Baptism and Salvation


One of our listeners to the International Gospel Hour strongly objected to my lessons on grace and faith. He argues with some vigor: "It's all by God's grace." Have you ever wondered about the full implications of that Calvinist position? If our salvation is all by grace, there are only two positions anyone can hold: Either everyone will be saved or no one will be saved. Why would I make such a statement? Peter told the house of Cornelius: "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he who fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted of him" (Acts 10:34-35). If God will save you by his grace alone, he will save me by his grace alone. If he will save us by his grace alone, he will save everybody in the universe by his grace alone since he is no respecter of persons.


Besides, if we are saved by grace alone, what difference does it make what I believe or what I preach? My correspondent affirms: "But after your sermon on Sunday night, I now know you are 'BLIND!' and deceived as all other preachers who deny the truth, but soon all you false prophets will be visited by your leader (the anti-Christ) who will lead you into your home (Hell). I'm being very blunt in the hopes it will stir you up and shake you to receive the truth, so you have now had your witness, if you further reject the truth then Jesus will turn you over to a 'reprobate' mind, because you refuse to acknowledge the (real) truth. I will pray that your eyes may be opened, but you'd better do it soon, because the Rapture is just about to break out on humanity. Please receive the truth now so you will hear Jesus's voice when he calls you home. I trust you will." At least, my correspondent did not beat around the bush, did he? I have no difficulty understanding what he said.


I plan to take time later to speak on the so-called "rapture, but I shall say just a few words about it today. Did you notice that he said: "The Rapture is just about to break out on humanity?" I wonder where he learned that. Is he aware that false teachers have been making such predictions for years? In fact, one man wrote a little book with the title, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in '88. I believe he missed all eighty-eight. A man in North Carolina wrote a book with the title, 101 Reasons Why the Rapture Is in '88. All his reasons were wrong also. Why do not people like Jack Van Impe, John Hagee, Hal Lindsey and such speculators quit predicting the end of the world? The end of the world could be millions and millions of years in the future. Not one verse of scripture would be wrong if Christ does not return for ages.


But the so-called "rapture" is not my main focus today. My correspondent wrote very succinctly: "Baptism has nothing to do with it; it's all by God's grace. Baptism is purely meant to kill the fleshly man so that the spiritual man could live in us. That spiritual man is Jesus Christ who comes into our fleshly hearts after we have crucified the lusts, and desires of the flesh." Jesus comes into our "fleshly hearts?" Do you see any contradictions in this brief excerpt? He insists that baptism has nothing to do with salvation. He then says: "Baptism is purely meant to kill the fleshy man so that the spiritual man could live in us." Does not killing the fleshly man have something to do with our salvation? The apostle Paul must have thought that killing our fleshly appetites and desires had much to do with our salvation. Please listen to Paul. "Mortify (or put to death) therefore your members that are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things' sake the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience" (Col. 3:5-6). A careful reading of Galatians 5:13-18 should convince anyone of the necessity of "killing the fleshly man so the spiritual man could live in us."


I want to return to what my correspondent wrote about baptism and salvation. He said very plainly and forcefully: "Baptism has NOTHING to do with it; it's all by God's grace." Let us first examine the conversion of the Corinthians. The city of Corinth contained some of the most depraved, debauched and devilish people on the face of the earth. Paul describes in no uncertain terms the moral and spiritual condition of the Corinthians before they obeyed the gospel. "Do you not know," he asked, "that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10). As you can easily discern, the Corinthians had been members of the Hall of Shame and Degradation. They had engaged in virtually every evil under the sun.


Would you be surprised that Paul could ever call these people "saints" (1 Cor. 1:2)? How could such people ever become "saints?" I can tell you exactly what happened and when it happened. The apostle Paul had been in Athens, Greece, but traveled to the city of Corinth, another Greek city. Since he came from a Jewish background, the leaders in the synagogue at Corinth invited him to speak. We do not know all he said, but we know the thrust of his message. "And when Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ" (Acts 18:1-5). Paul's powerful preaching resulted in a number of conversions. "And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized" (Acts 18:8).


Two comments on what occurred at Corinth are in order. When they were baptized, they ceased being idolaters, sexually immoral people, thieves and drunkards. Paul said they had been grossly immoral, "but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11). When the Corinthians were baptized, they became saints of the most high God. In addition, they were added to the Lord's church. Paul explains: "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 all been made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). In the case of the Corinthians, baptism in the name of Christ washed, sanctified and justified them. It also made them members of the church of Jesus Christ.


You cannot be unaware of the fact that the records of some conversions in Acts of the Apostles do not mention—not even one time—some of the steps that led to conversion. For example, Luke says nothing about the Jews' faith prior to their obedience to the gospel. But is there any doubt the Jews on Pentecost believed that Jesus was their Messiah, the Savior of the world? If they had not believed, would they have asked Peter and the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do" (Acts 2:37)? Their faith led them to inquire about God's plan for saving them, but it did save them. If they were already saved when they believed on the Lord, why did they ask the apostles what they had to do? Can you not see from this example that faith alone does not save?


In answer to the Jews' question, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?” the apostle Peter by divine inspiration answered, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they who gladly received the word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:38-41).


Some questions on this passage are in order. The Jews already believed, as I have established. Why did they need to be baptized or was that pure ritual? Did the baptism of the Jews "kill the fleshly man so that the spiritual man could live in" them? This we know beyond the shadow of any doubt: they were baptized for the remission of their sins. Have you ever examined Acts 2:38 in the New Revised Standard Version? It reads: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."


