"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « Spurgeon on John 6:66 | Main | The Doctrine of Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul »

    Does Baptism Save? (two quotes)

    "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.." (1 Peter 3:21 - ESV)

    Two helpful quotes on this verse:

    "Now Peter sees a comparison between the waters of the flood and the waters of baptism... Now there are some denominations that love this verse because it seems at first to support the view called "baptismal regeneration." That is, baptism does something to the candidate: it saves by bringing about new birth. So, for example, one of the baptismal liturgies for infants says, "Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ's Church, let us give thanks."

    Now the problem with this is that Peter seems very aware that his words are open to dangerous misuse. This is why, as soon as they are out of his mouth, as it were, he qualifies them lest we take them the wrong way. In verse 21 he does say, "Baptism now saves you" - that sounds like the water has a saving effect in and of itself apart from faith. He knows that is what it sounds like and so he adds immediately, "Not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (Or your version might have: "the pledge of a good conscience toward God").

    But the point seems to be this: When I speak of baptism saving, Peter says, I don't mean that the water, immersing the body and cleansing the flesh, is of any saving effect; what I mean is that, insofar as baptism is "an appeal to God for a good conscience," (or is "a pledge of a good conscience toward God"), it saves. Paul said in Romans 10:13, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord - everyone who appeals to the Lord - will be saved." Paul does not mean that faith alone fails to save. He means that faith calls on God. That's what faith does. Now Peter is saying, "Baptism is the God-ordained, symbolic expression of that call to God. It is an appeal to God - either in the form of repentance or in the form of commitment.

    What is Baptism?

    Now this is fundamentally important in our understanding of what baptism is in the New Testament. James Dunn is right I think when he says that "1 Peter 3:21 is the nearest approach to a definition of baptism that the New Testament affords" (Baptism in the Holy Spirit, p. 219). What is baptism? Baptism is a symbolic expression of the heart's "appeal to God." Baptism is a calling on God. It is a way of saying to God with our whole body, "I trust you to take me into Christ like Noah was taken into the ark, and to make Jesus the Substitute for my sins and to bring me through these waters of death and judgment into new and everlasting life through the resurrection of Jesus my Lord."

    This is what God is calling you to do. You do not save yourself. God saves you through the work of Christ. But you receive that salvation through calling on the name of the Lord, by trusting him. And it is God's will all over the world and in every culture - no matter how simple or how sophisticated - that this appeal to God be expressed in baptism. "Lord, I am entering the ark of Christ! Save me as I pass through the waters of death!" Amen." (from the sermon, What is Baptism and Does it Save? by John Piper, May 18, 1997)

    "A comparison is drawn between salvation in the ark and baptism. In both instances, believers are saved through the waters of judgment, since baptism portrays salvation through judgment. The mere mechanical act of baptism does not save, for Peter explicitly says, “not as a removal of dirt from the body,” meaning that the passing of water over the body does not cleanse anyone. Baptism saves you because it represents inward faith, as evidenced by one's appeal to God for the forgiveness of one's sins (for a good conscience). Furthermore, baptism “saves” only insofar as it is grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptism is a visual representation of the fact that Christians are clothed with Christ (cf. Gal. 3:27), and in union with Christ they share his victory over sin. Though Christians have disagreed about the proper mode of water baptism beginning in the early history of the church, Christians have generally agreed (irrespective of denominational differences) that water baptism is an outward sign of the inward reality of regeneration, which is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:5, 8; Titus 3:5), and which may be received only by grace through faith (see Eph. 2:8)." (from the ESV Study Bible)

    Posted by John Samson on February 5, 2010 01:06 PM


    Good post for clearing up
    some issues about Baptism.

    When I came to Christ in late
    June I did not know if I was
    going to make it until the
    time proscribed by my chosen
    church for Baptism and Confirmation.
    So I was advised that I needed
    to grow in Faith and this was
    more important than a "sign".


    This is a very confusing topic. For instance, the commentator in the 2nd piece seems to suggest two things: 1) faith saves and baptism is a sign or symbol of a salvation that has already occurred. baptism therefore does not save 2) Saving faith can only be realized through baptism as baptism becomes the only means of expressing faith. in this view, baptism saves. Which one is it? baptism = calling on God?

