Baptism is a subject of much contention in the religious world these days. Many who claim to be Christians deny that baptism has any part in the salvation process. Let’s examine some passages dealing with baptism that will give us a clearer picture of God’s will on this matter.
John 3:5 — “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” In this conversation with the wise Nicodemus, Jesus Himself linked baptism in water to spiritual rebirth. Notice that “water” is not the placental fluid associated with childbirth, as some have alleged, for such would make Jesus sound like an ignoramus. This view has Jesus saying, “Except a man first exist, and then be born of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Neither is the water under discussion the Spirit Himself, for that would have Jesus saying, “Except a man be born of Spirit and the Spirit…” Make no mistake: the “water” in view here is literal. The word “except” sets conditions that afford men no alternative. One who is not born of water and of the Spirit will not inherit eternal life.
Mark 16:16 — “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Obviously Jesus intended His followers to understand that baptism plays a role in the salvation process. Here, the Lord inextricably links belief with baptism by the conjunction, “and.” In other words, salvation does not take place until both of these conditions are met! Notice that baptism is not mentioned in the second clause, “he who does not believe will be condemned.” This is called an ellipsis. Part of the preceding phrase was left out because it was not necessary for Jesus to repeat it. An analogy to this type of statement might be, “He who buys a ticket and boards the airplane will fly to Memphis; He who does not buy a ticket will stay in Dallas.” Obviously, boarding the airplane is a vital part of flying to Memphis, and yet that part of the clause is left out of the second phrase. Likewise, baptism is a vital part of our obedient response to God’s grace, but without belief, baptism is merely, “getting wet.”
Acts 2:38 — “Repent ye, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” On Pentecost, Peter preached a magnificent sermon that convinced many of the Jews that they had in fact crucified the Son of God (cf. Acts 2:14-36). Notice that the listeners already believed in Jesus’ identity (Acts 2:37), and now asked the important question, “what shall we do?” Peter does not tell these people to, “believe,” because they already do! By inspiration, Peter does tell the entire crowd, “ye [you all] repent.” Then the apostle says, “let each one of you be baptized for [unto, for the purpose of] the remission of sins.” The word, “for” in this sentence is the Greek word, “eis,” and always looks forward to the action being accomplished. The same word is used by Jesus in Matthew 26:28, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for [“eis”; for the purpose of] the remission of sins.” Thus, Acts 2:38 should leave no doubt in our minds: baptism in water is commanded by God as the culmination of an alien sinner obediently turning to Christ.
Baptism is described as a new birth (John 3:5), a part of the plan of salvation (Mark 16:16), and the avenue to access Christ’s blood (Acts 2:38; Matt 26:28). May all men everywhere have the wisdom and humility to see God’s will concerning this vital subject! — John Baker