This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night, we began our “You Asked For It” summer series by tackling the question, “Do You Have to Be Baptized to Be Saved?” We began the evening by introducing the three views of baptism that are common in protestant circles…
Believer’s Baptism (or credobaptism) – The belief that baptism is an outward symbolic demonstration of faith in Christ. Thus, only those who have expressed faith in Christ should be baptized. View held by Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and yours truly.
Infant Baptism (or paedobaptism) – The belief that baptism is a continuation of circumcision as a sign of God’s covenant blessings. Thus, just as children in the OT were circumcised and became part of the covenant community, so Christian parents today should have their infants baptized as a sign that they are part of the church, the NT covenant community. They do not, however, believe that this baptism is in any way a guarantee of salvation. This view is held mainly by Presbyterians, with variations in the Episcopal Church as well (Catholic infant baptism is something completely different, and outside the scope of our discussion)
Baptismal Regeneration – Much like believer’s baptism, except with the belief that baptism is necessary for salvation, that it actually plays a part in our justification. This view is held by the Church of Christ.
While a discussion of infant baptism could be good, we focused on our belief in believer’s baptism and how to answer one who would say that it is a necessary part of salvation. In fact, this issue cuts right to the core of our faith, since one of our foundational beliefs at Sola5 is that salvation comes sola fide – through faith alone. If baptism is a necessary part of receiving salvation, than sola fide, frankly, is a lie. This means that this issue demands our careful attention and consideration.
To discuss why we don’t believe that baptism saves a person, we actually went straight to one of the passages of Scripture often trumpeted to prove baptismal regeneration, 1 Peter 3:18-22. After all, verse 21 does say, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, it does until you examine the verse in context, which is necessary when the passage as read seems to contradict some very plain assertions of Scripture, such as that of Romans 3:28. So, what is 1 Peter 3 really saying?
First off, Peter begins by reminding us of the grounds of our salvation. He says that our grounds are on Christ’s sufferings. Speaking of us passing from spiritual death to life, he reminds us that Christ suffered once for sins to bring us to God. Also notice that the emphasis here is not on our actions. In fact, every verb in verse 18 has God and Christ as active and us as passive – we have been brought to God just as a dead man cannot move himself but must be picked up and taken anywhere he goes. After reading verse 18, it’s very clear that Peter is going to great lengths to stress that our salvation is absolutely dependant on Christ and not at all on us. This seems to indicate that verse 21 may not actually mean what baptismal regeneration proponents say it means. So what does it mean?
I think the answer becomes clearer when we see verses 19-21 as pictures of salvation. Peter gives us two illustrations of our salvation – Noah’s flood and our baptism. Notice that he links them together in his explanation - “Baptism, which corresponds to this…” Peter is telling us that baptism is a picture of our salvation just like the flood was. Now, Noah wasn’t saved by the flood – he was saved (Hebrews 11 tells us explicitly) by his faith in God – a fact that was expressed both by his obedience and by God subsequently bringing him through the flood. Just as surely, we are not saved by baptism, but it is a sign of the faith that God has given us in our hearts – an outward expression of an inward reality. It’s almost as if Peter anticipated misunderstanding, because he immediately qualifies his statement – “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Peter says that the physical act of baptism isn’t what saves, it’s the inward reality that baptism reflects – the appeal to God for a good conscience, a pure heart, new life – which can only come from faith given by God. Just to make himself clear, Peter concludes in verse 22 by focusing our security in salvation not on baptism, but on Christ, who rules at the Father’s right hand having all authority in heaven and on earth.
So, is baptism necessary for salvation? I can answer an emphatic no – we find peace with God by grace through faith in Christ alone, and not due to any accomplishments on our part. However, does that mean that baptism is insignificant? Of course not! Are good works required for salvation? Are we justified in any way by our works? No! Does that mean that good works are insignificant? No – a life that follows Christ’s commands is the outward sign that we have true faith in him. As James said, “Faith without works is dead.” It is much the same with baptism – it is not the basis of our standing with God, but it is a public expression of our faith (and one that is commanded by Christ, no less). It doesn’t save us, but to treat it as mere option is a disservice as well. We ended with some good discussion last night, and actually went about 10 minutes over. If there are any Sola5 members dropping by (or anyone, for that matter) and you want to discuss this question more, feel free to drop me a comment. I’m excited about the weeks to come and pray that God would use these questions to give us a fuller understanding of his glory and grace.