Miscellaneous Questions about Baptism and Forgiveness

Mike answers questions concerning which baptism is the one true baptism found in the Bible, and when forgiveness is applied.
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Each chapter in this book about how to defend your faith begins with a reminder of the rules of engagement.

  1. Respect other people's sincerity even if you disagree with their beliefs.
  2. Stick to the Bible and what it says about the issue you may be discussing.
  3. Be patient. It takes time for people to change their minds about things in general, but especially about religious matters.

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, the sample questions usually asked have been divided into four categories and I will try to answer one from several areas in each chapter. The four categories were: doctrinal questions, questions about evangelism, Bible facts, and miscellaneous questions about religion or religious practice in general. These are the categories and our rules for discussion, let's begin with one question.

Question: What scripture would best show that water baptism is necessary for salvation, contrary to the evangelical teaching that belief only, or belief in one's heart is the only thing that is necessary?

There are two parts to this question. I will rephrase this first part in order to clarify the question as well as the answer:

What scripture best shows that baptism is necessary for salvation?

There are so many passages that demonstrate baptism's role in the process of salvation that it is hard to just pick just one. I would suggest that when you discuss baptism with someone, especially someone who is a member of a Baptist or Pentecostal/Evangelical church, remember first of all what they believe about baptism in general. For example, they believe that there are still several types of baptism available today:

  • Baptism of the Holy Spirit
  • Baptism by fire
  • Baptism in water

They also believe that the exact point of salvation is the moment that you make the intellectual decision to believe in Jesus. Everything after that is simply a ritual to explain or commemorate the completed salvation. For example, when you ask them what they think about baptism, their answer will be: baptism is an outward sign that expresses an inward and complete reality.

Some Baptists believe that once you are saved, your baptism is your initiation right into the local Baptist church. This example shows how important it is to listen and understand someone else's religious belief. Taking the time to do this will provide important information about the subject you are discussing as well as showing the sincere respect necessary to keep the communication flowing. The next step is to go to the Bible itself for the information you will share if you have the opportunity. So, what does the Bible teach about the subject of baptism?

Baptism in the Bible

The Bible teaches that there is only one baptism remaining for the church to preach and practice today. More specifically, Paul teaches this in Ephesians 4:4-6.

There's only one body and one spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

So, in discussing baptism, how many are to be practiced? Let us look at three baptisms mentioned (Spirit, Fire, water).

Baptism with the Holy Spirit

John the Baptist says,

As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
- Matthew 3:11

The baptism with the Holy Spirit was given by Jesus to His Apostles on the day of Pentecost

4Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard of from Me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
- Acts 1:4-5
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
- Acts 2:1-4

This baptism was promised only to the Apostles by Jesus and received by them at Pentecost. It was their "empowering" to do the miracles necessary to confirm the gospel of Christ and their witness of the resurrection. They demonstrated this power by speaking in foreign languages they had never learned before, a phenomenon known as "speaking in tongues." They also "empowered" certain disciples to exercise spiritual gifts by the laying on of their hands (Acts 8:18-20). However, the disciples themselves could not transfer this power to others. Only the Apostles had this ability (Acts 8:14-17). When the Apostles died, the spiritual powers they had and could transfer to others died with them, and the period of miraculous works performed by Apostles and certain disciples slowly disappeared. Soon after, the canon of the New Testament was completed and the sacred writings replaced the need for miraculous witness since now the very words of Jesus and the Apostles became available to everyone as a witness to the life, death and resurrection of the Christ. The written gospel became: "the power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16).

Baptism of Fire

The baptism of fire is a biblical way of saying "judgment" or "testing." Jesus has exercised many judgments and tests since John pronounced these words. For example,

  • The people who heard Jesus, but refused to believe, this was their test.
  • Jesus's own suffering and the crucifixion.
  • The Jewish nation was destroyed in 70 AD by the Roman armies, this was their judgment by God for rejecting their Messiah.
  • The persecution that the early church suffered, that was a test.
  • The final judgment at the end where our faith will be examined by Christ.

All of these are the "fire" that Jesus brings upon the earth.

Baptism in Water

Then there is the baptism by immersion in water that John practiced:

5Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.
- Matthew 3:5-6

Jesus also practiced this baptism in the water.

1Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were),
- John 4:1-2

The Apostles practiced it.

38Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 40And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" 41So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
- Acts 2:38-41

And the early church practiced it.

34The eunuch answered Philip and said, "Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?" 35Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" 37[And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."] 38And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.
- Acts 8:34-39

When Paul (some 30 years after Pentecost Sunday) writes to the Ephesians and he teaches them that there is only one baptism, which baptism do you think he is teaching? We know that he is writing about the one baptism that Jesus practiced and commanded for all who wanted to become His disciples – water baptism.

19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
- Matthew 28:19-20

One becomes a disciple through faith expressed in repentance and immersion in water. And so, water baptism is the "one" baptism that Paul taught and practiced; the one baptism that Peter preached at Pentecost; the one baptism that Jesus commanded be done until the end of time. Some refer to it as the "Great Commission" baptism because it was included in Jesus' command to preach the gospel and make disciples in Matthew 28:18-20.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit was a one time empowering given to the Apostles (and Cornelius). Baptism of fire was a reference to God's judgment and tests, but the one baptism that Paul talks about that all must receive to become Christians is the baptism in water by immersion.

The second part of this question:

What scripture proves that baptism is necessary for salvation?

This question can be answered once the issue of water baptism as the only baptism available has been dealt with. The key idea here is that in the New Testament every scripture where baptism is mentioned, it is mentioned in connection to salvation. Remember the issue is if baptism necessary for salvation.

