In discussing the idea of whether baptism is a requirement to be saved, someone recently stated that believing, repenting, and baptism are all things one does, yet are not works – that baptism is a work of God. I am going to address these issues here.
First let me say that I agree with the commentor that no where do we read in the Bible that to be saved one must pray a prayer or to receive Jesus into our hearts, or make a decision for Christ. Those are simply NOT biblical ideas. But that’s about where our agreement ends.
No, belief is not a work. This comes from God – it is NOT something we do, it is something given to us. Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. Hebrews 12:2
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God
God gifts us with faith. Ephesians 2:8
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
No, repenting is not a work. This is not something we DO, it is something God causes in us. GOD causes us to change our minds regarding whether God exists and whether Jesus is the Son of God sent to pay the price of our sins. Repentance comes from God, not because you decided to repent: Acts 11:18
When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
If repentance came from us, Esau would have been able to repent, but he couldn’t, showing it comes from God: Hebrews 12:15-17
15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; 16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.
God does not save us because we do certain righteous acts, but because of His mercy. We are saved through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit – this is one act that does not involve water. Titus 3:5
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit
If water baptism was so important, then surely every instance where it talks about what is necessary to be saved would have spoken of the supposed need to be baptized. But there are examples in scripture which talk about being saved without mentioning a NEED to be baptized. One example is in Acts 16:29-32
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Yes, we see in Acts 16:33 that the jailer and his household were baptized. But the apostle Paul and Silas were clear, people must believe in the Lord Jesus to be saved.
There are examples of people being baptized with the Holy Spirit before being baptized with water.
“Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
There are examples of people being baptized with water into the name of the Lord Jesus (which is NOT John’s baptism) before being baptized with the Holy Spirit.
“15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Paul said he was glad he didnt baptize many people – if baptism was important, he would have baptized many. He was not sent to baptize. Had it been important, Paul would have been sent to baptize. 1 Cor 1:17
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. “
What Paul DID say is that people should repent, turn to God and prove their repentance. Paul never said people needed to be baptized to be saved. Acts 26:20
“First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. “
What is needed is that our minds change (concerning God and Christ) and we turn to God – that turning to God will engender change, will cause us to do which give evidence that our salvation is real – that we have a saving faith instead of a saying faith. That change of mind, our belief, comes from God, not us. And it will cause us to show the faith God gifts us with.
If we don’t have evidence of our faith, then our faith is dead and worthless. James 2:14-17
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Confessing Christ as sent from God is an expression of faith. Baptism is a form of confessing Christ, just as is calling on Him. The three are expressions of the faith that saves us.
Additionally, our faith must persevere for it to be real faith. Hebrews 10:36
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised
Acts 10:44-11:18 show explicitly how God baptizes the believer with the Holy Spirit without the use of water. In particular, Acts 10:43-48 reads,
“’All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
In this act of God baptizing with the Holy Spirit, God set the course for how baptism would occur for most believers. Jesus Himself told Nicodemus that one must be born again, of Spirit, to enter the Kingdom of God, as seen in John 3:3-8. We know from Titus 3:4-7 that God saved us because of His mercy through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, thus what occurred in Acts 10-11 were not isolated events. Only after the new believer was baptized with the Holy Spirit did they publicly announce their discipleship of Christ through baptism. From these verses, we see the method of baptism for gentiles has four steps. New believers must 1) believe in Christ; 2) receive forgiveness of sins through Christ’s name; 3) be baptized with the Holy Spirit; 4) be baptized with water in the name of Jesus Christ.
When does baptism of the Holy Spirit occur? Acts 2:38 indicates it occurs when one believes the Gospel. Certainly being born of the Spirit is an instantaneous event, as indicated by the idea that people must repent and be baptized so the Spirit can live within us (Acts 2:38, Galatians 3:5, James 4:5). The ‘repent’ spoken of is the changing of one’s mind about the truth regarding Jesus and believing in Him (Acts 8:12, Romans 3:22). This is an act of God within man – Philippians 2:13
for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
‘Eis’ (the word translated in Acts 2:38 for the word ‘for’) literally means ‘in’. Peter taught people need to repent and Be baptized in the name of Christ IN the forgiveness of sin. When we have faith, that is a repentance which brings forgiveness, at which time we are to be baptized, which is one of many ways of calling upon God. Thus, being baptized IN the forgiveness of sin is the same thing as being baptized because we have been forgiven our sin.
This matches what Paul said in Acts 2:22, 26:20, 16:31, Romans 10:13. The calling on God is the evidence of salvation – that we have more than an idea, but faith or trust. Jesus said we only need to believe (Jn 3:16) – that is the least common denominator. If we have faith then we are saved and will call upon God and love God and obey God and do good deeds. Otherwise, it depends upon us, and we know from Romans 10, that it totally depends upon God.
How much does a baby have to do with his birth? Nothing, except to be created by God. The same is true for the second birth! GOD works in you to repent and to believe and to have evidence of your faith! We are to be born of of water, which is the first birth, being born of flesh, and we are to be born of spirit, the second birth, being born of the Spirit. John 3:5-8
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Note, that Peter recalled God had said John baptized with water, but believers would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Acts 11:15-18
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” 18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”
It is clear that baptism of the Holy Spirit is required, and this comes from the faith they were given to repent (change their minds about Jesus being from God) and turn to God. This faith engenders deeds appropriate to repentance (Acts 26:20), which are evidence of our salvation. But water baptism, while obviously important, is not needed for salvation.
And no, believing and repenting are not acts we do for salvation, they are things granted us by God.