- Is Baptism required for Salvation?
Due to the differing views within Christendom today regarding the subject of baptism, it might be helpful to clarify whether we are talking about the substance of baptism or the symbol of baptism. It is very common today for many to substitute the symbol for the substance. Whenever a text (such as John 3 or Romans 6) talks about the substance of baptism (being "born again" or "immersed" into Christ) the scripture would confirm that indeed the substance of baptism is necessary; for there is salvation in no other (Acts 4:12).
As Christ said to Nicodemus, you must be "born again" to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3). The O.T. taught again and again that the hope of the kingdom of God was not due to the work of men but the sovereign work of a holy God who would give men a new heart. The Lord said to the people in Ezekiel 36 that He would, at the coming of the Messiah, wash their bodies with clean water and give them a new heart. He would put His Spirit in them that they might walk in His ways. When a person is saved by the operation of grace; He washes them clean and fills them with the Holy Spirit.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5
- Can you be baptized by water and still be in need of spiritual cleansing?
Absolutely, it has happened a lot throughout history. This was the problem within Catholicism that has now been carried over into Protestantism. There are those who will get baptized in water without ever being washed by the word in repentance or being made new from within by the work of the Holy Spirit; thus they will cling to the physical symbol of water baptism though there is no spiritual substance of "new birth" in Christ. They will recall the day they got water baptized and expect God to save them because they went through some ceremony or ritual of being dipped in water, yet there is no evidence anything has actually occurred within their heart.
They are what is sometimes called "shell" Christians. They look good on the outside; they talk the talk; and they do the stuff that makes them appear religious, but their hearts are far from being right with the Lord, because there is no true repentance, no turning from sin, no substantive change in the way they think or live. They have embraced all the trappings of religion with no inward transformation. This is the primary cause for arguments and division within churches.
Water baptism can't cleanse the soul but it is the physical symbol of spiritual cleansing. That is why John the Baptist was baptizing people in water as a symbol of their inward repentance.
- Why does Peter say that “baptism … now saves us” (1 Peter 3:21)?
To properly understand this text you have to first keep it within its context. The verse that precedes it says “...because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” 1st Peter 3:20
Wickedness may appear to flourish because of the long suffering of a patient God, but we are to remain steadfast in righteousness even if it requires unjust suffering because ultimately a sovereign God will make all things right.
Do as Noah did, take God at His word and remain faithful to your calling; trusting the Lord for your deliverance. The Lord patiently waited 120 years in the days of Noah and only eight people stepped into the ark, that which would bear them up when the rains came. Though they had never seen rain before what the Lord said would take place came to pass.
Now let's deal with verse 21: "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, "baptism which corresponds to this" the point he just made in the previous verse. Baptism is an antitype (an earthly expression for a heavenly reality) which now saves us ... "not the removal of filth from the flesh but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
This is called an antitupon, an OT prefiguring of what will come true in the N.T. Just as Noah trusted in the Lord and His word and that faith was found to be victorious; in the same way we are to trust in Christ by the word of God and our faith in Him will be found victorious.
Just like Noah we are to stand in this thing made of wood, the cross, and when the wrath of God comes in the final day against the sins of men we will be raised up above the judgment and will find deliverance just as those eight people experienced in the days of Noah.
Peter is speaking to the substance of baptism? We die to our old self and past, buried in Christ then raised to walk in a newness of life in Him. Salvation is when we are immersed in the One who made atonement for sin at the cross (Romans 6:1-4).
So we must not miss the point of the antitupon and think that an external ritual like water baptism is what saves us. Don't be misled into believing that a physical ceremony can produce a spiritual result. The antitupon is a type; Noah's trust was in the Lord; that is what led him to enter the ark which raised him above the waters of judgment. And it is our trust in the Lord that leads us to enter into Christ by grace through faith and He is the One who lifts us above the waters of judgment; when we are immersed in Him (speaking of our soul not the external dipping of our body in water) we will sail above the holocaust of judgment for sin.
So that we won’t think some ceremony administered by man can reconcile us to God, Peter says I'm not talking about the washing of your body but the spiritual appeal to God for a good conscience. God who is holy is not impressed with wet sinners.
What redeems, reconciles, and delivers sinners is being born again in Christ. When we are immersed in Him we will be raised from the dead just as He was, which is what water baptism is meant to signify.
To add any ritual to what Christ accomplished at the cross leads to the kind of heresy that plagued the church throughout the Dark Ages. It denies what Christ said from the cross: "It is finished". He alone satisfied the just wrath of God for sin and only those (born again, John 3:3) "immersed" in Him will stand before God justified.
- If the ritual of water baptism does not save, is it important for believers to be baptized in water?
Absolutely! Water baptism is meant to identify new Christians with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:1-10; Colossians 2:12).
Water baptism outwardly symbolizes the inward cleansing that has taken place in the life of a believer as well as their deliverance from sin's just punishment (Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:20-21).
Both Christ and the apostles commanded believers to be baptized because it is a visual representation of what spiritually has occurred.
While water baptism is a part of our sanctification process (one who is born again in Christ will become more like Him through obedience to His word) it was never meant to be the means of salvation.
Catholicism and some protestant denominations teach what is called sacramentalism, which is an act that a person performs, and through which, the grace of God is conferred to them; therefore, it is taught that God's grace is administered through receiving the sacraments of the church. However, whenever any part of scripture is understood within the whole of scripture, it is clear that only Christ's atoning death can reconcile sinners with a holy God; thus our faith and trust is in Him, not in the observance of a sacrament, is God's means for our redemption.
Our new birth is portrayed in water baptism, but not performed by water baptism.