Baptismal Regeneration Explored
As we study the Bible concerning the subject of baptism, there are some points of consideration that we must make. To most of us, when we think of baptism we think of a pastor taking us to a body of water, perhaps a baptismal pool inside a church building, and immersing us into that water. Some imagine being sprinkled with water, yet others think of water being poured over their heads. Because of these varying ideas, it is important to explain some key points about what Scriptural baptism actually is. As we read the Bible and come to the word baptism we should not have a pre-conceived idea of what this actually entails.
The word Baptism was not translated into the English language. It is the same word that was used in the original Greek. The translators of Scripture simply transliterated this word, meaning they left the word as it was in the original texts rather than translating it into English. The word baptism means to immerse and to identify. It does not always carry with it the ideas we have penned to it. It is often used to signify identification with something or someone. Sometimes when it is used it has water in mind, yet at other times it does not.
There are three main uses of the word baptism in the New Testament (Hebrews 6:2 is an exception). We find it is first used to refer to the Baptism of John. This involved water baptism for repentance of sins for the nation of Israel. Then John himself prophesied about another baptism that is a major theme in Paul’s epistles. This is Spirit Baptism.
We read a lot about the Spiritual Baptism throughout the New Testament. Passages such as Romans 6:1-7; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13 and more all speak about Spirit Baptism. The book of Acts records some of the first actions of this baptism, which is very unique in the way it happened as opposed as to how it happens today. There is nothing mystical about the Spirit baptism. It cannot be felt or experienced in a physical way. It is not something we “feel,” rather it is a one time event in every Christian’s life. It happens to us at the moment of Salvation and is something that cannot be repeated again. Jesus said that we would be in Him and He would be in us. Paul stated that this baptism places us into the body of Christ. This identifies us with Jesus Himself, His death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6). It separates us from the world, and identifies us with the body of Christ. Paul told the Ephesians that there was only one baptism, which is spiritual baptism.
Then there is the baptism that the Scripture speaks of as a picture of Spiritual baptism, which is what most people think of when they hear the word baptism. This does involve being immersed in water and the Scripture refers to this taking place after our Salvation experience. It identifies us with being a Christian, and tells the world that we are a new creation. It also provides a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
When we are aware of the different uses of the word baptism, it helps us to clarify what a passage in scripture actually means. We must look at the context of each passage and determine which use of the word is being conveyed to the reader. As we proceed with this study we will look at the Biblical meaning of baptism a little closer. As we will show you, the context will clearly reveal the meaning of the word and help us to better understand what water baptism actually is.Does Water Baptism Save You?
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells us to go and make disciples and to baptize them. We know that baptism is something the Lord has commanded his disciples to do, but does that mean that baptism is essential for salvation? The Catholic Church anathemizes anyone who does not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. Many denominations are teaching that the forgiveness of sins can only come through the water that cleanses us from our sins. Is baptism necessary for salvation or is it merely an act of obedience of a believer? Let's discover what the Bible says about Baptism.What is Salvation?
In order for us to determine if baptism is necessary for salvation, we must first examine just what salvation is and how it is received. (We will be doing a more in-depth study of salvation soon) We must look to the scriptures to see exactly what they say about salvation.
Rom 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (NIV)
We find in these words from Paul that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. So we can already see that everyone who believes the gospel will receive salvation. Now we must determine just what the gospel is. Paul actually explains this in his letter to the Corinthians. Here is what he says as he reminds them of the gospel he preached to them.
1 Cor 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, (NIV)
The gospel is the message that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again on the third day. He reminds them also that this is not his own interpretation of the gospel but this is what was foretold of in the scriptures. So let us look again at the verse in Romans.
Rom 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (NIV)
So we see that salvation is given to everyone who believes the gospel, which means they believe in Christ who died for our sins, was buried and rose again. Paul would not be able to make such a bold statement if baptism were necessary for salvation, for any act of obedience such as baptism would not make the gospel the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believed, but only for those who believed and were baptized. If baptism were a necessary part of salvation, no one who believed the gospel but were unable to be baptized would receive salvation. The word everyone must mean everyone. (See also John 316, 5:24, 6:40, Acts 10:43, 16:30-31, Rom 10:9)
Many argue that baptism is part of the gospel; therefore the statement of Paul assumes that those who believe the gospel were baptized. This, however, negates the words of Paul himself, who clearly differentiates between baptism and his job of proclaiming the gospel.
