The purpose of baptism is a divisive topic among those claiming to follow the Bible. God is not pleased when people speak different things. God’s word calls upon us to “speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). God would have us all to teach and believe the same thing regarding the purpose of baptism. Ephesians 4:5 points out there is “one baptism.” The only way to arrive at an understanding of the purpose of baptism is to examine the various verses dealing with the subject and see what God’s word says is its purpose. We must be willing to accept God’s word whether it aligns with our previously held convictions or not. We must be willing to allow God to be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4). We can conclude baptism is an important topic from the simple fact it is mentioned so often throughout the New Testament. We cannot simply ignore talking about the subject of baptism and be teaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:20, 27). In Jesus’ commission to the apostles before He ascended back to heaven, He gives us information about the purpose of baptism. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus commanded the apostles to make disciples and He tells them how they will make disciples. Making disciples involves baptizing individuals and teaching individuals. Therefore, a person cannot be made a disciple of Christ without being baptized. Must a person be a disciple of Christ to be saved? If so, then a person must be baptized to be saved. In Mark 16:15-16 Jesus again is recorded as saying, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Jesus describes the person who will be saved in these verses. The person who will be saved is the one who believes and is baptized. If this passage teaches belief as a prerequisite to salvation, which it clearly does, then it must also teach baptism as a prerequisite to salvation. Both belief and baptism stand in a similar relation to the reception of salvation in the passage. If one can contend a person is saved prior to baptism, why can a person not equally say a person is saved prior to believing? If one can believe and latter be baptized, why can a person not be baptized and latter believe? If a person can be saved prior to baptism, why can they not be saved before belief and baptism? Jesus places baptism prior to salvation. Failure to accept the plain statements of our Lord puts us into the camp of those who harden their hearts and close their eyes to the truth (Matthew 13:13-15; Mark 8:17-18). Peter on the Day of Pentecost makes a clear statement regarding the purpose of baptism. In Acts 2:37 the audience is crying out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They recognize they are guilty of putting to death the Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36) and want to know what they need to do to be saved. Peter’s response is clear, “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. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call … Be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:38-40). These individuals already believe Jesus is Lord and Christ and so they are taught they need to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. Can a person be saved prior to receiving the remission of sins? If not and one must be baptized for the remission of sins, how can one be saved prior to baptism? If one can be saved prior to baptism, then why can one not be saved prior to repentance since repentance and baptism are equally stated to be for the remission of sins. Some attempt to argue “for” means because of and not in order to obtain. If that is true, a person repents because their sins have already been forgiven. If that is true, Jesus shed His blood because people’s sins had already been forgiven (Matthew 26:28). Jesus shed His blood in order to obtain the remission of sins. The Bible teaches a person is baptized in order to obtain the remission of sins. In Colossians 2:11-14 we read the following, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” These individuals once were dead in trespasses and sins but were forgiven all trespasses when they were made alive with Christ. When were these individuals made alive with Christ – before or after baptism? Colossians 2:12 says they were buried with Christ in baptism. Was Christ made alive prior to or after His burial? Christ was made alive after His burial so they would be made alive and forgiven after their baptism. After they were buried with Christ in baptism, they “were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” They were made alive with Christ after their baptism. Therefore, they were forgiven all their trespasses after their baptism. Can a person be saved before they are forgiven all their trespasses? If a person cannot be saved before they are forgiven all trespasses, they cannot be saved prior to baptism. We could look at other verses but I believe these passages make it clear a person is not save prior to baptism today.
It seems recently when I discuss with people the necessity of being baptized in order to be saved they ask, “What about the thief on the cross?” There are clear verses in the Bible which teach us the necessity of baptism to be saved today. Mark 16:16 says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Acts 2:38 says, “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 22:16 says, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” 1 Peter 3:21 says, “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.” It is evident from these commands baptism is essential to salvation, but the question remains – how do we account for the thief on the cross being saved?
When Jesus was crucified we are told two criminals were crucified with Him, one on each side (Luke 23:32-33). Initially both of these individuals “reviled Him” (Matthew 27:44). However, during the course of the crucifixion one changes and rebukes the other criminal saying, “Do you not even fear God, see you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41). The criminal will these make a request of Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus replied, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is often cited how Jesus nowhere told the man he needed to be baptized to be saved. The conclusion is then drawn that we do not need to be baptized to be saved today either. We need to recognize the thief on the cross received forgiveness of sins prior to Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus had not yet died when Jesus forgave him of his sins. Under the Old Testament, there was no command to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. In addition, Jesus was able to forgive people of their sins as He saw fit while upon the earth because He is God (Mark 2:1-12). Once Jesus dies, His testament or will goes into effect and the only way to obtain forgiveness of sins is by complying with the terms for pardon laid out in His will (Hebrews 9:16-17).
