Water baptism has no part in salvation. In fact, if you include baptism as a necessary act to receive eternal life, you are still alienated from the life of God. Water cannot wash away the spiritual contamination of sin. If you believe that you are a Christian because you have been baptized, you will die in your sins and spend eternity in hell for rejecting the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
Within the last couple months, I have seen an emphasis on baptism from several public figures as well as from a conservative media outlet. For example, Patrick Bet-David, an entrepreneur and podcaster, said recently in an interview focused on his faith: “so eventually I get baptized and I become a Christian.” Then there was Kat Von D, a renowned tattoo artist who went very public with an elaborate video of her baptism; however, in subsequent interviews she seemed unable to articulate any understanding of the gospel. Why make a big production about your baptism if you are unable to express anything about the gospel of Jesus Christ – unless baptism is somehow being confused as an “entrance” into the Christian faith?
I am not mocking either PBD or Kat Von D, and perhaps a fuller examination into their testimonies would reveal genuine conversions, however, from what I heard at face value, the former equates baptism to salvation and the later has placed an emphasis on her baptism but lacks a credible testimony pointing to Christ ALONE for salvation.
My wife was brought up in the Church of Christ, a denomination that attaches baptism to salvation. Having been saved in her early twenties (after seven months of hearing the preaching of the gospel at a Baptist church) Sandy is especially passionate about a clear gospel presentation that does not confound it with water baptism (1 Cor. 15:3,4). Our many conversations, in which she expresses her disdain for blurring the lines as it relates to the eternal destiny of a soul, has certainly “tuned my ear” to develop a more intuitive understanding of what I hear and see from those professing salvation. Given what passes for Christianity today, this spiritual discernment is of utmost importance. In fact, it is a biblical mandate, not only to examine ourselves but also to examine the faith statements of others in order to protect the church from deception and corruption (see 2 Cor. 13:5; 1 Tim. 4:16; Matt.7:15-20; Col. 2:4-8; 2 Tim. 4:2-5).
Confounding salvation is nothing new; it was a problem the early church had to deal with. The book of Acts records the transitions from a church that is entirely Jewish to the Jews (as a nation) rejecting the gospel message (Acts 7,13,18,28) and then finally to the church being composed primarily of Gentile believers. At that time, it was very difficult for some Jewish Christians to accept that Gentiles could be brought into the church as equal members without first coming through the Law of Moses. In Acts chapter 15, some false teachers associated with the church at Jerusalem, but not authorized by it (15:24), came to Antioch and taught that the Gentiles, in order to be saved, had to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses.
“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, EXCEPT YE BE CIRCUMCISED after the manner of Moses, YE CANNOT BE SAVED.” (Acts 15:1)
If we replace the word “baptized” for “circumcised” in the above verse, we see the doctrinal position many false teachers hold today, that is: “except ye be baptized… ye cannot be saved.” In Romans chapter 4, Paul makes clear that religious rites (symbolic actions involving the sacred) are in no way related to one’s eternal salvation (4:9-12) – whether that “rite” be circumcision, baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, etc.
After having used Abraham as an example of God imputing his righteousness to a man who exercized faith in what the Lord promised (4:1-4), Paul emphasizes WHEN Abraham was given this “rite” of circumcision. In fact, this is one of Paul’s most important points in that Abraham had received the imputed righteousness of God (salvation) at least fourteen years (Gen. 15:6) PRIOR TO having been circumcised as a sign of his covenant with God (Gen. 17:7-14). The same holds with baptism – just as Abraham was circumcised AFTER his salvation, baptism FOLLOWS our salvation and is in no way connected to it!
“But to him that WORKETH NOT, but BELIEVETH on him that justifieth the ungodly, his FAITH is counted for righteousness.” (Rom. 4:5)
So, if you are counting on any kind of work (including baptism) that you have done to obtain eternal life, then the righteousness of Christ is NOT “counted” (imputed) to you. Paul states that the only person to receive Christ’s righteousness is the one that “worketh not” but simply believes in who Jesus Christ is and on what He has done to obtain our salvation. That is, faith becomes saving faith when it is placed in the Lord Jesus Christ ALONE.
Romans chapter 4 is a great chapter on salvation by faith ALONE. Many claim to believe in salvation by faith but not in salvation by faith alone. As John Phillips wrote in his commentary on Romans: the word "alone" is the watershed which divides the Catholic from the Protestant. Catholics, for example, believe in salvation by faith, but not by faith alone; they claim to believe in the value of the blood of Christ, but not in the value of the blood alone; they accept the fact that Christ is Mediator between God and man, but not that Christ is mediator alone; they acknowledge the authority of the scriptures, but not in their authority alone. In Romans 4 Paul demonstrates that salvation is by faith alone apart from any work or merit of man.
One does not have to be a theologian to give a clear testimony of salvation. It is simply: one day I understood that I was a sinner separated from the holy God that created me, and if I was to die, I would die in my sins and be separated from His merciful presence forever in hell. However, I believed God sent his Son to die in my place, that He bore my sin, and He rose from the dead, not only proving He himself is God but that He could give me that same eternal life. I put my faith in who Jesus is and what He did for me and He saved me from the penalty of sin and gave me eternal life! Nothing that I can DO can add to who He is and what He DID for me!
Recently, during a sermon, I used a bottle of water to explain the importance of not adding anything to the finished work of Christ for salvation. As I picked up the bottle I asked the question, “would you drink from this bottle if I told you that it was 99% water? How about if I told you that 1% of the liquid in the bottle was arsenic?” There are many professing Christ with whom we can agree regarding the majority of their beliefs. The problem is the “poison” that nullifies any saving faith (Rom. 4:14; Gal. 2:21). That includes attaching baptism to salvation.
Many Christians have come to associate baptism as the sign of the new covenant – just as circumcision is the sign of the old covenant. But nowhere in the Bible is baptism ever called a sign. It is called a “figure” (1 Pet. 3:21), but never a sign. Baptism is not analogous to circumcision. The only similarity the two have is that both occur AFTER an individual receives something from the Lord. Circumcision was given to Abraham as a “sign” AFTER he had received God’s righteousness and God’s covenant. Baptism is given to a believer as a “figure” of his identification with Christ AFTER he has received God’s Son (Acts 8:36,37) and thus His Spirit (Acts 10:47). A Christian doesn’t need what some refer to as the “sign” of baptism acting as “a seal of the righteousness of faith” – the Jew requires a sign (1 Cor. 1:22), not the Christian – the believer’s “seal” already lives inside of him (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).
One other point of clarification, those who hold baptism is necessary for salvation often quote Acts 2:38. To be brief, consider that Acts chapter 2 was a uniquely Jewish context in which those listening to Peter had realized they had crucified their long-awaited and prophesied Messiah. They never asked about salvation. Let a comparison suffice between the question they did ask and the question asked by the Philippian jailor in Acts 16.
“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, WHAT SHALL WE DO?” Acts 2:38
Notice they asked “what shall we do,” in effect, “now that we understand we have crucified our Messiah?” Now, spot the difference in that which the jailor asks Paul and Silas in Acts 16:
“Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do TO BE SAVED?” Acts 16:30
The response of Paul and Silas was emphatic:
“And they said, BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, and thou shalt be saved” Acts 16:31