by Bernard F. Londino
Recently I have been compelled to take a closer look at what is taught in the New Testament concerning baptism, specifically the idea of baptismal regeneration and whether or not baptism is necessary for salvation. We are told the baptism John the Baptist performed was baptism with water unto repentance and for the remission of sins. John also said of Jesus, "He, Jesus, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 3:11; Mark1:8) When examining the old testament we see types of baptism throughout the scriptures, involving washing, cleansing, or water baptism, which was a common practice of the Essenic Jews around the first century AD, of which John was believed to be a follower. The Essenic Jews were one of the Jewish sects that moved away from ritual blood sacrifices into water baptism for the remission of sins. It was a cleaner and healthier way to keep within one of the laws set forth just like circumcision.
Let's look at Jesus Baptism in Matthew 3:11-15, especially verse 15, "And Jesus said answering unto him, suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered Him." Jesus was talking to John about His water baptism "fulfill all righteousness" (diakaiosune), to complete the condition acceptable to God. So when Jesus died on the cross it was for the remission of mankind's sins past, present, and future. Jesus says in Matthew 26:28, "For this is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for the many for the remission of sins". Jesus said he did not come to abolish, or do away with, the law but to fulfill it. Water baptism for salvation or the remission of sins was no longer required once His blood was shed.
In John 3:3-6 Jesus says "unless one is born again (in Greek, rendered from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God", (emphasis mine). When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus in John 3:5 he was making reference to the natural birth of water, which was a common word for the Hebrew to use in describing natural birth. When he mentions the Spirit, He is talking about regeneration through spiritual rebirth and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Looking at it in context, Jesus is talking about spiritual rebirth from above. Regeneration does not come through water baptism, but through a spiritual renewing and transforming power of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus makes reference to "born of the Water", is He not making reference to the word of God? (Ephesians 5:26; John 15:3) In Ephesians 5:26, Paul, speaking of Christ's church, says "that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word." Here we see that the word of God is likened unto water. Jesus also says in John 15:3 "you are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you". In John 17:17 Jesus says, "Sanctify them by your Truth. Your word is Truth." Is he not referring to set apart, make holy by the washing of the word? Also Peter states in Peter 1:23, being "born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever." We are told in Hebrews 4:12, "the word of God is living and powerful and a discerner of thought and intents of the heart". So when Jesus refers to being born of water in John 3:5, isn't He possibly talking about the seed of faith planted from hearing the word? (Romans 10:17) Then again when we look at the context of the passage Jesus says in John 3:6 "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit". This is why I made reference to the natural birth of water in the beginning. As you can see there are a couple of different ways to interpret "born of water". I do not believe Jesus was implying water baptism here. I think Matthew Henry states it pretty well: "You must be born again of the Spirit, which regeneration by the Spirit should be signified by washing with water, as the visible sign of that spiritual grace." (emphasis mine)
We also see that plural baptisms are referred to in the New Testament (Hebrews 6:2). Not every baptism referred to is water baptism. Galatians 3:27 is one such verse, "for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ". How then do we get baptized into Christ? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 12:13, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body ..." It is not by water we are baptized into one body but by one Spirit. Galatians 3:27 has no reference to water baptism. Also the baptism of (Acts 1:5, 11:16) has no connection with water baptism. Water baptism itself does not secure our union with Christ. It portrays outwardly and visibly the union secured by Faith inwardly. (Galatians 3:29) This baptism of the Spirit into the body occurs when a person has repentance toward God and puts his faith in Jesus Christ.
