Chapter Eight – Baptism, a Necessary Ordinance?

04 March

 

“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” - Galatians 3:26-28

 

 

Is Baptism a necessary ordinance for salvation? The Bible tells us that all you need to do to immediately enter into His kingdom as His child is to confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Christ and that you are personally trusting Jesus as your Savior (Romans 10:9-10). As Christians we believe that Jesus is the living water (John 7:38), that what He did on the cross is sufficient for all of our sins—that nothing needs to be added to it. Being Born Again is being born into Jesus’ family and accepting His living water. Baptism is a symbol of that act, like putting on a wedding ring to show all who see it that you are part of something greater than yourself.

However, unlike Christians, Mormons believe that you must physically be baptized in order to gain salvation. According to Mormon doctrine, baptism is one of the essential parts to attaining access to the Celestial Kingdom. In the Mormon faith acceptance by God is conditional on what you do for Him instead of what Jesus did for you (2 Nephi 31:17-18, Book of Mormon).

Brigham Young is quoted as saying, “However much we may profess attachment to God and his cause we are not entitled to the blessings and privileges of his Kingdom until we become citizens therein. How can we do this? By repenting of our sins, and obeying the requirements of the Gospel of the Son of God which has been delivered to us. Hundreds and thousands of people have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and repented of their sins, and have had the Holy Spirit to witness unto them that God is love, that they loved him and that he loved them, and yet they are not in his Kingdom. They have not complied with the necessary requirements. They have not entered in at the door. You have not the power to baptize yourselves, neither have you power to resurrect yourselves; and you could not legally baptize a second person for the remission of sins until some person first baptized you and ordained you to this authority.”[1]

According to Young, many people who have trusted Jesus Christ are not in the Kingdom because they did not get baptized.

These two beliefs are diametrically opposing to each other and cannot be lightly dismissed. They are so contradictory in nature that if either of them is correct, then the other, by default, means you have not attained salvation. Both views repudiate the other. You can’t have both.

If the Christian viewpoint is correct, then salvation is wrapped up solely in Jesus Christ and in nothing else. But from a Mormon viewpoint salvation is attainable only after certain other requirements are completed—such as baptism. From the Christian perspective, it does not appear that the Mormon has faith in Jesus Christ at all…or not enough for salvation. Mormons don’t believe that faith is sufficient and so the Christian wonders if there is faith at all. Without faith how could the Mormon really be saved? The Mormons, on the other hand, don’t think the Christian has gone far enough to actually achieve salvation and is still lost and outside the Kingdom.

It is impossible for them both to be right. There can be no marriage between the two viewpoints since they automatically invalidate the other. Which one is right? Which belief is true? Ultimately, what you or I think matters little in the face of what God knows. It is not about defending my position or your position, but about aligning ourselves with God’s position. It is important here to know what God thinks of this very sensitive subject of baptism.

Mormon’s baptize children as young as eight years of age, and even though I believe eight-year-olds can definitely come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then follow the Lord in a believer’s baptism, it seems from my experience that most of these children get baptized because it is a family or religious requirement. It is the expectation and legalism involved that is not based on God’s truth. These children watch their peers all getting baptized when they turn eight and so feel they must too—even if they have no true concept of why. They do it because it is expected. Children have a hard time standing up against that type of pressure.

A clear understanding of what baptism is will make a lot of difference in how we view the importance of baptism in our lives. To be clear, baptism is important, just not to attain salvation. For example, I think it important that my children learn to love me, as they grow older. But their love is not a requirement for my love. Their love is important, but whether they love me or not, they are still my children. Baptism is important in the development of your relationship with God, but whether you are or aren’t, your faith in Jesus is what makes you a child of God.

 

What is Baptism?

