Why isn’t baptism a step in salvation?
Mark 16:16 says: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved..."
If there is an onus of obedience associated with salvation, why would baptism not be a required step to salvation?
Why would it not be a necessary outward sign of obedience that shows that the private confession, repentance
and acceptance of Jesus was and is real? He is to be our Lord if we wish him to be our Saviour. If we cannot follow
Him in this first step of obedience then where is the change in our lives? How can we be saved if we are disobedient
from the start?
I believe we present Salvation as much too easy and that is why we have so many false conversions or those
who go out from among us that were never actually one of us. I know the Scripture also says that whosoever calls
upon the name of the Lord shall be Saved but that means more than to say His name (otherwise every profane
ne'er-do-well that walked could go to heaven).
And just professing His name can not be enough or Heaven would be full of apostates and we know that
is not true because apostates have their part removed from the book of life and non-believers who try to work their
way into heaven are told "depart from me for I never knew you" when they argue that they did this and that in the
Lord's name. Salvation is about a life change coming from a relationship change effective on this earth and carrying
over into the next life.
Thank you for your inquiry. Like the total question you have asked, the total answer may prove a bit lengthy, so I thank you in advance for your patience. First I would like to address the first part of your question and deal with the specific Bible verse you have offered to presume that baptism might be required as a step in salvation. You see, some have misinterpreted Scripture to make that presumption as a matter of faith, which has the effect of making the cross of Christ, the finished work of Christ, a thing diminished in their eyes in accordance with the emphasis they have placed upon baptism in salvation. The extreme form of this being defined by the term Baptismal Regeneration which in Romanism means: “By the act of baptism, when done by a priest, an infant (or an adult) is regenerated by God, that is, is born again, automatically and this occurs whatever be the state of heart of the one being baptized.”
This idea is totally unacceptable to those who have by the belief in Scripture as the sole authority and follow the literal interpretation of the Bible consistent with the clear rules that govern understanding, that the meaning of words or passages are determined by the context in which they occur.
In the case of the passage found in Mark 16, the failure to rightly discern the context and intent of the Scripture has led to some people actually challenging whether it was originally part of Mark’s Gospel. This of course is a grievous mistake, which has been adequately dealt with by many devout men over several centuries, but confusion remains. Below is the disputed passages with the lead in verse:
Mark 16: 11-20
11: And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.
12: After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.
13: And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.
14: Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
15: And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17: And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18: They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
19: So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
20: And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
If you look at the above passage carefully you will find it is a contrast between faith and unbelief or finding difficulty to believe. It is not about a reciting of The Great Commission but a summarizing of it. It is about the going forward in faith and God honoring that faith as the Christian believer goes through difficulties. It is in the Book of Matthew whose overriding theme is “Behold the King” that the King’s Commission is given. Mark’s theme is “Behold the Servant” so the information has to do with how to live the life of service and faith to He who is the Perfect Suffering Servant. The baptismal direction is consistent with rendering “due service.”
So we return to the question of “Why would it (baptism) not be a necessary outward sign of obedience that shows that the private confession, repentance and acceptance of Jesus was and is real?” that you posed. The key problem there is that used the word necessary. That the Apostle Paul seldom baptized anyone is a fact we learn from the study of Scripture, even though his fellow evangels baptized often. This is a fact he rejoiced over on one occasion in 1Corinthians 1: 13-16. I presume his reluctance to baptize from the way he expresses himself is that he waited for reassurance that the conversion of his baptismal candidates was genuine.
Before we go further, let us try to clarify our terms. In much popular usage the statement of Jesus, “Ye must be born again” in John 3 is considered a command to the hearers. They must do something and do it right away, that is, believe in Jesus. “To be born again” is in the popular expression “to make a decision for Jesus.” That is not bad but sometimes people disregard the fact that no man may come to God unless God draws them. (John 4:23;John 6:44; John 14:6;) Salvation has been called “the unique and secret work done by God the Holy Spirit within a person’s heart, mind and will (in the soul) preparing him for the gift of eternal life. And this presence and work is of such power and consequence that it is as if the person is born all over again. In fact it is a spiritual birth into God’s heavenly family, the household of God of the (future) kingdom of God/heaven. It is a work of God in terms of remaking and renewal of the inner life of a sinful person, but it is not the complete work of remaking and renewal, for it is only the very beginning, the actual start, and there is very much in the days and years ahead to follow in God’s providential grace, but all that follows will arise from this initial entrance and birth into a new everlasting sphere and life.” Furthermore “The new birth is birth into membership of the new covenant, a wholly new and eternal relation with God the Father, inaugurated by the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And intimately connected to new birth is a personal belief in the Lord Jesus and commitment to him, leading to knowing his Father as “Our Father who art in heaven,” and being indwelt by his Spirit.”
