The Facts on Baptism Acts 2: 38 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
There are many denominations that teach that water baptism is essential for salvation. As a result, they baptize babies (Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) or they make water baptism a condition for salvation when you are older (Church of Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc.). Of course, they use the scriptures to prove their doctrine. Almost all heresies are proved by the Bible.
The key verse for this doctrine is Acts 2:38. However, when it comes to the doctrine of water baptism, Acts 2:38 is unique. In Acts 2:38, Peter was preaching to the Jews who were responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. After hearing Peter preach that the resurrected Jesus was the same one they had crucified and that Jesus was going to make his foes his footstool (Acts 2:33-37), they asked, “What shall we do?” They did not ask what to do to be saved. They wanted to know what to do about crucifying their now risen Savior.
First, they had to repent of what they had done. Second, they had to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ because, until now, they hadn’t believed on him. Keep in mind, they were not baptized to have their sins forgiven; Jesus had already forgiven them on the cross (Lk 23:34). They were baptized “for (because of) the remission of sins.” Third, following their baptism, they received the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Now, if Acts 2:38 were the way for everyone to get saved, we would certainly find evidence of it in other places in the Bible. But we don’t. This is the only place where we find men being baptized in water to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. In other chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, we find something different.
In Acts 10:44, for instance, the Holy Ghost first fell on the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home and then they were baptized in water. They did not have to be baptized in water, like Acts 2:38, to get the Holy Ghost. Peter even said that God gave these Gentiles “the like gift as he did unto us,” (Acts 11:17). And the whole episode reminded Peter that there is a very distinct difference between water baptism and baptism with the Holy Ghost (Acts 11:16). Being baptized in water can’t save; but being baptized by the Spirit does (1 Cor 12:13).
Another key verse to prove that water baptism is essential for salvation is Mark 16:16, They quote the part of the verse that says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” But don’t neglect to read the last half of the verse. The last half of Mark 16:16 says, “but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
The condition for salvation is not water baptism, then, but rather belief. If you don’t believe, you are condemned already (Jn 3:18, 36). If you believe, you are saved now (Jn 3:18, 36). And those who are saved are baptized in water after they get saved, as in Acts 10:48 and Acts 8:36-38. Belief first, then water baptism.
Another verse used to teach that you must be baptized in water to be saved is 1 Pet 3:21. Notice carefully that the verse says more than, “baptism doth also now save us.” There’s a lot more in this verse than that. For one thing the first part of the verse says, “The like FIGURE whereunto even baptism…” Peter tells you it’s a FIGURE.
Furthermore, according to the context of 1 Pet 3:21, the ones who went under the water in Noah’s flood (v. 20) all drowned and perished. The ones who floated are the ones who were saved. So, if you follow their reasoning that 1 Pet 3:21 proves the need for water baptism to be saved, the proper method of baptism would be to float around in the baptistery for a while… a long while.
Water baptism can’t put away the filth of the flesh, according to 1 Pet 3:21. The only thing, in the context, that can put that away and save us is “the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” That’s precisely what Paul said in 1 Cor 15:13-29. So, water baptism is not the means of salvation. It is the “answer of a good conscience toward God,” once you are saved.
Another key verse to prove that water baptism is essential for salvation is Jn 3:5-6. They say that to be born of water is water baptism. But that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said, in the context, that to be “born of water,” (v.5) is to be “born of the flesh,” (v.6). He interpreted this for you. The flesh birth is a water birth.
In fact, the baptism that is essential for salvation is found in Rom 6:3-6. Here is the description of the baptism with the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13). This is the process whereby the Holy Spirit so literally makes you a part of the body of Christ (Eph 5:30-32) that you are actually “baptized into HIS death.” You are “buried WITH him.” And you “shall be also in the likeness of HIS resurrection.”
The baptism of Rom 6:3-6 is something that no baptistery in the world can do for you. This baptism is something that only the Holy Spirit can do for you. 1 Cor 12:13 says, “for BY ONE SPIRIT are we all baptized into one body.” Rom 6 is not “water” baptism.
Water baptism has no saving power. Though many religions believe water baptism is essential for salvation, they have no actual scriptural authority upon which to base their belief and practice. So, if water baptism is not essential for salvation, then why baptize new converts? The answer is simple. In Matt 28:19, Jesus commanded us to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
You will notice, as you read through your Bible, that Jesus was baptized “to fulfill all righteousness,” [Matt 3:15]. In other words, he did something that was right to do even though he was perfectly sinless. And it is right for us to be baptized after we have been saved.
Observe that the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized in water after he had believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and had confessed him [Acts 8:36-38]. Similarly, Cornelius and his household were baptized in water after they had believed [Acts 10:43-48].
You see, water baptism outwardly pictures your spiritual baptism, which you undergo the moment you receive Jesus Christ. According to Rom 6:3-5, 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 2:11-12, you are baptized by the Holy Ghost into the body of Christ when you get saved. You become a member of his literal body [Eph 5:30-32]. Since the literal body of Christ was crucified, was buried, and rose from the dead, you go through his literal death, burial and resurrection at salvation.
Your immersion in water pictures your death on the cross with Christ [your body “crosses” the plane of the water before you are baptized], your burial with him [as you are completely immersed in the water] and your resurrection with him [when you come back up out of the water].
Conclusion: if you were baptized in water before you were saved, then you should be baptized again, properly, after you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior. And if you have not been baptized by immersion since your salvation, you should be baptized now.