The truth about faith and water baptism.
(This document is quite long. It covers a tremendously important subject; one which has suffered grave confusion. In the nature of the case, its treatment is very involved. Anything short of this is unfaithful and inappropriate to the gravity of the issues concerned.)
“We did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the Gospel would remain with you.” - Paul to the assemblies in Galatia
must people be water baptized in order to be forgiven of their sins and thus be accepted by God?
The answer to this question is monumental in Christianity. Sneakiness, hedging, and ambiguity, all designed to either avoid or ensnare, are traits that are unworthy of a Christian teacher. Therefore, I will give my clear answer presently. But before I do, I hope to make the following points because the proper handling of this subject is immediately polarizing, with the vast majority of people being fully assured that they know the correct answer along with everything that it entails.
Your answer to the question above determines if you are in the grace of God or not, that is, whether you are a true believer or not.
Many people treat this subject as secondary in the purposes of God. It is not! It is primary, as are all the things that are essential concerning justification before God! Furthermore, this subject, like another closely related one, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, is thoroughly misunderstood by very, very many in the churches – both teachers and learners. Not only is the monumental truth about the grace of God in relation to water baptism and salvation not understood, but the fully related fundamental and proper understanding of the epochal creation of the one new man in Christianity is not properly discerned. In what follows, I will address both of these paramount issues of the Faith. For only in correctly answering both concerns are the seemingly contradictory positions of the scriptures clarified.
Actual water baptism or the intention to be water baptized is not in any way essential for salvation! Far from it! In fact, if one asserts that the forgiveness of sins is essentially tied to water baptism he has placed himself in a system of works for salvation and must, according to the Holy Spirit through Paul, unfailingly keep every commandment of God in order to be justified before God and, therefore, be saved from eternal judgment. These same facts apply to anything that someone elevates as a prerequisite deed necessary for salvation. Moreover, the same reality applies to deeds in this category. Whether it is one or more acts that people must do to be justified before God, if they are indispensable to being regenerated and forgiven of sins and accepted with God, they are flatly in the category of merit or works for salvation. They are outside of the grace of God!
The subject matter that applies is vast, yet it is both coherent and simple. If in my handling of this subject a certain passage is not specifically dealt with, its remedy will be discovered in what is dealt with. That is because all of the truth of the Gospel stands in consistent wholeness and consistently answers all relevant things. In the fundamental issues of the Gospel, no isolated issue trumps the unity of the Truth about a given subject. Before beginning with the scriptures, I will address a common denial among many who hold to baptismal regeneration. Afterward, I will point out certain groups that guilty of holding and teaching this damnable doctrine. This is because: “We did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the Gospel would remain with you.”
Among those who believe that water baptism is necessary for salvation, it is commonly held by many on the Protestant side that water baptism is not a work but is faith. This is patently absurd and as such deserves to be summarily dismissed. But because of the gravity of the subject and the fact that this teaching is essential to their stand it must be dealt with. Anything that someone does is a work in the very nature of the case. Faith, on the other hand, simply believes. In other words, faith is receptive. A work is revealed in outward action. Faith is revealed in inward trust. This essential distinction is seen in God’s unique prerogative. At its inception, a work can be seen by humans, and at its inception faith can ONLY be seen by God! A work is anything that someone does, any deed performed, any act committed. Why is this distinction between faith and works vitally important? Because God will be believed as true that in His Love, He has completely and absolutely provided for ALL that is necessary for eternal life IN the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, that is, in the works of Jesus Christ alone! The redemption of all of His people is forever grounded and secured in THIS LOVE! We who are believers receive this gift from God and are forever saved from our sins. We bring nothing with us; we perform no act to secure this benefit. We only believe God; we only receive God’s free gift of righteousness of the obedience of Jesus Christ. The fact that faith is believing and receiving rather than performing an act or acts will be clearly demonstrated when we look at the scriptural exposition of the meaning of the faith that justifies. Among Protestants, those who hold to baptismal regeneration consistently teach that the work of water baptism IS faith. Not only does this not properly discern the nature of faith; instead, it flies in the face of common sense. I am always reminded of the fact that people who are otherwise intelligent are very often unintelligent when it comes to spiritual things. While faith is not according to human reasoning, it is not against human reasoning either. Calling the act of water baptism faith is like calling a statement a thought. You can call a statement a thought a thousand times a day for your entire life, but that does not make a statement a thought. The senselessness of those who do this kind of thing by calling water baptism faith is as stubborn as it is inexhaustible.
To the Word: Before beginning with the actual scriptures, it is vitally important to understand the mind behind the Word. Just as you can no more truly understand Shakespeare, for example, apart from his mindset and vocabulary, you cannot understand the Word of God apart from God’s own mindset and vocabulary. It needs to be emphasized at the outset that His mindset is altogether different from the mindset of man, that is - and this should be beyond dispute - His Mind operates differently from ours. While the differences are not absolute, they are substantial. Often, God speaks interchangeably and equally regarding symbol and thing signified without the slightest bit of clarifying explanation. This fact is fully displayed in the subject of water baptism. He speaks this way for two main reasons. First, because it is the meanings of His words that bear the utter emphasis. We are expected to understand this. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit Who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” Secondly, The Spirit teaches us all things and, therefore, we should continually discern all things. These two facts (My words are spirit/life and the Spirit teaches all things) are unfailing promises of God. And yet, although God often speaks without explanation, because of the frailty of human nature – a frailty which misunderstands and confuses things because of sin – the Lord in His mercy has fully explained important issues in His Word. In fact, He has done this twice in the writings of Paul regarding faith and an equivalent of water baptism. It is in these writings that the subject is explicated. These detailed writings fully settle, interpret, and inform everything else stated about water baptism in the Word of God. Erroneous interpretation takes its stand precisely because these scriptures are not understood. I will deal with each instance chronologically. After that, we will examine the book of Acts, where much confusion about baptism and salvation is wrongly grounded. Its proper interpretation will overwhelmingly clarify the meaning of water baptism.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers, he directly dealt with our subject, although in a different form. In fact, it is the main reason that he wrote the letter.
[Interjection: Here I must make a very important point. Never in Paul’s thoughts did he imagine that within one generation after the final days of the apostles, catholic churchmen would substitute our very subject, water baptism, for the issue that he refuted in Galatians, circumcision. I am making this point now because he properly uses the symbolism of water baptism in his appeal to the Galatian believers.]
