|Vol. 14 No. 2 February 2012||
For man in this life, God has provided his revealed will. He has also provided the perfect sacrifice for sin. This sacrifice was the Lamb of God. God has presented His grace to all men (Titus 2:11). God’s provisions for man included a way of salvation. It is God’s scheme of redemption, and it cannot be changed or improved.
Mankind seems to look for ways to disregard God’s will, to reject the sacrifice and to shortcut the way of salvation taught in sacred Scripture while claiming faith in Christ. This is likely not intentional with most, but when men seek ways to add to or take from God’s plan of salvation, they run the risk of displeasing God. The Word of God makes no promise that an altered, manmade plan will save. Complete obedience to God’s plan is essential to pleasing God. It has always been this way (cf. 1 Samuel 15).
The simple and clear teaching of Jesus and the inspired writers of the New Testament on the subject of salvation and forgiveness of sins seems to cause a problem for many. For some reason, the necessity of immersion for the remission of sins is a “hang up.” Religious people professing belief in Jesus will often admit baptism is a biblical doctrine and will even admit baptism is a command, but still claim it is not essential to salvation. With a “tug at your heart strings,” a form of the following question will often be put forth: “If a sincere believer near death confesses his faith in Christ and demonstrates a truly penitent spirit, will God not save him just because he was not baptized?”
I can only let God answer this with His holy Word. Jesus made it clear: “he who believes and is baptized will be saved…” (Mark 16:16). As preachers in past generations have said, “this is as simple as 2 + 2 = 4.” It is necessary to understand and accept the truth that until one completes his obedience and is immersed for the remission of sins, he is yet in his sins (Acts 2:38, etc.).
Please consider the example of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9, 22). Here was a sincere religious man (a Jew) who had lived in all good conscience. He had a remarkable experience on the Damascus road. Jesus appeared to him and talked to him! There is little, if any, doubt in the minds of honest Bible students that at this point Saul was convinced that Jesus was the divine Son of God. He was a believer, no doubt! He demonstrated a truly penitent heart for three days as he waited further instruction in the city. When Ananias came, Saul was still in bondage to sin. How do we know this? Simply by the fact that the teacher (Ananias) told Saul what to do to get rid of his sins. Saul would have had no need for such instruction had his sins already been forgiven and he was already saved! Evidently, he was still a sinner in the sight of God until he completed his obedience and was baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). Whatever the situation, the penitent believer must be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for the remission of sins in order to complete his obedience.
A favorite ploy of some who profess faith in Christ and also teach that faith alone saves is to quote Acts 16:31 and disregard the context. In the very next verse, God’s Word clearly teaches that Paul and Silas taught the heathen jailer about the Lord so he would know how to believe on the Lord. The jailer then exhibited repentance by washing their stripes and was immediately baptized (v. 33). No doubt he was baptized for remission of sins just as the believers were on Pentecost (Acts 2:38, 41).
Another effort of some to justify the position that baptism is not essential to salvation is to ask: “What about the thief on the cross?” What they are often suggesting is that the thief was saved without baptism, so why cannot we be saved without baptism? In the first place, we do not know whether the thief was ever baptized or not. It is possible he could have been a disciple of John the Baptist and baptized of John’s baptism while it was still in force. We do not know. The New Covenant was not in force until after the death of Christ (Hebrews 9:15-17). After the New Testament was in force, the apostle Paul instructed disciples who had been baptized of John’s baptism to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:1-5). However, if the thief had been baptized and had fallen away, he eventually showed a penitent heart in the presence of the Lord when he told the thief, “…today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:40-42).
It must also be noted that the thief on the cross lived and died under the Mosaic Law. What happened with him has no bearing on what I must do to be saved in the Christian age. One other thought: If Jesus chose arbitrarily to forgive the penitent thief on the cross that day, he had the authority to do that as Deity in the flesh (Mark 2:10). It would still have no bearing on what we must do to be saved today. Seek to know and obey the will of God.