When the Bible talks about baptism, it almost always talks about it in connection with forgiveness, salvation, and the washing away of sins. But this confuses many people, because the Bible clearly teaches that man is saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). So what, if anything, does baptism have to do with salvation? Let’s see what the Bible really teaches.
The Biblical Expression of Faith
Baptism is not something we do in addition to having faith in Christ. Baptism is an expression of faith in Christ. In fact, baptism is the biblical way for a lost person to express faith in Christ, in order to be saved by God’s grace.
To say it another way, baptism is the biblical way of crying out to the Lord in faith, “I want nothing more to do with a life of sin. I want to live anew as your humble servant. Please, Lord, wash me and I will be clean.”
That’s why the New Testament says things like this:
- Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38).
- Baptism is the moment when sins are washed away (Acts 22:16).
- Baptism is the act of putting on Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:27).
- Baptism unites us with Christ. Our old self is buried and we’re raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:1-11).
- Baptism saves us because it is an appeal for a clean conscience (1 Peter 3:21).
None of what the New Testament teaches about baptism contradicts what is said in passages like Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” What the Bible says about baptism is in perfect harmony with what it says about grace and faith. We are baptized because we have faith that God really does save sinners “by grace.”
Not by Works
Some may say, “But if you believe you must be baptized in order to be saved aren’t you teaching salvation by works? Doesn’t Paul say we are NOT saved by works?”
The New Testament absolutely teaches we are not saved “by works.” Many people in the First Century taught that in order to be saved, you had to keep the Law of Moses. They were teaching a salvation by works of the Law. They did not have faith in God’s willingness to save by grace. The books of Romans and Galatians were written to combat this false teaching.
“We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
Paul also explained in the book of Ephesians that we are not saved by any of our good works. We cannot save ourselves by being good people and doing good deeds. If we could, then we would boast that we had saved ourselves, rather than praising God for saving us.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
We can only be saved by trusting in Jesus’ power and willingness to save by grace. This faith is expressed by repenting of our sins and being baptized (Acts 2:38). Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Baptism is the biblical way for a lost person to express belief in Jesus. Until they do so, they remain condemned.
Baptized Because You Are Saved?
Many argue with the biblical teaching on baptism. They say they were saved first, then later were baptized because they were saved. In other words, they believe baptism is to show people they’ve already been saved. This is simply not the biblical teaching on baptism.
Occasionally, the argument is made about the Greek word, “eis” in Acts 2:38, that it means “because of.” But this is simply not true. The Greek word “eis” occurs over 1,700 times in the New Testament and it never means “because of.”
Consider the account of Saul of Tarsus (who later became Paul): After persecuting the church, the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus and struck him blind. No one argues that Paul believed at this point, but was he saved? That’s an important question.
We certainly don’t find Paul rejoicing. The text says, “For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). When a man named Ananias showed up he said to Saul, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Here was a man who had believed in Jesus for three days, but yet was still in his sins. It wasn’t until he called on the name of the Lord by being baptized that his sins were washed away.
Why Were You Baptized?
Here is an important question. If you’ve been baptized, were you baptized by faith or were you baptized for some other reason? Were you baptized, as the New Testament teaches, because you knew you were lost and you wanted the Lord to save you?
The vast majority of religious teachers today do not teach what the New Testament teaches on baptism. People are being baptized as a good work, not as an expression of faith. Their teaching and practice are not biblical.
If it were me, if I had been baptized for a reason other than what is taught in the New Testament, I would go today and be baptized by faith. I would find someone who teaches the truth to immerse me in water, trusting in the blood of Jesus Christ to wash me clean.
I love you and God loves you,