Very early in Paul’s labors, he was antagonized by Jewish false-believers. Soon after he left Galatia, they came in behind him to convert to themselves the believers that he had led to Jesus. Among the Jewish mix of doctrines that the false ones demanded must be kept by God’s people for salvation was the rite of circumcision. They went beyond this and demanded that the Law of Moses be kept, too. Nevertheless, whether it was only the one act of circumcision or circumcision joined to a life of law-keeping, the result was exactly the same. They were teaching justification before God on account of works. Whether it is one act, two deeds, one-hundred works, or a life of innumerable works does not matter. For they all place squarely in the category of salvation by merit anyone who insists that any of these scenarios is indispensable for salvation. Immediately after the opening greeting of his letter to the Galatians, Paul said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” These are extremely powerful words. In fact, they are an eternal curse from the Spirit through Paul. It is very telling that such words open Paul’s letter to the Galatians. But how were the troublers perverting the gospel of Christ? In what way were they proclaiming a different gospel? They did it this way: they insisted that the believers must be circumcised in order to be saved. Pure faith, that is, receiving faith, was not enough; people must, they taught, become circumcised to be justified before God. Even though a life of submission to the Mosaic Law was also demanded, circumcision itself could not be dispensed with. This last fact is exactly parallel with the teaching that insists that people must be water baptized in order to be saved. After Paul’s opening curse upon all who teach a gospel other than that about the grace of God, he went into a characteristic, though not unrelated, diversion about his own call to the gospel. Yet even in his diversion, he made another revealing statement. He declared that, “Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” If circumcision carried the weight that the false teachers proclaimed that in did, then why was Titus not compelled to obey God for salvation, supposedly, through circumcision? The answer is obvious. Circumcision did not have this meaning. At the end of his initial diversion, Paul returned to the subject at hand with appropriate vigor. He continued, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of law but through the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of law; for by the works of law no flesh shall be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners (by turning to a justifying work or works), is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For I through the things of law died to law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through law, then Christ died for nothing!” This is a powerful statement that sums up everything about faith and life. It unambiguously declares that there is nothing added to the faith of Christ operating in His people that brings eternal life! In fact it declares the antithesis. If eternal life – here called righteousness – comes through works then Christ’s death was IN VAIN! You cannot get any clearer than this. Immediately after these clarifying words, Paul said, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly portrayed as crucified?” The bewitching that they suffered was their being deceived into believing that any deed or deeds done by them would or even could secure salvation. Their salvation was grounded and secured in the deeds of Jesus Christ alone, which culminated in the deed of His self-declared crucifixion. Their faith had properly laid hold of (believed in) THIS salvation! He continued, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by works of law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain - if indeed it was in vain?” This is a very powerful probe. Paul asked them three scrutinizing questions. Did you gentile believers receive God’s Spirit at first because of any good thing that you did or by hearing with faith? If you received Him by simply believing, are you now to be perfected (or are you being made complete in Him) by turning from faith to works for your assurance of salvation? Third, did you receive the Spirit of God vainly because you received Him at first in faith, but now, believing simple faith alone to be insufficient, you lay hold of your salvation in works? These probing questions should have settled the argument. But Paul continued, “Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and produces works of power among you, does He do it by the works of law, or by hearing with faith?” This is another very powerful examination. The second part of the question reinforces the first part. Does God’s Spirit produce works of power in you because you performed a work or works or does He do so through your faith? Paul expected the answer to be obvious! Operative faith producing miracles is a gift from God and is not based on anything that man can do. He then said, “Just as (I repeat: Just as) Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’ - know, then, that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” This declaration is unwavering and clarifying. Abraham believed God and because of that belief alone God reckoned him righteous. There is not a word about Abraham’s work or works in God’s accounting him righteous. Because of this monumental truth, it is unambiguously declared that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham, whether they are believing Gentiles or believing Jews. What matters – the only thing that matters – is that they believe, that they are of faith. This is upheld by two powerful facts. First, the Scripture itself saw beforehand that God would justify believing Gentiles along with believing Jews and preached the gospel to Abraham by declaring, ‘In you (that is, in your living faith) all the nations shall be blessed.’ Second, this truth is emphasized by declaring that therefore, those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham! The Scripture reveals that Abraham’s faith is still alive; Abraham still believes! And all who believe with him are justified! This is the meaning of the Scripture. It is the believing ones who are the blessed ones. Paul immediately declared the grave opposite of all these things. He said, “For as many as are of the works of law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to perform them.” He declared this as both the sobering reality produced by the merit system of salvation and to draw the ultimate contrast between this lie and the truth. On the right side of truth there stands justification by faith only and on the opposite side there stands the contradictory and fatal position of condemnation by merit. The scripture that he quoted is absolute. It renders all forever self-condemned who teach that you must be water baptized in order to be justified. For this position is not one wit different from the ancient teaching that you must be circumcised in order to be justified. It is impossible for anyone to be saved who teaches such things. The scripture demands that they who teach the necessity of a deed accomplished as essential for justification before God, MUST go on, MUST CONTINUE not only to teach but to do all of God’s will as inscripturated in order to be justified before Him! THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO! For the scripture testifies that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” and “in many things we all offend”. This statement really is enough, but God in His love continued to drive the truth home through Paul so that His children would be unshakably grounded. Paul continued, “Now that no one is justified by law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith’. But the Law is not of faith; rather, ‘the man who does them shall live by them.’” Paul said that the declaration that the just shall live by faith established as obvious, as clear, that no one could be justified by doing anything! He held it forth as self-evident through his terse and complete statement of fact. Furthermore, he went on to doubly establish this unassailable truth by declaring that the one who does lawful things will “live” by doing those things, but, those things are outside of faith! Clearly, his statement that one lives by doing was meant to be ironic. Paul expected the Galatians to clearly understand the truth in his stated contradistinctions between faith and works. Paul concluded his comparison with this powerful summary: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us - for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” - that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Here in this vital context about what justifies for life there is no word about any deed or deeds that should be done. The only words given explicate faith alone! Next, Paul entered into another relevant diversion and ended it with these words: “But the Scripture has confined all things under sin, so that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by law, confined for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ, so that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” This is a profound and thoroughgoing statement. It is nothing short of tragic that its meaning has been thoroughly missed! Those who say that Paul here teaches baptismal regeneration have completely misunderstood what he said. Not only that, but their doctrine turns his teaching upside down. Here Paul summarized the great distinctions between law-keeping and faith by contrasting them. The contrasts are vivid and strong. He said, they who are under law as a means of justification are confined, they are imprisoned in sin! In fact, the entire realm that they are confined in is one of sin! There is no escape! They who are under faith as a means of justification are freed through their belief in God’s promise. In the realm of law-keeping or merit-standing, the law itself is a task master. That is the meaning of disciplinarian here. It is the oppressing task master disciplinarian and not the instructing disciplinarian that is meant. The very place of standing – justification through obedience – is both prison and prison guard. With the coming of Christ came freedom from the confinement. The freedom is gained by faith. This freedom through faith is for God’s children, His sons. Because of faith established by Christ, the realm of the disciplinarian is over. It has no power over God’s sons! This is the meaning of the statement, “But after faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian.” And Paul’s reason for this is immediately given, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” All are sons. Not just those who were sons, the Jews. But now all are sons, including the Gentiles. All are set free through faith. Like the prison realm before, now the realm of freedom is universal. For not only does it include all races of men, but it includes all social structures of men, that is, men and women, free people and slaves. This is the meaning of these words. Paul was not saying that there was no social distinction among men and women and free people and slaves. What he was saying was that IN CHRIST all stand before God in the full status and freedom of sons. In this reality all those of faith are His sons. Indeed, all thus standing are His heirs. The point that Paul was making was that because of sonship, the people of faith are not under the task master any longer! Then he gave as manifested witness the proof-fact that the baptismal regenerationists have completely misinterpreted. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” The water baptism of all the believers was signet-proof (like a wedding ring) that they were all God’s free sons. They all had put on Christ through faith. Paul said it as first argument, as reminder, that they belonged to God through faith. That is what is meant - nothing more, and nothing less. Water baptism is the first step of many steps, yea, of the journey of life, of the submission of sonship faith in God. Water baptism did not secure justification and forgiveness of sins before God. Water baptism – the initial clothing of oneself with Christ – was the clear and present way of declaring that the people thus referred to were the freed people of the faith of Christ. Water baptism is the first act of a life of obedience to God in the same way that this initial clothing with Christ is the first act of ongoing investiture of Him. It is very clear in the scriptures that it is the life of obedient submission to God that is the holy life that He approves. Yet, properly so, certain Protestants who are strict baptismal regenerationists do not go too far in saying that it is the life of obedient submission to God that also justifies from sins. (Here I say strict because Eastern and Western Catholics are also baptismal regenerationists who do say that it is the life of obedient submission to God that justifies from sins.) They properly see that justification is not grounded in the plurality of works but are completely confused about the first outward step of that obedient life, declaring that it is necessary for justification before God. In so doing, their confusion becomes lethal. Paul went into another characteristic and enlarging diversion and then made the following statement. (I will not comment on it because it really is clear, being self-evident regarding its meaning. Also, I have already commented on its teaching.) Only in each place where “circumcision” is named, simply substitute “water baptism” for a complete parallel of his teaching with our subject. Paul said, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not be ensnared again in a yoke of slavery. Behold: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no profit to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who are justified by law; you fell from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any force, but only faith working through love.” At the end of his letter, he gave this summary: “But may it never be that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything! Rather, a new creation is everything! And as for all who march by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”
Earlier I said that you cannot get any clearer than Paul’s declarations of facts to the Galatians. While this is true, you can get more abundance of or a greater coverage of these clear facts. Such is found in his letter to the Roman Christians. Paul’s letter to the Romans was one of his two unsolicited letters. That is, it was a letter freely written by him solely for the propagation of the faith and the building up of the believers. (His stated intention to visit them on the way to Spain and the personal greetings he gave at the end of his letter do not diminish this.) In Romans, Paul covers great and sweeping subjects of the faith. This letter has rightly been called the Gospel according to Paul. In it he clarifies various issues which all relate to the major theme of Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone believing, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’.” One of the subjects that he goes on to elucidate is that of the nature of the faith that justifies in its relationship to works. In Romans, just as in Galatians, he expounds on this faith revealed in the life of the father of faith, Abraham. Before he comes to Abraham, he explicates at length about the utterly defiling and permeating nature of sin and the condemnation that occurs because of the guilt of sin. His teaching up to Abraham concludes this way: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may come under God’s judgment; because by the works of law no flesh will be justified in His sight. For through law comes full-knowledge of sin. But now apart from law, the righteousness of God is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ to all the ones believing. For there is no difference; for all sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed by the sins that were previously committed. This was done to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He be just and justifying the one of faith of Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is shut out. Through what law? Of works? No, but through the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Or is He the God of the Jews only and not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised (the Jews) by faith and the uncircumcised (the Gentiles) through faith. Do we, therefore, render useless law through faith? Certainly not! Rather, we make law stand (as witness to faith’s superiority).” This entire section is a monumental statement by Paul. It absolutely clarifies. It leaves no room for doubt. It squarely places faith in contradistinction from merit. Merit is grounded in what is owed. It establishes the boast of what is owed because of obedience. However, merit utterly fails. Faith is grounded in the unmerited grace of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it cannot fail. At the end of this phenomenal statement, Paul reveals that the ongoing and real function of law is to reveal the liberating nature of faith as the only hope of mankind; that humanity cannot be justified by doing, but only by believing! After making this summarizing statement about the real standing, or, as he said earlier, witness of law, he asks what should then be concluded about Abraham. What did our forefather Abraham find out about these things? This is a very deep probe. Here Paul reveals what the father of faith, Abraham, discovered about faith. In unassailable words he continued, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his pay is not reckoned as a gift but as what is owed. But to the one not working but believing on the One justifying the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness, even as David speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.’ Is this blessing then only for the circumcision or also for the uncircumcision? For we say that ‘faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.’ How then was it reckoned to him? Was it after he was circumcised or while he was uncircumcised? It was not after he was circumcised, but while he was uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised; that he should be the father of all the ones believing through uncircumcision, so that righteousness would be reckoned to them as well, and that he should be the father of the circumcision, to those not of the circumcision only, but who also march in the footsteps of the faith of our father Abraham that he had while being in uncircumcision.” There you have it! Again, these are crystal clear and unassailable words; words that arrest argument and forever settle the matter concerned. Abraham believed God and, accordingly, was counted righteous before he was circumcised! He was not counted righteous after or because he was circumcised! His circumcision was not his faith. It was the indicator, the stamp that testified to the righteousness that he had because of his faith while he was still uncircumcised! He was justified through faith while he was uncircumcised. His circumcision showed this fact as true! The words that describe his circumcision translate as “sign” and “seal” and mean “mark, indication” and “signet, stamp” respectively. Seal is often wrongly taken by baptismal regenerationists here to mean ratification or guarantee or authentication. None of these meanings apply to the word used here. Abraham’s circumcision did not authenticate his justification, rather, it attested to it as pre-existing! Circumcision can and should be seen exactly like wedding rings are seen in our day. The wedding ring does not create the marriage or ratify it by validating it. Rather, it witnesses to it as existing. And as witness to it, it is expected to be worn. As worn, it can be and is appealed to as a symbolic judge of and obligator to the marriage. Now remember, simply substitute the water baptism for circumcision for the answer to the false teaching that people must be water baptized in order to be justified before God. Water baptism stands in exact parallelism to circumcision regarding the consideration of either act being required to be done in order to be saved from sins.
