Am I saved before or after baptism? The answer points to a deep rift between the teachings of the churches of Christ and most of the denominational world. The Christian would argue that a man must be baptized in order to be saved while the Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, etc. would argue that one is saved before he is baptized. The answer can only be found in Scripture.
In a page critical of the churches of Christ, a Baptist writer offers several verses which he claims prove salvation comes apart from baptism. He writes:
Every time the phrase “for the remission of sins” occurs it is speaking of the fact that sins have been forgiven previously! The Bible plainly teaches that the forgiveness of sins is conditioned upon repentance of sin and faith in Christ – never upon water baptism! (Matthew 3:11; Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:43; Acts 20:21; Romans 1:16; Romans 4:5; et.al.)
This gentleman is in gross religious error as will be shown.
The phrase “for the remission of sins” occurs 5 times in Scripture, all in the New Testament. Twice it refers to the preaching of John the Baptist (Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3), once it is spoken of by Jesus (Matthew 26:28), once by Peter (Acts 2:38) and once by Paul (Romans 3:25). We will examine each usage to see if it in fact means what the Tennessee Baptist means.
“John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4, NKJV)
“And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3, NKJV)
If, as our opponent says, baptism for remission of sins speaks of sins previously forgiven, then we find that not only are men forgiven of sins before baptism but before repentance! Is that really what he means?
Repentance is essential to salvation as is baptism. One certainly cannot willfully persist in sin while claiming God’s greatest blessing can he? of course not. John wasn’t telling people to repent because their sins had already been forgiven, but because they would be forgiven upon repentance and baptism.
There is an old saying: “That which proves too much, proves nothing.”
“For this is my blood of the New Covenant which is poured out for many for the remission of sins” (NKJV)
This may be the clinching verse for our discussion. If, as he argues, the phrase “for the remission of sins” actually speaks of sins previously forgiven, we wonder why Jesus was confused? Jesus poured out his blood even though sins were already forgiven? That, dear friend is blasphemy of the highest order.
Consider Ephesians 1:7, “In Him we have redemption through his blood…”
Consider Colossians 1:20, we have peace “…through the blood of his cross…”
Consider Hebrews 10:4, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin…”
Consider Hebrews 10:10, “By this we have all been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all.”
Apart from the blood shed at Calvary there is no salvation.
To be perfectly fair, we don’t think our friend believes that there is salvation apart from Christ. But it is the logical outcome of his argument whether he intends it or not.
“Peter said to them ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (KJV)
This classic passage is a very simple, direct answer to a very simple, direct question: “What must we do?” Peter instructs his hearers to both repent and be baptized “for the remission of sins.” If our opponent is correct then these men who had crucified Jesus (Acts 2:36) were in fact, already forgiven! They were already saved. According to this reasoning, when they asked what they must do, Peter could have simply replied, “nothing.” It is incredible to think these men could be saved without either baptism or repentance because that is exactly the implications of this false doctrine.
But continuing in the same context, we see that those who were willing to hear and obey were baptized and then added to the church (Acts 2:41). Again, we see that those who were baptized were considered saved (Acts 2:47, c.f. Acts 2:41).
Interestingly, the quote from the preacher above demands repentance, but excludes baptism even when the two words are here join by a simple conjunctive, the word “and.” Both terms before and after the conjunction carry equal weight.
“…whom God set forth as a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God.”
Paul’s argument here concerns the justification that comes not through the law of Moses, but only in Christ Jesus. There is nothing here to argue for prior salvation before baptism. The apostles simply says that remission (forgiveness) of sins comes through Jesus Christ.
Now we have explored all of the new uses of the phrase “for the remission of sins” found in the New Testament. It should be clear to the reader that the intent of the phrase always speaks to that which is to come not that which has already happened.
To argue that “for the remission of sins” speaks of sins previously forgiven is to stand Scripture on its head and wrest it out of context.
This post has become lengthy so we will pause here and resume tomorrow with a rejoinder to the passages he mentions above.
Please continue to read and feel free to leave your comments.
Other posts in this series:
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