Baptism associating us with the death of Christ means that it is only through baptism that we can have access to forgiveness. We are "buried with (Christ) in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through...the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins...hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses" (Col. 2:12,13). We are "washed...in the name of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 6:11) - i.e. baptism into the name of Jesus is the means by which our sins are washed away. This was typified back in Num. 19:13, where those without the water of purification had to die. We demonstrated in Study 10.2 how baptism is a washing away of sins (cp. Acts 22:16). The descriptions of the believers as being washed from their sins in the blood of Christ therefore refers to their doing this by means of baptism (Rev. 1:5; 7:14; Titus 3:5 [N.I.V.] speak of this as "the washing of rebirth", referring to our being "born of water" at baptism [John 3:5]).
In the light of all this, it is understandable that Peter's response to the question, "What shall we do?" (to be saved) was, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:37,38). Baptism into Christ's name is for the forgiveness of sins; without it there can be no forgiveness of sin, and the unbaptized must therefore receive the wages of sin - death (Rom. 6:23). There is no salvation except in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12), and we can only share that name by being baptized into it. This fact means that non-Christian religions can in no way lead to salvation. No true Bible believer can accept that they do; the fact that Catholicism and the wider ecumenical movement do so, is a sad reflection upon their attitude to Holy Scripture.
Christ's resurrection to eternal life was a sign of his personal triumph over sin. By baptism we associate ourselves with this, and therefore we are spoken of as having been resurrected along with Christ, sin no longer having power over us, as it no longer did over him. Through baptism we are therefore "made free from sin...sin shall not have dominion over you" after baptism (Rom. 6:18,14). However, after baptism we still sin (1 John 1:8,9); sin is still in a position to enslave us again if we turn away from Christ. We are therefore presently sharing in Christ's death and sufferings, although baptism demonstrates how we are also associated with Christ's resurrection, which we have hope of sharing at his return.
Only in prospect are we free from sin. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16) at Christ's second coming. Ultimate salvation does not occur straight after baptism, but at the judgment seat (1 Cor. 3:15). Indeed, there is no need for the doctrine of the judgment if we receive salvation at baptism, nor should we have to die. "He that endureth to the end shall be saved" (Matt. 10:22).
Even after his baptism, Paul (and all Christians) had to strive towards salvation (Phil. 3:10-13; 1 Cor. 9:27); he spoke of the hope of eternal life (Titus 1:2; 3:7; 1 Thess. 5:8; Rom. 8:24) and of our being "heirs of salvation" (Heb. 1:14). At the judgment seat, the righteous will enter into eternal life (Matt. 25:46). Paul's marvellous, inspired logic shines through in Rom. 13:11 - he reasons that after baptism we can know that each day we live and endure is one day closer to Christ's second coming, so that we can rejoice that "now is our salvation nearer than when we believed". Our salvation is therefore not now possessed. Salvation is conditional; we will be saved if we hold fast the true faith (Heb. 3:12-14), if we remember the basic doctrines which comprise the Gospel (1 Tim. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:1,2), and if we do those things which are in keeping with such a great hope (2 Peter 1:10).
The Greek verb translated "saved" is therefore sometimes used in the continuous tense, showing that salvation is an on-going process which is occurring within us by reason of our continued obedience to the Gospel. Thus the believers are spoken of as "being saved" by their response to the Gospel (1 Cor. 1:18 R.S.V.; other examples of this continuous theme are in Acts 2:47 and 2 Cor. 2:15). This Greek word for "saved" is only used in the past tense concerning the great salvation which Christ made possible on the cross, and which we can associate ourselves with by baptism (2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5).