Paul concluded this argument in a most powerful and finalizing way. After further developing the theme of his discourse about Abraham and faith he said, “But he did not decide against the promise of God in unbelief, but was empowered by faith, giving glory to God, being fully persuaded that what He has promised, He is also able to do. Wherefore, it was reckoned to him for righteousness. Now, not only because of him was it written that it was reckoned to him, but also because of us, to whom it will be reckoned; to the ones believing in the One having raised Jesus our Lord out of the dead, Who was delivered because of the transgressions of us and was raised because of the justification of us!” This is how this section closes. It declares that we who are reckoned as righteous are simply receivers, are only recipient objects of God’s benefaction based on His actions in Jesus alone, actions which were purposed in Christ as having been completely accomplished for us through His sacrificial death and consequent resurrection! It once for all resolves the issue at hand! In fact, Paul moves forth from the discourse as finished! He bases is further doctrines upon it! This summation once again reveals that there is only one thing that justifies before God and that is faith as receiving and not any deed done out of faith or in league with faith or even as part of faith or as faith itself! It is the faith that believes the testimony of God, that is, faith that believes in the provision of God that once for all and forever justifies from sins before God. In short, God alone saves us through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son. Our faith receives this great gift from God. From that point of eternal justification everything else in Christian life is working out this great salvation. After this compelling argument by the Spirit through Paul, if anyone still will not bend, but insists that water baptism is required for justification before God, that person is dishonest and/or deluded.
Next I will deal with the many related misinterpretations that arise out of “the book of Acts”. The false position of baptismal regeneration gets a great deal of its footing from misunderstanding much in Acts. Acts has suffered greatly at the hands of many church teachers and leaders, not only by baptismal regenerationists. To start with, Acts is often seen as “the history of the early church”. It goes by the longer name of “The Acts of the Apostles”. Viewing Acts as the history of the early assembly, while strictly accurate, is a rudimentary view. Furthermore, calling it “The Acts of the Apostles” is actually misleading. This title often implies a different orientation and emphasis than Acts has. None of the New Covenant autographs (the original writings of scripture) had titles. Very early in manuscript history, titles were given to the copies of the autographs by scribes. Later, scribes added section and chapter divisions and, later still, verses. These scribal additions serve a useful and beneficial purpose, although sometimes they are actually counterproductive to the message of the scriptures that they seek to aid. Acts has suffered by way of this system. Acts is really an account of the Spirit of Jesus working primarily through the service of two of His Apostles, Peter and Paul, to accomplish the promise of the Father to save the world through His Son. Untitled ancient literature of various genres and times often took the first line of the writing or the opening statement or thought as the identifying title. Following this rule, “Acts” should not be in the title. Neither should “The Acts of the Apostles” be the title. In fact, the word Acts is not found in Acts. Furthermore, “The Apostles” implies all of them. Acts opens with the following words: “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach…” Clearly, this discourse references another one already made by Luke, the author. The discourse he is referring to is the Gospel that goes by his name. That Gospel begins this way: “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having investigated accurately all things from the beginning, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of the words in which you were instructed.” Using the ancient system for titles, Luke and Acts should have different titles than they possess through church tradition. In fact, all the Gospels should be named differently. They would all be better served if they had titles in keeping with ancient custom. Matthew could rightfully be titled, “The Book of the Things of the Nature of Jesus Christ”, deriving “things of the nature” from an intended double meaning of the word “generation”. Mark could be entitled, “The Beginning of the Good-Message of Jesus Christ”. John could possess the title, “The Word”. A better title for Luke than the traditional one could be, “The Enumeration of the Matters” or “The Instruction of the Things”. There is nothing wrong with the traditional titles. They properly derive from their authors, even though this practice was not done in the Biblical genres of the New Covenant writings. (I am not suggesting that a campaign should arise to rename New Covenant writings. It would be futile. Even if it would not be futile, there are more pressing issues to accomplish regarding the recovery of proper interpretation.) Acts should be entitled, “Continuing the Enumeration of the Matters” or “Continuing the Instruction of the Things” based on its opening statement. At any rate, in keeping with its traditional title, a better title for it would be, “The Acts (or Service) of Peter and Paul”. This is because the document primarily deals with God working through two people. It starts with the ministry of Peter and finishes with that of Paul.
Now, it is the message of Acts that has been missed that concerns us. It is the message of Acts accomplished through the prominent ministries of Peter first and then Paul that is of utmost importance. The message of Acts is the creation of the one new man in Jesus Christ, according to the eternal purpose of God. Water baptism is extremely significant in this message. It has a unique and pivotal role, accordingly, through each Apostle. As such, the power of its significance is highlighted and the function of its role changes through the ministry of each Apostle precisely because each Apostle had a different main purpose according to the will of God. This is not to say that water baptism is only handled under either Peter or Paul. That is not true. It is true, though, that the meaning of each case of water baptism throughout Acts is subsumed under its significance as revealed through the ministries of either Peter or Paul. All will become clear as we proceed.
An overly simplistic approach to the Scriptures has robbed many of very much of the meaning of water baptism. We must begin with the declaration of Paul about the eternal purpose of God in sending the Gospel to the world. He said to the Roman believers, “The Gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone believing, for the Jew first and (then) the Greek (the Gentiles).” This meaning of this statement was not fully comprehended by many Jews because it was not in keeping with the long standing notion in Israel has to how God would save Gentiles. Israel had always expected there to be a strong redemption of the world by God. However, they held that it would happen by Gentiles becoming proselytes to Judaism, adopting the Law and Jewish ways and customs. But, Paul declared that it was the intention of God all along to redeem not only the Jews, according to His ancient promises to them, but also, through their Messiah, to redeem the rest of humanity per se. In other words, God had eternally intended to save all Gentiles as Gentiles, without their having to adopt any of the Law of Moses or any of the ways and customs of Israel! The Gentiles could keep their sinless ways and customs intact and be redeemed through the Messiah of Israel. Not only so, but God declared that the Gentiles were equal to Israel; they were fellow-heirs of the inheritance of God and even of the same body in Himself. This is commonplace to us but was revolutionary to those who first heard it. This new understanding was so radical that it is called “the mystery” in various places in the New Covenant Scriptures. It was very, very hard for nascent Jewish Christians to comprehend. It became the grounds of a great disagreement between Peter and Paul, drawing Paul’s strong rebuke of Peter. The way that both Jews and Gentiles were made fellow-heirs and of the same body was by God breaking down the barrier between them and creating them as one new man in Jesus Christ. This action was done once for all, but it had a process. This is the revelation of the book of Acts. This process had an appropriate and predetermined starting place. This glorious event started with the Jews and then extended to the Greeks through the operation of the Gospel. Indeed, Israel was its obvious starting point. The Jews were already in place as God’s chosen people and it was through the Jews that divine things came into the world, even if there was a predetermined change for many of these things in the counsels of God. Not only had Paul stated to the Romans that God would start with the Jews, but at the beginning of Acts Jesus told his Jewish disciples, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Here Jesus said that you shall start the message of redemption in Jerusalem, the Jewish capital. Then you shall take it throughout the land of the Jews. Then you shall take it to the racially mixed half-Jews (the Samaritans). And last of all you shall take it to all of the Gentiles who had no Jewish bloodline. This was His method of operation in creating the one new man in Himself. As already indicated, in this new creation water baptism had a highly important and extremely pivotal function. It is its true significance and function that has been misinterpreted by baptismal regenerationists and not properly interpreted by very many others. Having laid this needed groundwork, it is now time to take up the issue.