 

The word ‘Baptism’ means a burial. Notice the following verses:

 

“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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:”Romans 6:5 (KJV)

 

Baptism is much like a wedding ring. A wedding ring in and of itself does not make a person married—or the lack thereof, unmarried. But it is a statement, a symbol of the vows, unity, and sacredness of a marriage. What’s more, the wedding ring is the first thing that a newly married man or woman does for his or her spouse. They put on the ring, proclaiming to everyone who sees it that he or she is taken, that they are not ashamed of their marriage. It is a wonderful thing.

Baptism is much like that. Although baptism does not give a person salvation—or the lack of being baptized make a person unsaved—it does tell everyone that knows you that you have been baptized that you belong to Christ and that you aren’t ashamed of that relationship. This is what baptism is. It would be similar to pledging allegiance to a flag, or putting on a wedding ring.

It is a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is also a symbol of the death of your old life, the burial of that old life, and your resurrection as a Christian (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is something that we do for God—not to attain salvation, but because we choose to identify with him. It is a statement of love. The baptism waters do not wash away sin—only the blood of Jesus Christ can do that (1 John 1:7). Baptism is how God asks us to identify ourselves with Him. But it does not save you. It does not take you to Heaven.

Here are some things to consider:

 

  1. The thief on the cross never got baptized, and Jesus said that this same thief would be with Him in paradise (Heaven) (Luke 23:43). Jesus went to Heaven and so did the thief on the cross next to Him. Thus, the thief without ever having been baptized, went to Heaven! Clearly, faith and trust in Jesus is sufficient for salvation without being baptized.
  2. Jesus Himself wasn’t baptized until He was thirty years of age. Would Jesus have gone to Heaven if He had died before His baptism? Of course He would! And why would the perfect Son of God need to be baptized anyway? Clearly, baptism didn’t save Jesus. But it did identify Him to what John the Baptist was preaching!
  3. John didn’t want to baptize Jesus. Instead, he wanted Jesus to baptize him (Matthew 3:14-15). Clearly, John understood the purpose of baptism. He wanted to be identified with the Lamb of God! That is why he wanted to be baptized, but Jesus refused and required John to baptize Him instead! This was important, as stated in the last point, because God had sent John. Jesus needed to be identified with the message of John the Baptist to fulfill all righteousness.
  4. Jesus rarely, if ever, baptized anyone (John 4:2). If baptism is so important to our salvation, why wasn’t the Son of God doing it? Wasn’t He to be our Savior? It seems that baptism wasn’t about salvation. It was about identifying themselves with Christ. This would explain why He did little of it and gave it over to His disciples to do.
  5. Joseph of Arimathaea was said to be a secret follower of Christ (John 19:38). How could this be? Baptism was never a private ceremony. It was always a very public matter since it was a profession of faith—a means to identify oneself with Christ. So, if Joseph was a disciple, why was it not important that he be baptized and make this public proclamation? It does not say or even hint that the man was going to Hell because of this.
  6. Paul actually expressed gratitude that he hadn’t been the one to baptize people in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14). He was lamenting the fact that people were divided over who they identified themselves with (“I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos, and I of Cephas” 1 Corinthians 1:12). He states, “Is Christ divided?” in verse 13 of 1 Corinthians. He wants people to identify themselves with Christ—not with Paul. Baptism, done correctly, is about identifying yourself with Jesus Christ.
  7. Many people use Acts 2:38 to prove that baptism is necessary for salvation. But the question asked of Peter that led to his answer in that verse wasn’t a question of salvation; it was a question of how to handle guilt and regret. Peter accused this crowd of rejecting Christ and condemning the Son of God to death. Worried and convicted about their actions, they asked, “What do we do?” Peter then went on and said that they needed to repent of their former beliefs, trust Christ for salvation and then identify with Christ (baptism). But because he wrapped it all up in a single answer to their question, many take it to mean that salvation is necessary for the remission of sins. This is not so. Peter, during a speech in the very next chapter, proves this when he leaves out baptism as a means to have sins blotted out (Acts 3:19)! Clearly Peter never believed that baptism was important for salvation. He thought it was important for the purpose of identifying with Christ—as a public expression of their faith.

