Part of the confusion over Baptismal Regeneration is a failure to understand the meaning of baptism. Baptism is simply a picture of what happened to you when you believed in Jesus. In a sense, baptism is a funeral of who you used to be. When you go under the water it is a picture of dying to your old life of sin. When you are raised from the water it is a picture of you being resurrected to a new life in Christ. That is what happened to you when you trusted Jesus as your Savior. Baptism, of course, also pictures your belief that Jesus died for your sins and rose again, and your belief that our physical bodies will be raised at the resurrection.
What about the Bible passages that seem to teach Baptismal Regeneration? That seem to teach you must believe and be baptized to be saved?
First, do not neglect the multitude of clear passages that say if you believe in Jesus Christ you will be saved (see previous article, part 1).
Now, let’s look at those verses some claim teach Baptismal Regeneration.
1. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. -Mark 16:16
Notice first, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”
In New Testament times it was common that when one believed, if there was enough water, they would baptize them immediately. So belief and baptism often went together.
Now, back to, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”
That is true. It is also true that he who believes and joins a church will be saved. It is even true that if he believes and buys a pickup truck he will be saved.
Now notice the next phrase, “but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
It is very significant that it does not say if he believes and is not baptized he will be condemned; only, if he does not believe he will be condemned.
2. What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? -James 2:14
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? -James 2:20
Someone may say, show me your faith. Well, God can see your faith, but others cannot. God can see your faith, but man can only see your faith by your works. If you truly believe, then good works will follow. If there are no good works, a man may have reason to doubt your faith.
Always remember as well, verses like Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 4:5; etc.
3. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. -1 Peter 3:21 (NKJV)
Many Baptismal Regenerationists only quote a small portion of this verse, “baptism doth also now save us,” (KJV). That is a strong argument, until the entire verse is considered. One of the basic rules of properly interpreting the Bible (hermeneutics), is to study the word, or phrase, or verse in context; what comes before and after it.
This verse does not say baptism saves us or takes away our sins. It only says baptism is a type (or antitype, figure, symbol, picture) of our salvation. As mentioned previously, believer’s baptism by immersion is a picture of our salvation; a symbol of what happens to us when we trust Jesus as our Savior.
Notice also this verse says baptism is the answer of a good conscience toward God. In other words, we are commanded to be baptized. It is a good work. We are not saved by good works, we are saved by repentance and belief in Jesus. But after we believe, baptism gives us a good conscience because we are obeying and honoring God.
This verse even states baptism is, “not the removal of the filth of the flesh.” Rather than literally taking away our sins, baptism symbolically takes away our sins, a picture of what happened when we believed. Only Jesus can literally take away our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21).
4. Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” -John 3:5
Does born of water mean baptism? If it did, it would only mean so in a figurative way. However, it does not mean baptism. Every time you see the word water, that does not automatically refer to baptism.
There are a couple of explanations. First, some believe born of water refers to physical birth, a water birth. This view says you must be born both physically (physical birth, born of the flesh) and spiritually (new birth, spiritual birth, salvation).
This view says Jesus explains “born of water and the Spirit” in the very next verse:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. -John 3:6
Second, some believe born of water refers to the washing of the Word of God in salvation (John 3:5; Titus 3:5; 1 John 5:8).
Does the Word of God spiritually wash us? Yes.
That He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word. -Ephesians 5:26
How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.
And one aspect of salvation is that we are born again through God’s Word.
Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever. -1 Peter 1:23
It should also be remembered that Jesus summed up the new birth in this same chapter in John in the well known verse,
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. -John 3:16
No mention here of baptism being a part of salvation. Rather simply believe in Jesus and you will not perish but have everlasting life.
5. Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” -Acts 2:38
The word “for” (Greek - eis) in this verse can also mean “because.”
This verse could justly and easily be translated, “Let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ ‘because of’ the remission of sins.”
Do we ever use the word “for” in the sense of “because?” Yes we do.
“He was thrown in jail ‘for’ stealing a car.”
He was not thrown in jail ‘so he could’ steal a car, rather, he was thrown in jail ‘because’ he stole a car.
6. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’ -Acts 22:16
Ananias was speaking in a figurative way of washing away sins.
Baptism is a picture, a symbol of salvation, but it is not salvation nor a part of salvation. That baptism is a picture or symbol of salvation is shown in 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12.
Notice before Paul (Saul) was baptized, but after he believed, Ananias called him, “Brother Saul” (Acts 22:13), thereby recognizing his salvation.
Notice also that Ananias, in speaking of washing away your sins included, “calling on the name of the Lord.”
Baptism is not a part of salvation, only a picture of salvation. Salvation is only in Jesus Christ, not in good works. In dealing with this issue, never forget or minimize the many clear Bible passages that teach salvation is only through personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
The song does not say,
Jesus paid a part,
Some to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
We washed it white as snow.
“Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.”
-Elvina M. Hall, Baptist Hymnal, LifeWay; 2008.
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, December 15, AD 2015.
Baptismal Regeneration; Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation? Part 1
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