is more exegetically sound to see “water” in John 3 as a picture of the operation of the Holy Spirit as a signaling of a new begetting. This kind of eschatological cleansing and renewing is promised by the OT prophets and is echoed in the Dead Sea Scrolls, (see Isaiah 44:3, 32:15, 59:19; Zech 12:10; 1QS 3:7-9, 4:21; 1QH 16:12). See also 1 Cor 12:13 and Titus 3:5 for explicit NT references to this point.”

        There is another way to read those prophecies–as being fulfilled in the New Covenant sacrament of baptism, which effects what it signifies (that is, baptism both symbolizes regeneration and causes it).

        Thank you especially for mentioning the early Church: there indeed was a debate about baptism, specifically how post-baptismal sins are forgiven. (There were other baptismal debates later, such as whether baptism by heretics was valid and regenerative.) That shows, even without other evidence, that the early Church pretty unanimously believed that water baptism effected the forgiveness of sins. Again, that was not even the debate–the debate was how sins afterwards could be forgiven.

        And, of course, I take issue with your final paragraph, especially that we are forgiven of future sins when we are born again. I contend we are born again at the moment of water baptism–being born of “water and the Spirit,” with the Holy Spirit descending upon us as it did with Jesus at His baptism–in ordinary circumstances, unless we are unable to be baptized, like the thief on the cross. And, like the early Church, I don’t think post-baptismal sins are automatically forgiven at the moment of regeneration.

        • Jr

          Ryan: Thank you for the dialogue.

          John’s baptism was not “merely for repentance” but was also for (εἰς, unto) the forgiveness of sins. The parallel of Mark 1:4 with Acts 2:38 is clear: εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν and εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν.

          However, I am in agreement with you that the difference in the two baptisms is the Holy Spirit. But it is interesting to note that in making this differentiation, John the Baptist points from the physical to what is greater: the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8, John 1:33).

          Titus 3:5, Hebrews 10:22, 1 Cor 6:11, along with John 3:3-8 all speak to the OT prophecies, using water as symbolic of the spiritual cleansing.

          To say the water “causes regeneration” is to give the water mystical, pagan-like qualities. The Holy Spirit (God) causes regeneration, not the physical water. The washing of the body means nothing without this spiritual reality. Tons of unsaved people have gotten wet. And when you give a caveat like “in ordinary circumstances” you admit that the effect is outside the water. It is by grace we are saved through faith, and all that is a gift of God.

          Grace be with you –
          A baptized believer

          • Ryan

            Yes, Jesus’s baptism is more spiritually significant than that of John the Baptist (“with the Holy Spirit”), but that does not mean that the spiritual (the gift of the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, regeneration) does not take place at the physical moment of baptism. Just because water symbolizes spiritual cleansing does not mean that it does not effect spiritual cleansing. For an analogy: our Lord, God Himself, came physically as well as spiritually. Baptism, then, can be seen similarly–there is a spiritual reality greater than the physical, but the physical is essential and inextricably linked.

            See a Church Father from the second century for an example:

            “For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.'” Irenaeus, Fragment, 34 (A.D. 190).

            The early Church believed, as apostolic churches (Catholic, Orthodox) continue to proclaim, that water baptism is both symbolic and efficacious: “Baptism…now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).

            Whether or not you think the early Church gave water mystical, pagan-like qualities is irrelevant; what matters is whether baptismal regeneration is true. What if God made it so that we were regenerated in a beautiful, symbolic water baptism? What if, as in Jesus’s baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon us during baptism?

            The exception of the thief on the cross does not negate baptismal regeneration; instead, it shows God is not bound by the sacraments, even if we humans are. God can save whomever He will–but it seems clear from Scripture that this is ordinarily through baptism.

  • Mike

    But Scripture does separate baptism from saving faith as well as distinguishes between the two…

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  • Erick

    Yes, baptism is essential for salvation. There are exceptions such as the thief on the cross, but it is clear from Luke and Acts that normally the sacrament of baptism issues in regeneration and the remission of sin.

    Paul explicitly ties faith and baptism together as requirements for salvation. See colossians 2:11-14 we are buried together with Christ through baptism. The spiritual understanding of baptism here is really not feasible given how Paul speaks of baptism. The new covenant sacrament of baptism is of water and spirit. That is plain.

    • Mike

      Erick, Colossians 2 is something that is often used to prove just the opposite.

      • Daniel

        Mike, this is the second time that you’ve simply made an assertion without explaining yourself. Care to humor us?