John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, came to the Jews preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus submitted to John’s baptism. This is highly instructive regarding the nature of John’s baptism. In fact, the nature and meaning of John’s baptism will resurface again later in Acts. At this point it suffices to say that it is clear that John’s baptism was a new movement rite. More specifically, it was the signet of the “dedication to God movement”; as such it was the initiatory sign proclaiming that the baptized (signed) person belonged to the movement. Everyone who underwent it declared his submission to God in the new movement of holy living that was then occurring in Israel. When John was asked a series of questions about what should be done next by willing participants, his answers all had to do with living a godly and holy life. Obviously, as sinners, the followers of the movement would be required to repent from previous and hindering sins in order to live this holy life. Just as obviously, Jesus, Who is God and cannot sin, could not repent of sins that He was not guilty of committing. The message of repentance did not apply to Him, since He was uniquely God. However, being the Son of God Who was just setting out on His mission to proclaim and secure the very power of repentance from sins and holiness to God that John preached for all of the people of the movement, He submitted to John’s baptism as Head and Benefactor of the dedication movement. He submitted in order to wear the sign that He was the Source and Leader of the new movement of God. Water baptism was, therefore, highly significant and thusly pivotal as the indicator that the new movement of dedication to God as foretold in the Prophets had begun AND that everyone who wore this dedication sign belonged to God by belonging to the movement! The thoroughgoing power of this sign will be seen immediately through the Jews in Acts at the beginning of Peter’s ministry.
The second chapter of Acts is pivotal in many respects. The churches are amiss in their interpretations of the event recorded here. Neo-Pentecostalism is grounded in it as its locus classicus. This relatively modern movement is delusional. Indeed, it is founded on the fallacious premise that what occurred here in the opening of Acts was the first instance and pattern of prominent progression in sanctification according to God’s eternal purpose for the following generations of all believers. This is a fundamental and categorical misinterpretation of this event. The events of Acts chapter two were unique. They were just as unique as the events of Calvary or the events of the giving of the Law of Moses at Mount Sinai. Like these two events, the events of the feast of Pentecost that occurred fifty days after the Passover that marked the sacrifice of Jesus could not, in the very nature of the case, ever be repeated. No more could the crucifixion of Jesus on Golgotha be repeated than could the Day of Pentecost as recorded by Luke be repeated. No more could the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai be repeated than could this Pentecost be repeated. Non-Pentecostal churches properly don’t take the view that these events reveal an ongoing pattern for sanctification which should be repeated in the lives of God’s people, but they also miss the meaning of the high significance of these things. They, like Pentecostals, undervalue the grand, once-for-all event that was unfolding. The uniqueness of this event was that it was the first harvest; indeed, it was the gathering of the first-fruits of the scattered children of Israel to God through Jesus Christ! This event did not and could not have anything to do with Gentiles per se. The only Gentiles that experienced this event were proselytes to Judaism. They lived under the umbrella of the Mosaic Law and as such were functionally Jewish. The feast of Pentecost was also known as the Feast of Harvest and the Day of First Fruits. This particular feast recorded by Luke was the fulfillment of the gathering in of the harvest of the first fruits of Israel by Jesus Christ in God’s eternal purpose to harvest all of the children of Israel according to the grace and foreknowledge of God. When the day had arrived for the accomplishing of this particular purpose, Jews from all over the known world were dwelling in Jerusalem and were faithfully attending to the Jewish feast calendar. In all, fifteen different ethnic regions where these Jews originated were mentioned by name. The significance of this event was that now the new Day Age was dawning in Jesus Christ! Before now, Israel was reconciled to God through the Mosaic Law and this standing was witnessed to through the sign of circumcision. But now in Jesus Christ all had changed and was being worked out! The new and eternal order of things had arrived! Israel, in the first-fruits to God, was now reconciled to the Father through the sacrifice of His own Son and the sign of this reconciliation would be their baptism in Jesus’ name! Their baptism witnessed to the fact that they were now in the new realm or movement of God. Only through Jesus Christ was reconciliation to God in His movement possible. No one could move in this realm without receiving forgiveness of sins. Only in Jesus Christ was this forgiveness possible. Accordingly, when the Day of Pentecost had come, God, through Jesus, poured forth His Holy Spirit upon His disciples who had gathered in the temple to celebrate this feast and wait for God’s promise to Israel. This event occurred with great phenomena. At this awesome fulfillment of Pentecost, the Jews from the fifteen regions were present and declared that they were hearing these Galilean Jews speak, not in their own Galilean dialect, but in each foreign language of the fifteen different homelands! As expected, they were astonished! Other Jews mocked. In reaction to this mocking, Peter took his stand with the eleven apostles and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ to all present as the fulfillment of the prophets who foretold this specific event. At the end of his first specific quote of the prophet Joel, he declared “and it shall be that everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved!” Then, at the end of the entire prophetic quote he proclaimed, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus Whom you crucified.” The reaction of the Jews to these things was that they were pierced to the heart and asked what they should do. Peter declared that they must repent and that they would be forgiven of their sins after submitting to Jesus Christ and that in this submission they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This submission had its outward beginning in the rite of water baptism in Jesus’ Name. It was Jesus Who was head and benefactor of the movement of reconciliation to God. Israel’s sign that it was reconciled to God was not in Mosaic circumcision any longer. It was now in water baptism accomplished in Jesus Christ. The baptism did not effectuate the forgiveness, as baptismal regenerationists fatally believe. Rather, it witnessed to it as secured in Israel’s submission to Jesus Christ through faith. This is the same faith that Abraham, the father of faithful Israel had that accounted him righteous because he believed God; which faith was witnessed to through his circumcision - not made existent because of it! Nothing about faith and faithfully believing ever changed! What changed was the realm in which the faith was revealed and the outward sign of its manifestation. Faithful Israel had always stood justified before God because of forgiveness of sins just as Paul declared when explicating this very topic by quoting David: “How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not reckon sin! How blessed is the man who has been forgiven!” But now in Jesus Christ this realm was vindicated and this forgiveness was manifested and fulfilled! Since water baptism was the outward sign of pre-existing faith, do we have any indication of that faith in these particular Jews? Indeed, we do! The faith was alive in the fact that the Jews believed Peter’s preaching about Jesus Christ being Lord and Christ of Israel. It was alive in their question, “Brethren, what shall we do?” And it was revealed in their response to repent toward God through Jesus Christ. The believing, the question, and the resolve to repent had no act which made them real. They were all real in their very existence and were part and parcel together in God’s grace of initial salvation. What happened at this particular Feast of Pentecost was that the creation of the one new man in Christ Jesus was initiated and set underway through the gathering in of the first fruits of natural Israel. This was in keeping with God’s eternal purpose as foretold in the Scriptures. God would save all of chosen Israel and would bring the Gentiles in through them, too! “You shall be witnesses to Me (first) in Jerusalem.” This unique event had this in common with that of Mount Sinai. At Mount Sinai Israel was once-for-all ratified as a reconciled, covenanted nation. At Pentecost, the body of Christ was ratified as new and beginning. The new man in Jesus Christ was being created. The Jews who were the first fruits and beginning of this new movement body could only come in through submission to Jesus Christ, Head of His own body. This was the only significance of the water baptism. It witnessed to them – it affirmed them, it corroborated them as accepted through faith in Jesus! As such they would be forgiven and gifted. This is the meaning of “Repent (Israel), and be baptized in the Name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and your children and all (the Jews) who are far off, for as many (Jews) as the Lord will call to Himself.” This command was not for Gentiles. This is not only clear by the immediate context that only has to do with natural Israel, but it will also be abundantly clear as we proceed through Acts.
