When I did a grammatical-historical exegesis of Mark 16:16; Jn. 3:3-5, Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:4-6, 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 5:25-27; Col. 2:11-13; Tit. 3:5; and 1 Pet. 3:21, I came to the conclusion, all presuppositions from Southern Seminary aside, that water baptism is indeed part of the gospel. This led me to a dynamic transformation encounter with the living God.
I no longer view water baptism as an outward sign of an inward grace that has already happened in the past. Scripture makes it clear there is only one faith, one lord, and one baptism. Not a spirit baptism first and then a water baptism later.
For even Dr. Schreiner makes it clear in his Romans commentary concerning 6:4-6: “Christians would have inevitably thought of water baptism since it was the universal initiation rite for believers in Christ. Moreover, Paul probably loosely associated baptism with water and baptism by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13), since both of these occurred at conversion.
Thus any attempt to distinguish between Spirit baptism and water baptism in the Pauline writings goes beyond what Paul himself wrote. Thomas Schreiner, Romans: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Press, 1998), p.306-307. Stott is also correct in saying that Paul was thinking of water baptism here, but it would never have occurred to Paul that baptism in water could be separated from the baptism in the spirit (Contra Stott, 1994, p.173).
I no longer view baptism as an ordinance or an act of obedience, but as a working of God through faith according to Colossians 2:11-13. Thus, baptism is not a work but an act of faith. And since it’s an act of faith, it harmonizes with justification by faith in Christ alone. In fact, Martin Luther makes it clear when he said: “that faith must have something in which it believes, that is, something it clings to, and something on which to plant its feet and into which to sink its roots. Thus faith clings to the water and believes baptism to be something in which there is pure salvation and life, not through the water, as I have emphasized enough, but because God’s name is joined to it…It follows from this that whoever rejects baptism rejects God’s word.”
When I view Acts 2:38 as “repent and be baptized” for the forgiveness of sins, I no longer explain it away in a convoluted manner. I simply look at the Greek word eis, which means motion toward, and infer from this passage that both are necessary conditions for the forgiveness of our sins. When you examine Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek lexicon, they devote two full pages to motion toward rather than five lines devoted to the causal use of eis or other attempts to argue “because of.”
I have merely scratched the surface, but this has helped me understand why there is a diversity of views concerning the gospel. Some include faith only and Grudem has rightfully denounced this doctrine in his book “Free Grace Theology” 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel. Also, MacArthur has done a good job to defend Lordship salvation instead of the Savior only model you see in many organizations, such as Campus Crusade for Christ. Platt has adequately addressed the doctrinal issue concerning the sinner’s prayer and how Jesus never told anyone to ask him in their heart.
All of that said, unless baptism is brought back into the gospel, the SBC will always be confused about the “timing” in which conversion occurs. Does it happen during the moment of faith? Does it happen at faith and then during one’s “calling on the name of the Lord”, which would refer to repentance. Or, as the Reformed Baptists would argue, regeneration precedes all of this.
Without a foundation for conversion, the whole salvation process will become spiritualized. And I am convinced it will lead to a gnostic theology similar to praying a sinner’s prayer into the heart rather than “repenting and being baptized” for the forgiveness of sins.
I think Scripture makes it clear in Colossians 2:11-13 and especially 1 Peter 3:28 the “timing” in which God saves us. Hear me out. I am not teaching baptismal regeneration as the Roman Catholics define it. One must have the cognitive ability to understand the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Thus, water doesn’t bestow any magical grace to the individual.
When Peter said baptism now saves you, he makes it clear not to focus on the water, but you’re appealing to God for a good conscience. Now that word appeal is vitally important. It’s not a pledge. It’s not something you do. It’s a promise that God has said. He will save you! He will redeem you! He will apply his atoning work on the cross for your sins when you call upon the name of the Lord to be saved. Just as Noah entered the ark to protect him from the flood of judgment, so then baptism is the mode by which God separates the unrighteous from the righteous. When we enter into baptism, we are united with Christ. We are buried with Him in baptism (Rom. 6:4-6).
This is not to be taken figuratively or allegorically. Let me explain. Before I got married, I thought about Olya as my future wife. I repented of all other women because I knew she was the one for me. But it wasn’t until I came into the union during the marriage that she and I became married. During our physical ceremony, the spiritual reality occurred simultaneously in that the two became one flesh.
Similarly, when we enter into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ by baptismal immersion, the physical reality demonstrates the spiritual reality, not in the past, but at “that moment.” This is not a theologically awkward understanding. In fact, the visible church is a true representation of the invisible church. Jesus Christ was not just a spirit but took on human flesh.
God always unites the physical and spiritual realities. It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation, with the influence of Zwingli, that water and spirit baptism became separated. Many commentaries on John 3:5 from the early church Fathers indicate water baptism was taught when regeneration occurs.
Brothers and sisters, it’s my hope you look into the meaning of baptism yourself without any preconceived notions. Just ask yourself a simple question. If my local church requires baptism by immersion in order to be a member of the church, then why would your requirement be any more than the universal church? Basically, some of the SBC churches agree in this ordinance as a necessary component for church membership, but not for salvation? How is this the case? I will be praying for you to seek God in this manner. Let’s pray
Dear Heavenly Father,
Teach us your truth. Help us to understand the proper mode of baptism. Let’s not get caught up in semantics, but rather honor you with the plain meaning of Scripture. Help the church find unity in theological doctrine so we can make a more effective impact for Your kingdom. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.