1 Cor 1:14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16(Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (NIV)
So, clearly, baptism is not part of the gospel, for Paul would not have been glad that he had not baptized anyone (except a couple of people) if that baptism is how the blood was applied to cover their sins. No, Paul clearly states, he was to preach the gospel, not baptize. These are two separate events. So where did the teaching of baptismal regeneration come from?Salvation is not by Works
I believe that Baptismal Regeneration is merely another effort of man to turn the gospel into a salvation by works. The fact that man wants to play a part in his salvation process is nothing new. You will find throughout the New Testament that the churches were often reprimanded for trying to add to the gospel. They were corrected and reminded that salvation is by grace, "not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph 2:8-10) But man seems to feel that he must play some part in his salvation. I suppose, such men find salvation by faith through grace, just too unbelievable. Although it is hard to fathom why God would offer us such a prized possession for free, it is even harder to fathom anyone thinking of one work that would "earn" such a gift.
If you read the book of Galatians you will find a prime example of a church trying to add "works" to salvation. They were saying that it was necessary to be circumcised to be saved. Paul quickly admonished such a teaching and called them "fools" for believing this "false gospel." Paul knew that teaching anything other than salvation by grace alone was not the gospel that saves.
Gal 1:6-9 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (NIV)
When we see what Paul had to say to the Galatians about adding works to salvation, it is clear that no work, not even one that the Lord commanded his disciples to do, plays any part in our receiving salvation.
Gal 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so much for nothing-if it really was for nothing? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? (NIV)
We received the Spirit because we believed what we heard, not because we observed the law. We simply cannot try to attain by human effort what began with God's Spirit. At the moment we believe, we are filled with God's Spirit. It is His Spirit that gives us new life (salvation) and brings us into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). Without the Spirit we are not saved, with it, we are born again, lacking nothing else that is needed for "salvation".
Eph 1:13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, (NIV)
Rom 8:9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (NIV)
That is what salvation is. We were dead in our sins, and when we believed the gospel (that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again to give us new life) we were saved. At that moment the Holy Spirit came to indwell us, making us a child of God and assuring us eternity in heaven. All of this happens before we are baptized. There is an example of this in the book of Acts. In this next passage you will see that the Spirit was clearly given before their baptism and therefore they were already saved before they were baptized.
Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47 "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (NIV)
It would be impossible for the Spirit to fill a believer before they were forgiven for their sins. Salvation is the same for all of mankind. God is not partial nor does he make an exception in certain cases. His gospel is the same for us as it was for the gentiles in this book of Acts. They were filled with the Spirit and therefore guaranteed their inheritance from God (Eph 1:13-14). Their baptism with water had nothing to do with their salvation from God.
Some, including the Catholic Church, teach that baptism actually replaced circumcision as God's sign of the covenant with his people. This however is negated by the very words of Paul to the Galatians. If Baptism were a "new law" that was part of the gospel, Paul merely should have explained this to them. Rather than reprimanding them for requiring circumcision, he would have explained that baptism has "replaced" circumcision, but we can see that he did not do this. Instead he made this powerful statement.
Gal 5:2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all....6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (NIV)
This issue was also addressed in the book of Acts. Some people, like the Galatians, were teaching that Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses. The apostles and elders met to consider the question. Through the council of the Holy Spirit they did not come to the conclusion that "baptism replaced" circumcision, but rather that the Gentiles were merely to refrain from a few things (Acts 15:5). There is no mention of baptism playing any role in assuring that the Gentiles were part of the New Covenant.What About These Verses?
Now that we have established clearly from the scriptures that salvation is not by works of any kind, we will examine some of the passages that are used to teach Baptismal Regeneration. When we look at these passages in context, it becomes obvious that many of these passages are misunderstood.Acts 2:38
The most famous passage for many people who teach that baptism is necessary to apply the blood that forgives our sins is Acts 2:38. Let us look at this passage for a moment.