To summarize this very important and unique fulfillment of Scripture, these Jews and they alone were commanded to be baptized in the Name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins in order to receive the Holy Spirit because they were God’s chosen people, the natural children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were living at the end of the Mosaic Age and who were the direct benefactors of the fulfillment of the grace and mercies of God Who was redeeming His elect people out of the Law of Moses and into the Grace and Truth of Jesus Christ. The revelation that they were of this election of grace was manifested in their submission to Jesus Christ through the outward deed of water baptism in His Name, which was itself the beginning of the obedient holy life of repentance toward God and faith in Jesus’ Name! Acts chapter two has nothing to do with Gentile believers whatsoever. In fact, it only applied to these specific Jews who were living at the time of the change of God’s administration from that of Moses to that of Jesus Christ! This was the fulfillment of the Feast of Harvest (or Pentecost) of the Old Covenant Scriptures!
Water baptism has the following unique meaning everywhere that it appears in the New Covenant Scriptures: It attests to faith that already exists! It is not the faith itself. It witnesses to it as pre-existing; just like in father Abraham, the father of faithful Jews and faithful Gentiles! This fact will be seen in the rest of the important instances of water baptism in the treatise of Acts.
The following very important facts about water baptism will also be clearly seen through the revelation of Acts: the meaning and significance of this sign changes as it is applied to different races of men and kinds of men. This was according to the eternal purpose of God in creating one new man in Jesus Christ! Also, the phenomena that witnesses to the baptism of the Holy Spirit changes in like manner. This is important because, just as in its first record in Acts chapter two, the baptism of the Holy Spirit operated very closely with water baptism in God’s eternal purpose of the creation of the new man in Christ Jesus. The baptism (also, filling) of the Holy Spirit was the spiritual reality while water baptism was the outside testimony of the creation of the one new man.
The next occurrence of water baptism is in Acts chapter eight. As indicated above, it, like chapter two, is highly and uniquely significant. At this point in Luke’s record, Stephen is martyred. On that very day a great persecution arose against the Jewish assembly at Jerusalem. Because of this, the Jewish believers, except the twelve apostles, were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria where they went about proclaiming the Word of God. Philip entered into the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Word to them. They were listening to him and believing because his message was witnessed to by the same miraculous signs that attended the preaching of Jesus and His apostles. Luke states that, “when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” At this point, Luke makes a very noteworthy statement. He said, “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit.” The report got back to the apostles in Jerusalem that the Samaritans had become believers and had been baptized in Jesus’ Name. However, they had not received the gift of the Holy Spirit! Clearly, just as the apostles expected faith in Jesus to be witnessed to by water baptism, they also expected this particular, - I repeat - this particular event of salvation to be witnessed to by miraculous signs. Why was this? Unlike the churches of today, the apostles knew what was transpiring in this new event when people believed in Jesus and were, accordingly, baptized in His Name, and received the gift of His Holy Spirit. The apostles themselves had believed (their status from their beginning with Jesus), been baptized, and been baptized with the Holy Spirit. This last event had occurred very recently at the Feast of Pentecost and had been witnessed to by supernatural signs. Because they understood the great epochal event that was occurring, they expected the baptism of the Holy Spirit to be manifested in the same way that happened to themselves. According to the Scriptures, epochal changes in God’s purposes were witnessed to by supernatural signs. This was part of Israel’s history. The Apostles understood this. God had ordained that the baptism of the Holy Spirit revealed the fulfillment of ingathering into the kingdom of God. More specifically, the baptism of the Holy Spirit characterized the fulfillment of the process of the creation of the one new man in Jesus Christ. The question then is what was significant about these Samaritans becoming fellow-believers? This was the first time that people who were not full-blooded Jews or full proselytes to Judaism were incorporated into the kingdom of God! Not only so, but these particular people had been, up to this point, held at bay by Judaism. The two groups of Jews and Samaritans had held very strong racist views against one another and avoided one another as much as possible. They both vigorously looked down on the other race and thought that they alone were the true people of God. We know that the Samaritans were wrong, but they were very adamant to the contrary. God in His wisdom and plan held back the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritans until His appointed Jewish apostles could arrive at Samaria and be an integral part of His salvation of the race of Samaritans. God was creating the one new man in Christ and the body of this new man would be built upon the foundation of His holy apostles. The new man could not stand any other way. It wasn’t until the Jewish apostles laid their hands on the Samaritan believers that God poured out His Spirit upon them – thus marking the ongoing creation of one new man out of different races of men and also underscoring the authoritative unity that is essential to this body! It is not stated, but it is implied that the Samaritans’ salvation was witnessed to by God through supernatural signs in the same way as with the Jews! Once again, this event in Acts chapter eight has nothing to do with Gentile believers or any believers who were not Samaritans living at the end of the Mosaic Age. This Samaritan event can properly be seen as the second significant occurrence in the creation of the new man in Jesus Christ!
Immediately after this great event, Luke records the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch under Philip’s teaching. Philip interpreted the prophet Isaiah to the eunuch so that he understood this and other Scriptures to preach Jesus Christ. The Word implies that Philip taught the eunuch that believers in Jesus where baptized. This would be totally expected in light of the Samaritan events. The addition that Philip said to the eunuch, “if you believe with all you heart you may be baptized” to which the eunuch replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” is a scribal gloss. The significance of this episode is that while Acts focuses on Peter and Paul, other significant people are also emphasized to reveal the outworking of God’s eternal plan. This event was part of the fulfillment of the prophecies of Jesus that His gospel would be taken to the ends of the earth before the end of the Mosaic Age. The eunuch was from the farthest southern region of the known world of Africa.
Next, before resuming with Peter’s ministry, Luke writes about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the great persecutor of the Jewish assemblies, who would become known as the apostle Paul after his conversion. This is not only appropriate because it properly places Saul’s conversion, but it is highly instructive about the function of water baptism in God’s purposes. Luke relates that Saul was very intensely determined to stamp out Christianity. On his way to Damascus for this purpose he was miraculously converted to the Faith by the Spirit of Jesus Himself. While all conversions to Christianity are supernatural, Saul’s was significantly miraculous. A dazzling light, brighter than the noon-day sun, brilliantly flashed all around Saul. He fell to the ground and heard a voice from heaven saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” When Saul asked who was speaking, he was told that it was Jesus Whom he was persecuting. Then Jesus said, “Get up, and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” Saul arose and was blind. He was led by the hand into the city by those who were with him and who were awe-struck by the event. There he remained blind and completely fasting for three days. Immediately the Spirit of Jesus appeared to a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. Jesus told Ananias to go to Saul, for Saul was praying and had seen in a vision a man named Ananias come and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight. When Ananias objected because Saul was a persecutor of the Jerusalem believers and had come to Damascus for this very purpose, Jesus said this very significant thing to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name’s sake.” The Lord declared that Saul was selected, preferred, specifically appointed to take the message of the Way to all flesh, but especially to the Gentiles and in this task he would experience many particular and unique sufferings. Ananias obeyed and after laying his hands on Saul said this: “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” This is the first time that the term being filled with the Holy Spirit is mentioned and it is stated as occurring with the restoration of Saul’s sight. The Scripture states, “And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized, and he took food and was strengthened.” These things happened to Saul in Damascus: Ananias was sent by Jesus to him. Ananias laid his hands on him. Saul regained his sight. He was water baptized. He was filled with the Holy Spirit (implied). He ended his fast. Before seeing the deep meaning of Saul’s conversion as highly significant within the creation of the new man, his own recounting of this event must be considered. Later in this account, Saul, now known as Paul, made his defense before the Jews. He started by given his pedigree; he was a qualified and devout Jew who was zealous for the Mosaic Law. He retold the events of his conversion just as they were recorded by Luke earlier but he added this important information about Ananias: “A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there came to me…” Ananias was, like Paul and his audience, devout according to the Mosaic Law. Not only so, but he was well-spoken of by all the Jews of Damascus. This man had a reputation for true holiness. He was a leading Christian who also had favor with his fellow Jews of Damascus who adhered to the Law of Moses. He stood on the same footing as Peter, John, and James regarding holiness before God and the Jews. He was a righteous man who was respected and listened to. Paul also added this information about what Ananias said to him: “‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’” This last phrase is worded almost exactly like Peter’s command to the Jews at Pentecost about how they would be blessed. The parallels are strong and meaningful according to God’s eternal purpose in creating one new man in Christ. They only have to do with Jews as Jews submitting to Jesus Christ! Peter, the apostle to the circumcision, proclaimed to the Jews what they must do to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Ananias, a devout and leading man among the Jews of Damascus, proclaimed to Saul what he must do to receive cleansing. Just like with the Jews at Pentecost, Saul was instructed to manifest his submission to the Lord Jesus Christ (rather than to Moses) in order to be saved. Also just like with the Jews at Pentecost, Saul’s salvation was a process which began when he believed and had its first outward step in water baptism. This specifically commanded Jewish outward step was instantly rewarded. It was indispensable for the Jews living at the end of the Mosaic Age. It testified to the manifestation that the salvation of Israel was only found in submission to Jesus Christ, God’s anointed Son. The difference between the experience of the Pentecostal Jews and Saul was that they submitted to the apostle Peter as the new authority for Israel. Saul submitted to a prominent godly Jew of good reputation. Saul’s submission was not through the new Israel precisely because he was called by Jesus Christ for an altogether different path. While he would testify to all men, his ministry was primarily to the Gentile world. Not only had this been emphasized in Ananias’ word to Paul that Jesus had appointed him to the Gentiles by naming them before both kings and the sons of Israel, but Paul related that immediately after returning to Jerusalem the Lord told him that He was sending him far away to the Gentiles. Peter was the apostle to the Jews. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul, even being a Jew and fully submitting to Jesus Christ, did not submit to Peter for the way of salvation. It is not without significance that Ananias means, “Jah(veh) has favored”! Paul’s submission was directly to God. He received his second set of instructions from an initially hesitant Jew appointed by God to reveal His favor to Saul. He received his primary instructions from the Lord Jesus Himself while he was on the road of hate. Just as with the Pentecostal Jews, is there any indication of Saul’s justification before he was water baptized. The answer again is, yes, there is! He believed when he saw the Light of God and heard the Voice of God say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” His faith was initially revealed in the question, “Who are you Lord?” His faith was revealed in his obedient response to the instructions from Jesus, Who immediately identified Himself has the Light and the Voice; the very same Person whom he had been hating. Saul’s water baptism and his baptism with the Holy Spirit were very highly significant in the formation of the one new man in Christ Jesus, a man constituted of both believing Jews and believing Gentiles; of whom Paul was placed as leading apostle over the second group.
