I can’t stand bullies. They pick on those who are different and treat them as less important. We’re all made in God’s image and deserve equal dignity. It’s time to stand up to theological bullies who shove baptism around and treat it as less important than faith and repentance.
“It’s important,” the bullies say, “But not necessary. After all, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.’ Baptism is a work, therefore it’s not necessary for salvation.”
Why is baptism treated differently than faith and repentance? Why is baptism a work, but belief and repentance aren’t?
Jesus calls faith a work. He was asked point blank: “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” (John 5:28). His response wasn’t, “Sorry, there are no works you can do, you just have to stand there and do absolutely nothing and God will save you.” Nope. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 5:29). In fact, the work of belief was so important, Jesus later said, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24).
Faith is something we have to do. Unless we do the work of believing in Jesus, we’ll be lost! Salvation can never be earned or deserved, but it’s also not magically transposed on us while we’re asleep. We have to actively do something by believing! If both baptism and belief are works, why would Ephesians 2:8-9 disqualify baptism, but not belief?
How about repentance? Is that a work we have to do to be saved? Absolutely! Jesus said in Luke 13:3, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In Acts 2:38, Peter said, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Now, here’s what baptism bullies do with Acts 2:38. They change the meaning of the word “and,” shove baptism to a lower rung of importance, and reinterpret Peter to mean, “Repent for the forgiveness of sins (so now you’re saved), then get baptized after you’re saved.” Wow. Really? How can people belittle baptism so much? And how is baptism a work, but repentance is not?
How about the “Sinner’s prayer?” Ironically, most who are anti-baptism are pro-“Sinner’s prayer.” How is baptism a work but saying a sinner’s prayer isn’t?
The truth is, everything we do in response to what God has done is a work. Faith, repentance, confessing Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10), baptism, and remaining faithful are all things we must do to be saved (Matthew 10:22). If Ephesians 2 disqualifies baptism, everything else we do for salvation is disqualified too.
But the point of Ephesians 2 isn’t to tell us we don’t have to do anything to be saved. That doesn’t fit the context at all. Paul’s point is to explain the source of our salvation, who it’s “of.” It’s not “of yourself.” If it was, we could boast! It’s by grace as the “gift of God.” We can’t boast in anything we do for salvation because we are not the source.
We are not the source of our salvation; Jesus is. Our faith isn’t the source of our salvation; Jesus is. Repentance isn’t the source of our salvation; Jesus is. Baptism isn’t the source; Jesus is. I’ve never heard anyone boast in their faith, repentance, or baptism. “God owes me Heaven now because I put in the work of believing, repenting, and being baptized!” How absurd!
Faith, repentance, and baptism would be pointless and powerless without God’s gracious kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:7). We would be pointless and powerless without His grace, because we’d still be “dead in our sins.” (Eph. 2:1).
However, Ephesians 2 does help us see how to access that grace. We access it “through faith.” Faith is what we have to do/have to access Jesus’ salvation. But that’s not the only verse on the subject. The passages we mentioned above say we need repentance, confession, and baptism to access it too. Those all work together with our faith, so that our faith is perfected (James 2:22).
Sometimes bullies just need to be reminded of the importance of their victims. Baptism is so important, you can’t be saved without it. In the New Testament church, salvation always came after baptism, not before it. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a). “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38). “Those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41). “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” (Acts 22:16). “Baptism now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience — through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21).
Bullies won’t like this. Objections will come. “What about the thief on the cross?” Sorry, baptism wasn’t instituted for salvation until Acts 2. “Those verses are talking about spiritual baptism, not water baptism.” Sorry, Paul says there’s only “one baptism” in Ephesians 4:5. Ask the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:39 which baptism Paul was referring to, water or spiritual. “Isn’t baptism just a public display of the fact that you’ve already been saved?” Nope, salvation comes after baptism in the New Testament, not before. “Aren’t we saved by faith alone?” No, the only verse with the words “faith alone” says we’re not saved by faith alone (James 2:24).
I’ll tell the baptism bullies what Jesus told Paul when he was bullying His people. “Why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14). Why continue persecuting baptism? Why continue fighting against the crystal clear passages about baptism, desperately twisting the verses with verbal gymnastics? Why not just give in and obey the Lord Jesus?
Have you been baptized for the forgiveness of your sins? If not, why do you delay?
Disclaimer: I approached this article from the bully angle, but I realize you may disagree with me yet not actually be a baptism bully. If so, I’m not trying to bully you and I’d love to discuss this further with you in the comments section below. I’ve just dealt with so many baptism bullies over the years I felt the need to take a stand.