This is one of the topics that most Christians are very sensitive about. I remember the other day when four of my friends were actually convincing someone to repent and accept Christ. And their focus was on two things, water baptism by immersion in water and a verbal declaration of faith.
I have nothing against water baptism or verbal confession of faith but nonetheless I ended up offending all of them. The only person who listened to me was the guy who was yet to accept Christ. Why? because both of these things in my opinion are not required for salvation, at all.
I can imagine a few of the heads shaking with denial now. Some of you might think that water baptism is absolutely necessary for the process of salvation to be complete. Some of you may not think that water baptism is required in all cases but you would object that a verbal confession of faith in Christ, is a must. But I am going to contend the opposite that both of these acts are not required for salvation.
How can you say this?
Asked one of my friends. He was looking at me as if I had gone nuts. I love him and respect him, nonetheless, I can not help but point out why he was wrong. What immediately followed was a barrage of verses, that my friends bombarded me with. They were all over the Bible and verse after verse was given to strengthen the case for a water baptism.
It has been a painful experience for me to actually learn why proof-texting verses can be disastrous. Taking a verse and reading it plainly without actually thinking that the writer’s purpose of those words could be different than ours is often over-looked. I do not necessarily blame the average believer who does this. After all it was his church that taught him to do so. And in my experience it is more easy for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than correcting a pastor who thinks himself more holy than you.
Anyway, to get back to the point, why is water baptism not necessary. First let me put down verses regarding water baptism which are often quoted to support it .
Luke 3:16, Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21, 22, John 3:5-16 John 1:29-33, Mark 1:4, 5, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 8:35-38, Acts 16:31, 33, Romans 6:3-6, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:27,
1 Peter 3:21
This is by no means an exhaustive collection but I believe it fairly covers what is often cited. I am not going to plunge down in all of the verses written in Greek and how these verses are something else than what they mean, no. But I will go to what is perhaps the cornerstone of the concept.
John Chapter 3:5
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
Well, what further evidence do we need when the Lord himself spoke these words. But is this really water baptism being discussed here. Look at the verse immediately after it:
John Chapter 3:6
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit
What? Read the two verses together. Notice how Nicodemus understands the conversation. When Christ mentions water Nicodemus does not say that whether a man can be saved by immersion in water. He clearly asks how can a man re-enter his mothers womb. Christ clarifies it with Verse 6, flesh gives birth to flesh and the spirit gives birth to the spirit. They are talking about two births. For a man to enter the kingdom of God, he must be born physically and then be born again spiritually. Of water meaning bodily fluids and of spirit by the spirit of God.
Not satisfied?After all this is just one verse, what about the plethora of scriptures that talk about baptism?
Consider Eph 4:5
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
My only question is, if Eph 4:5 is about water baptism then we have a major problem because it leaves the Baptism of the Holy spirit out completely, unless Paul the apostle is wrong. I believe that water baptism is not necessary for salvation but being born again, is.
If you are thinking that I am writing against water baptism than you are wrong. I am not writing against it, I am writing against its use to define salvation and being attached to the process. I am not against water baptism at all. I was water baptized myself. And I can testify that it is a beautiful experience when done with commitment and love. It is an act of righteousness, an outward sign of our burial and Resurrection in Christ. But is it a must for salvation? heavens, no.
To say it is absolute required for salvation is to go against the very heart of the gospel of Christ. The message of the Gospel is so simple that it is astonishing at times. The idea that water baptism is necessary for salvation is the same as saying circumcision is necessary to be saved. How? because in both cases the merit of being saved is taken off from the cross and shifts to something we have accomplished. But that is the beauty of the Cross, it is not about how you do things, it is about what Christ did. We are redeemed and saved by only having faith and faith alone. To add to it means to add to the gospel.
I know the traditional argument put forward here, mainly being
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
I have nothing against only that this says nothing about salvation. It says that a faith which is not active is dead, its not saying faith which is not active is lost, it does not mean the person is not saved, see the verse above it. There is a difference here. James is talking to believers who already are saved. James is saying, if you believe than do not just pray, help someone. Acts in faith are fruits of the faith, not the guarantee of salvation itself. The guarantee of salvation is the crucified Christ, who loved us when we were set in our sins.
This is often misconstrued and misinterpreted and therefore most people make acts like water baptism to be central to their faith, where the crucified Christ and his work is set aside. The focus shifts to what we do, we do not see ourselves through Christ rather we start seeing ourselves through what we can accomplish. We add to ourselves the burden that Christ himself took away. And therefore we go weak and we falter for our eyes are not on the goal instead we have made our goals in the shape of works and acts, of obedience and subjugation. We go through the scriptures like lawyers trying to decide what is right and what is wrong.
And what I am saying is more highlighted by the fact that People are often advised to take baptism, just to be on the safe side. really? yes, I heard one guy say to me,
but why take the risk, just get baptized, if you are wrong you are not going to enter the kingdom of God, at least if you are water baptized you will be playing it safe.
How sad it is to not understand grace in its abundance. When we accept Christ in our hearts, we are already one in his death and Resurrection, water baptism is only a sign of this faith but it doesn’t in any way impacts the work Christ did for us. God is not a moody kid who is going to kick you out because you didn’t go and take a dip in water. It is Christ’s atonement which saves us not an immersion in water.
For salvation the only thing which the gospel asks for is faith.
and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
To add to it is to simply violate the message of the Gospel. Even a verbal declaration of faith is not necessary for slavation
consider John 19:38
38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders.
Nicodemus himself was a member of Sanhedrin as was Joseph of Arimathea, yet both beleived Christ secretly along with many more.
Nicodemus’ statement in John Chp 3 is very revealing,
“He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we [meaning other pharisees and leaders] know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.””
If I am to strictly follow what the scriptures say about faith and salvation, I can not help but say that those who believed, even when they did it in secret are saved in Christ. It was common to fear the Jews and the synagogues if someone believed in Jesus Christ and so most people never publicly admitted their faith.
But I say this from first hand experience, I live in Pakistan, and I know many Muslims who have come to Christ but will dare not say it and declare it in public for fear their lives and that of their families. I think one should declare his faith but I also believe that above all its not a legalistic requirement of faith. Persecution, bravery, are all noble terms but I would say that it is not upto us to decide who is brave and who is a coward. Faith is the most intimate treasure which is just between you and God.
More so, we can not just cite verses against verses for the sake of justifying our case. You have to lift up the whole spirit of the scriptures and the nature of God, his grace and mercy, his understanding and sovereignty and above all Christ, his love and compassion. And let that guide you through your bible rather than verses and your own denominational faith.
I’ll end this simply, if you believe in Christ to be your lord and savior, you are a child of God, period. Add to that no work to be justified and let no one tell you any different. Some might say “But…”, but let me tell you, there is no “but” in grace, there never is.