1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, 3 “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:1–3, NKJV)
Religious traditions (formed, validated, and passed down by humans) are not equivalent to God’s will. Many religious traditions fashioned and perpetuated by people contradict and violate the word of God. For example, Jesus not only rebuked the Jewish binding of traditions that were foreign to the Law of Moses, but He also exposed the tradition of Corban that excused violating God’s word (Matt. 15:1-3, 4-6; Mark 7:9-13). He called this conduct hypocrisy (Matt. 15:7). While claiming allegiance to God, they nullified God’s commands by demanding conformity to the tradition of the elders. A notable comparison to this is water baptism by sprinkling instead of immersion. Baptize (baptizo) means “to immerge, submerge” (Thayer, 94). Bible baptism requires much water, going down into and coming up out of the water (Matt. 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38-39). Baptism is a burial (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4-5). Sprinkling water as baptism began as an accommodation to the scarcity of water and, later, for clinical (deathbed) baptism in the third century for the bedfast. In some cases, the Roman papacy approved it in the eighth century until it was declared equal with immersion in AD 1311 by the Council of Ravenna (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, II:247-252). We must reject human religious traditions if they (1) Bind what God has not bound upon us or (2) Approve actions that violate the revealed word of God (Gal. 1:6-10; 2 John 9).
“one Lord, one faith, one baptism;” (Ephesians 4:5, NKJV)
While the one baptism unifies, the many contradictory teachings and practices of baptism found on the religious landscape divide believers. The Scriptures speak plainly about the what it is, who it is for, and what it accomplishes. The one baptism is the great commission baptism and is for the whole world (Matt. 28:19). The one baptism is water baptism, not Holy Spirit baptism (Acts 8:12-13, 16, 35-36; 10:47-48). The one baptism is immersion in water, not sprinkling or pouring (Acts 8:38; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12). The one baptism is for those who believe the gospel, repent of their sins, and confess their faith in Christ, not for innocent babies without the capacity of faith (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 8:36-38). The one baptism washes away our sins and saves us (Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). The one baptism accomplishes this because the sinner is baptized into the death of Christ (Rom. 6:3). The one baptism brings a person into a relationship with Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:27). The one baptism is “into one body,” the church (1 Cor. 12:13; Acts 2:41, 47). The one baptism is not a work of man that earns salvation, it is a work of faith in God’s grace (Tit. 3:4-7; Col. 2:12). We can have the unity God arranged for Christians by accepting what the Bible says about the one baptism which Christ commands and blesses.
Otherwise, what will they do who are baptized for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all? Why then are they baptized for the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:29, NKJV)
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use this verse to support their practice of baptizing for the dead. Was Paul referring to vicarious baptism of the living on behalf of the dead? If so, then some insurmountable problems arise. The Bible says there is one baptism, yet this would mean there are two baptisms – one for the living and one for the dead (Eph. 4:5). Personal faith in Christ and repentance are required before the great commission baptism (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38). Yet, the LDS practice consigns faith and repentance to choices the dead person must make in the spirit world. (Why should we think a living person can be baptized for a dead person, but not also believe and repent for the same dead person?) The great commission baptism is personal, but baptism for the dead is by proxy. Paul was not teaching proxy baptism. His context was the resurrection of the dead. Here is his point: If the dead are not raised, why are people being baptized on account of them? Why were people allowing a hope of resurrection lead them to be baptized “if the dead do not rise at all” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12-19)? If there is no resurrection of the dead, just “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32). But, the dead will be raised, and our hope of eternal life in Christ is sure. This great truth was persuading people to be baptized. It ought to persuade you to baptized, too.
18 Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him. 19 And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. 20 When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:18–20, NKJV)
Jesus saw their faith, and forgave the man’s sins. In just this way, an active faith that is seen by God is the faith He requires of us for our forgiveness. Salvation is “by grace, through faith;” it is “not our yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Salvation is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Does anyone think that because Jesus saw their faith, the paralytic earned the right to be forgiven? Certainly not! Why then, is there so much objection to saving faith being one that obeys the Lord’s commands (to repent and be baptized, Acts 2:38; Mk. 16:16)? You see, faith that cannot be seen is incomplete (James 2:17-18). Faith must be coupled with the action of faith (obedience), because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Saving faith is active, it is obedient to the word of Jesus. Obedient faith does not earn the right to be saved. Salvation is the gift of God, and Jesus gave that gift of salvation to the paralytic. But, what he had not lowered him into Christ’s presence? Without their active faith, he would have not been saved. Do you have faith to obey Jesus, to be saved by His grace? Does Jesus see your faith?