 

Baptism is a means for the Christian to publically identify him or herself with Christ. In America, we have such freedoms and liberties that we often misunderstand the significance that the act of baptism shows to the rest of the world. To openly admit your identity as a Christian in many countries often means you can’t get a job or you may even lose your job, making it difficult to provide for your family. In many cases, it means imprisonment or death, all because they have identified themselves as followers of Christ. For them to be publically baptized is a true test of their faith.

Baptism has many different connotations in scripture—water baptism is but one of them. For example, there is something called the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Acts 11:16), and Jesus spoke of a baptism of suffering to his disciples:

 

But Jesus said to them, ‘You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?’” - Mark 10:38 (NLT)

 

Baptism, as stated, means a burial—to be completely immersed in. You would be surprised at how many people have experienced a baptism unrelated to their water baptism. God baptizes us in various different ways according to His will. Notice the following verse:

 

“Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.”Acts 11:16 (KJV)

 

Mormons, laudably, want to do everything Jesus did. But while they place emphasis on water baptism, they seem to ignore these other two forms of baptism. Perhaps it is better to try to be like Jesus instead of trying to do like Jesus. When you are like Jesus, the doings come naturally and wonderfully. But when all you ‘are’ is about what He did and not who He ‘was, you become like the Pharisees who were outwardly wonderful, but inwardly dirty (Matthew 23:27). Back in the Old Testament, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to do some of the miracles that God did through Moses (Exodus 7:22). But just because they were able to do some of what God ‘did doesn’t meant that they were like God, not at all.

More than that, it is just impossible to do everything that Jesus did. Only Jesus was perfect. Only Jesus could die on the cross and atone for our sins. John, in utter awe of Christ, said that if everything that Jesus did was written down, the world would not be able to contain it (John 21:25). Thankfully, the Christian is asked to conform to His image, not to be another Christ. God is so good to us and treats us like a loving Father. It is this love that allows us to beseech His mercy, find forgiveness, and grow close to Him. Then, what we do is not something we have to do; it is something we get to do. That makes all the difference in the world.

 

Qualifications to be Baptized

 

Since baptism is a way we identify with Christ, every Christian ought to want to get baptized. In fact, it is something that pleases God. Just as a bride would feel strange if her new husband refused to wear the wedding ring, so to, I suspect, that God feels disappointed when His own people refuse to get baptized and identify with Him.

But what exactly are the qualifications? You find them in the wonderful story of Philip and the Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). The Eunuch asked why, after listening to Philip talk of Jesus Christ, he couldn’t get baptized. Clearly this black Ethiopian man wanted to identify himself with Christ. But before he could get baptized, Philip had to make sure of something.

 

“And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.”Acts 8:36-38 (KJV)

 

Here are all of the qualifications that a person must meet in order to be baptized:

 

  1. You must believe that Jesus is the Son of God (the Messiah).

 

That’s it. There are no other qualifications or requirements for a person to be baptized.

Baptism is an outward sign of the declaration that you believe in Jesus. It is a powerful symbol to yourself and others of the commitment that you have already made. For example, if you go on a diet and lose a bunch of weight, you have already lost the weight; the size of your new jeans is just a symbol that confirms what has already happened.

Baptism doesn’t have to be how we traditionally think of it with formalities and specific prayers. An example of this happened when my daughter was a missionary in India. While riding on a train in Mumbai, she spoke to a Muslim man next to her on the train about the Lord, and he decided to accept Jesus into his life and turn from the Muslim religion. She felt the Lord telling her to ask him if he wanted to be baptized, and he said ‘yes.’ Since they were on a train, it was not possible to have a traditional water baptism. Instead, she poured her water bottle over his head as he shouted for joy at his conversion!

In that example, the qualifications were met. Here is a former Muslim who now, through baptism, has identified himself with Christ. His salvation was assured the moment he trusted Jesus as his Savior. But he wanted more than that. He wanted people to know! He wanted to be identified with Christ, so he got baptized.

