By Ronald Graham
“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.” Ephesians 2:8-9. Our English word “works” in verse 9 above comes from the Greek word “ergon” and it means: that which one undertakes to do, enterprise, undertaking, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, an act, or deed (whether good or bad). The above verses establish the firm foundation of faith as the only requirement for salvation, while at the same time eliminating any possible argument that our works or deeds are required or even necessary to bring about our salvation.
Paul is quite adamant when it comes to salvation by grace through faith alone. This idea of baptism being a requirement for salvation has been a tug of war between two opposing views for years. No matter what the proponents of baptismal regeneration claim as their “proof text” there is always one glaring fact that disproves their claim with finality. The thief who died on his own cross while hanging next to our Lord was not baptized, yet he ended up in paradise. Why? Because he recognized Jesus as his Lord – he believed. Attempting to ignore this truth and even dismissing it because it occurred prior to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is beyond foolish.
“And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” Acts 9:17. This verse makes it obvious that Paul himself was saved while on the road to Damascus. Ananias refers to Paul as “Brother Saul”. In this context, and from the Greek, we know this reference is of a fellow believer. Then Ananias mentions to Saul that Jesus had sent him that Saul might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit, yet Saul/Paul had yet to be baptized.
Those who believe that baptism is necessary for salvation must take verses out of context and build their doctrine around them. As I’ve mentioned numerous times in past commentaries, taking verses out of context will do little to help discern the truth of Scriptures. Basically, what invariably results is confusion, division, and strife. The best rule of thumb is when we come across a verse that seems a good candidate for building doctrine we should always filter it through the rest of Scripture. If there seems to be a contradiction it must be assumed we’ve erred in our interpretation of the verse in question.
Let me be right up front with my readership. Any interpretation which includes baptism or any other act of works or deeds as being necessary for salvation is seriously flawed. It limits Christ’s finished work on the cross. Now let’s begin with Mark chapter 16 as this verse is most often trotted out and used as the doctrine builder and “proof text” for those who attempt to place baptism in our path as a necessary requirement for salvation. Remember, this verse doesn’t say what these well meaning folks want it to say.
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:16. This verse has some glaring problems as a doctrinal builder for baptism specifically as a requirement for salvation. Although the verse does teach that belief is necessary for salvation, which is consistent with all other verses that deal with salvation, it does not teach that baptism is required. Let me explain. Right off we see there are two distinct phrases here. The first, “that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”, mentions both belief and baptism, but the second part of that verse, “but he that believeth not shall be damned”, has no mention of baptism. Clearly belief is the determining factor as to whether a person is saved or damned. In interpreting this passage correctly, it is important to realize that while it tells us something about believers who have been baptized (they are saved), it does not say anything about believers who have not been baptized. In order for this verse to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation, a third qualifying statement would have had to be included, such as “He who believes and is not baptized will be condemned” or “He who is not baptized will be condemned.” But, of course, neither of these statements is included. As a matter of fact, we find no such verse in the entire Bible. We never told that those who believe in Jesus Christ but are not baptized are condemned. Condemnation only comes through unbelief.
There are numerous verses where only belief and faith are mentioned regarding salvation; “He that believeth on him is not condemned…” John 3:18. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life…” John 3:36. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” John 5:24. “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” John 20:31. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” 1 John 5:13. Where is it mentioned in any of these verses that baptism is a necessary part of the salvation process? Conspicuous by its absence.
Throughout the Bible we see that at the point of faith or belief a believer possesses all the promises and blessings of salvation “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:” John 1:12. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” John 6:47. “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Acts 10:43. “And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Acts 13:39. “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Acts 16:31. When we believe in Jesus Christ we instantly have eternal life, (“…He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” John 5:24) and we are no longer under condemnation or judgment. We’ve passed from death into life, and all before we were baptized.
If you believe in baptismal regeneration you might want to consider who or what you are placing your faith and trust in. Is faith being placed in the act of being baptized or on the finished work of Christ on the cross? Whom or what is being trusted for salvation – Jesus or baptism? If your trust is in baptism and Christ you’re off base by one. Our salvation rests in Christ alone. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;” Ephesians 1:7.
Other verses that become “proof text” for those who wish to bind Christ’s Ekklesia with the works/deeds for salvation doctrine include “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:” 1 Peter 3:21. Here the Apostle Peter is careful to point out that it isn’t the actual water washing of baptism that saves us, but the spiritual reality behind the immersion in water as he takes his readers back to the flood of Noah explaining that eight souls were saved by water. God provided water as a means of escape for those eight souls, and death for the rest. But it was Noah’s faith in God that brought about his salvation.
Countless passages of Scripture clearly teach that salvation comes when one believes in the gospel, at which time he or she is sealed “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,” Ephesians 1:13. Then, as soon after justification (salvation) as possible, each born again believer should be baptized. Yet we should never place our trust in baptism as regeneration (re-birth), but in Christ alone.
Still others who believe in baptismal regeneration often turn to Galatians 3:27 as one of their “proof texts” for their erroneous doctrinal views. In doing so they are ignoring the context of the passage as well as the overall context of Scripture. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Galatians 3:27. This verse mentions nothing about water baptism but actually speaks of a spiritual baptism. Just another verse that’s taken completely out of context. The verse just prior to above verse says it all “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26. Believing in Christ means we have placed our faith in Him and Him alone for salvation, not in baptism or any other works or good deeds.
In the following verses we are given a clear view of how we become baptized into Christ. The Holy Spirit is the indwelling presence which baptizes us into the body of Christ. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.
There are other verses that are also used in an attempt to elicit the “proof text” for including baptism as a requirement for salvation; all are easily disputed and found wanting. There is ample scriptural proof that baptism is not a requirement for justification (salvation). If it were, all the verses I’ve included in this commentary, and many more I haven’t placed here, would contain that extra works/deeds requirement that baptism must be added to belief in Christ to obtain salvation. But clearly that extra condition is not present. Study your scriptures diligently and you will see our only requirement for salvation is belief in the one God sent – Jesus Christ.
God bless you all,
All original scripture is “theopneustos” God breathed