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Objections to the Essentiality of Baptism for Salvation

by Abraham Smith

The Bible is very clear in its teaching on baptism's role in our salvation. It is an act of obedience that is required of us by God "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). The Bible does not teach that baptism is "an outward sign of inward grace." Neither does the Bible teach the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration" which says that baptism is the only thing involved in our salvation. There are other conditions of pardon, which are faith, repentance, and confession of Christ (Romans 10:9,10; Luke 13:3).

We do not have the right to question what the Lord demands. We must be obedient according to the instruction to Samuel, "Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears" (I Samuel 3:9), and obedient like Jesus who said, "not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). If we want to do the will of the Lord, we will submit to the teaching of the Bible by being baptized for the reason that the Bible gives.

However, there are some of us who still have reservations and objections to the teaching of such passages as Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16. In addition to these passages, Romans 6:3-4 and Galatians 3:26-27 teach that scriptural baptism puts one into Christ and 1 Peter 3:21 says baptism doth also now save us. Let's examine some of the most common objections people have to the essentiality of baptism to salvation:

"The Bible says that we are not saved by works (Eph. 2:8,9; Rom. 11:6; Titus 3:5). If baptism is essential to salvation, salvation would be of works."

We are no more saved by works than a man with a broke back, broken legs, and down in a deep well could save himself by his own actions. But someone might drop down a rope to him with a hook on the end with instructions for him to hook it to his belt and they would pull him out. If he "obeys" their instructions, could he "boast" that by his own actions he had "saved" himself? Of course not! But was his obedience essential to his "salvation" from the well? Yes! Even so, we do not earn our salvation when we obey God. But obedience is clearly essential to man's salvation (Hebrews 5:9; II Thessalonians 1:7-8).

"We are saved by grace through faith. It is a gift of God. Gifts are free. If baptism is required to be saved, then salvation is no longer a gift."

Gifts are free but our reception of them is often conditional upon things that we must do in accepting them. For instance, I read the writings of a preacher who having endorsed the above objection, said, "I have some free literature I want to send....All you need do to receive your free literature is fill out the decision form on the following page and mail it to me." But we cannot receive this "free gift" until we "fill out the decision form" and "mail it." If he and others can see that though his gift is free yet there are conditions to be met ("fill out the decision form" and "mail it") , then why is it so difficult to see that God's gift of salvation is also free but there is the condition of obedience that must be met which includes baptism "for the remission of sins"?

"The thief on the cross was saved without being baptized."

Those who make this statement do not know whether the thief was baptized previously by John or not (Mark 1:4-5). We might as well contend that Moses, Noah, and others (who lived and died before Jesus' statements of Mark 16:15-16) were saved without the baptism that is "in the name of Christ." Noah and Moses were not required to be baptized in the name of Christ (in essence by the authority of Christ, Matthew 28:18-20). But today, we are required!

However, those who lived before Jesus' death were required to be obedient to be saved. A rich young ruler came running to the Lord and asked, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" What did Jesus tell him, believe only? No, but He said to him, "You know the commandments: "Do not commit adultery,' "Do not murder,' "Do not steal,' "Do not bear false witness,' "Do not defraud,' "Honor your father and your mother"" (Mark 10:17-19). In like manner, we must be obedient also in order to inherit eternal life.

"On many occasions, Jesus told individuals that their faith saved them. He did not say their baptism saved them."

Neither did He say "your faith independent of obedience saved you." No one denies that we are saved by faith. The issue is by faith when are we saved? The answer is seen in the great chapter of faith, Hebrews 11. Saving faith is illustrated by several examples which includes Noah (Hebrews 11:7) and the fall of the walls of Jericho (Hebrews 11:30). Of Noah it is said by faith he "prepared an ark for the saving of his household" Noah was saved by faith and the walls of Jericho fell by faith, after they were obedient. Even so, our faith will not save us until we complete our obedience in baptism (I Peter 3:21).

"If you believe baptism is essential to salvation, then baptism is your saviour and not Christ."

If that is the case, then we can say of those who walked around the walls of Jericho that "walking" was their saviour and not the Lord! When Noah prepared an ark for the saving of his household, was the ark his saviour or the Lord? This objection is simply absurd "reasoning."

"What if an honest man, who had heard the gospel and believed it, was on his way to be baptized but a stick fell on his head and killed him? Would not this example demonstrate that baptism is not essential?"

What if the honest man was on his way to hear about Christ and a stick fell on his head and killed him before he had a chance to hear and believe? Would this "example" demonstrate that faith is not essential to salvation? We should not determine the teaching of the Bible by "examples" conjured up within our imagination! Let us trust with all our hearts what the Lord said in his word about baptism and "lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).

