Many in the religious world today will say that a person can receive salvation by faith alone and that the act of baptism is something that follows afterwards and is optional as some kind of confirmation of commitment or to add them to a particular church denomination in addition to their already achieved salvation.
However, this teaching clearly contradicts the New Testament teaching and even Jesus himself tells us that salvation is not achieved until a person has been baptized.
Jesus' example and words.
Jesus himself insisted that he be baptised by John the Baptist, even though he was sinless, so why was this of so much importance even to him? In Matt 3:15 he gives his answer, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness." So he was obeying what God had told him to do and gives us the example and shows us how vitally important it is to do so.
When commissioning his disciples Jesus states in Matthew 28:19 "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. So here in Matthew's account belief is not even mentioned, however baptism is associated with being the action that makes a person a disciple of Jesus and also that the task is not completed until they have baptised those who hear the message. So, why would belief not even be mentioned here and yet an emphasis is placed on the act of baptism?
In Mark's gospel it is recorded as "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16). A careful and honest reader of this verse will clearly see that both belief and baptism are placed before salvation. Yet many will interpret it to read, he that believes is saved and can be baptised as well! They will rather try and point out that the latter part of the verse only states that an unbeliever will be condemned, so that this is the only important command here. However, this would involve the need to re-write the earlier part of the verse or to accept that there is a contradiction, neither of which is true. Jesus never contradicts himself, neither does he lie.
It is simply the case that a person first has to believe, and then that belief will lead them to baptism. So someone who has not taken the first step has effectively failed at the first hurdle, however if they complete step 1 (belief) but then fail to complete step 2 (baptism) they will fail at the second hurdle. It could be illustrated simply by saying that to enter a house first I have to go up the path (representing belief) but then I have to go through the front door (representing baptism) if I stop at the front door and do not go through the door I have not achieved my objective. I am still outside.
Mark 16:16 1. Believe ---> 2. Baptized ---> 3. Salvation. Step 2 would be irrelevant and of no use unless step 1 is first taken, similarly step 3 cannot be achieved by omitting step 1 or 2. This is what the verse is stating and by seeing it in this light there is now no contradiction or confusion.
Other necessary steps
However, it is also true that even before one can believe he has to first hear the message. "So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17). So now we can see another step that has to be taken before we can even believe.
1. Hear --> 2. Believe ---> 3. Baptized ---> 4. Salvation. Again we see that each and every step has to be taken and in the correct sequence to achieve the end result. This step may be seen as obvious by most but it helps to complete a bigger picture.
Further to this we also see that another step is required as clearly stated by the apostle Peter, (when his hearers realised that they had crucified the Son of God), asked, "What must we do?" Note the question carefully. What does Peter reply? Interestingly he doesn't even mention that they have to believe, but instead he replies. "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38). So why does he not even mention the need to believe? Quite simply, because it was their new found belief that prompted the question in the first place. Note also that he did not state that they needed to do nothing because they already believed. So here we see another sequence of 3 steps.
1. Repent ---> 2. Baptized ---> 3. Salvation. Again we see that step 2 would be irrelevant and of no use unless step 1 is first taken, similarly step 3 cannot be achieved by omitting step 1 or 2. However we have NO mention of belief here, does that mean that it is irrelevant? Absolutely not. These people here in Acts 2 already believed. So now we see a fuller sequence.
1. Hear. ---> 2. Believe. ---> 3. Repent ---> 4. Baptized ---> 5. Salvation. The same rules apply as before.
The complete message
We have to put together all of the scriptures, to get a full picture, by pulling out one individual verse or phrase as a stand-alone, we get an incomplete picture, so it is necessary to ensure that we fit all scriptures together much like doing a jigsaw puzzle. So to take John 3:16 and say that based on this verse all we need to do is believe, would make 1 Pet 3:21, (which clearly states that "baptism now saves you") a contradiction. Also note in v5 of John 3 (part of the same conversation) Jesus states that a person needs to be born again of water and of the spirit. Honestly, what does being born of water mean if not baptism?
Please examine the scriptures fully and with a good and honest heart and you will see that no additional interpretation is required, it means exactly what it says. The Galatian Christians were chastised for going after "another gospel" because there were some who distort (or pervert) the message. We are shown in Matt 7:21 – 23 that many will call him Lord but only those who obey him (do his will) will be recognised by him.
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