Acts 2:38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (NIV)
First of all, we must remember that we have already shown very clear and concise passages that insist that salvation is not of works, that baptism is not the gospel, and salvation comes solely from believing the gospel. If this verse really implied that baptism was necessary for salvation, then it would contradict the many verses throughout scripture that tell us salvation is a free gift of God. If this verse contradicts the myriad of verses that say the opposite, then the validity of the entire Bible is called into question. The Bible will never contradict itself!
So what does this passage mean? There are a couple of valid explanations that can be proven scripturally, are united with the context of the passage and do not contradict the whole of scripture that teaches salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.
One explanation is that the Greek word eis which is used for the word for in this verse can be translated to mean "because of". Even in the English this makes perfect sense. To say that you are being baptized "for" the remission of sins could easily be read that you were being baptized "because of" the remission of sins. The sins had already been forgiven, that is why you were being baptized for them. Let me share a couple of examples with you.
Let's say it's my birthday and my parents gave me a present. I would say that I got a present for my birthday. The present was not given in order for me to have my birthday. No, the birthday was already here, it existed with or without the present. However, in honor of my birthday, I was given a present. I was given a present for my birthday. Or lets say a soldier is given a medal for bravery. We would say that he received an award for bravery. Again, we realize that the bravery existed with or without the award. The award was given because the soldier had already been brave, not in order to make him brave. He was given an award for bravery.
While this argument is valid and does not ignore the context or contradict any other scripture, there is another explanation that I think is more significant. I think it fits more fully into the context of the passage, the events taking place and like the other explanation, does not contradict the scriptures clear teaching that salvation is not of works.The Context of Acts 2:38
In order for us to understand the clear context of this passage, one should really read the entire first two chapters of Acts, as well as have an understanding of the events that led us here. In order to save time and space we will focus on the more immediate texts, but will briefly comment on the significant events taking place leading up to and including the response to Peter's sermon in Acts 2:38. For a better understanding of any passage, it's always wise to read it in its entire surrounding context.
First we must realize that the Church is in its infancy here in Acts chapter two. It was born just hours or even minutes before Peter started preaching this message. The church at this point consists only of Jews. Though Gentiles are soon to become a part of the church, at this point in time those present upon the birth of the church were all Jews. (Acts 2:5) We must also realize that up until now there has only been one baptism that people are familiar with and that is the Baptism of John the Baptist. In the gospels, we read the accounts of the baptism performed by John. This later became known as "Johns Baptism." (Acts 1:22, 19:3-5) When we read about the actual account of Johns Baptism we read this:
Mark 1:4-5 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (NIV)
Matt 3:5-8 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (NIV)
This passage also sheds light on the purpose of John:
Matt 3:1-2 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (NIV)
One of the key words in the baptism of John is "repent". John's was a baptism of repentance, not for individual salvation, but for Israel as a nation. John's purpose was to call the nation of Israel to repentance, to "Prepare the way for the Lord, to make straight paths for Him." (Is 40:3; Matt 3:3) Repentance was required of the nation of Israel in order for them to receive the Kingdom that God had promised them throughout the Old Testament. John proclaimed that the Kingdom of heaven was near, and it was, but they rejected it. John would have been the Elijah promised to Israel if they had accepted him, but since they rejected Him and did not repent, they would have to wait for the Kingdom. (Matthew 11:14; 17:10,11) Israel in turn rejected Christ as their messiah and had Him crucified. This is the topic of Peter's sermon in the second chapter of Acts.
Acts 2:22 "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (NIV)
Peter was not simply preaching about individual salvation in these passages. He is clearly revealing to Israel that that God has made Jesus, whom they crucified, "both Lord and Christ. (v36)" Those who heard his message were pricked in their hearts and then they asked Peter and the apostles, "what shall we do?" Notice carefully the entire answer Peter gives to them.
Acts 2:38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call." 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." (NIV)
The first thing Peter does is remind them of John's baptism of repentance. Peter was acknowledging one more time that Israel must repent in order to be saved from this "corrupt generation." This simply means that if Israel had repented and acknowledged Christ as their messiah, then Christ could have returned to restore His kingdom and they would have been saved from the age (generation) in which we live now. Although many Jews did indeed repent and turn to Christ, the nation of Israel as a whole and the leadership within it continued to deny their messiah and therefore we have entered into the church age. Because of their rejection, the offer of salvation was offered not only to the Jews, but also to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and ultimately the Gentiles (Acts 10).