In New Testament times there is but one way to get saved. (John 14:6) There are no exceptions it is through faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Let's take a closer look at Cornelius and his household in Acts 10 and see how they were saved. This is the same way you and I are saved today. To get the full impact of how they got saved and at what point God purified their hearts we must consider this related to scriptures Acts 10:1-48; 11:1-18 and 15:7-11. When you study these verses you see that an angel appeared to Cornelius and told him where to find Simon Peter. This was so that he and his entire household could be saved through Peter's gospel message (Acts 11:13,14; 15:7). It begins in Acts 10:34 and ends with verse 44. Cornelius and the people in his household received the Holy Spirit, then afterwards they were water baptized (Acts 10:44-48). The key verse to Peter's salvation sermon is Acts 10:43, "To Him (Christ) all the prophets witness that through His name whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins". After Peter spoke these important words his sermon was interrupted by the Holy Spirit. Why? Because it brought instant salvation to those who were gathered and believed and trusted in Jesus for their salvation. Then in Acts 10:44, "The Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word". That which Peter just declared in Acts 10:43. It seems at this point and most importantly, it was before water baptism that Cornelius and his household received forgiveness of sins and everlasting life as Jesus promised in John 6:47. They had their sins forgiven before they were water baptized (Acts 10:47). We know that they contacted the blood of Christ before water baptism. How can we be sure of this? If we go to Acts 15:7-11 there we see water baptism was and is excluded from the message that brings salvation and the forgiveness of sins. This verse refers back to Cornelius' salvation in Acts 10. Before the leaders of the church of Jerusalem Peter reports that his sermon to Cornelius is the gospel (Acts 10:34-43). In Acts 15:8 Peter states that God, who knows man's hearts, including Cornelius and his household, showed he accepted them by giving them the Holy Spirit. This happened before they were water baptized. This is evidence that the Gentile's hearts were purified by faith (Acts 15:9) prior to their water baptism with the sign of tongues as verification to the Jewish Christians of God's acceptance of the Gentiles. Then in Acts 15:11 Peter affirms that both Jews and Gentiles are saved as Cornelius and his household. When we place 100% of our trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.
To summarize what we have just learned:
1. The gospel does not include water baptism.
2. A purified heart and forgiveness of sins and everlasting life all occur at the moment one places 100% trust in Jesus alone for salvation.
3. The Jews and the Gentiles are saved the same way.
Also noted was that God gave an outward sign that Cornelius and his household hearts were purified by faith before water baptism. Therefore we know that water baptism is excluded from the message of faith in Jesus for salvation.
We must not forget that we are saved the same way today as Cornelius was in Acts 15:9,11. We also must remember the Gift of the Holy Spirit that Cornelius received before water baptism shows that God filled him with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:4) To argue that Cornelius was not saved until he was baptized is to say that God fills unsaved people or children of the devil (1 John 3:10) with the Holy Spirit.
Finally, according to Acts 2:38 one receives forgiveness of sins before the gift of the Holy Spirit. Since Cornelius received the gift before water baptism we therefore know his sins were forgiven before water baptism. These scriptures clearly refute the theory that the blood of Christ is contacted in the waters of Baptism. In Acts 2:38 the word for the remission of sins is best translated because of the remission of sins. so we see that.
A. Forgiveness of sins comes before the gift of the Holy Spirit.
B. The gift of the Holy Spirit comes before water baptism Acts 10:43-48).
C. Therefore forgiveness of sins can come before water baptism.
In Acts 2:38 Peter called upon Jews who he had preached to to be water baptized in the name of Jesus Christ because of their changed opinions and hearts. This was public acknowledgment that they, the Jews, accepted Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Baptism in and of itself is not a means of salvation or forgiveness (see Acts 3:19).
When further pursuing the concept of water baptism, two questions arose that I believe the points have already been made. I would like to review them in case they are presented again in the future:
1. Is not the Holy Spirit a part of conversion?
2. Can one have the Holy Spirit without water baptism?
Let's examine Saul of Tarsus conversion better known as Paul for our answers. In Acts 9, Ananias is told by Jesus to go to Paul and lay hands on him that he may receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). Immediately the scales fall from his eyes, he receives his sight, then he was baptized. Further examination of Acts 9:18 shows that Paul received the gift of the Holy Spirit before water baptism. We know that Paul was already saved because Jesus never sent Ananias to his Chosen Vessel to get him saved, but to lay hands on him to receive his sight. Jesus certainly would have known whether or not Paul needed saving. So just as Cornelius' salvation experience, so was Paul's. They received the Gift of the Holy Spirit before water baptism. They experienced the work of the Holy Spirit in their conversion before water baptism. So the answer to the 2 questions is.
