5. The key question is this: When is a person saved? Is a person saved at the moment he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ or is a person saved the moment he is baptized in water? Is a person saved when he believes or is he saved when he is baptized in water (at a time subsequent to initial faith)?
If a person is saved at the point of faith, then this means that faith alone is necessary for salvation and that water baptism is something that is done after a person is saved. This would also mean that the requirement for salvation is simple faith in Christ. It is not faith plus baptism. The salvation formula would be this:
FAITH + NOTHING = SALVATION
If a person is saved at the point of water baptism, then this means that faith in Christ is not enough for salvation. This means that faith in Christ is part of the requirement but it is not the total requirement. To be saved a person must not only believe in Christ but he must also be baptized in water. The requirement for salvation is faith plus water baptism. This would also mean that it is possible for a person to be a believer in Christ and yet still be unsaved until he is baptized. The person’s sins are not washed away until the water baptism takes place. The salvation formula would thus be as follows:
FAITH + WATER BAPTISM = SALVATION
Let us now go to the Scriptures to determine whether a person is saved at the point of faith or at the point of water baptism.
A) Acts 16:31—“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (this statement was made in answer to the question of verse 30, “What must I do to be saved?”). This is a conditional promise. God promises to do something if the sinner does something. If the sinner does his part, God will do His part. So the meaning of Acts 16:31 is this: “If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you shall be saved.” Notice that nothing is said about water baptism being a requirement for salvation. The clear implication is that if a person believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, he will be saved. Ephesians 2:8-9 is a key passage which tells us how a person is saved: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Water baptism is not mentioned. Salvation takes place at the point of faith. The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to all who believe” (Romans 1:16), clearly implying that all who believe are saved.
B) 1 Corinthians 1:21—“It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” God saves those who believe! God would never fail to save someone who believes.
C) Luke 8:12—“Then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” The devil knows God’s simple plan of salvation! He does not want people to BELIEVE AND BE SAVED! To foil the devil, the sinner simply needs to believe. If he does that, he will be saved! The devil’s strategy has always been to add certain requirements in order for man to somehow work for and earn God’s salvation. Here’s a simple test to prove this: Ask any member of a religious cult this simple question: “What must I do to be saved?” and then compare his answer with Paul’s answer found in Acts 16:31. You will find that the two answers are not the same! The cultist will invariably add at least one additional requirement.
D) Hebrews 7:25—“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him.” He saves all those who come to Him through Jesus Christ. In John 6:35 we learn that COMING TO GOD is synonymous with BELIEVING ON HIM. Thus, God saves to the uttermost all who believe (compare also John 6:37).
E) John 3:16; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:47; John 11:25-26 and other passages clearly teach that those who believe on Christ HAVE eternal LIFE as a present possession (compare also 1 John 5:12). If a person has eternal life the moment he believes on Christ, then this person is saved. It’s unthinkable to speak of a person who has eternal life and yet who is unsaved! All those who receive Jesus Christ by faith have received God’s free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23), and this free gift becomes theirs at the moment of faith, not at the moment of water baptism.
F) Acts 10:43—“To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission (forgiveness) of sins.” If a person believes on Christ and does not receive forgiveness of sins, then God is a liar! There is no such thing as a true believer whose sins are not forgiven. Those who refuse to believe on Christ will die in their sins (John 8:24), but those who believe in Him will not. Complete forgiveness of all my sins becomes a reality the moment I believe on Christ, not the moment I am baptized in water. If your sins have not been forgiven prior to being baptized in water, then you should not be baptized (because this would mean you are an unbeliever and hence unsaved).
G) “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39). All who believe are forgiven and justified from all things! In verse after verse we learn that FAITH is the one condition, the one requirement for salvation and for forgiveness. If you can find a true believer who is not justified from all things, then God would be a liar. God forbid!
H) Romans 4:3 and 4:5. In Romans 4 we learn how Abraham was saved. Keep in mind that Abraham lived prior to the time of water baptism. In verse 3 we learn that “Abraham believed God and it was counted (imputed) unto him for righteousness.” At the moment Abraham believed, God’s righteousness was put to his account. At the moment of faith Abraham was justified. As we come to verse 5 we find that the very same thing happens to a person living today: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). If justification takes place at the point of water baptism, then Paul could have clarified this. He could have said something like this: “Even though Abraham received God’s righteousness at the moment he believed, things are different in our day. Today a person does not receive God’s righteousness when he first believes, but he is justified only when he is baptized in water. There is no salvation, no justification, no forgiveness until the believing sinner takes this initial step of obedience and submits to water baptism.” But Paul says nothing of the sort. Paul consistently taught that those who believe are blessed just as Abraham was (Galatians 3:9). God’s Word teaches that “the righteousness of God . . . is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe” (Rom. 3:22).” No believer lacks God’s righteousness. Every believer has been justified.
I) In John 1:12-13 we learn that a person is born of God (is regenerated) and becomes a child of God when he receives Jesus Christ and believes on His Name. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born (regenerated), not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Nothing is here said about baptismal regeneration. It does not say that water brings about this new birth, but it does say that these wonderful things happen when a person believes on Him.
J) How does a person become adopted by the Father and entitled to all the privileges and benefits of being God’s son? “For ye are all the children [literally “sons”] of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). Once again we see that simple faith in Christ is the key.
K) How is a person purified and made fit for God’s kingdom? “And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). Notice that is does not say that their hearts were purified by faith and water baptism. Keep in mind that some people claim to believe in Christ when they really don’t believe in Him at all. They profess Him but they don’t actually possess Him (1 John 5:12). Some of these false professors (mere pretenders) are even baptized in water, but this does nothing to purify their hearts. Only true faith in Jesus Christ can do this. The person must have his heart purified by faith before he or she ever gets into the water, or else water baptism is nothing but a meaningless ritual.