Not only did the Gentiles receive the Spirit without having been baptized (as was pointed out earlier), but it was Peter that presented the gospel message to them. Nowhere in his sermon to the Gentiles does Peter mention a baptism of repentance. In fact, He clearly states in this chapter that if a person believes in Christ they will receive forgiveness.
Acts 10:43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (NIV)
Yes Peter then commanded them to be baptized, but not for salvation, but for identification. Baptism, as it was with Jesus and the Israelites was a form of identification, something that Christ commanded should be done to all disciples (Matt 28:19). Even in Christ's instruction, baptism was never mentioned as a requirement for salvation. Peter was very clear here; the Gentiles had the Spirit of God before they were baptized with water.
Acts 10:46 ...Then Peter said, 47 "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." (NIV)
In the following chapter we read that Peter was criticized for visiting the Gentiles. Peter then explains what God had had revealed to him in his vision and what happened in his visit that was recorded in chapter 10. In his explanation Peter makes this statement.
Acts 11:16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17 So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?" (NIV)
Peter confirms our statements at the beginning of this page; that there is one baptism that is essential for salvation and that is the Spiritual baptism. He clearly distinguishes between the two. You will not find any messages to the Gentiles that mention a baptism for repentance because that baptism has nothing to do with salvation.
I have found that one must be careful when acquiring their doctrine from the book of Acts. It can be quite risky to take a statement in Acts and apply it to all Christians today. The reason for this is simple; Acts is a historical book, not a doctrinal book. While you can get doctrine from a historical book, that was not the main purpose of it. It is explaining what happened and when, not telling us how something should happen every time. The events that happened during the birth of the New Testament church are not necessarily to be repeated or required by all. It is quite evident that each time the Spirit was poured out upon various groups of people for the first time it happened in a different order and different method for each one. For example, in Acts 8 the Samaritans were baptized with water before receiving the Spirit, yet quite clearly the opposite is true in Acts 10 where they received the Spirit first and then were baptized. We must know what the rest of the Bible has to say about such things before we can make a dogmatic statement about any event in the book of Acts. It is however, essential that we read and understand the events that took place in Acts, for these events have greatly impacted our lives. This book records the growth of our church, the transition from the law to grace, the offer of this new covenant to Gentiles as well as Jews, the miraculous conversion of the apostle Paul, among many other important events. We just must do as the Word says and rightly divide the Word of Truth.1 Peter 3:21
1 Peter 3:21 ...baptism that now saves you... (NIV)
This verse is often used by the proponents of Baptismal Regeneration who claim that this verse is a firm and clear statement that baptism saves you. When you hear this mentioned, be sure to note that this is not the complete verse, let alone the complete context of the passage. Let us look at the entire verse and it's surrounding passages and see if we can determine what it is that "now saves you."
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand-with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (NIV)
The first thing we should note is that immediately before this text Peter shares with us the fact that Christ brings us to God by being put to death in the flesh and made alive by the Spirit. This is the exact gospel message of Paul that we listed above in 1 Corinthians 15, the gospel that has the power to save. As we read on further Peter refers to those who were in prison, the people that died during the great flood. The entire world population was destroyed then, except for the eight people who were saved, which was Noah and his family. Peter says this water symbolizes the baptism that now saves us. Let's look closely at this symbol.
The water is the symbol of the baptism that now saves you. This cannot symbolize water baptism however, because in this analogy the people that were in the water died. The ones who were saved were those who were in the Ark, not the water. They were never dunked, sprinkled or got wet at all. They were in the Ark in which God shut the door. In this symbol, those who were in the water were not raised to life or lifted up out of the water. There is no basis to suggest that this passage is referring to water baptism at all.
We must remember again which baptism saves. As we discussed above; it is the Spirit that saves us. 1 Corinthians explains that upon receiving this Spirit we are baptized into the body of Christ.
1 Cor 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body... (NIV)
It is the spiritual baptism that saves. Remember Jesus Himself reminded the apostles in Acts chapter 1 that it was John that baptized with water, but He would baptize them with the Spirit. Just as Noah and his family were saved from death in the flood, we too are saved from eternal death by Christ's resurrection. We find this idea confirmed right within the text of 1 Peter 3.