1. Yes, The Holy Spirit is very much a part of the conversion process.
2. The Holy Spirit infills saved people before water baptism.
We also see in Acts 8:14-17, 2, and 19, the person to be filled with the Holy Spirit is already saved or a Christian. In John 1:12-13, 3:14-16, 5:24, and 3:18 we see that the believer is a son of God and has eternal life. The most important book in the bible to learn about salvation is the gospel of John not Acts. When baptism is mentioned in John 4 it is not associated with salvation. John's gospel de-emphasizes water baptism. Conversely it emphasizes TRUST IN JESUS ALONE FOR SALVATION John 3:36. It should also be noted that John's gospel was written about 90 AD, well after Pentecost where Acts 2:38 was first preached. If water baptism was essential to salvation how come John did not mention it? Probably because the emphasis is on believing in Jesus. Thus repentance is understood in the meaning of belief in Jesus which brings salvation.
When Paul recounts his conversion in Acts 26:17-18 Jesus says Paul was sent to "open their eyes, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5) Paul also states in 1 Corinthians 1:17, "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel". He also says he did not learn it from any man but from revelation through our Lord Jesus Christ. So concerning Paul's teaching of the gospel we see 3 points.
A. Christ sent Paul forth so others could receive forgiveness of sins. (Acts 26:17-18)
B. Christ did not send Paul to water baptize. (1 Corinthians 1:17)
C. Therefore one receives forgiveness of sins without water baptism.
How was Paul able to get others to "receive forgiveness of sins?" Read his message to the unsaved in Acts 13:38-39; 16:30-31 and 20:21. This same truth is reiterated throughout the New Testament (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; Romans 4:4-6, 9:30-10:4; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:9, etc.)
Finally in Hebrews 9:22 it says, "And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood and without shedding of blood there is no remission." In Hebrews 9:28 "so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many". Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 10:12) "But this Man after, He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God." Also in verse 14 "For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified." Those who are believing and or trusting in Jesus alone for salvation. You cannot mix grace and works for your salvation. (Romans 11:6; Galatians 2:16) You must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus Acts 20:21. So I would state emphatically that there is no mystical power in the waters of baptism. Also, I believe it is a cruel work to place on humanity, in that, if a person in an arid place heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and there was no water for baptism, he could not be saved. You also would have to have enough water to immerse a person for baptism and a qualified person (a Christian) to do the baptizing before they could get saved. This would make the blood of Christ of no effect to anyone who wanted to repent and get saved, and could not find a Christian to do the baptizing in enough water to be a genuine Christian baptism. This would also make the person baptizing a mediator and the scriptures clearly teach against a mediator! (Tim 2:5) Also the Bible teaches in 2 Corinthians 6:2 that now is the time of salvation, which implies we can get saved instantly on any given day, at any given place, even if we couldn't be baptized immediately. However, 2 Corinthians 6:2 is true because a person in an arid place who hears the gospel need only to repent and submit in faith to trust in Jesus alone for his salvation.
Reader have you done this? Have you accepted Jesus Christ's finished work on the cross for your salvation. We cannot add anything to the work Jesus fulfilled. John 19:30 says, "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost.
to bring to a close, to finish, to end; passed, finished to perform, to execute, to complete, to fulfill, (so that the thing done
corresponds to what has been said, the order, the command, etc.) to pay; used of tribute
to bring to a close, to finish, to end; passed, finished
to perform, to execute, to complete, to fulfill, (so that the thing done
corresponds to what has been said, the order, the command, etc.)
to pay; used of tribute
It is finished (paid). Christ satisfied God's justice by dying for all to pay for the sins of the elect. These sins can never be punished again since that would violate God's justice. Sins can only be punished once, either by a substitute or by yourself.
There is no other way to salvation. We must cling to, trust in, rely upon, place 100% of our trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation. This means we cannot mix good works, church membership, the ten commandments, water baptism with our trust in Jesus for salvation.
Remember, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life; no one comes unto the Father but through Him. (John 14:6) Let eternal life be your destiny today. Repent and ask for forgiveness of your sins. Tell God you believe Jesus died for those sins and there is not one thing you can do for salvation. It all rests on His mercy. Have mercy on me a sinner, I believe Jesus died once for all my sins and I now accept Him (PUT ALL MY TRUST) in Him for my salvation and eternal life. Ask Jesus to come into your heart right now.