After Saul’s conversion, Luke reports about his initial ministry among the Jews as ordained by God and ends this section this particular way: “So the assembly throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” This is the end of the first major phase of the creation of the new man. Israel and Israel’s family had initially been harvested. First, it was full-blooded Jews and proselytes from all over the world. Then it was half-Jews, the Samaritans. Finally it was a prominent Jew with a different harvest mission, Saul of Tarsus, the appointed Jewish apostle to the Gentile world.
After this, Luke immediately returned to Peter. This deals with the second major phase of the creation of the new man in Christ. Before he takes up this subject again, Luke reestablishes Peter’s Divine credentials by reporting the miraculous healing of Aeneas of Lydda and the raising from the dead of Tabitha of Joppa. For the sake of some brevity and so that I will not need to repeat facts, please read the very informative Acts 10:1 through 11:18. This details the harvest of a unique type of Gentile believers. It was precisely because of the kind of Gentile believers that these people were that they were brought in under the ministry of Peter rather than Paul.
Cornelius was an Italian military officer who had one hundred men under his command. He was also a God-fearing Gentile. As a God-fearer, he worshipped the God of Israel with his whole house. The term God-fearer was applied to people of that era who were Gentiles by birth but who adhered to many aspects of Judaism without becoming full Jewish proselytes. They reverenced the God of Israel in the following ways: They attended the Jewish synagogues, read the Jewish Scriptures, prayed the Jewish prayers, and did certain Jewish good works. However, they would not keep the one Jewish rite that would make them proselytes. They would not submit to Jewish circumcision. Even so, they were respected by Jews and were socialized with on a limited basis. After receiving instructions from an angel, Cornelius sent men to Joppa to fetch Peter. Meanwhile, Peter received particular instructions from the Spirit of God telling him to go with these men to Cornelius. When he arrived, Cornelius related everything to him and concluded by saying, “So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” Then Peter made a statement that we will return to shortly. He said, “I most certainly understand that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” Next, Peter gave a brief summary of the Person and ministry of Jesus. He ended by saying, “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” Immediately, something astonishing to the Jewish mindset happened. Luke states that “While Peter was still speaking these words the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers (the Jewish Christians) who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God.” It is imperative to see what happened here! While Peter was preaching the message of faith to the God-fearing Gentiles, they believed this specific word: “through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” Then, immediately upon this faith “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to (believing) the message.” The evidence that the Holy Spirit came upon these Gentiles was the exact same evidence that proved that He came upon the original group of Jews on the Day of Pentecost; they spoke with tongues and glorified God! At the message of Peter, Cornelius and his companions believed that they were forgiven of their sins through Jesus Christ and at that instant they were justified before God – they were saved from their sins. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. This event turns the interpretation of baptismal regenerationists completely on its head. They say that you must be water baptized (or, in liberal interpretation, that you must intend to be, that is, plan to be water baptized) in order to be forgiven and, therefore, saved. Luke declares that the God-fearing Gentiles simply believed in Jesus Christ and were forgiven and, therefore, saved. Their believing for forgiveness was not accompanied by any act whatsoever! They simply believed, trusted, put their faith in Jesus in the very same way that a completely physically paralyzed man would do it. They did nothing but trust in, put confidence in Jesus as He Who forgives sins. After they so trusted and were filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter instructed that they submit to water baptism, the outward sign of the faith that they previously put in Jesus to be saved. The subsequent water baptism not only revealed that they already possessed saving faith in Jesus, but that they belonged to the new man of faith who was being created in Christ Jesus. These momentous facts about saving faith are attested to again by Luke when he relates the opposition that Peter faced by Jewish believers regarding intimacy with Gentiles when he returned to Jerusalem. When they objected to Peter because he had table fellowship with Gentiles, fellowship beyond that accorded to God-fearing gentiles, he related the facts already covered, but he added these clarifying words. When telling about what the angel said to Cornelius, he said “the angel said… ‘Peter…will speak words to you by which you will be saved.’” Then Peter added, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” The baptism with the Holy Spirit and water baptism in Jesus’ Name were the great events that marked the epochal creation of the new man in Christ! This is attested to in the phrase, “the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as upon us at the beginning.” At the beginning of what? Not at the beginning of the renewal movement of repentance toward God. This occurred under the ministry of John the Baptizer and was witnessed to in his baptism. Peter was there and participated in that. Not at the beginning of the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. This occurred at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. Peter was there and participated in that, too. Rather, at the beginning of the creation of the new man in Jesus Christ – His body! This event began approximately ten years earlier at the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the crucifixion of Jesus. Luke continued, “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance to (eternal) life.’” Clearly, Cornelius and his household were saved to eternal life by simply believing in the message about Jesus, the forgiver of sins. Their salvation was immediately demonstrated in the miraculous witness of speaking in tongues as the Holy Spirit fell upon them when they believed. After that, they received the sign of their sonship – water baptism in Jesus’ Name – the same sign that all Christians receive as testimonial to God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ!
Finally, there needs to be a word of clarification about Cornelius. As mentioned earlier, Cornelius was a certain kind of Gentile; one that already stood close to God. As a God-fearer, he attached himself to the worship of the One True God of Israel. In a sense, he was predisposed to believing. This is how Peter and other people of his day saw God-fearers. Such was reflected in Peter’s words referred to earlier, “I most certainly understand that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” Cornelius was a God-fearing Gentile and God ordained that through Peter’s ministry these Gentiles would hear His word and believe. Because Cornelius was a Jewish-oriented Gentile, he was brought in through the apostle to the Jews rather than through the apostle to the Gentiles. This honor was accorded to Peter. This great event regarding Cornelius revealed the second major phase of the creation of the new man in Christ; the bringing in of the unique people who stood between the Jews and the Gentiles in the ancient world of Jesus – the God-fearers.
Now we come to the final phase of the creation of the new man in Jesus Christ – the bringing in of those who were purely Gentiles and who were not previously predisposed to the God of Israel, as were the Jews, the Samaritans, and the God-fearers. The following facts should not be lost from sight. In fact, they underscore the importance of all these events in the great eternal purpose of God in Christ concerning the process of the summing up and fulfilling of all that had been written in the Scriptures.
After Luke ends the report about the grafting in of the God-fearers through the house of Cornelius and the Jerusalem (Jewish) believers’ acceptance of this grand event, he immediately resumes where he left off. The stoning of Stephen was the departure point in God’s purpose. From that event Philip proclaimed the Gospel to the Samaritans and they believed and were filled with the Spirit after the endorsement of the Jewish apostles. Next, Philip led a foreigner from the ends of the earth, who needed no such endorsement, into the body of Christ. Then the persecutor Saul was converted, accepted by the Jewish believers, filled with God’s Spirit, and the persecutor of Jewish believers became the persecuted by Jewish non-believers. Then Peter led the God-fearing Gentiles into the body of Christ. After these things, Luke returns to his original departure point, the stoning of Stephen. From this point he emphasized the bringing in of the Gentiles as Gentiles into the body of Christ! Just like before, this was done without the initial work of apostles. And, just like before, this latter fact emphasized that the great events that were occurring were the work of God, accomplished solely and uniquely by His Spirit. There would be no mistake – this great work of God was without the prevenient work of Jewish authority. Indeed, it was altogether above man! It was not dependent on any type of believer or on the authority of any certain kind of believer as the works of God under Moses had been. Rather, it was the strong outworking of the fulfillment of this Scripture: “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.”’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” From the departure point of the death of Stephen, Luke declares, “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number (of Greeks) who believed turned to the Lord.” He continued, “The news about them (the Greek converts) reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the assembly and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” These facts from Luke are very significant: (1) the disciples of the assembly in Antioch were the first of all believers to be designated with a new descriptive, honorable appellation. Antioch in Syria was the third leading city of the Roman Empire, standing in importance after Rome and Alexandria. It was there that the Gentiles (the Greeks) were prominent in the assembly. The Jewish population of ancient Antioch numbered no more than ten to twelve percent. This fact, taken together with the statement that the hand of the Lord was with those who were preaching to the Greeks, emphasizes that the assembly in Antioch was comprised mainly of Gentile converts. And, it was there that the highly significant and ever enduring name Christian (which means “a follower of Christ”) was applied to them.