We need to also recognize the thief on the cross possibly could have been baptized with John’s baptism. We are told, “Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). We cannot prove the thief was baptized with John’s baptism but we also cannot prove he wasn’t either. We need to remember the thief did not do other things we are required to do today in order to be saved. Romans 10:9-10 says, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart on believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” The thief could not possibly believe God raised Jesus from the dead because Jesus had not died yet. It is evident the thief on the cross was saved in a way different than you and I are saved today. If one wants argue we are saved like the thief on the cross, why don’t they insist on being nailed to a cross? If one wants to argue we can be saved like the thief on the cross, why don’t they argue we must have Jesus alive on a cross next to us? If one wants to argue we can be saved like the thief on the cross, why don’t they argue we must have Jesus indicate our sins are forgiven without baptism? Jesus has spoken and commanded us to be baptized to be saved today (Mark 16:15-16). Those who would teach another gospel besides what Jesus taught are to be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).
A popular tenet of Calvinism held by many in the religious world today is the belief a person is born inheriting the sin of Adam. Calvinism in its purest form would teach a person is born totally depraved and incapable of doing any good without a direct influence from God. Some individuals may claim we simply inherit a sinful nature, etc. Does the Bible teach a person is born in sin?
The Bible teaches a person does not inherit the guilt of another person’s sin. In Deuteronomy 24:16 God taught the Israelites, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.” Amaziah, king of Judah, followed this command by not slaying the children of those who murdered his father but only the actual murderers (2 Kings 14:6). Ezekiel 18:20 teaches, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” I don’t know how the Bible could state in any simpler terms an individual does not inherit the sins of another individual.
The Bible teaches individuals are created pure and innocent and corrupt their ways. In Ezekiel 28:15 it is said of the king of Tyre, “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.” He was not born in sin but instead was born perfect. He remained in a perfect state till he committed sin. In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is not saying a person needs to become a sinner to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yet, if a little child is a sinner, that would be exactly what He is teaching. Paul describes his past by saying, “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Romans 7:9). Paul does not depict himself as being born dead in sin and needing to be saved before he was able to understand God’s commandments. Many places in the Bible we see how people are not born in sin but go down a path leading to sin. Genesis 6:12 speaks of how “all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” Psalm 58:3 says, “they go astray as soon as they are born.” How can people corrupt their ways if they were already born completely depraved? How can people who are born in sin enter sin by going astray? Sin results when we are tempted by being drawn away by our own desires and enticed (James 1:14-15). Until one is old enough to be drawn away by their own desires to violate God’s will they are not capable of committing sin.
Answering some arguments used to support the concept we are born in sin:
1. Many would point to the fact babies end up dying and the consequence of sin is death. Therefore, it is assumed babies must be guilty of sin. Physical death was introduced into the world as a result of sin entering the world (Genesis 3:19). All men since sin entered the world are subject to death. However, death is a temporal consequence we suffer because of sin coming into the world and does not mean we are guilty of sin ourselves. A child may suffer the temporal consequences of a parent’s sin but not be guilty of sin. For example, a parent may squander the family’s money on gambling or alcohol. As a result, the child may go without the things he needs like food. The child is not guilty of squandering the family’s money but is suffering consequences because of another’s actions which are not his own fault.
2. An argument is sometimes made that mankind was initially created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) yet after sin entered the world mankind is no longer made in the image of God because they are born with sin. Yet Paul speaks of men needing not to cover their heads while praying and prophesying years after sin entered the world and cites the following reason. “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man” (1 Corinthians 11:7). Mankind retained the image of God after sin entered the world because God is spirit (John 4:24) and mankind still possesses an eternal spirit (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
3. Many believe Romans 5:12-21 teaches an individual is born in sin. Without going into an in depth study of the passage, we can recognize the reason all die is “because all sinned” (Romans 5:12) not because Adam sinned. Other arguments have been made attempting to prove man is born in sin but all fail to reconcile with the verses we citied in the beginning of the article.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9).
Peter describes who we are to God. We are special. We are holy (1 Pet 1:15). We have purified our souls having been born again through the word of God (1 Pet 1:22-23; 1 Pet 3:21). Our conduct is honorable (1 Pet 2:12; 1 Pet 3:1-2, 16). We are tenderhearted and courteous (1 Pet 3:8). People of the world think we are strange (1 Pet 4:4). We love one another (1 Pet 4:8). We speak as the oracles of God (1 Pet 4:11). We are not ashamed if we should suffer for being a Christian (1 Pet 4:16). We are humble and submissive to one another (1 Pet 5:5-6). We know that God cares for us and we carry our troubles to Him (1 Pet 5:7). We resist the devil (1 Pet 5:8-9). We have peace (1 Pet 5:14).