1 Peter 3:21...It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ NIV
Then of course, there is the clear texts of the immediate passage, that explain that this symbol has nothing to do with the washing of the body, but of the conscience, a spiritual cleansing.
1 Peter 3:21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, NIV
Water baptism simply is not in the texts. To assume that the word baptism must mean water baptism leads to a serious misunderstanding of the scriptures and does not adequately address how water baptism can be symbolized by people who were saved by being kept out of the water. This is clearly a passage that represents the baptism that now saves you, the baptism of the Spirit of Christ, given to those who believe in gospel.Romans 6:3-4
Rom 6:3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (NIV)
In order to use this passage to teach baptismal regeneration there once again must be an assumption that the baptism mentioned in this passage must mean a physical water baptism. The context, however, proves this to be impossible. Remember it was in the book of Romans in which Paul said that the gospel was the power of God for salvation to those who believe. The theme of the book of Romans up to and including this chapter is that salvation is by grace through faith, not from works. It is obvious that Paul is adamant on this stance. Lets look at some important passages that precede these verses in Romans chapter six.
Rom 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." (NIV)
This passage clearly states that salvation comes from the gospel to all who believe by faith. The theme of faith alone is clear from the passages that follow in this letter to the Romans. Here are just a few.
Rom 3:20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (NIV)
Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (NIV)
Rom 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (NIV)
While we realize that baptism was not part of the Law, if an act of the law does not save you, why would being baptized do so? In chapter 4 we will see quite clearly why NO act of any kind on man's part can play any part in his salvation. Paul explains this by using Abraham as an example. Here are the verses leading into the context of Romans 4.
Rom 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. (NIV)
Whether Jew or Gentile, we are all justified by faith, not of the law.
Rom 4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about-but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (NIV)
If works save you, then you have something to boast about! Water baptism is something that man can boast about. If it were required for man's salvation, he would be able to boast saying, "I walked into the water and was dunked and because of that I received the blood of Christ." The Bible is clear, God made salvation completely free in order to keep that from happening!
Eph 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (NIV)
God would be contradicting himself to say that salvation is "not by works so that no one can boast" and then require a "work" in order for Him to receive what He calls a free "gift." A gift is just that, it is freely given without any conditions. No work, not even baptism can be required. He states this quite clearly in the very next passage of Romans.
Rom 4:4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. (NIV)
Once you work for something, it is no longer a gift. There is no getting around this logically or scripturally. The only other argument left is that baptism is not a work, but that is just a denial of the facts. In fact, many today are gloating that they were not only "baptized" but were baptized in the "proper formula." All of this draws away from what really saves and that is Jesus. He offers His salvation freely, so that no one can boast. Baptism, like circumcision, is merely a symbol of our faith, as we read on in Romans.
Rom 4:9 We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. (NIV)
The act of circumcision followed Abraham's faith, just as baptism follows ours. Our faith is credited to us for believing, not for being baptized.
Rom 4:23 The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness-for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (NIV)
Then in the next chapter we have the following verses, confirming salvation by grace through faith.
Rom 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
Rom 5:9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (NIV)
Note that although the verse above tells us that we are justified by his blood, it does not suggest that the blood is applied through baptism. No verse in the scripture EVER says that water baptism is how the blood is applied. Now we get back to Romans chapter six.
Rom 5:20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (NIV)
Paul continues to explain that just because we are saved by grace, we should not purposely sin. These verses lead us back to the passages that mention baptism.
Rom 6:3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (NIV)
After five chapters of preaching against salvation of works, this cannot possibly mean that we were baptized into Christ through water baptism. That would contradict this very solid message that salvation is not of works. No, we are baptized into Christ through His Spirit, and because of that spiritual baptism we were buried with him in order that we may experience His life. It is God's free gift that saves us, a gift that can require no act on man's part. Paul ends this chapter reminding us of that great gift.
Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)
Gal 3:27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (NIV)
This verse is exactly like the verse in Romans above; this passage is speaking about spiritual baptism, not physical water baptism. Like Romans six, it would be impossible for the context of this passage to mean anything else. Galatians is a book dedicated to the principle that salvation is by grace, not by observing the law. Paul believed this so strongly that he condemned anyone who preached otherwise.