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:35–36, NKJV)
This passage is particularly instructive about what it means to preach Jesus. Preaching Jesus identifies Him as the suffering Servant of God who sacrificed His life (Acts 8:32-34; Isa. 53:7-8). It includes teaching about sin and salvation from it. The Ethiopian was lost, and wanted to be saved. The water would facilitate his salvation. When he asked Philip about baptism, he had not yet announced his personal faith in Jesus, since Philip stated that as the condition upon which he could be baptized (v. 37). To preach Jesus means preaching baptism, since the Ethiopian immediately asked about it when he saw water. How else did he know about baptism, expect that Philip spoke of it when he “preached Jesus” to him? Surely, he told the man what Jesus preached about baptism: “He that believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16). The Ethiopian confessed his personal faith, stopped the chariot, and Philip baptized him (Acts 8:37-38). The man joyfully went on his way, because he was saved when he believed and was baptized. Christ continues to save sinners the same way, today. What hinders you from being baptized to be saved?
12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. 13 Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done. (Acts 8:12–13, NKJV)
Was Simon really saved? If not, neither were the Samaritans we read about in this passage. He heard the same preaching they heard. He believed the same word about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ they believed. Were they saved when they believed and were baptized? According to Mark 16:16, yes, for there Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” The Samaritans were saved when they believed and were baptized, and so was Simon. Any attempt to cast doubt upon the credibility of Simon’s conversion throws the same shadow of doubt upon all the Samaritans. There is great assurance and abiding joy that when sinners hear the word of Christ, believe it and are baptized, they are saved (Acts 8:5-8). Take heed to the plan of salvation Jesus preached in Mark 16:16, and that saved the Samaritans and Simon in Acts 8:12-13. Otherwise, you will find yourself fighting against God.
And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:16, NKJV)
There is a danger in allowing the Bible to explain itself. The danger is not against the truth or those who believe it and obey it. No, the danger is to false teaching and to those who cling to error instead of surrendering it for the sake of truth. That is dangerous to the soul. This verse well illustrates our point. The preacher Ananias plainly explained to Saul what he had to do in order to be saved. He had to “arise and be baptized, and wash away (his) sins.” The blood of Christ was applied to his sins when he was “baptized into His death” (Rom. 6:3). This is “the washing of regeneration” by which God saves us (Titus 3:5). Calling on the name of the Lord, according to this Scripture, involves being baptized in order to “wash away your sins.” That is dangerous to the false doctrine of salvation before and without water baptism. No amount of appeals to Greek grammar or rationalizations will change the clear force of this verse. Baptism that washes away your sins is commanded by the Lord. The danger comes when one refuses to believe and obey this verse, and instead cling to a doctrine that disregards the word of God. Why are you waiting to believe and obey this divine directive?
3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
Water baptism is commanded of all who want to be saved from their sins by Jesus (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:37-38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). Many have distorted the Biblical purposes of baptism, but the Scriptures continue to teach us the truth. Sinners are baptized into three things according to this passage. First, one is baptized “into Christ Jesus” (v. 3). Baptism is an action of faith that brings one into a saved relationship with Christ. Clearly, one is outside of Christ until he is “baptized into Christ”. Second, one is baptized “into His death” (v. 3). The benefit of Christ’s death is obtained when one is baptized “into His death”. That is when Christ “washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5). Third, one is baptized “into death” (v. 4). When baptized, sin’s death no longer claims the sinner. He or she is raised from the death of sin by the power of God to newness of life in Christ (Col. 2:12). These are among the reasons water baptism is essential for our salvation in Christ.
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” (1 Corinthians 1:17)
Many interpret Paul’s statement to mean baptism is not essential for salvation. By doing so they set Scripture against itself. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16). Peter said baptism is “for the remission of sins”, and that baptism “saves us” (Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21). Ananias told Saul to “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). There was division in the Corinthian church. Although Paul had baptized Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas, he was glad he had not personally baptized more, “lest anyone should say they I had baptized in my own name” (1 Cor. 1:14-16). Did Paul violate verse 17 by baptizing these people? Not at all. As an apostle, Paul’s work was especially to preach the gospel. Others could baptize the sinners who responded to the gospel call to be saved. Who baptizes you is inconsequential. What is crucial is unity in Christ and His gospel, not division over men. Unity in Christ includes the gospel truth that water baptism is essential for salvation.
By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
Noah was a great man of faith. He was not sinless, but he was a “just man” of integrity who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” and “walked with God” (Gen. 6:8-9). God saved this man and his family through the water of the flood (1 Pet. 3:20). Why? Because in faith, Noah was “moved with godly fear” and obeyed the Lord’s command to build an ark. Noah had faith to build the ark, that saved his family. His obedient faith was counted to him for righteousness; Noah became “heir of the righteousness which is according to faith”. By grace, God saves those who have faith to obey His command to be baptized (the antitype of the flood, “which now saves us”, 1 Pet. 3:21). Do you have to kind of faith through which Noah was saved? You can, by obeying Christ’s commands to believe and be baptized to be saved (Mark 16:16). When you do, God will save you “by grace, through faith” (Eph. 2:8).