"Does Baptism Save People?"

Having attended a Church of Christ, I was introduced to a doctrine taught there that I would like you to provide Biblical grounds for or against.

The doctrine is that being born again occurs when one is baptized by being immersed in water. They say that one is not saved until they are baptised. Please elaborate; though I do not believe they are right, I would not want to cast aspersions.

As I understand it, the Church of Christ bases this false doctrine on three verses.

Acts 2:38 says, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Mark 16:16 says, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned."

1 Peter 3:21 says, "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

There are several problems with basing a doctrine of "no salvation until baptism" on these verses. (And it would appear that the doctrine came first, then finding verses to prooftext this belief.) First, there are many other verses that do not include baptism when referring to salvation, such as Acts 16:31--"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." Secondly, if baptism is necessary for salvation, then this would be a works-based salvation because unfortunately, God can't save someone who isn't baptized. That puts the believer in a more powerful position than God! Ephesians 2:8,9 makes it clear that salvation is a free grace gift of God, not dependent on our actions: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Third, all it takes is one exception to disprove the "rule," and what do you do with the thief on the cross who trusted Christ, becoming born again, but died before he could be baptized? Jesus promised him he would be with Him in Paradise that day. And what do you do with someone who has trusted Christ but dies of a heart attack while waiting his turn to be baptized? God ordains the time of his death but keeps him out of heaven for not getting baptized when that was his intent but God's timing prevented him from following through? I don't think so! I was struck by how appropriate Isaiah 50:2 is to this hypothetical situation, where the Lord plaintively asks, "Is My hand too short to save?"

1 Peter 3:21 does have the phrase "baptism that now saves you," which is what some people point to, but if you look at the context you see the exact opposite being taught. The whole verse says "and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (emphasis mine). Physical baptism is a symbol of what actually saves us: trusting Christ, at which point we are born again. Physical baptism follows the baptism by the Holy Spirit, which happens at conversion. First the spiritual, then the physical as an outward expression of an internal reality.

Baptism IS important, no doubt about it. But it is a point of obedience, not a condition of salvation.

I hope this helps.

Sue Bohlin
Probe Ministries