Is Water Baptism Necessary For Salvation?

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by Mike Vinson

The short answer is, merely considering the predicament of the thief on the cross, NO (Luk 23:43). God can save us without us having to be submerged in water, or sprinkled, or any outward physical form of cleansing. Since so few of us even believe that we are on the cross with Christ, we are nearly all like the apostles themselves at this point in the gospels. They were, when it came to the cross (Mar 12:21), nowhere to be found. We are, as Christians generally speaking, much more apt to see our need for a Savior, to see Him dying for us, long, long before we come to see ourselves as dying with Him (Rom 6:1-16). That’s the lesson being given us in the gospels.

We can see what Paul means when he says that the events recorded concerning the elect of God of the Old Testament times “are written for our admonition…” But we don’t seem to think that the things written in the New Testament are for us. As a result, most of God’s children will be in the same spiritual condition as the apostles of Christ when called upon the carry His cross… nowhere to be found. Someone will be tempted to say, “but that was before Pentecost. We now have God’s Spirit in us. We preach the gospel, we heal the sick, we cast out demons.” This way of thinking [“the day of Pentecost came 2,000 years ago. I’ve been baptized, so I’ve experienced Pentecost. I have God’s Spirit.”] is a false doctrine directly related to the same blindness afflicting many of the children of God in the apostles’ day. They were preferring the pattern and the shadow to the body casting the shadow. (Col 2:17 – Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.) Notice Heb 10:1 – For the law having a shadow of good things to come and not the very image of the things… The apostle here is speaking of sacrifices. He is informing these Hebrews that sacrifices were shadows of the ultimate unblemished sacrifice. He goes on to say that the body casting the shadow is now here in the full light of day, so the shadows are gone, God “has no pleasure in them.” (Heb 10:8 – Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;) They aren’t “destroyed” (Mat 5:17), but they are “fulfilled” in Christ. Likewise, it is the same with priests and the temple (Heb 8:4-5), and, yes, even sabbaths and holy days (Col 2:16, 17). God has no pleasure in shadows of animal sacrifices (Heb 10:1 and 7), shadowy priests, or the tabernacle (Heb 8:4,5).

The “Heavenly Things” referred to in Heb 8:5, are all fulfilled in the body of Christ. He is our priest, our sacrifice, our tabernacle. See, saith he, that you make ALL THINGS according to the pattern shown you in the mount. Christ is the “pattern” in the mount to which we must all be conformed (Rom 8:29). The putting off of the flesh, of which water baptism is the sign, is the dying with Christ to the flesh and being raised with Christ to life. No outward sign (shadows, types, patterns) in either the old or new testaments give God any pleasure. The scriptures instituting circumcision (Gen 17:13) are just as much a part of the word of God as Mat 28:18-20. Gen 17:13 tells us we … must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

Jesus Christ speaking of this and all scripture, has said the scriptures cannot be broken (Joh 10:35). So we have to be circumcised, right?! God will settle for nothing less; not one jot nor one tittle less. But, as Peter pointed out, neither our fathers nor we were able to bear … this yoke (letter of the law).(Act 15:10).

Here is the apostle Paul on the subject of outward signs of righeousness: … shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfills the law (the law of love or Spirit of the law – Rom 13:10) judge thee (you with the outward signs), who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? (Rom 2:27). Now, notice the next two verses (Rom 2:28-29 – For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.) Outward circumcision does not make one a Jew any more than outward baptism makes one a Christian.

Anyone who thinks that it does, has not considered the case of Simon Magus. Simon was baptized (Act 8:13), yet Peter had this to say of him in verse 21 (Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God). And following in verses 22-23 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.) A man who had just been baptized was in the bond of iniquity, and had neither part nor lot in Christ. So what purpose did baptism serve?

Baptism is a type of the putting away of the filth of the flesh, a washing us clean of our sins. (1Pe 3:21 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:) Notice Peter says that it is not this sign of putting away the filth of the flesh that saves us, but the answer of a good conscience toward God by Christ’s resurrection. What is his point?

Paul sheds some light on this in Eph 5:26 That He might sanctify and cleanse us by the washing of water by the word. In Joh 1:1, we are told that Christ is the word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Christ’s blood is the ‘water’ that truly cleanses us. (Rev 7:14 These are they which… have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.) This is the true washing of the water by the Word spoken of by Paul in Eph 5:26. If He is not in us, we are no better off than Simon the sorcerer was after his baptism. Philip had baptized him as a sign of his faith which Simon had professed, but the sign had not given him that which he did not possess. Only Christ can give us the faith to be truly baptized into His death, because even that faith is a gift from God. (Rom 6:3-4 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.)

The plain teaching of scripture is … the letter… dost trangress the law (Rom 2:27). God has “no pleasure” in outward “shadows,” “types,” or “patterns” (Heb 10:1 and 6). The law has not been “destroyed,” but it has been fulfilled (Mat 5:17) The question then is: is baptism of the old or new testament?

The apostles were baptized but NOT CONVERTED. (Luk 22:32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. This occurred the night He was taken – the Passover period.) This is the true meaning of the Passover experience. This shows us our need for Christ, but it does not perform a change in our lives. The real change occurs at Pentecost. The disciples were told to tarry in Jerusalem to receive God’s spirit.