 

Baptism for the Dead?

 

Mormons participate in a non-biblical practice known as ‘baptizing for the dead.’ In essence, this practice is the result of a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 15:29 (KJV) which states, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” To simplify, in the Mormon faith a person can be baptized on the behalf of a dead person in order to help them into the Celestial Kingdom. Supposedly, the act allows the departed another chance to accept the Mormon gospel and get saved. This also makes it possible to seal that person into other ordinances such as marriage.

This is one of the reasons why Mormons are so devoted to genealogies. They are determined to find their ancestors so they can be baptized on their behalf.

The passage of 1 Corinthians 15 is not talking about baptism. It is talking about the resurrection. Nowhere does it teach that being baptized for someone else will help that person attain a higher level of heaven or even get the opportunity because of this practice. There is no doubt that the verse is confusing. No less than thirty or more distinct efforts have been made through the years to explain it. The simple meaning of the verse—not the passage—does indicate that a group of people was being baptized on the behalf of someone else. But whether these people were Jews, pagans, or heathens is not indicated.

However, we do have a hint. Paul references these people as ‘they’ instead of ‘we.’ Up until that time, he was using ‘we,’ ‘our,’ ‘me’ or ‘your’ (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, 19). He switches to ‘they’ in verse 29 when he talks about this practice and immediately back to ‘we’ in the very next verse to conclude his thoughts on the entire passage. Clearly, the practice of baptizing for the dead was something that someone else was doing, not something that he or the Christians did. It appears as if Paul was using it as an illustration to drive home the point of the resurrection. He was stating how very real the resurrection is, that even those that are not of the Christian faith practice it. If taken away, it invalidates many, many different beliefs.

For the Christian, taking away the resurrection invalidates all of what Christ did on the cross (1 Corinthians 15:16-21). It is a very serious issue. But in regards to the baptism for the dead, it is a practice that most likely pagans believed—not Christians. It is amazing how the Mormons have built an entire doctrine and practice filled with rules, regulations, and requirements all around a verse that contains less than 30 words! Remember, as we have discovered, baptism isn’t about salvation. It is about identification. It is expressing our desire to stand with Christ, to be counted on His team, to prove that we are not ashamed of Him. Thus, baptism for the dead in this capacity makes absolutely no sense.

The practice is popular, however, among Mormons because it brings a bit of hope to people unsure of their loved one’s salvation. When someone you know and care about dies outside of God, there is a natural fear of that person ending up, God forbid, in Hell. If, however, you had a way to get that person out and into Heaven, you would no doubt jump upon it.

As much as I can sympathize with that hope, it is not Biblical. Everyone must make up his or her own mind while on this earth. It is our choice to accept or reject salvation through Jesus Christ. The Bible is clear:

 

“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

 - Romans 14:12 (KJV)

 

“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”Hebrews 9:27 (KJV)

What is comforting is the knowledge that God gives everyone a chance. No one will go through this life without a chance of turning to Christ. We can’t judge someone’s heart. We don’t know if there was a time when they turned to Christ and trusted Him. That is the wonderful thing about God. Where we need works to see someone’s faith (James 2:18), God only needs to see someone’s heart to know if they have faith (1 Samuel 16:7, Ephesians 2:8-9). We know that God loves the entire world. We know that He isn’t willing for a single soul to die and go to Hell. We know that He sent His Son to die for us.

Because we can’t see someone’s heart, we cannot judge his or her faith. We can only trust that God kept His Word and that somehow, someway, they had a chance. For the Scriptures say in Romans 14:11 (NLV), “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’”

 

Baptism and Salvation

 

“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.”Galatians 3:26-28

 

Jesus said you must be born again. He even tells us in scripture that no one will see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:7). How then are we to interpret this and do what Jesus desires?  Here Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus—a man who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, who knew the law inside and out and was among the religious elite of his day—did not understand baptism. But then many people get it wrong, because they become very legalistic about it and try to capture into a physical action something intangible as the spirit. This is what Jesus was speaking of when he spoke of the wind. Like the wind you may hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going (John 3:8).