This is all exemplified by God's dealings with natural Israel, which form the basis for His relationship with spiritual Israel, i.e. the believers. Israel left Egypt, representing the world of the flesh and false religion which we are associated with before baptism. They passed through the Red Sea and then travelled through the wilderness of Sinai into the promised land, where they were fully established as God's Kingdom. Their crossing of the Red Sea is typical of our baptism (1 Cor. 10:1,2); the wilderness journey of our present life, and Canaan of the Kingdom of God. Jude v. 5 describes how many of them were destroyed during the wilderness journey: "The Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not". Israel were therefore "saved" from Egypt, as all those who are baptized are "saved" from sin. If one of those Israelites had been asked, "Are you saved?" their response could have been, "Yes", but this would not mean that they would ultimately be saved.
In the same way as Israel turned back to Egypt in their hearts (Acts 7:39) and reverted to a life of flesh-pleasing and false doctrine, so those who have been "saved" from sin by baptism can likewise fall away from the blessed position in which they stand. The possibility of our doing the same as natural Israel in the wilderness is highlighted in 1 Cor. 10:1-12, Heb. 4:1,2 and Rom. 11:17-21. There are numerous examples in Scripture of those who were once "saved" from sin by baptism, later falling into a position which meant they will be condemned at Christ's return (e.g. Heb. 3:12-14; 6:4-6; 10:20-29). The 'once saved always saved' doctrine of zealous
'evangelical' preachers is exposed for what it is by such passages - complete flesh-pleasing sophistry.
As with all things, a correct sense of balance is needed in seeking to ascertain to what extent we are "saved" by baptism. The act should not be seen as granting us the chance of salvation - a better possibility of it than without baptism. By becoming "in Christ" by baptism, we are saved in prospect; we really do have a sure hope of being in God's Kingdom if we continue to abide in Christ as we are when we rise from the waters of baptism. At any point in time after our baptism we should be able to have humble confidence that we will certainly be accepted into the Kingdom at Christ's return. We cannot be ultimately certain, because we may fall away the next day; we do not know our personal spiritual future in this life.
We must do all we can to maintain the good conscience which we have with God at baptism. Baptism is the "pledge of a good conscience" (1 Pet. 3:21, Greek); the baptism candidate pledges (promises) to keep that clear conscience with God.
Whilst baptism is of vital importance in granting us access to the great salvation which is available in Christ, we must be careful not to give the impression that by the one act or "work" of baptism alone we will be saved. We have earlier shown how that a life of continued fellowshipping of Christ's crucifixion is necessary: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God" (John 3:5). A comparison of this with 1 Peter 1:23 shows that the birth of the Spirit which occurs after baptism must refer to our gradual regeneration by the Spirit/Word. Salvation is not just due to baptism: it is a result of grace (Eph. 2:8), faith (Rom. 1:5) and hope (Rom. 8:24), among other things. The contention is sometimes heard that salvation is by faith alone, and therefore a "work" like baptism is irrelevant. However, James 2:17-24 makes it clear that such reasoning makes a false distinction between faith and works; a true faith, e.g. in the Gospel, is demonstrated to be genuine faith by the works which it results in, e.g. baptism. "By works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). In several cases of baptism, the believer asked what he must "do" to be saved; the reply always involved baptism (Acts 2:37; 9:6; 10:6; 16:30). 'Doing' the 'work' of baptism is therefore a necessary indication of our belief of the Gospel of salvation. The work of saving us has ultimately been done by God and Christ, but we need to do "works meet for repentance" and belief of this (Acts 26:20 cp. Mark 16:15,16).
We have earlier shown that the language of washing away of sins refers to God's forgiveness of us on account of our baptism into Christ. In some passages we are spoken of as washing away our sins by our faith and repentance (Acts 22:16; Rev. 7:14; Jer. 4:14; Is. 1:16); in others God is seen as the one who washes away our sins (Eze. 16:9; Ps. 51:2,7; 1 Cor. 6:11). This nicely shows how that if we do our part in being baptized, God will then wash away our sins. Thus the 'work', or act, of baptism is a vital step in taking hold of God's Gospel of grace ('unmerited favour'), which has been offered to us in His Word.
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