Spiritual Baptism Proponent: Do you believe baptism saves?
[Asking because I’m a Lutheran Christian and has heard another Lutheran say that baptism saves]
Me: Yes, 1 Peter 3:20-21 says that the waters of Noah’s day symbolize the waters of baptism that now save you, and they save you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Spiritual Baptism Proponent: I’m not familiar with that passage.
Me: You should read it. It’s in 1 Peter 3. The only time the word symbolism is ever used in the same sentence as baptism is that passage and the waters of baptism are not symbolic; it’s the waters of Noah’s day that are symbolic. Those waters symbolize the death and resurrection that we are connected to in baptism. Baptism saves, and it saves because of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are always saved by Christ’s death and resurrection. So this isn’t taking away from Christ’s work.
Spiritual Baptism Proponent: I’m not familiar with that. I’d have to read that verse.
Me: Yea, please do. It’s in 1 Peter 3, near the end of the chapter. But, there are numerous times in Scripture, not just from Peter, but also Paul in which we see that baptism unites us with Christ. For instance, wait I have a Bible, Romans 6:1-5 says, “What shall we say, Then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Spiritual Baptism Propoenent: Yea, but that’s spiritual baptism. We receive all of that when we receive the Holy Spirit and faith.
Me: I would agree with you. If a person hears the Gospel and receives the Gospel in faith, they are saved and have life and salvation. We are always saved by grace through faith in Christ. But how does that grace come to us? And is there anywhere in Scripture were we see the term “spiritual baptism”? I know we see “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” in Acts, which is something completely different.
The conversation spun off into addressing does everyone have to be baptized to be saved and if babies should be baptized, and etc. I want to boil this all down to two questions:
#1 – Does baptism save?
#2 – Does everyone have to be baptized to be saved?
Let’s first define baptism – based on Matthew 28:19, baptism is washing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Unless there is a clarifying word before or after baptism, such as “baptism by fire”, or “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, or “baptism of repentance”, or “John’s baptism”, we should interpret baptism to be referring to the baptism instituted by Christ, especially if we see the additional descriptors of, “Jesus’ baptism,” or “baptism into Jesus’ name”.
Now, that baptism is defined, I want to introduce a term that may not be too common in many Christian circles: MEANS OF GRACE. Understanding MEANS OF GRACE will help answer both of these questions.
The MEANS OF GRACE are the ways in which God has promised to work salvation in our lives, to deliver the Grace that comes through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to us. Let me explain this term the best I can and use Scripture to do it:
According to Romans 10 how does a person come to be able to declare with his mouth and believe in his his heart? Vs. 14 asks how can they call on the one who can save them if they have not heard of him? The concluding answer is that they can’t until they have heard the Gospel (vs. 17). It is through the hearing of the Gospel that faith COMES. Faith COMES to us instead of us COMING to faith. Here is Paul’s language on that point found in vs. 17, “Consequently, faith COMES from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Flip all the way back to the beginning of the letter to the Romans and you will see that this is how Paul starts the letter – The Gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16). The Gospel saves. We hear the Gospel and through the Gospel the Holy Spirit gives us faith (this is another point I’ll have to tackle in another post). This all fits into Ephesians 2:8 in which we are told that salvation is by grace through faith and this is not of ourselves but the gift of God. Grace is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” By his life, death, and resurrection we have been forgiven, but all people are not instantly saved. That Grace must come to us somehow. The Gospel is one MEANS OF GRACE by which Grace comes to us, though we only receive the benefits of it through faith in the Gospel promises of God.
I think all Christians would agree that Grace comes to us via the Gospel and that unless one has faith in the Gospel, there is no eternal life for that individual that has rejected the Gospel upon hearing it.
NOW… is that the only MEANS OF GRACE, is the Gospel the only way we may receive the forgiveness of sins?
To Question #1, I would say YES – Baptism saves! God has promised to work forgiveness of sins through baptism. That means that Grace comes to us in baptism (water applied to a person in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit). To support that baptism saves, I point people to 1 Peter 3:20-21. Here the waters of Noah’s day are said to symbolize the waters of baptism that now SAVE YOU. How does it save? Look at verse 21 – “It saves you be the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Baptism is not symbolic here, the waters of Noah’s day are symbolic. Baptism saves by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Romans 6 clearly explains how in baptism we are buried and raised with Christ. It’s not just Peter that says this, but Paul too!
To Question #1, YES – Baptism saves! Baptism is not our work, but it is God’s work to save us! To illustrate this beyond the 1 Peter 3:20-21 example, I like to point people to Colossians 2:9-12. Again we see that in baptism we are buried with Christ and raised with Christ, but there is the additional detail that we aren’t doing ANYTHING in this process because Paul says that baptism is like circumcision. Instead of cutting of the flesh, it is cutting off the sinful nature (i.e washing us of our sins – oh, and so much more!). WE don’t cut off this sinful nature – JESUS DOES! Verse 11 – “not with circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by CHRIST!”
TO Question #2 – NO – We don’t have to baptized to be saved! Grace comes to us through the MEANS OF GRACE – the Gospel and Baptism (and communion, but that’s another topic). If a person hears the Gospel and believes, faith and salvation has COME to him. He is saved. If that person is never baptized, he still has received grace through faith. If a person is baptized and believes, faith and salvation has COME to him.
So is everyone saved who is baptized? NO! Just as the benefits of hearing the Gospel are received through faith, so TOO the benefits of the promises of baptism are received through faith alone.
Technically, everyone receives the forgiveness of sins in baptism, just as everyone receives the forgiveness of sins through hearing the Gospel, YET, the benefits of God’s Grace are only received through faith in his promises. Hence it is so crucial to stick to Paul’s phrase, “by grace through faith”. Just grace and no faith – NO salvation. Just faith – NO salvation. It is when we have faith in a trustworthy object of salvation we are saved. The object in this case is a person and his work that for his sake, we have an all sufficient Savior, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.