Until we come to see that Pentecost is not just a day, but a part of the Christian experience which follows “tarrying in Jerusalem” for our conversion, (after perhaps having already known Christ in the flesh; having been called by Him to preach, cleanse lepers, heal the sick, cast out demons and, yes, even raise the dead) we cannot truly know Christ in the spirit. All these things (preaching, healing, baptism, etc.,) are outward fleshly gifts of the Spirit, wonderful in their place and time, but not to be confused with, or even compared with, the “fruits of the Spirit” which are headed up in love. Though I speak with tongues… have the gift of prophecy… and all knowledge; and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor… and… give my body to be burned, and have not charity (love), it profiteth me NOTHING. It appears that the New Testament (written for our admonition – 2Co 10:11) teaches us that most Christians are baptized with water long before they ever learn the meaning of a fiery (purifying) baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Do the experiences of the twelve apostles teach us anything concerning HOW WE FIRST SEE CHRIST? Do we not first know Christ only “after the flesh?” (2Co 5:16) … though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet NOW HENCEFORTH know we Him no more. The apostles had been baptized and were baptizing others. They had been called and commissioned by Christ Himself to go preach… heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils… (Mat 10:7 and 8), and as yet, their calling and gifts not withstanding, they were not even converted (Luk 22:32)!! Baptized, but NOT converted!

The holy days of the old testament are recognized by many to be an outline of God’s plan for the believer. Notice what Paul says about the very first of God’s annual holy days, the Passover, which was immediately followed by seven days of unleavened bread. 1Co 5:7-8 – Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The scripture enumerating the annual festivals is Lev 23, in which it is stated repeatedly it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations… (vs.14 et al) This scripture, as Paul says, is fulfilled in Christ. It is still a statute throughout our generations.

Israel was baptized, according to Paul, as they crossed the Red Sea. 1Co 10:2 – And were all baptized unto Moses… in the sea. This was immediately following their accepting the blood of the passover sacrifice, causing the death angel to ‘pass over’ them. This all equates to the experience in the new testament of Christ’s apostles after His death and resurrection, but before the day of Pentecost. The disciples had been baptized, Christ had died and been resurrected, but they were not converted. (Luk 22:32) The baptism which truly saves us is something we must wait for, as the desciples waited fifty days for Pentecost. As Christ put it, ‘if you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed.’ (Joh 8:31) These are the same Christians, (those who believed in Christ), of whom Christ said six verses later you seek to kill me, because my word has no place in you.

It is those who ‘continue in my word’, or as Christ told his disciples, ‘tarry in Jerusalem’, who become disciples ‘indeed’. Those who regard outward signs (‘Abraham is our father, water baptism, etc.) as a means of conversion, are not really converted at all.

Notice Christ’s answer to those Jews who believed in Him. I know that ye are Abraham’s seed (you have the outward sign of water baptism): but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. (Joh 8:38) But notice verse 39-40. After saying ‘you are Abraham’s seed’, Christ says if you were Abraham’s seed, you would do the works of Abraham, but now you seek to kill me; a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God. This did not Abraham. This could be paraphrased ‘I know you have faith – you have been baptized, but faith without works is dead!’ Simon the sorcerer was a Samaritan type of these Jews.

Jas 2:26 puts it this way – … faith without works is dead! Paul says the same thing in Rom 2:5-6 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds (same word as works – ergon in the Greek).

Circumcision and baptism are both outward forms of the same spiritual reality. The scriptural answer to this question will not please any person who has attached himself, his pride and his flesh to some divisive partisan doctrine of men. Very few first come to Christ as the thief already on the cross (Luk 23:40-43). But this scripture, too, was written for our admonition. For most of us, the law (with types, shadows, patterns) was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ (Gal 3:24).

While at this point in our relationship with Christ, we differ nothing from a servant, though [ we] be lord of all (Gal 4:1 and 1Co 3:21,22). Also while at this point, we are still in bondage under the elements of this world… (Gal 4:3). Speaking of these very elements, Paul goes on to say you observe days, months, times and years. I am afraid of you lest I have bestowed labor upon you in vain (vs. 9-11).

Having said that, what is the apostle’s attitude toward those who still feel that they personally must adhere to the scriptures which do clearly teach outward circumcision and baptism?

Notice: Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon or of the sabbath days: WHICH ARE A SHADOW OF THINGS TO COME, but the body (which casts those shadows) is of Christ (Col 2:16-17).

So anyone who does happen to enjoy the “good things to come” (Heb 10:1), who realizes that true baptism is the baptism Christ was baptized with (Mat 20:23), realizes he is “baptized into his (Christ’s) death” (Rom 6:3), is up on the cross with Christ and doesn’t need the outward sign of water baptism, but neither does he condemn those who still feel they need it.

Water baptism is the shadow of the Good thing to come spoken of in Heb 10:1. Eph 5:26-27 shows the “washing of water” that really is essential for salvation is “by the word,” not physical water. Heb 9:21-23 – Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry [ both types of the Christian]. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood: and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these (water baptism- the passover experience); but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these (the baptism of the Holy Spirit). This is what “sanctifies and cleanses.” This agrees with our Lord’s words of Joh 6:63 – It is the Spirit that gives life. The words that I speak unto you THEY ARE SPIRIT AND THEY ARE LIFE. May the Lord give us eyes to see and ears to hear His truth.

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