There are a lot of teachings about baptism. Most of them are neither from GOD nor accurate.
Let's look at some common myths in light of what GOD's word says about baptism.
Common myths about baptism include:
- Baptism is optional for the believer, but salvation is by faith alone.
- Baptism is an outward sign of discipleship for the one that has already been saved.
- Baptisms should be scheduled.
- Baptism is a work and we aren't saved by works.
- Sprinkling is a form of baptism.
- Babies and young children should be baptized.
- Baptism itself saves us from our sins.
Truth: We are indeed saved by faith. Yet we must define faith as the Scriptures do: belief that leads to obedience.
Just as the New Testament teaches that we are saved by faith, the same Scriptures say that it is at the point of water immersion that the believer's sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus.
Jesus taught that baptism was essential to becoming His disciple.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
(Matt. 28:18-20 NIV)
Mark's gospel account says it this way:
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
(Mark 16:15-16 NIV)
Jesus said that it is only those who are reborn "of water and the Spirit" that will enter the kingdom of heaven.
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
(John 3:5 NIV)
Peter clearly explained that baptism saves:
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient 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 clear 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.
(1 Pet. 3:18-22 NIV)
Jesus adds those who are baptized to the church, which is His body—the saved.
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 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.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. ... 47...And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
(Acts 2:36-47 NIV)
James clearly taught that faith alone does not save:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
(Jam. 2:14 NIV)
This is consistent with Jesus' warning that belief alone would not save:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
(Matt. 7:21-23 NIV)
One final point to address this myth. Saul of Tarsus was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus. When Jesus asked him why he was persecuting Jesus, Saul asked, "Who are you, Lord?", to which Jesus responded, "Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting." (Acts 9:4-5) Jesus told Saul to go into the city where it would be told him what he must do. Note that, from the moment Jesus spoke to Saul out of the blinding light, Saul believed on Jesus, calling Him 'Lord.' Yet, was he saved at this point? No.
Acts 22:1-21 shows us that Saul was told waited 3 days before a Christian named Ananias came to him with a message from Jesus. The conclusion of that message was this:
And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
(Acts 22:16 NIV)
Up to this point, Paul was still in his sins. Jesus' blood hadn't washed him clean yet because he hadn't been baptized.
Truth: Nowhere does the Bible teach that baptism is an outward sign of one who had already had their sins forgiven. Jesus said baptism was a requirement for one to become a disciple (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; John 3:1-8).
Nowhere in the New Testament after Jesus' death and resurrection (at which point the new covenant began) does it show where a person was saved at the point that they believed or confessed Jesus as Lord.
Gal. 3:27 shows that those who are in Christ are those who have been baptized. The obvious implication is that those who have not been baptized are outside of Christ, which means they are not-yet-forgiven.
Rom. 6:1-14 teaches that it is those who have "died with Christ" who will live eternally with Him (Rom. 6:8). Rom. 6:3-4 shows that it is those who have been baptized who have "died with Christ."
Baptism is consistently taught throughout the New Testament as the means by which the believer accesses the blood of Jesus and finds forgiveness of their sins.
Truth: In the New Testament, believers were always baptized immediately upon hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of their sins. Examples include Acts 2:36-47; 8:12-13; 8:26-40; 9:18; 10:34-48; 16:11-15; 18:7-8; and 19:1-5.
If you understand that it is at the point of immersion (baptism) that Jesus washes your sins away by His blood (1 Pet. 3:18-22), then you realize that, until you are baptized, you are unforgiven before GOD.
When you couple this with the uncertainty of life—people die every minute, young and old—and the promise of Jesus' return in judgment one day, it is foolish and dangerous to delay being baptized.
Truth: We are saved by grace through faith and not by our deeds (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is GOD's gift.
Being baptized is GOD's designated means of a person accepting the free gift of salvation that is offered to them.
A great analogy to this is that of a birthday card with a check inside. The recipient of the card did nothing to earn the card or the money but they must still cash the check in order to receive the money.
So it is with baptism and salvation. GOD offers it freely to us, and being baptized is how the believer obeys GOD's message and "cashes the check" of forgiveness and salvation.
Col. 2:12 teaches that baptism is GOD's work.
Sprinkling, by definition, does not fully cover the one sprinkled and is therefore not the same thing as baptism. Furthermore, there are no examples in the New Testament of anyone being sprinkled for forgiveness of their sins.
Truth: Babies are innocent of sin, which is lawlessness. Children don't know right from wrong. They must be taught.
GOD said that the soul that sins is the one who shall die (Eze. 18:4, 20). Jesus said that adults must become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:1-4), a statement that would be utterly ridiculous if children were born into a sinful state. Thus, children do not yet need GOD's forgiveness, for they have not sinned.
Additionally, Jesus said that belief is required in order to receive salvation (Mark 16:16). Babies and young children aren't able to understand the concepts of sin and salvation, much less choose to believe Jesus is GOD's Messiah and their Savior.
Truth: I hesitate to include this as a myth because 1 Pet. 3:21 clearly states that baptism saves us. Baptism saves us in the sense that it is at the point of immersion that our sins are forgiven, as I have pointed out from the Scriptures above.
However, we must avoid the trap of placing improper emphasis on the activity of baptism as though somehow the water miraculously removes our sins. There's nothing special in the water. It is not the water that saves us.
Jesus saves us. Jesus is our Savior. His blood buys our freedom from slavery to sin. Baptism is all about Jesus. Baptism minus the believer's intent to receive forgiveness of their sins by the blood of Jesus is simply getting wet.
Please don't be deceived by anyone who teaches anything other than what GOD has said. Gal. 1:9 says that anyone who teaches a different gospel (which isn't really a gospel at all) is under GOD's curse.
You may also be interested in:
- Life's Most Important Question
- In-depth series on baptism
- What the Early Christians Believed About Salvation