Vol. 7, No. 8
Since You Asked
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Water baptism isn't necessary for salvation. Cornelius "received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 10:47) before he was water baptized and to have the Holy Spirit shows that one is saved (Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6 and 1 John 4:13). Regards, Marc
Regarding Romans 8:9 Galatians 4:6 and 1 John 4:13, there is a difference between the baptism of the Holy Spirit, miraculous gifts of the Spirit and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. A reference to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:9, Galatians 4:6 and 1 John 4:13 is not the same as the event in which Cornelius was involved. The activity of the Holy Spirit in Acts 10:47 is described in the preceding verses 44-46 whereupon Cornelius and those with him miraculously spoke in languages in which they were not schooled. This was proof to the apostle Peter and those with him that God intended Christian baptism for Gentiles as well as Jews. Hence, in Acts 10:47, Peter reasoned with the six Jewish Christians who accompanied him that the Gentiles should receive Christian baptism. The place of Christian baptism in God's plan for man must be ascertained from other passages since it is not defined in Acts 10.
That the assertion "Water baptism isn't necessary for salvation" is a faulty interpretation of Acts 10 is evident also from other passages respecting Christian baptism. Consider just three of the numerous verses of Scripture in the New Testament respecting the topic of Christian baptism.
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)
Normally, miraculous power associated with the Holy Spirit came after one received Christian baptism. However, in the case of Cornelius and those accompanying him in Acts 10-11, miraculous ability attributable to the Holy Spirit came before Christian baptism to assure Peter and other Jewish Christians that the Gentiles also were to be recipients of Christian baptism. Acts 2:38 clearly teaches that Christian baptism is the point at which in God's redemptive plan that one's sins are remitted or removed.
Acts 22:16 pertains to the conversion of the apostle Paul (Saul). Clearly, Christian baptism is ascribed with the function of removing one's sins.
And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:16)
Finally for our consideration today, 1 Peter 3:21 unmistakably affirms that one's sins are removed in the act of Christian baptism. God through the Holy Spirit could not have been any clearer respecting the function of Christian baptism in his overall redemptive plan for humanity.
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21)
You obviously believe in the authority of the Bible, since you resorted to biblical citation in an attempt to justify your interpretation. Therefore, I urge you to place your full confidence in the Bible or Word of God (for us especially the New Testament) respecting authority in religion; please content yourself with arriving only at conclusions that are warranted by biblical evidence. Personal or inherited biases are burdens that hinder correct biblical interpretation and unnecessarily weigh down honest hearts.
The three verses cited above about Christian baptism are in your Bible; they deserve a fair and an honest exposition. Further, warranted conclusions about Bible topics can only be drawn properly by examining the sum of God's Word about a biblical topic. "How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!" (Psalm 139:17). Certainly, anyone who concedes the authority of the Bible understands that the Word of God does not contradict itself, and that we are not at liberty to pick and choose portions of Scripture by which we are bound to assemble a palatable or pleasing doctrine. The positive, affirmation of Jesus Christ respecting salvation in the Christian Age is absolute: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). Without belief, which precedes baptism, of course, there is no salvation, but the positive statement of our Lord is as clear as an elementary math equation. Forasmuch as 1 + 2 = 3, faith + baptism = salvation. Forasmuch as 1 + 0 does not equal 3, faith without baptism does not equal salvation.
Is there a chance though that those who never hear the gospel may be let off more lightly, and if so wouldn't it be kinder not to preach the gospel lest anyone who should hear it not accept it and consequently suffer more in the hereafter than they would have done otherwise? If everyone who dies in ignorance of the gospel is doomed no matter what their reasons for it might have been, does that include all those from the pre-Christian era, even the great Old Testament prophets who must likewise have drawn their last breath without having acknowledged Christ as their saviour?
The first of two questions is: "Is there a chance though that those who never hear the gospel may be let off more lightly, and if so wouldn't it be kinder not to preach the gospel lest anyone who should hear it not accept it and consequently suffer more in the hereafter than they would have done otherwise?" The first cause for alarm in this question pertains to the reliance on "chance" that God will not abide by his Word (the Bible) respecting final reward and punishment (i.e., souls disobedient to the Gospel will not be punished despite biblical teaching otherwise, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). A dictionary definition of the way in which the word "chance" is used above is: "4 a : the possibility of a particular outcome in an uncertain situation; also : the degree of likelihood of such an outcome (small chance of success)" (Merriam). Since God has specified clearly in the New Testament that obedient souls will be saved (Hebrews 5:8-9) and that disobedient souls will be lost, and since God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), Final Judgment respecting how God will react to human obedience and disobedience is not uncertain at all; there is no chance whatsoever that disobedience will be overlooked in Judgment.
Second, to be lost and yet punished more lightly is neither a satisfactory goal for one's eternity nor an acceptable excuse for not telling someone about the saving Gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16). Second Peter 2:20-22 may suggest degrees of punishment, but eternal punishment in a burning, devils' hell even if someone else's fire is hotter is not a suitable option for anyone's eternity (Luke 16:23-24; Matthew 25:41, 46).
Third, souls are not lost primarily because Jesus came, but because souls are already lost Jesus came to earth (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Hence, whether anyone hears about the Gospel is immaterial respecting one's being lost; mankind is already lost (John 3:17-18), but can be saved by Jesus Christ through obedience to the Gospel or divine Truth (Romans 6:17).
The second question is: "If everyone who dies in ignorance of the gospel is doomed no matter what their reasons for it might have been, does that include all those from the pre-Christian era, even the great Old Testament prophets who must likewise have drawn their last breath without having acknowledged Christ as their saviour?" The able student of the Bible knows that God gave three religious dispensations to humanity: Patriarchy, Judaism and Christianity. Patriarchy was replaced with Judaism, and Judaism was replaced with Christianity. Humanity has always been bound to obey the law of God under which he lived. However, the efficiency of Patriarchy and Judaism, as well as Christianity, depends on the blood of Jesus Christ. "And for this cause he [Jesus Christ] is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first [Old] testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15). Man may judge it inconvenient, but biblical Truth declares:
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)
Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1993.