[Excursus: It has been repeated many times that the term Christian was meant to be dishonorable and was first applied to the believers by hostile unbelievers. Even though this story has much currency, it has no basis in fact. In fact, it doesn’t even have any intimation as being the case here in Acts. Rather, the implication is that the name was meant as a new designation and was probably meant as honorific. Furthermore, it isn’t even clear whether the name was given to the believers in Antioch by others (unbelievers) or was a self-designation. The honorable appellation may be illuminated and supported by this statement, “And for an entire year they met with the assembly and taught considerable numbers.” Up until this time, the people of God had called themselves “believers”, “disciples”, “brethren”, “followers along the Road”, and “holy ones”. They had been derided as “Galileans”, “Nazarenes”, or “followers of a sect”. They had consisted of Jewish believers, Samaritan believers, and those God-fearers who adhered closely to Jewish customs and ways. But now a new kind of believers arose being in the majority and the Lord put His approval upon them. They were Greeks or Gentiles. In the ancient world the words Greeks and Gentiles were used synonymously. Rather than Luke implying that the new term Christian was one of persecution and dishonor, the weight of the evidence goes the other way. Luke is showing that the believers in Antioch who were comprised of many Gentiles came to be known specifically as those who followed Christ. This was an honorable designation of the believers of the movement as people who were especially attached to the person of Jesus Christ. Before, they had been known as attached to one of His titles, “followers of the Road”, as in “I am the Road, the Truth, and the Life.” Now, they were known as more specifically attached to Him in the same way that devoted followers of Herod were known as Herodians or followers of Herod and in the same way that devotees to Caesar were known as followers of or belonging to Caesar. - End Excursus.]
(2) With telling omission, water baptism is not even mentioned in this pivotal portion of Acts like it is in the other pivotal portions (listed above). This highly underscores the fact explicated above that, in Luke’s second work, water baptism was, in a special way, a Jewish and Jewish-oriented rite that signified that the first believers, who were composed of these very groups, were fully submitted to Jesus in the very same way that circumcision revealed that Jews were fully submitted to Moses. This fact has completely been overlooked by Biblical interpreters. Salvation only by grace through faith is solely emphasized in the experience of the Christians of Antioch. The sign of water baptism is not even mentioned.
Until now, water baptism had signaled the bringing in of the previously disjointed peoples in the creation of the new man in Jesus Christ. With the new emphasis upon the Gentile believers in Antioch the omission to emphasize water baptism in their experience was highly significant. Its omission declared that the creation of the new man was now complete.
From here until the end of Acts water baptism is mentioned in a less important capacity than earlier in Luke’s writing – less important, but still important. From this point, the new recordings of water baptism apply to either individual believers or believers and their households. The sole meaning of water baptism in each of these episodes is that the people of interest were immediately committed to Jesus Christ as Lord through their faith – water baptism was the revelatory sign of this submission. Yet, in this group there is one episode that stands out and needs to be considered. It does not concern an individual or an individual and his or her household. Neither is it like the previous points of focus in Luke regarding ethnic peoples (Jews, Samaritans) or ethnic-oriented peoples (God-fearers). Rather, it concerns a movement that was embodied by a small group of men. Their appearance here is to finalize that everything was now summed up in Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of all things was rapidly occurring. Luke states “that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country (in Galatia) and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples.” Luke doesn’t say why Paul asked the following question, but clearly something was obviously amiss to cause Paul to ask it. He asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” This is not to be taken to mean that they had not even heard about the existence of the Holy Spirit. Rather, what they clearly meant was that they had not heard whether the Holy Spirit was manifested according to Paul’s probing question(s). This is understood by the fact that they were at least rudimentary disciples who caused Paul to question the extent of their faith. This is also seen in what follows. Paul continued, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John's baptism.” They had experienced the baptism of the forerunner but had not advanced beyond the rudimentary faith of that baptism. John’s baptism was one that called its adherents to repent from their sins and make themselves ready for the coming One who would later baptize them with His Holy Spirit. They had not advanced. Obviously, their experience was wholly in the first portion of John’s message. They were not even aware of the events that had taken place in Jesus Christ. Clearly, they were a group of isolated and primitive disciples. Immediately Paul declared to them the complete message of faith and life. He told them, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
Luke states that “when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” It is also very significant that these specific people were the only people in all the Word of God to be rebaptized in the movement of God in Christ. This fact reveals that their initial baptism was meaningless because it did not witness to actual and living faith in Jesus. This is supported by the fact that Paul had to explain to them the full meaning of John’s baptism. After they were water baptized a very amazing thing happened. Paul laid his hands upon them and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit much like the apostles themselves and the Samaritans before them received Him. They spoke in tongues and prophesied just like the apostles and company did on the Day of Pentecost and they received this gift after the laying on of apostolic hands, just like the Samaritans. This singular event was the experience of these heretofore much unenlightened disciples. These men were not specified as constituting any ethnic group. Instead, they were singled out as belonging to the movement of John the Baptizer, even though their purpose was ill-informed. The fact that they were focused on as a movement is supported by Luke’s particular phrase that “they were in all about twelve men.” This particular way of describing them is peculiar. It is not specific as would be expected when referring to such a small number of people. The imagery is immediate. Luke was comparing them to the twelve apostles as constituting a movement. By this event the Holy Spirit was signifying that at that point in time all peoples and all righteous causes were being summed up in the Lord Jesus Christ! The creation of the new man included the bringing in of all things under Christ. No longer would there be diverse peoples groping for God and no longer would there be different voices under God. All people were being made one and all things were becoming unified.
After this event Luke mentions water baptism one more time in Acts, but that time is simply Paul retelling about his conversion. There are no new instances.
So, in Acts, water baptism is the supreme sign that disjointed humanity was being created new and one in Jesus Christ and that all things were, therefore, submitted to Him. Water baptism was the sign of the existence and submission of faith in Jesus, first among the Jews and then among the Gentiles according to the determination of God. Water baptism did not and does not in any way constitute faith, that is, it is not in any way or to any degree an equivalent of faith or a part of faith being necessary for justification before God as the baptismal regenerationists assert. Rather, it testifies to faith’s preexistence and reality! It is ONLY God’s grace that justifies believers.
The Scripture declares, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by HIS LIFE.”
It is sheer faith apart from any action by men that receives His gracious gift. And, it is God alone Who gives this faith of Christ to mankind. Indeed, by His mighty power He creates it graciously in us through His love.
Again, the Scripture declares, “For God, Who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ (a clear reference to the original creation of the heavens and the earth wherein God acted solely by His almighty power, with the heavens and the earth being completely passive) is the One Who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and NOT FROM OURSELVES.”
This IS the Gospel! All hope for humanity stands grounded in this love of God! Your true hope is grounded in the fact that God Who began His great work will finish it – that He will see His works fulfilled according to His purpose! The very structure of the universe hangs on His promise to preserve it - - and so does your soul!
Again, God declares in His Word, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (All of these phrases, including the last one, are in the past tense! – That is, all these things are done!) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one Who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He Who died, yes, rather Who was raised, Who is at the right hand of God, Who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him Who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, NOR ANY OTHER CREATED THING, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.”
This IS the Gospel!
Finally, the Holy Spirit says through Paul, “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds (or any deed – the oriental mind did not nitpick like the western mind does) which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that BEING JUSTIFIED BY HIS GRACE we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
This IS the Gospel! Anyone holding to a different teaching that comes short of this and seeks another way to be justified has “fallen from grace”, in the words of Paul.
Being saved by grace rather than works is paramount in Christianity. It is a cardinal doctrine – a motif of eternal life.
I will now consider some “hard” instances** in other places in the Scripture where water baptism has been confused as a means of justification. (After that, I will give attention to some Scriptural statements that are highly consequential concerning baptismal regeneration.) These “hard” instances are representative of all the others where this confusion obtains. The clarification of one illustrates the clarification of the rest. The explanations of these instances have already been rendered above, either explicitly or implicitly. I will cover them, though, because of the gravity of the subject at hand.