When the Jews believed that Jesus was the Christ the Son of God, repented of their alien sins and were baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins, were they born again? If they were not born again, what else did they have to do to be born again? If they had not responded to Peter's command to be baptized, would they have been born again? Did you know—and I am sure most of you do—that no apostle or early preacher ever told anyone to be born again, as Jesus told Nicodemus? Why do you suppose that is so? The reason is very simple: the Holy Spirit interpreted Christ's message to Nicodemus by commanding men and women from Pentecost onward to be baptized—not to be born again. When they believed and were baptized, they were born again or more precisely from above.


I remember receiving a letter from a seventeen-year-old boy. He objected to what I had read from the scriptures about baptism. He then asserted: "The Bible nowhere says that baptism saves." My current correspondent does not use that kind of language, but is it not obvious what he believes? He says baptism has nothing to do with salvation. I responded to the seventeen-year-old by citing what the apostle Peter said about baptism. He mentioned the fact that "eight souls were saved by water." He then made an application of that example. "The like figure whereunto even baptism does 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 Pet. 3:20-21).


I have some questions for my correspondent and for all who are listening to this study. Does baptism save or does it not save? If it does not save, why did Peter insist that it does? Some theologians have argued that baptism saves figuratively. If one is not baptized, will he be lost figuratively?   The English Standard Version translates verse 21 as follows: "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."   We know the water of the flood saved Noah and his family from destruction. I have one final question based on 1 Peter 3:21: "In what sense does baptism save?"


The conversion of Saul of Tarsus must have made an enormous impact on the early church. Saul had been one of the most persistent persecutors of the Lord's church. He was bitterly opposed to the church because he honestly believed Jesus was an imposter and that Christianity was a false religion (1 Tim. 1:13). Luke records that Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest and imprison members of the body of Christ when the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him. The Lord asked him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Saul answered, "Who art thou, Lord?" Christ responded: "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks." "And he (Saul) trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Our Lord instructed Saul: "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told you what you must do" (Acts 9:3-6).


The Lord called a preacher by the name of Ananias and told him to locate Saul of Tarsus. Ananias was reluctant to go to Saul because he knew Saul's reputation for persecuting Christians. Saul tells us exactly what happened when Ananias came to him. "And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, brother Saul, receive your sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers has chosen you, that you should know his will and see that Just One, and should hear the voice of his mouth. For you shall be a witness unto all men of what you have seen and heard." Please listen carefully. Ananias asked, "And now why are you waiting? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:12-16). Did baptism wash away Saul's sins? If it did not, what did Ananias mean by telling Saul that baptism would wash away his sins? Did Ananias make a false promise to Saul?


All of us know that Saul took the name Paul and became a great apostle for the Lord. Now a question: "How did the apostle Paul interpret baptism—his own and everyone else's? That really is a very easy question to answer. Paul told the Roman Christians what he and they had experienced when they were baptized. Please take note of the plural pronouns as I read to you from the Roman letter. "Do you not know, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. 6:3-6).


Paul lists three facts of the gospel—Christ's death, burial and resurrection. He then wrote about the relationship of baptism to those three facts. "Do you not know," he asks, "that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey: whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine that was delivered unto you. Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness" (Rom. 6:16-18). What had Paul and the Roman Christians experienced? They died to sin; they were buried with the Lord in baptism; they were raised to a new life. If they had not been buried with the Lord in baptism, could they have been raised to a new life?


Dr. Charles Ryrie taught at Dallas Theological Seminary for many years. He wrote a little book with the title, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Moody Press, 1972). In that little book, Dr. Ryrie has a brief discussion of Romans 6. He writes: "Though it is not an easy concept to understand, Paul says that our union with Christ by baptism involves sharing His death so that we are dead to sin. The baptism must be that of the Holy Spirit, for no water, in whatever amount, could accomplish what is said to have been accomplished in this passage" (p. 123). It is my considered judgment that Dr. Ryrie would never have called the baptism of Romans 6 baptism of the Holy Spirit had he not already made up his mind it could not have been water baptism. And what does the amount of water have to do with it? It is the act of obedience—not the amount of water that is used, although there must be enough water to immerse a person. I wonder how Dr. Ryrie and other Calvinists get around Peter's question at the house of Cornelius? The apostle Peter asked, "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:47-48).


And how about the water in Acts 8? Philip the evangelist preached Jesus to an Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch asked Philip: "See here is water; what hinders me from being baptized? And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Please take note of what happened. "And they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him" (Acts 8:35, 36-38). Was "water" the Holy Spirit, as some Calvinists foolishly maintain Jesus had in mind in John 3:5? No, it was water.


I have two other passages from Paul's epistles I must mention in closing our study today on "Baptism and Salvation." The churches of Galatia were experiencing problems with false teachers—teachers who were attempting to synthesize Judaism and Christianity. They apparently wanted to take what they considered the best elements of both religions and make a better religion. Paul strongly objected to the Judaizing teachers among the Galatian churches of Christ. He informed them: "Wherefore the law (of Moses) was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith has come, we are not longer under a schoolmaster." Please listen carefully and honestly. "But you are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:24-27). I have one question to ask you about this passage. Is it necessary to put on Christ? If it is necessary to put on Christ, it is necessary to be baptized. It is in baptism, according to divine inspiration, that we put on Christ.


In his letter to the church at Colosse, Paul has a brief discussion of baptism. Paul told the Colossians: you were "buried with him by baptism, wherein also you are risen with him through faith in the operation of God, who has raised him from the dead" (Col. 2:12). Paul charged the Colossians: "If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above where Christ sits on the right hand of God" (Col. 3:1).


Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334

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