Gal 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (NIV)
We have already discussed what the true gospel consisted of. The Galatians were teaching that circumcision was required for salvation. Remember, that Abraham was saved by faith before he was circumcised (Rom 4:9-10), yet the Galatians were claiming otherwise. Paul reminded them quite clearly that salvation began with the Spirit, not by human effort.
Gal 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4 Have you suffered so much for nothing-if it really was for nothing? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? 6 Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (NIV)
We were given the Spirit because we believed what we heard, not because of any work. He then uses the exact same example as he did in Romans six (see section above); Abraham's belief is what God credited him as righteousness, not his obedience to circumcision, which came after his faith. It is the same with Baptism, which is confirmed by the immediate context of this passage.
Gal 3:26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 (NIV)
We are all sons of God through faith in which the Spirit baptized us into Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13)
Col 2:12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. (NIV)
This verse like the previous two is sometimes misunderstood to represent water baptism. However, the context surrounding this passage clearly suggests otherwise. This verse follows this powerful statement.
Col 2:11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, (NIV)
This reveals quite clearly that the circumcision done by Christ is not the same as the one done by hands. It would not make sense for Paul to speak about circumcision in the spiritual sense and then turn right around in the same sentence and speak about a physical water baptism, especially in light of the many other teachings of Paul that have already been covered in this study.
This passage is clearly speaking of our spiritual baptism and not suggesting that a work such as baptism is necessary for salvation. In fact, the entire surrounding context says just the opposite.
We find that no longer must we worry about what we physically eat or drink. We no longer need to keep a Sabbath as a day to the Lord. All of these things were shadows of what was to come. That reality is now here and is found in Christ.
Col 2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (NIV)
We are no longer under the law and this section of scripture validates that. This chapter ends with a clear statement that man made rules lack any value.
Col 2:20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (NIV)
John 3:5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (NIV)
I think it is important to first note that the word baptism is not even in this section of scripture. Let's examine this passage in context.
John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." 3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." 4 "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" 5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (NIV)
From this passage teachers of Baptismal Regeneration want us to believe that we are born again by being baptized with water and then baptized again (or at that time) with the Spirit. The context, however, is clearly speaking of both a physical birth and a spiritual birth. To suggest otherwise really ignores the context of the passage. We will walk through this section of Scripture verse by verse to see what this passage clearly says.
"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
This was Jesus' reply to Nicodemus after he recognized that Jesus was indeed a teacher sent from God. Jesus tells him that he cannot see the kingdom of God "unless he is born again." Look at Nicodemus' response to this statement.
"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"
The objection that Nicodemus has to Jesus' statement that a man must be "born again" is that it is impossible for a man to be physically put back into his mother's womb and actually be "born again." Nicodemus is focusing on the physical birth of a man. Jesus then replies by saying:
5 "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Jesus is clearly speaking about two births, a physical one and a spiritual one. For a man to be born of the water and the Spirit is to be born of the flesh and the Spirit, as He stated in verse six. The objection that Nicodemus had was crystal clear; man can't be physically born again. Jesus' reply explains His meaning, which He isn't talking about physical birth alone, but that a spiritual birth that must take place as well. There is no indication in this passage that the spiritual birth takes place in water baptism.
Let's look briefly at what this passage does not say. Jesus did not say that we must be born physically and then be born by water and Spirit. He does not say that we must be born by water to be born by the Spirit. He also does not say that being born of water takes place in water baptism. These are all misconceptions read into the Scripture. Without having been told that this passage was in reference to water baptism, we would never have seen it in the context. Jesus then goes on to clarify His statement a bit further.
7 "You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
Speaking of being "born again", Jesus explains how it is with people who are "born of the Spirit." After having already contrasted the physical birth (of the flesh) with the Spiritual one, He then focus' on what he meant by being "born again." He describes what it is like to by spiritually born, and water is not mentioned in this passage. Water was simply mentioned as having played a role in the physical aspect of birth.
Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
I believe it is in clear in reading these passages in context that baptismal regeneration is not a doctrine taught in the Scriptures.