Last post I quoted Jesus from John 3 : “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Condemnation comes by disbelief in Jesus and not by failing the baptism test, a test which many people demand to be set before others to make sure they are acceptable to God. As important a place as baptism is in the whole scheme of things (and yes, I have been baptised as a believer and yes, I have baptised others who believed) the New Testament as a whole does not support the view that baptism is necessary for salvation.
Let me repeat : If baptism is necessary for salvation, then millions upon millions of believers who have failed to be baptised as believers, no matter how godly and how full of the love of Jesus, will face condemnation.
In Mark 16 we read He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
You cannot use this verse to mean that believers who are not baptised or baptised as believers will be condemned. No. This is all about believing. Without believing, baptism does nothing. There are many who i know who were baptised but they do not confess faith in Christ. Faith is the currency of the Kingdom of God, not what we do. If you believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, changing completely around from the heart (metanoia), you are justified in God’s sight (Romans 3:21-26; 4:1-5; 5:1-2, 10-11; 8:1-4; 10:9-10). Baptism is an immersion into a state already established as has been shown.
Repentance and faith bring us into the Kingdom. Baptism can then follow—people are baptised as believers –‘believers baptism’! So the Ethiopian after believing Philip says “What is to prevent my being baptised?”—the desire came from his heart, having believed. Then later at the house of Cornelius Peter says “how could anyone forbid water for baptising these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47) Baptism was a privilege following an experience with the Holy Spirit even without any reference to repentance!
Sometimes ‘baptism’ has nothing to do with immersion in water. It can mean the immersing of the person or persons in a spiritual experience. Here are examples of baptism used in a spiritual sense in the New Testament.
Noah and family were immersed into the terrifying covenant of salvation from judgment (1 Peter 3). And the Israelite ancestors were immersed into Moses in the sea and the cloud as a profound experience of salvation from the Egyptian Pharoah’s army (1 Corinthians 10). But neither Noah and family nor the children of Israel were immersed in water. In both cases it was the unbelievers who were immersed in water (and drowned). But the believers were immersed in the most dramatic events and were saved. Neither Paul nor Peter taught that water baptism saves. In the same letter Peter had already stated emphatically that God has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . . “ (1 Peter 1:3-5)
We also see Jesus stressed at the prospect of the most traumatic experience—His sacrificial and atoning death for us all: I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed (Luke 12:50).
And again, His reply to the disciples who asked for the best places in the Kingdom of God was Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? (Mark 10:38)
Many commentators take baptism to be part of the gospel. So David Pawson points to Matthew 28:19-20 teaching that “making disciples is in two steps—first, by immersing them; second, by teaching them to live in the way Jesus had instructed”. But in saying this David has omitted the essential steps of repentance and faith. Disciple-making begins with repentance and faith. Also this “baptism” goes well beyond water to be seen as an immersing in the character, the kingdom, the life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, especially when we read that in the rest of the New Testament, water baptism was practised consistently only “in the name of Jesus”.
Certainly, water baptism has an important place in establishing a good foundation right at the start for new Christians. But that is just the beginning—discipleship is an ongoing perseverance, a dying daily, a determined transformation of the mind as Paul would insist (Romans 6:3-8; 8:13; 12:1-2) in all his letters.
I hope to address further how the apostle Paul sees baptism and its place of value for the new believer, in my next post.