        • Mike

          Instead of reading 11-14, at least start at verse 8. Then you might begin to understand what that passage is really saying. Besides being too lazy too write a paper in response, I think it would be more effective if you read it through a different lens yourself. “Circumcision made without hands” “buried with him” etc. hopefully won’t sound literal to you. This is why some people think we actually drink His human blood and eat His flesh. Which is sick and a complete twisting and misunderstanding of Scripture. Read and get down to what Paul was really talking about. Class is starting so this is good enough

    • Susan

      Up until the time that the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, everyone was still under the old covenant. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection had not been happened yet, and the Holy Spirit that had been promised in Matthew 28 & Luke 24:45-49, did not come until the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-5).The thief did not need to be baptized because Christ had not died, had not been buried, and had not risen at that point. The gospel message (Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection) had not been completed and the spirit had to come before the church started (there was no Christian church until Jesus ascended unto heaven and the spirit came), until then they were still under the Jewish laws.
      As far as Cornelius…he was a Gentile, not a Jew. The Holy Spirit came before baptism in this situation to reach a particular people for the first time, the Gentiles. If it had not been extraordinary method, it would not have been effective.
      As far as magical waters, there is nothing magical about the water in baptism, and like someone mentioned, you can arise out of the water a wet sinner if your heart has not been changed. I believe that the Bible teaches that faith has to be a prerequisite to baptism & has to remain through the act. If there is no true faith, there is no true repentance or true baptism. Baptism is the time that you put on Christ (Gal.3:26-27) and Romans 6:1-6 shows why we are baptized.
      Acts 22:16 says that we call upon the name of the Lord when we are baptized;

  • Erick

    How can it

  • John S

    To muddy the waters, what about baptism in/of/by/with the Spirit? Jesus mentions it and it’s elsewhere in the Word. I know this forum is limited, but I’m not ready to say everywhere baptism is mentioned automatically means with water. I tend to lean toward Gal 3:27, Romans 6:3 and 1 Cor 12:13 meaning those who have been baptized in the Spirit not with water. (Which I personally believe is every true Christian upon regeneration, although there are those who believe it is subsequent to salvation).

    I see some of these Scriptures as at least potentially referring to the Spiritual reality of us being in Christ b/c we are born of the Spirit and baptized with the Spirit not b/c we have been baptized with water. I believe every Christian should be baptized with water also, but they are 2 separate baptisms as put forward in Scripture.

    I know this is a ‘charasmatic’ issue but it’s in the word as distinct from having the Spirit and not made up by crazy Pentecostals so you can’t just ignore it.

  • Pete Gross

    Without the time to fully engage in this discussion, it would be helpful to our understanding of baptism to see how the Jews used it prior to John the Baptist. Baptism was required of proselytes as one of the final steps in their conversion to Judaism. It was used (as was circumcision) to show their repentance and identification with the people of God. Actually, many God-fearers would stop short of circumcision for obvious reasons. Anyway, because of baptism’s use by Gentile converts to Judaism, it was abhorrent to the average Jew to even consider being baptized since it put him into the same class of person as a sinful Gentile who needed to repent.

    So when John the Baptist preached about the need to repent and be baptized, he was calling for the Jews to identify themselves as sinful people (like Gentiles) who are now turning to God. This is the same issue for followers of Jesus in their baptism. To use the oft used expression, baptism was (and is) an external expression of an internal reality.

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  • John Dunn

    The only baptism that guarantees salvation is the baptism of the Spirit, whereby we are ingrafted into Christ the Vine and made living partakers of Him, sharing in his resurrection life and producing His heavenly fruit.

    You must be born again of the Spirit.

  • Seth Fuller

    Great helpful summary. Thanks for sharing.

  • God_Seeker

    The apostles nor the early church distinguished the sacrament of waster baptism and the baptism of the holy spirit.

    When Cornelius reiceved the spirit apart from the sacrament, it was to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that they were to be included without becoming jews. Notice how quickly Peter commands them to be baptized.

    But in all other cases, water and Spirit are in one event.

    The evangelical play down of water baptism is really a new coming doctrine, putting oneself in what the early centuries would have called heresy and schism

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  • John Dunn

    Water nor priest nor minister has power to confer the baptism of the Spirit. Only God does this. The only saving baptism is the washing of regeneration by the Spirit. Water baptism is only a public declaration of a new believer’s Spirit-wrought faith in Christ . . . a public revelation of that inner Spirit work upon the heart, a letter of Christ to be known and read by all (2 Cor 3:2-3).

    Titus 3:5-7
    HE saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness [including performance of religious rituals – aka “sacraments”], but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

  • God_Seeker

    I understand where you are coming from. However it is deeply erroneous. There are a couple of reasons why not to understand baptism in the way you have suggested. Just to confirm, you believe that God Himself through the preaching of the gospel, baptizes a person into Christ by the invisible Holy Spirit right at the moment of “saving faith” and that any physical motion, such as baptism, after this event is simply a testimony to what has already occurred in the person.