Therefore, the best way to respond to this question is to simply go through the New Testament and examine what it says about the relationship between baptism and salvation. Any one of these scriptures would do, but when you string them all together they're even more effective.

  • Matthew 28:18
    • Make disciples/baptize
  • Mark 16:16
    • Those who believe and are baptized will be saved.
    • Strongest single scripture.
  • John 3:5
    • Water + Spirit = Kingdom
    • Water + Spirit = Born Again
  • Acts 2:38
    • Repent + Baptism = Forgiveness
    • Only forgiven are saved
    • Only forgiven receive Holy Spirit
    • This is the water and Spirit Jesus is talking about that creates the re-birth.
  • Acts 22:16
    • Baptize = wash away sins
    • Only clean from sin are saved
    • Not just call on His name, but do so in and by being baptized
  • Galatians 3:26
    • Faith + Baptism = Clothed with Christ; Into Christ
    • Only those clothed with or "in" Christ are saved.

There are many more but these six demonstrate that whenever the Bible talks about baptism it refers to it as a necessary part in the process of salvation along with faith. We could say that faith is expressed biblically through baptism and it is at baptism we are saved, because it is there that our sins are removed and that we receive the Holy Spirit.

General Doctrine

I want to answer a couple other questions here that are from the general doctrine area, but have to do with what we've already been talking about.

How can we prove that Jesus was immersed when He was baptized?

We can do that in three ways:

A. John's baptism was based on the Old Testament law of purification, which required priests to wash their entire bodies with water before they put on their vestments in the service of the temple.

Then Moses had Aaron and "his sons come near and washed them with water.
- Leviticus 8:6

B. When Jesus was baptized, Mark writes that He came up out of the water.

Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him.
- Mark 1:10

If he were sprinkled with water or had some water poured on His head, He would have no need to physically go into the river itself. The strongest proof is the word that the Bible uses to describe what happened to Jesus in the water. The word that the writers used was the Greek word baptizo, which meant to plunge or to immerse. There were other Greek words that could have been used to specifically describe the sprinkling with water (Ekcheo, which means to pour or Rhantizo which is to sprinkle). The word used by the Bible writers every time was the word baptizo (to plunge or immerse in water).

You can show that baptism is by immersion in water by using the meaning of the words or the practice of the times, even the spiritual imagery that Jesus was immersed (buried) in the Jordan when He was baptized and this is the way that He and then His Apostles and others performed the act of baptism for the very same reason. Archeologists found deep baptistries in early church buildings where repentant believers were baptized according to the instructions in the New Testament.

The arguments against baptism are a modern day phenomenon that were not heard of in the early church age.

When is forgiveness applied? Where is the point of grace?

This is another way of saying, at what precise moment are we forgiven or what precise moment are we considered covered by the grace of God? This takes us back to the point of salvation. Where exactly is the moment in time that we are saved?

  • Roman Catholics claim that it is when the little baby is baptized by a priest.
  • Most evangelicals and Protestants say that it is at the moment when a person believes as true the claims of Christ and they accept Him as Savior.
  • More radical Calvinists teach that you're saved when God chooses you.
  • We, in the churches of Christ, believe that the Bible teaches that there is a dividing line between saved and lost and that dividing line is baptism.

Now, the same scripture references that teach that baptism is a necessary response to the offer of salvation also teach that in a time continuum baptism is also the point at which we are saved. For example:

  • Mark 16 – Believe + Baptized = Salvation
  • John 3:5 – Water + Spirit = Reborn
  • Acts 2:38 – Repent + Baptize = Forgiveness

The argument that people make when this is explained is that by making baptism (which is a physical act) the point of salvation, you are going back to a works system rather than a "grace" system. In other words, baptism is like a work of the Law and no one will be saved through works of the Law.

because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
- Romans 3:20

Those who make this point misunderstand both how grace operates and what a "work of the law is." Grace is God's kindness and mercy in offering us salvation through faith in Christ, rather than salvation through perfect law keeping. A work of the law is any attempt to atone for our sins or achieve righteousness without reference to Christ.

Baptism is not a work of the law because in no way is it an attempt to atone for sin or an act to achieve righteousness or right standing with God. The only act that atones for all sin is the cross of Jesus Christ.

and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
- I Peter 2:24

The only act that produces total righteousness (or makes us acceptable before God) is the act of faith,

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
- Romans 3:28

Baptism is the physical act that expresses our faith. God has always required a physical response to demonstrate or to confirm conscious faith.

  • Adam and Eve – Not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
  • Noah – Built the ark
  • Abraham – He left Ur. He circumcised his son. He offered his son
  • Jesus – Death on the cross
  • Apostles and all the disciples since then – Baptism

The main dispute over this issue is this: evangelical and others claim that the "act of faith" is mental assent to the gospel (I decide that I believe and I say, "come into my heart Jesus"). We, in the churches of Christ, believe that the Bible teaches that baptism is the "act or the response of faith" at which point a person receives the benefit of faith, which is salvation.

Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'
- Acts 22:16

In this passage we note that Paul has both seen and heard the Lord Jesus and has even spoken to Him. He is blinded by a miraculous light and then given his sight back by another miracle. He is taught the gospel and also given his future ministry as a minister to the Gentiles. At this point he believes the gospel and accepts that Jesus (who he formally persecuted) is truly the Messiah, the Savior. And yet with this belief and insight Ananias still says to him, "And now, why do you delay? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins.

He believed, he accepted as true, but he was still unforgiven of his sins until he expressed his faith in the way that God required it, through baptism.

Peter says it this way:

Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
- I Peter 3:21

So the point of forgiveness, the separation from death to life is found in the waters of baptism.

3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
- Romans 6:3-4

We go from death to life in the waters of baptism.

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