    It might be helpful for people to know where this was quoted from :

    Sadly,the issue of baptism is so often overlooked by teachers and preachers alike out of laziness and convenience...the topic of baptism is not confusing or ambiguous. The Word is clear and our God is not a God of confusion...We are saved by Grace THROUGH Faith! We are IN Christ because of our faith...why? Because each of us that was baptized INTO Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ. That is God's free gift that we are free to accept, or deny. Just as Abraham was justified by his faith and willingness to sacrifice his son, we are justified by our faith and our willingness to sacrifice ourselves to Christ! Water baptism is not a WORK!! It is a believer's spiritual DEATH! Noone is freed from their sins who has not died!! Furthermore, the water represents DEATH which is the antitype for baptism, 1Peter 3 does not even mention the ARK!!! It is our willingness to be put into HIS DEATH in baptism that saves us an obedient response to our belief and faith in Christ Jesus our Lord!!!

    So, I've been doing Bible studies a good deal lately. I have been raised a Baptist my whole life. But, i am doing this study with people from the church of Christ. They are telling me that, although i have been baptized for the remission of sins, that i am not saved because at the time i was baptized i didnt think of it as me dying to my sin and being resurrected. But in my heart i still believe that God did wash all of my sins away and that His holy spirit lives in me. After spending countless weeks reviewing my Bible i have come to this conclusion. I believe that water baptism is not necessary, that it is just an act of obedience. However, i believe that baptism is referring to faith in God, allowing his "living water" to wash our sins away. When he washes our sins away, He then allows his holy spirit into us, thus saving us.

    Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,
    I ask you to consider these points:

    1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean?
    Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

    Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

    Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

    2. There IS no translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into any language, anywhere on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

    No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

    There is no translation that translates, into any language, Acts 22:16 as, “ And now why tarriest thou? arise, believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Then be baptized.” Not a single translation in the entire world translates that verse in any way remotely resembling the manner in which Baptists believe it should be translated.

    Isn’t that a problem?

    And this verse, I Peter 3:21 as, “Asking Christ into your heart in a spiritual baptism, which water Baptism symbolizes, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”

    And Mark 16:16 as, “He that believes will be saved, and then baptized, but he that does not believe will be condemned.”

    Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

    Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell all the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

    3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, when exactly does God give it?

    4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism doesn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

    Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

    Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

    Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters, your doctrine is very well thought out and very reasonable…but it is wrong. Do you really believe that God would require an education in ancient Greek or a Greek lexicon to understand what he really wants to say to you? And do you really believe that Baptist “Greek” scholars understand Greek better than the Greeks themselves? If the Greek language, correctly translated, states in the Bible that Baptism is only a public profession of faith as Baptists say, then why do the Greek Orthodox believe that the Greek Bible plainly says, in Greek, that God forgives sins in water baptism? Somebody doesn’t know their Greek!

    Please investigate this critical doctrine further. Do you really want to appear before our Lord in heaven one day and find out that you have been following a false doctrine invented in the sixteenth century by Swiss Ana-baptists?

    God bless you!


    I think that many evangelicals are confused regarding the Lutheran view of baptism. To us baptism is a WHEN of salvation, not the HOW of salvation. You notice I said "is a when of salvation". That little article "a" is critical.

    Orthodox Christians (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, and Anglicans) believe that baptism is only one of several situations in which God saves: God can save an adult non-believer who hears the Gospel preached and believes/repents. We believe God can save a non-believer who reads the Bible or a Gospel tract, which contains the Gospel, and believes and repents. And we believe that a child of Christian parents can be saved at the time of his baptism by the Word of God being spoken at the time that the water of Holy Baptism is applied to him.

    So what is the "HOW" of salvation?

    The "how" is always the power of God's Word. Period. It is not good deeds, it is not saying a prayer (such as the Sinner's Prayer), it is not magical baptism water.

    I'm not going to list all the passages that support this belief, but here is one: "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." This is the only manner in which someone can be saved: the power of God's Word "quickens" the soul of one who is of the predestined (the Elect), creating faith, belief and repentance. Faith, belief and repentance are NOT performed out of man's free will or initiative. Salvation, and all the action/actions included in salvation, are gifts from God.