We cannot judge even those that are baptized!  We do not know where they come from or where they are going. We do not know their heart! There are certainly a lot of people that have been baptized that do not even have God in there heart. There are many reasons people get baptized, some get baptized to be accepted in a family, some to receive their inheritance, some do it believing it to be the only way for God to love them, some do it just to look good in front of men like the Pharisees that pray and give alms on the street corners to be seen by men.

 

“Take heed that you do not do your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” - Matthew 6:1-4 (KJV)

 

Unlike alms, baptism is an outward declaration to tell people that you are following Jesus and allowing them to witness the change in your life. Nevertheless, it is still between you and the Lord. God is asking for a clean heart with the right motives. Remember, God looks on the heart.

If you keep the Bible in context and interpret it correctly (not just by a single verse), you will understand what is meant by being born of water in John 3:5. When you compare it with the very next verse, he explains it: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” So, the ‘born of water’ is the flesh, or physical birth—not a water baptism performed outside of the womb. Any mother knows that when she carried her unborn child, her child was surrounded on the inside by water; in the same way, it is what is happening on the inside that matters.

Baptism is a symbol to the outside world that you are following Jesus, but God cares about so much more than just your outward show. He wants to see changes on the inside.

 

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth.”John 4:23

 

Christians believe you can be saved without baptism. The Bible tells us that all you need to do is confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Christ and you immediately enter his kingdom (Romans 10:9). Jesus is the living water. Being born again is being born into Jesus’ family and accepting his living water. Baptism is a symbol.

When the Bible teaches about salvation, rarely is physical water baptism ever mentioned. Instead, emphasis is given to faith, belief and trust in Jesus Christ and what God did for us so that we can have eternal life. His love for us alone saved us! It is the greatest love story ever told. To deny this is to say that what He did for us in dying on the cross was not “enough,” that we must do something more in order to save ourselves. Salvation is by faith alone apart from the works of human righteousness.

 

  • John 3:16“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
  • Ephesians 2:8-9“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.”
  • Romans 5:1“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Acts 16:30-31“And after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”
  • John 6:28-29“Therefore they said to Him, ‘What must we do to do the work God requires?’ Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” If you add physical baptism to the salvation process as something that “must be done” in order to be saved, you twist scripture so that the emphasis upon salvation by faith alone is removed and you have fallen from grace.
  • Galatians 5:4“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ: you have fallen away from grace.”
  • Titus 3:5 - “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Christians are baptized purely as an act of love as a true follower of Christ, but it is not a necessary part of our salvation.
  • Romans 6:4 - “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Baptism by the Holy Spirit renews a person so that they can have a “clear conscience” through Christ before God.  “So that we too may live a new life.”
  • In Acts 10:44-47, we read that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given before physical water baptism took place: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the message. 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. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’” Thus scripture demonstrates that salvation occurs by faith in Christ alone, prior to water baptism.
  • In Corinthians 1:17, Paul tells us that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the Gospel. Apparently, there is more saving power in the Gospel than in the baptismal waters!
  • Acts 22:16 tells us not to delay getting baptized. What do we make of that? “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” This passage describes the washing “away” of sins. The way to wash away our sins is by “calling on His name.” This washing away of sins occurs the moment a person calls upon the name of Christ for salvation, not at the moment of physical, water baptism.
  • 1 Peter 3:21 - “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

 

A Prayer of Healing

 

“Lord Jesus, we thank You for taking upon You the baptism of suffering that we could not do for ourselves. We thank You that You save us the moment we ask. Please help us to rest in Your grace which produces the fruits of a righteous baptism, Amen.”


[1] Brigham Young, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah), 152-153, 160.

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