** The Gospel of Mark opens with this Jewish oriented statement: “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark stands in the very same vein as Luke when handling water baptism, that is, with regard to the Jews; water baptism was unique for revealing their submission to Jesus, the Messiah of the Jews and the Giver of all gifts of eternal life. Again, it was just like circumcision before it which was unique for revealing submission to the Law of Moses. Circumcision testified to complete Jewish submission to the Law. Water baptism testified to complete Jewish submission to Jesus Christ. Just like circumcision, water baptism did not guarantee or was not necessary for salvation – rather, it proved that salvation existed in the recipient.
(Note: Mark 16: 9-20 is a scribal gloss that was added to manuscripts of Mark sometime in the second century. Therefore, it will get no further comment.)
** Unlike in his personal (Jewish) experience, in Paul’s writings to all (Gentiles and Jews alike), water baptism strongly signifies symbol standing in the place of substance. His writings focus primarily upon Gentiles as he was God’s appointed apostle to the Gentiles. (Indeed, his writings that regard Jewish interests do so as subsumed under Gentile dispositions. For example, when writing to the Roman believers about freedom of choice issues, he states that the Gentile position is the strong one and the Jewish position is the weak one.) In writing this way he employs water baptism as a personification of eternal life. In the Jewish writings of Mark and Luke, water baptism assumes the role of the imperative revealing immediate submission to Jesus Christ as Lord. In the Gentile dominated writings of Paul, water baptism assumes the role of the indicative revealing the settled fact of incorporation into Jesus Christ. Retaining this outlook will clarify all of the places that water baptism appears in the New Covenant Scriptures. The way that Paul employs the language about water baptism is much akin to the way that we Occidentals employ symbol standing for substance. For example, when we say that “the White House said today …” we know exactly what is meant. No one thinks for one moment that the building literally and physically spoke. Furthermore, the symbolism that obtains is so engrained in us as a collective whole that we don’t have to ask “which White House said …?” We all know collectively without being told that it is the building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. that is meant. This is exactly how the believers of the first century Roman Empire understood symbol for substance, too. Next, I will illustrate this knowledge by reiterating a statement from Paul’s letter to the Romans. I will supply in parenthesis the substance rather than its symbol. However, remember that in the same way that we in our culture don’t parenthetically supply explanations, e.g., “(the President or even the President’s Administration at) the White House said …”, Paul and other ancient writers did not supply it either. Also, admittedly, this is purely a didactic exercise because Paul was using the very symbol of water baptism to represent the burial of Christians. To be didactic this way is to step aside from (and lose the force of) the main thrust of the intended picture in this Scripture - a picture that was pregnant with utter meaning! To reiterate Paul, he said, “Do you not know that all of us who have (believed) into Christ Jesus have (believed) into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through (believing) into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Now, if one were to do what neither ancient writers did nor we do when writing symbolically and rephrase this Scripture, this will be the intentional meaning of Paul: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus (upon believing in Him) have been baptized into His death (through our faith in Him)? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism (by faith) into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Our faith partakes of all things in Christ. Certain symbolic acts, including water baptism, demonstrate these preexisting realities in the world; they do not effectuate them!
** A certain statement of Peter has been misconstrued to teach baptismal regeneration. Peter said regarding Paul that some things that he wrote were hard to understand. This statement of Peter’s falls squarely in that predicament. In his first letter Peter stated, “who (spirits in prison) once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an inquiry to God for a good conscience-- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Here Peter states that water baptism “saves” those who submit to it. Peter is standing in the same usage tradition as Luke, when Luke referred to Gentiles, and Paul. Early in his ministry he had been appointed with John to fulfill his apostleship among the circumcision. Most people wrongly infer from this that his ministry to the circumcision focused upon Palestinian Jews. This is incorrect. All of the weight of the Scriptural evidence is against this conclusion. Indeed, this very letter that contains the baptismal statement in question was written to the Jews in the Diaspora – the Jews of the Dispersion. The vast majority of these particular Jews were Hellenized; they were dominated by Greek thought and Greek customs. The very nature of his letter is Hellenized as well. Peter means in his statement, and must be understood to mean, that the way that water baptism saves is through its symbolic testimony to the faith that saves which precedes it. Like Luke, when he wrote about Gentiles, and like Paul, he puts the symbol for the substance as bearing the weight of the testimony. In fact, he goes on to clarify this and to remove any confusion on the part of his readers. Immediately after stating that baptism saves he declares that it is not the act of water baptism that saves - - not the removal of dirt from the flesh (not the plunge into the water) - - but an inquiry to God for a good conscience! Water baptism stands as a testifier to calling on the Name of the Lord. A cardinal doctrine of the Gospel is the sure standing place that “Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.” Calling on the Name of the Lord is quintessential to saving faith. As such, it brings no work, no act, or no outward deed with it. It is just like the drowning person calling for help. He supplies no lifeline or no float. He simply calls out for rescue. Again, Peter, in unison with Luke and Paul, holds forth the symbol in the place of the substance as the place to stand for assurance before God.
** Finally, I will consider one more Scripture. Actually, this Scripture was properly and contextually considered above regarding the creation of all men in Christ, but I will take it up again because it is often wrongly singled out and focused on by baptismal regenerationists. I will now look at it simply in regards to the inherent meaning of water baptism in and of itself. I could go on afterwards to consider others but it must be remembered that all of the seemingly problematic Scriptures have the same remedy of interpretation. I often say that the Scripture stands in consistent unity and consistently answers all things. Paul said to the Galatian believers that “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.” Again, this proof-text of baptismal regenerationists is completely misinterpreted. The thrust of the teaching of the Scriptures in this place is truly neglected by them. This statement by Paul was the apt conclusion to the argument that he was making. He was comparing the complete inadequacy of the realm of the Law of Moses with the complete sufficiency of the realm of faith in Jesus concerning life, righteousness, and all humanity. In putting the symbol for the substance he was producing the sign of proof that the believers were in the better realm of faith than that offered through the Law. This proof-offering was used in the same way that Peter used water baptism in his writing considered above. Baptism was the sign of assurance that believers were in the life and righteousness of God in Paul just as it was the assurance that they were saved from judgment in Peter. Consider the full progression of Paul’s argument: “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our disciplinarian to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.” Additionally, the clothing through baptism was the first step of many steps of clothing with Christ expected of believers throughout their lives. The perpetual injunctions stand: “Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in illicit bedding and licentiousness, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” If Paul decided to word the conclusion of his argument differently, he would have said it this way: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ, thus signifying your faith in Him, have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus as your clothing of baptism shows. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.” Paul could have said it this way but he did not because this is not the vocabulary of God.
All that has been said above should settle the issue that baptismal regeneration is false teaching and, consequentially, fatal to one’s soul. As stated previously, I will next consider some Scriptural statements that are highly consequential concerning baptismal regeneration. These statements would NEVER be made by Paul if water baptism was in any way or by any means necessary for salvation. Early in his first letter to the Corinthians, he said, “For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ DID NOT SEND ME TO BAPTIZE, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” Can anyone rightly say that Paul at any time under any circumstances would have said, “I thank God that I proclaimed faith to none of you”? Or, would he have ever said, “beyond a few people, I do not know whether I preached the gospel to any other person”? Would Paul have stated, “For Christ did not send me to preach the Gospel, but to administer His Supper”? Of course not! If water baptism was in any way an essential part of saving faith, he would never have treated it in such a secondary way. He dealt with water baptism in this letter this way because it really did (and does) have the secondary status of symbol and, having such a status, could be emphasized or deemphasized according to the purpose at hand. Faith can never be deemphasized! It can never be treated in a secondary fashion!
Finally, I will now list groups and denominations that hold to the doctrine of salvation by works established in their doctrine that water baptism is necessary for forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. By simply and only holding to such teaching they constitute themselves as not Christians! Church groups they are; Christian assemblies they are not! I reveal them because it is utterly important that “we not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the Gospel will remain with you”!
I am not listing groups that claim exclusive revelation among their teachings, for example, the Mormon Church. It isn’t my purpose to examine their teachings. This subject visits the teachings of churches that claim to have correct interpretation without additional exclusive revelation.
CATHOLIC OR CATHOLIC ORIENTED:
(Here Catholic Oriented deals exclusively with the significance of water baptism rather than with other Catholic ornamentation.)
* Roman Catholic Churches and offshoot (Western type) Catholic Churches
* Eastern Catholic Churches – better known as Eastern Orthodox Churches and offshoot Orthodox Churches
* Anglican Churches and offshoot Anglican Churches
* American Anglican Churches and offshoot American Anglican Churches
* American Episcopal Churches and offshoot Episcopal Churches
* Methodist Churches and offshoot Methodist Churches
* Lutheran Churches and offshoot Lutheran Churches
* Christian Churches and offshoot Christian Churches
* Disciples of Christ Churches and offshoot Disciples of Christ Churches
* Church of Christ Churches and offshoot Church of Christ Churches
* United Pentecostal Churches (United Pentecostal Church International) and offshoot United Pentecostal Churches
Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”