    Protestants see such truth in the situation between Peter and Cornelius (with his household) in Acts 11. Let’s read:

    “While Peter spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we’? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days” (Acts 10:44-48)

    It would seem from reading this that a clear Protestant schema of salvation has been summarized. I will admit, that from reading this, that it is completely possible to justify the protestant understanding of baptism, faith, etc,etc. You have “faith” and immediately through faith the baptism of the “Holy Ghost” and then the ceremony of public water baptism occurs afterwards. This order supports the reformed position. However, this is not the only situation in Luke’s account where someone (or a group) become saved.

    Let’s consider another situation:

    “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (for as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying, give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 8:14-19). Here you have a group of Samarians who are first baptized in the name of the Lord, which was the consumation of the situation with Peter and cornelius, and also presupposed that they had “faith”. Secondly, the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen upon them. Now this creates a problem for reformed dogmatics. For this creates an ordo problem. How is it that someone is baptized in water, believes in Christ, and yet is not baptized with the Holy Ghost? Thirdly, the Holy Ghost does not come upon these people through the “faith” they had prior to their being water baptized, and not even a second before the physical hands of the apostles were laid on them. Precisely when the apostles’ physical hands touch the physical bodies of these already believing water baptized samarians were they baptized with the Holy Ghost. Here, Catholics and Orthodox, and many Anglicans would try to show, at the very least, that the reformed teaching should not be a dogma or even a the singular “norm” of understanding the sacraments or salvation.

    Let’s consider another situation in Luke’s account:
    “And it came to pass, that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them ‘Have ye received the Holy Ghost when you believed?” – “We have not even heard of whether there is even a Holy Ghost”. And he said unto them “Unto what then were ye baptized?”- and they said “Unto John’s baptism”. Then Paul said “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus”. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them…” (Acts 19:1-4)

    Here, Paul meets some “disciples”. They had already been water baptized by John for the remission of sins. However, Paul’s question to these disciples was not whether they had a dramatic emotional experience of repentance and conversion. Rather, he questions their reception of the Holy Ghost in the form of the sacrament of baptism. Then upon hearing that they were unaware of Jesus Christ, he preached Jesus to them, and immediately baptizes them in water and then the Holy Ghost does not come upon them through the faith such as Cornelius but through faith and the laying on of Paul’s hands. This is extremely discomforting to the Reformed schema of salvation. For here we have the necessity of water baptism and the laying on of hands (sacrament) for the gift of the Holy ghost.

    Another reason to reject the protestant and reformed doctrine of baptism is that is has no early testimony in the first 5 centuries of the Church. To be honest, the idea of water baptism as simply a symbol was not taught until Zwingli. We always have to be cautious with how new our doctrine is.

  • Alex Suarez

    Just thought I would put forward a question: If baptism is not just “an optional add-on” but a means of grace to show the gospel,

    1) WHAT is it about baptism that makes it follow faith immediately and never waits like much of today’s baptisms till days or weeks later after conversion?

    My second question is this:

    2) So is it being argued the eunuch’s baptism in Acts 8 was to show the gospel both to Philip and the eunuch himself?

    Hope I made sense,


  • John Dunn


    Your sacramental baptismal formulation is NOT extremely discomforting to the Reformed schema of salvation. Precisely for the reason that the reformed and evangelical world rejects the doctrine of apostolic succession. The giving of the Holy Spirit through the apostle’s water baptism and/or laying on of hands was as much a manifestation of the miraculous “signs & wonders” gifts of the apostles as was healing of diseases and raising the dead. The fact that the apostles were conferred such supernatural gifts of the Spirit was to confirm their ministry as Divinely appointed apostles, and thus affirm the veracity of their Gospel message.

    The earthly office and written cannon of the apostles is now closed. We now have but One Apostle and High Priest of our profession, the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 3:1).

    To assert the continuance of a supernatural apostolic dispensation of the Spirit through water and/or laying on of hands (what you call a “sacrament”) also requires that all the supernatural gifts of the apostles are still in full operation today . . . which is not the case.

  • Erick

    That’s one explanation. But Paul does not need to know whether one of the 12 baptized the 12 men in Ephesus. He just assumes water baptism is the entrance into the spirit. Read it closely.

    Secondly, the word baptism is used salvofically in the NT and there is no reason to suggest it is not water.

    Thirdly the laying on of hands was assumed to continuen

  • Erick

    Also this does jot fix the newness problem. The early church believed what imbsaying

  • Erick

    To be honest, Luke records a variety of orders. One group believes and is water baptized but does not yet have the spirit. One group already has the spirit through faith but is not yet baptized. And another group believes, is water baptized, and then receieves the holy spirit.