    Therefore, if salvation is a gift, not dependent on any ability or quality of the sinner, God can save whom he wants, when he wants, at any age, and with any level of mental decision-making capabilities.

    We Lutherans/orthodox could wait and let our children declare themselves as a member of the Elect when they are older, but why? In Acts chapter two God, speaking through Peter, promises the gift of the Holy Spirit to all those who are called (predestined): the adults hearing the sermon by Peter, their children, and those far off (common reference to Gentiles). But only those among these groups that are the "called", the Elect, will be saved and receive the Holy Spirit.

    Some evangelicals seem to think that we orthodox believe that just by running the entire neighborhood under a garden hose, we can save everyone. Not true. Only those who are the Elect will be saved, and they will only be saved at the time of God's choosing, not theirs, and ONLY by the power of the Word.

    We orthodox baptize our children because Christ commands us to baptize all nations (those of all nations who are the Elect) without giving any age restrictions. If you are an Arminian, you cannot understand this because you believe that one must make a decision to believe. Infants, of course, cannot make decisions. Calvinists can agree with Lutherans on the principle that God chooses us, we do not choose him, Therefore, I hope that Calvinists will see that if Christ has promised Christian parents the Holy Spirit for their children, then their children ARE the Elect, and if they are the Elect, they should be baptized. They should be baptized as infants to receive God's free gift of faith, belief and repentance, which are not dependent on the age, maturity, or decision-making capabilities of the sinner.

    Is it possible that some or our children, whom we baptize as infants, are not of the Elect. Yes, that is possible. But that is a mystery that only God knows. We don't try to figure all that out. We baptize our children as infants, and instruct them in the Faith as they grow up, and then pray that they will continue in the Faith themselves as adults. Baptism is NOT a "Get-into-heaven-free" card. We are saved through faith. If a person who was baptized as an infant, who was given the free gift of faith as an infant, grows up and despises God's Word, despises the Faith, and turns his back on Christ, he CANNOT count on his baptism as his automatic pass into heaven. Faith is required for salvation. No faith, no salvation. A lack of baptism does not damn, a lack of faith, a lack of belief, is what damns sinners to hell.

    Baptism is a "when" of salvation not the "how". Even the Roman Catholic Church does NOT believe that baptism is absolutely mandatory for salvation. Many a martyr has died without the opportunity of being baptized. The thief on the cross and all the saints of the OT were saved without baptism. Baptism is NOT the "how" of salvation! The Word of God is the "how", the means, of salvation. It always has been.


    I'd like to take my best layman's stab at Gary's 4 points above:

    1. Yes, generally the inerrancy of the Word is understood to be inerrancy of the original manuscripts in the original languages. And yes, to the best of our knowledge we do not possess those anymore. That being said, there can be aspects of the original languages that don't come through as much in some translations. Words in a particular language can also change over time, even over a few centuries.

    2. A few comments on these verses:

    Acts 2:38 - The word translated as "for" in "for the remission of sins" here is the Greek preposition "eis", which can mean "because of" or "with respect to". Granted I don't personally know Greek, but it seems there is a parallel to Matthew 3:11 in which John's baptism is said to be "for repentance". Now we know that John didn't baptize people to make them repentant, but only those who already possessed repentance. In fact, even the Concordia Study Bible NIV (1984 version I believe) note on this verse says: "John's baptism presupposed repentance, and he would not baptize the Pharisees and Sadducees because they failed to give any evidence of repentance". Similarly, then, I would argue we can say that Christian baptism "presupposes the remission of sins" which is received through faith as Acts 10:43 teaches: "everyone who believes in his name receives the remission of sins". And in Acts 2:41, we're told that all who accepted Peter's word were baptized. Note we completely agree that this is no "free-will" decision and that it is monergistic that an unregenerate person comes to faith, but baptism follows faith.

    Acts 22:16 - I believe James White addressed this issue before as some type of parallel structure in the Greek. There are two different things going on: the statement to rise up and be baptized / the statement to "wash your sins away, calling on His name". The washing away of sins is connected to calling on His name, separate from baptism.