I agree absolutely no-one can tell God when and where he will be born again, for as Jesus said, this act of God is in the sovereign control of God, and is well illustrated by the blowing of the wind, whose presence and direction no one can control or even surely predict (John 3:1ff). Regeneration is of and from God and occurs at His will and timing. But it occurs in relation to the proclamation of the Gospel of the Father concerning his Son, and in relation to the evangelistic work of the Church on earth. For where the Gospel is proclaimed there the Spirit of Jesus is present. Therefore, we must also agree that while there may be many false declarations of conversion made by men, all genuine conversions do not happen without the specific cooperation of the Almighty, which is the only reason a profane ne’er do well like myself could ever hope to be saved. Were works, like baptism, added to the requirements for salvation, God might be obligated to consider those who had rejected the wooing of His Spirit regarding recognizing the total efficacy of Christ’s work on the Cross.
Many understand the act of Baptism is the personal testimony of the person being baptized, that he has accepted the Gospel and intends to walk with Christ. Thus regeneration is seen as something that is past and unconnected with Baptism as such. And baptism is not a Sacrament but an ordinance, that is, it is not just an outward sign with an inward spiritual transaction of obedience unto the commandments of God but a testimony to those who are also part of the household of faith in this dispensation.
Belief in Baptismal Regeneration allows people to make further steps into error such as the baptism of infants where the parents or godparents make promises on behalf of the child such as to renounce the devil and all his works, constantly to believe God’s holy Word and obediently keep his commandments. This is only one step away from the Mormon cults baptism for the dead where people seek to accomplish the salvation of dead relative by proxy baptism. Once you begin compromising about how salvation is achieved there is no end to the extremes one may go to.
To remember always that Baptism represents to us and others our profession and that we will follow the example of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, and be made like unto Him; that, as He died, and rose again for us, so should we, who are baptized, die from sin, and rise again unto righteousness; continually counting ourselves as dead to all our evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceeding in Christian living with all virtue and godliness of lifestyle.
Baptism has two aspects to it: You have the outward visible sign of water baptism through immersion and the proclamation of inward spiritual death to sin. Not only is there a death to sin signified but also a new birth unto righteousness. Being by nature born in sin and the children of wrath, we are hereby signifying that we have been made the children of grace Light, the children of God.
What is required of persons to be baptized is, “Repentance and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ, having receive Him into their hearts and lives as Savior and Lord they forsake sin; and steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them.
We oppose infant Baptism because an infant cannot repent and believe, therefore he cannot fully experience the blessings that come to those who repent and believe. A baby cannot be born again by the Spirit so infant baptism makes little sense. The Baptism of young children when they have reached an age of accountability and expressed a receiving of the Lord as their personal Saviour is agreeable to the Holy Scripture which says to suffer the little children to come unto me and forbitd them not. (Matthew 19:14)
One of the repetitively raised questions toward pure Christianity is whether or not baptism should be considered necessary for salvation. The answer is a simple, "No." But then someone asks, "If the answer is no, then why are there verses that say things like ‘. . .baptism that now saves you . . . ‘
This is one of the passages, 1Peter 3:21, that people like to use in part to argue for making baptism necessary for salvation. The actual full quotation of the verse is: “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:”
You can see from the reading of the single verse that the salvation spoken of in this verse is the salvation of the conscience by doing what is right, not the salvation of the soul. This is a lot clearer by reading the verse within context. But the modern versions have actually colluded with those who would make baptism necessary to salvation by not only changing words but omitting whole portions of biblical text.
Of course the favorite verse of Scripture for arguing for baptismal regeneration is and I suppose has always been Acts 2:38:
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.’
It is kind of humorous that many who insist on misinterpreting this passage are actually for the King James Bible. But what they overlook once again is the context. This statement occurs within Peter’s Pentecost address to Jews. The Jews knew of a baptism for Jews among mainline Jews instituted by John the Baptist. It was a baptism to signify repentance from sin, and Peter is equating this baptism with that of John’s for repentance of sin. Even the ritualistic washings of sects like the Essenes had to do with moral and spiritual cleanness apart from salvation. There is no confusion in these verses unless someone desires it so.
I could go on and on in this vein, but I think I have made the point you were asking about. I will try to follow up in the near future by taking my lecture outline\on the Doctrine of Baptism and putting it into an expository format for posting on the website.
P. O. Box 752
Buchanan, Georgia 30113