"There are many passages like Romans 10:9,10 which tells us what to do to be saved but say nothing about baptism."

And there are "many" such passages like Romans 10:9-10 which say nothing about repentance. Is repentance therefore not essential because it is not specifically mentioned? Of course not. We must accept every conditional term of salvation taught in every passage.

"The meaning of Acts 2:38 is that we are baptized 'because' our sins are already remitted. That is what the word 'for' means in that verse."

If that is the meaning of the word "for" ("eis" in the Greek), then none of the hundreds of scholars throughout the ages knew it because none of them have translated "eis" as "because of"!

In Matthew 26:28, Jesus said His blood "is shed for many for the remission of sins." The phrase "for the remission of sins" is the same in the Greek and English. Whatever it means in Matthew 26:28 is what it means in Acts 2:38. How could the Holy Spirit have made that any plainer? Is it possible that Jesus shed his blood "because" we already have the remission of sins? Of course not!

"Cornelius received the Holy Spirit before he was baptized, thus he must have been saved before he was baptized (Acts 10:44-48)."

If Cornelius was saved before he was baptized, he was saved before he had faith. Peter began preaching the message of salvation in Acts 10:34 ending in Acts 10:43. The text tells us that while he spoke those words the Holy Spirit fell upon them. The text of Acts 10 does not tell at what point the Holy Spirit fell upon them but only "while Peter was still speaking these words." However, in Acts 11 where "Peter explained...in order from the beginning" what had happened in Acts 10, we read how he was told by Cornelius that an angel had instructed him to send for Peter "who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved" (Acts 11:14). Let us pause to digest this. Cornelius was to hear "words by which you and all your household will be saved." Then Peter said, "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning" (Acts 11:15). So the Holy Spirit fell upon them "as I began to speak" says Peter. So Cornelius had not heard the words of salvation at the point when the Holy Spirit fell upon him and his household.

Someone may ask, "Why was the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out on the Gentiles before conversion?" Answer: To persuade the Jews that the Gentiles should receive the same salvation as the Jews received. Those Jews who did not believe that Gentiles could receive the gospel had to be convinced by miracle that Gentiles could be saved through Jesus Christ the same as the Jews who obeyed the gospel. Please read Acts 10:44-48; 11:2, 3, 15-18.

Peter commanded these Gentiles "to be baptized in the name of the Lord." And we must bear in mind that baptism "in the name of the Lord" is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38).

"Paul said that Christ did not send him to baptize. If baptism is essential to salvation, then Christ did not send him to save people (1 Corinthians 1:17)."

The text refutes the above objection rather than supporting it. Paul's statement simply reflects that the act of baptizing was not the primary thing he was sent to do. He did baptize some, but much like Jesus, others did the baptizing.

Paul criticized some for saying they were of Paul. He asked, "Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" In order for them to belong to Paul, they would need to answer "yes" to Paul's questions. This means that in order for us to belong to (be "of") Christ, Christ must have been crucified for us and we must be baptized in His name (I Corinthians 1:12,13).

"Before I was baptized, one night, when I was praying, I felt God’s presence as he spoke to my heart. Right then I knew I was saved."

Such an objection is contrary to the teaching of I Peter 1:22. It says, "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart..." We only know that we are saved by knowing we have "have purified your souls in obeying the truth." I John 2:4 says, "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him."

How we feel does not prove anything about our salvation (Proverbs 14:12). Our feelings are a product of what we believe. If we believe the wrong things, we feel the wrong things. Jacob erroneously believed his son Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:26-27,31-35). Thus he had sorrow in his heart. In like manner, if we erroneously believe that salvation is obtained in any other way than what we read in Acts 2:38 and other passages, then our feeling of salvation rests upon that error and not the truth we need to obey.

Perhaps there is someone who, upon reading this message, may have sorrow in recognizing he has not complied with the conditions of obedience taught in the Bible. That person may be like I was many years ago. I had previously asked Jesus to come into my heart. I "felt" at that time He did. I had been unscripturally baptized believing that I was already saved. But when I learned the truth, I "obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine" (Romans 6:16-17). It was through my obedience to that "form of doctrine" that I was freed from sin. Part of that obedience was being baptized "for the remission of sins" which put me in Christ Jesus. That is what the Bible says (Romans 6:3; Acts 2:38). When we do this, we will have the joy of salvation that rests upon truth and not emotions.

It is not my fault that many religious leaders are not teaching these precepts taught in the Bible. That is to their shame! It is important to teach who Jesus is. But it is equally important to teach and follow what He says (Matthew 7:21).