    Mark 16:16 - Many early manuscripts do not even have this verse, as you probably know. However as far as it goes it doesn't teach baptismal regeneration. The cause for condemnation is lack of belief, not lack of baptism. And stating that someone who believes and is baptized will be saved doesn't logically imply that one who believes and isn't baptized won't be saved, or that belief comes through baptism.

    3. This is not an exegetical argument - if we are to apply "sola scriptura" then church history should not be normative. There is some minor variation among the church fathers about infant baptism, and James White has always noted that there are some who mentioned being saved without mentioning baptism. We are agreed that salvation is monergistic, but we're told that "faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the Word of God". We're never told that faith comes through baptism.

    4. Again the part about the Greek Orthodox is not an exegetical argument. Do you follow the Greek Orthodox in teaching justification by faith and works, or in denying sola scriptura? I should hope not! As far as God "not requiring a Greek lexicon" that is true, but it is important to remember that the Bible was not written in English.

    Your comments reflect a major misconception that evangelicals and the Reformed have of orthodox Christians. Lutherans do not believe that baptism is necessary (mandatory) for salvation. Not even the Roman Catholic Church believes this. All the saints of the Old Testament, the thief on the cross, and thousand of martyrs down through the centuries have been saved without Baptism. Baptism is not the "how" of salvation!

    Lutherans believe that baptism is one of several "when"s of salvation, it is not the "how" of salvation. The "how" of salvation is and always has been the power of God's Word/God's declaration of righteousness.

    A sinner can be saved by the power of God's Word when he hears the Word preached in a church, preached on TV or radio, reading a Gideon's Bible in a hotel room, or reading a Gospel tract that contains the Word. Salvation is by God's grace alone, through the power of his Word alone, received in faith alone. In each of these situations, the sinner is saved the instant he or she believes. Baptism is NOT mandatory for salvation to occur.

    However, the Bible in multiple passages, also states that God uses his Word to save at the time of Baptism.

    It is the work of the Holy Spirit, using the Word of God, that works salvation in the sinner's spiritually dead soul, according to the second chapters of Ephesians and Colossians, and the third chapter of Romans. Your "decision for Christ" does not save you, neither does your decision to be baptized.

    God saves those whom he has elected, at the time and place of his choosing. Sometimes God saves them while hearing a sermon in church, sometimes at home reading the Word, and sometimes by the power of his Word spoken during Baptism.

    God does 100% of the saving. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. There is no passage in the New Testament that asks sinners to make a decision for Christ. The Bible states that God quickens sinners, gives them faith, and they believe and repent.

    The sinner does not decide to be saved. God decides to save the sinner!

    Baptism is not an automatic ticket into heaven. Although salvation is entirely God, there is no "decision" by man to be saved, sanctification requires the believer's participation. God is not in heaven keeping track of our good deeds and our sins to decide whether or not to let us into heaven, but the Christian who turns his back on Christ by outright rejection (converting to Islam) or by ongoing willful sin/neglect of his faith, should be warned by the Church that he is "skating on thin ice". He may wake up one day in hell to eternal damnation!

    No faith--->no salvation--->no eternal life

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    I've lost track of the number of times that a Baptist or evangelical has told me that Acts 2:38 was mistranslated; that the "for" in that passage of God's Holy Word should be removed and replaced with "because of".

    It doesn't matter to them that every English translation of the Bible translates this word in Acts 2:38 as "for" or "into" and never "because of", because these Christians know in their hearts that God would never, ever say that baptism has anything to do with the forgiveness of sins.

    Below is an excellent article by Lutheran pastor, Matt Richards on this subject:

    I've lost track of the number of times that a Baptist or evangelical has told me that Acts 2:38 was mistranslated; that the "for" in that passage of God's Holy Word should be removed and replaced with "because of".

    It doesn't matter to them that every English translation of the Bible translates this word in Acts 2:38 as "for" or "into" and never "because of", because these Christians know in their hearts that God would never, ever say that baptism has anything to do with the forgiveness of sins.

    Below is an excellent article by Lutheran pastor, Matt Richards on this subject:

    Seems to me like the author is trying to say that baptism is the best way: the God ordained way to call upon God. It is not the only way. You can be saved through calling on God while desiring to give up on your life: your desires and your wishes, and calling upon Him to save you from yourself: your spiritual death and body of death, and to eventually follow His desires and whishes.

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