    To be textually honest, no one way is delineated. We are told of the process of repent, baptism, and reception of spirit by peter, but in other places it varies.

    Also I would mention there is no justification to read baptize in Paul as something strictly spiritual without water. There really isn’t. Therefore the blessings of Romans 6 flow out of spirit and water.

  • John Dunn

    The “one baptism” which Paul refers to in Ephesians 4:5 is a corporate event. It is the very same baptism he refers to in Rom 6:3-5, 1 Cor 12:13, & Gal 3:27-28.

    The Church’s baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection by the Spirit was a corporate event which took place in Christ’s passion . . . and which continues to manifest itself as the elect come to faith and partake of the indwelling presence of the Spirit that was poured out at Pentecost.

    This “one baptism” of the New Covenant community is just as much of a corporate event as Israel’s corporate baptism was into Moses (1 Cor 10:2). The temporal Old Covenant redemptive types (Passover, Exodus, Sinai, temple, priesthood, etc) were merely earthly shadows of those heavenly realities that were to be fulfilled in Christ through the establishment of his New Covenant. With Christ being the “last Adam”, acting as the federal New Covenant representative of all the elect, it must be understood that all of Christ’s elect Body was comprehended as present “in Him” and “with Him” in his death and resurrection . . . and therefore the Body was baptised into Him at his death and resurrection by the Spirit.

    Now, 2000 years later, whenever a person comes to regenerating faith in Christ through the hearing of the preached Gospel, they immediately receive and partake of the “one baptism” of Christ’s Spirit. The ensuing water baptism is a visible public expression of their new Spirit-wrought faith, and serves to declare that they now participants in that corporate “one baptsim” of the Body, and further serves as their entrance into the local communion of the Body of the saints.

    To insist on an individualistic (rather than corporate) view of baptism will always manifest itself in a mystical view of the water rite as a “means” which somehow imparts the Spirit/grace to the receiver in the performance of the act. But to see baptism as corporate event, following the same paradigm as the Old Covenant community, will remove the mystisism from the water rite and place all of the spiritual significance and power in the New Passover/New Exodus event completed by Christ on behalf of His people.

  • Erick

    I don’t see how water being used by god destroys the corporate nature. Israel was really baptized in a sense through the red sea

  • Mark G

    Although this question arose with respect to the exegesis and expostion of particular texts regarding baptism, it is important to recognize that baptism, the Lord’s supper, and the preaching of the word are all related as means of grace specially given by Christ to his church. Although these means are not magical they are effective unto salvation. There may be unusual circumstances in which persons were or are saved apart from the usual means but it is very difficult to understand why someone who belongs to Christ would refuse the means which he has ordained and normally uses to bring salvation.

  • God_Seeker

    With respect to the corporate sense of salvation, I think that the sacrament of water baptism does even more to exalt this corporate nature of Christ’s salvation. For it actually puts the baptisand into the Church because the priestly powers are at work which regenerate and sanctify the soul into the local community of Christ’s body.

    In the reformed sense, someone just comes to a meeting and hears the gospel, and out of a conviction over sin and a yearning for God’s grace, he/she believes and repents and is immediately one of the people there. Any talk of baptism, Eucharist, or laying on of hands is secondary and ultimately it has nothing to do with salvation.

    In the catholic church, one hears the gospel, must be broken over their sin, yearn for God’s grace, and submits to Christ’s sacrament of the Church to bring Him into the fellowship of God’s Son through the sacrament of baptism and confirmation. This is intensely familal and shows the oneness of CHrist’s body. It is like the body is allowing another member into itself

  • Steve Martin

    For what it is worth:

    This is a very good explanation of why lutherans value the sacraments so much and view them as ‘pure gospel’.

    Even if you don’t agree with it (and that’s ok), you’ll have a much better understanding of why we Lutherans believe as we do.


  • Scott Leonard

    This is off point, but i have to throw it out in case someone can help me with it. Why is it that infant baptism is equated with circumcision and justified by circumcision when, in fact, only half of the Jews were ever circumcised? Half of all the Jews were never circumcised! That, of course, is because only men were circumcised. So why would baptism be a carryover of circumcision? And I guess the greater question is what does circumcision mean, since only men were circumcised?

  • God_Seeker

    Good question.

    Circumcision was the visible sign of entry into the old covenant. But since this cannot be done to woman, it is assumed they are also in the covenant by birth. If we press the logic that circumcision must be done on all human beings to be in the old covenant, that would have excluded the woman.

    In the NT, our circumcision is spiritual. And therefore it can happen to all peoples.

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