L) We have already seen that people are saved by faith and forgiven by faith and justified by faith and regenerated by faith, and in Acts 26:18 we learn that people are also SANCTIFIED (set apart unto God) by faith—“To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:18). In 1 Corinthians 6:11 we learn of those who are washed, justified and sanctified, and all of these blessings are conditioned on simple faith in Christ. It is impossible to find a true believer in Christ who is un-washed, un-justified and un-sanctified. Such a thought would be Biblically absurd! But according to those who believe in baptismal regeneration, there is a period of time, albeit short, where a person is a believer in Christ and yet is not yet saved and not yet forgiven and not yet cleansed. In their view, this would be the time between when the person believed in Christ and when the person was baptized in water. Remember, no one is baptized immediately after putting faith in Christ. Some amount of time elapses between the two events, whether it be very short or long.
Thought question: What happens if the person dies after he believes in Christ but before he is baptized in water? If this person is safe with God and among the redeemed, then it is very clear that it was not the water baptism that saved him. [The thief on the cross is often used as an example of this. Here was a man who trusted Jesus Christ and had no opportunity to be baptized in water (even though we recognize that Christian baptism did not begin historically until the Day of Pentecost, about 53 days later). If any additional requirements for salvation had been laid on this man, apart from simple faith in Christ, he would have been in trouble].
M) The New Testament consistently teaches that a person receives the Spirit by faith. Those who believe in Christ receive the Spirit (according to John 7:37-39). In Galatians chapter 3 we learn that we receive the Spirit, not by any kind of works, but by faith (Gal. 3:2,14). In Romans 8:9 we learn that if a person does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is “none of His” (meaning he is not a Christian, he does not belong to Christ). This implies that all those who have the Spirit belong to Him and are Christians. Indeed a Christian can be defined as one who has received the Spirit by faith. If a person is not indwelt by the Spirit, then this person is not a Christian and is not saved. Since every believer is indwelt by the Spirit and since everyone indwelt by the Spirit is saved, then this strongly points to the fact that a person is saved at the moment of faith. Nowhere in the New Testament does it teach that the reception of the Spirit is contingent upon being baptized in water. We also learn in Ephesians 1:13 that a person is sealed with the Holy Spirit when he believes in Christ [the KJV of this verse can lead to confusion; Darby’s translation: “in whom also, having believed, ye have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”]. You can’t be securely saved unless you are sealed, and this sealing takes place at the moment of faith, not at the moment a person is baptized in water.
N) Salvation is the work of God from beginning to end, as summarized by 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith is mentioned in this passage (“belief of the truth”) but there is no mention of water baptism.
O) In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Paul sets forth the content of the gospel. He tells us what the gospel really is. He mentions Christ’s death for our sins (v.3) and Christ’s resurrection (v.4) and the necessity of genuine faith (v.1-2), but he says absolutely nothing about water baptism. If water baptism were an essential requirement for salvation, then how could Paul have omitted this from his explanation of the gospel? Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 1:14-16 Paul was thankful that he did not personally baptize the Corinthians, except for a few people. He then made this remarkable statement—“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (1 Cor. 1:17 and compare 1 Cor. 1:21). How could Paul say such a thing if water baptism were essential for salvation? The clear implication here is that water baptism, though clearly practiced by the apostles, was not part and parcel of the gospel message. But if water baptism were essential for salvation, then we would expect it to be at the very heart of the gospel message. But water baptism is not something that a person does to be saved; it is something that a saved person does. This is a crucial distinction. [See also 1 Corinthians 4:15. The Corinthians owed their regeneration to Paul, the human instrument, and to the gospel (Eph. 1:13) but not to water baptism. Paul did not say, "I have begotten you through the gospel and through water baptism."]
P) In the early church there were legalistic false teachers who were saying, “Except ye be circumcised, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). This teaching was strongly condemned by the apostles and the Jerusalem council. Today there are those who teach this: “Except ye be baptized in water, ye cannot be saved.” Should this teaching be likewise condemned?
Q) Conclusion to this section: In the book of Acts we have frequent examples of water baptism. As we study the book of Acts we learn that the order was always this: 1) First, the person heard the gospel and believed on Christ; 2) Then, the person was baptized. According to the Bible, a person is saved when he believes on Christ (Acts 16:31; 1 Cor. 1:21), and therefore those who were baptized in the book of Acts were already saved before they entered the water.
We just studied numerous passages of Scripture showing that a person is saved and justified and forgiven and sanctified and purified and regenerated and sealed and indwelt the moment he believes on Christ. We also looked at numerous salvation verses under Section 2 of this study. All of these verses declare that a person is saved the moment he believes on Christ. The Lord Jesus Himself said, “He that believeth on Me HATH (HAS) everlasting life” (John 6:47). If a person confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes in his heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, that person is SAVED (Romans 10:9). If he is not saved, then God is a liar. God saves those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21). Saved people have their sins forgiven and forgiveness is something that a person receives the moment he believes (Acts 10:43). Therefore, baptism is not something that a person does to be saved; baptism is something that a saved person does. It is something that a believing person does after he is saved and after he is forgiven. An unsaved person should never be baptized. There is no such thing as an UNSAVED BELIEVER. The Bible knows of only two groups of people: BELIEVERS (those who are saved) and UNBELIEVERS (those who are not saved). See John 3:18; 3:36; 1 John 5:12. Only saved believers should be baptized in water, in obedience to Christ’s command. [Note: A "saved believer" is a redundancy but we use it here to over-emphasize our point].