QUESTION: I have always believed that the moment of salvation occurs when a person repents and trusts Jesus with their life (Acts 20:21; 26:20; Hebrews 6:1). Also that the Holy Spirit comes at that moment (Ephesians 1:13; Galatians 3:14. Am I wrong in this assumption?
ANSWER: Over the years I have begun to wonder if the question: “At what point does salvation take place?” is itself flawed, if maybe God is more concerned about “velocity” (speed + direction) than about “location”.
If so, then the static Christian who is still spiritually sitting on the edge of the baptistery six weeks after being baptized may be lost, while the man who is running headlong toward Christ but whose life ends before he reaches the baptistery may be saved.
You see, God looks on the heart.
That being said, not a one of us is God.
You and I are saved the same way the thief on the cross was: By the authority of Jesus Christ.
And He said, (Mt. 28:18-20) “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples”.
“Make disciples” is His only command in these verses in the original language. Everything else is subordinate clauses, as if to say, “While going, make disciples … and here is how: (1) baptizing them … (2) teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”. Christ clearly sets baptism apart and ahead of observing all that He commanded them.
Acts 19:26 adds that the disciples were called Christians.
Christ left no authority to any human to change the terms on which a person becomes a Christian.
Only a Christian, only those in Christ, are saved.
Teachers who say that a Christian has a long way to go before he is truly a disciple are wrong, just as surely as on a first-grader’s first day of school, he is a student as surely as a college senior. Baptism is an event related to birth, not to graduation.
As you know, Saul was a violent enemy of Christ before he became Christ’s apostle Paul. Christ appeared to him (Acts 22) and he spoke with Christ and was made blind. For the next three days he ate nothing but was in prayer to God. Surely that was real belief and real repentance. Yet after that Christ has Ananias say to him, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” Saul was clearly still unredeemed in his sins until that moment despite his belief and repentance. How could Paul have been saved if he had responded by saying, “No thanks, I have talked with Christ personally. I’m not going to get baptized”?
Is that any different than someone who says, “Jesus is my saving Lord and I know He commands me to be baptized, but I’m not going to.” Can he be truly trusting Jesus if he won’t be baptized as He commands?
With every baptism in the Bible, a person was expected to be baptized directly upon being told to. Why the rush? Why not wait until after 6 weeks of introductory classes?
Noah believed God, but he saved his family through the flood because by faith he prepared and entered the ark. (Hebrews 11:7).
Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:5) “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Hebrews 10:22 calls us to “… draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
1 Peter 3:21 says, “Corresponding antitypon from which comes a technical word used a lot in Bible study: antitype. The flood waters were the type. Was Noah saved by works or by faith? Hb 11: by faith, but that was a faith that worked hard building an ark. to that” (flood or ark prototype), actual “baptism now saves you.”
Many people of faith because of a hyper-fear of slipping back into a works-based rather than faith-based salvation see in Ephesians 2:8-9 grounds to play down baptism. The trouble is, baptism is never portrayed in the Bible as a “work” that the new believer is to take. It is always “passive,” always by faith trusting your body to someone else to put down into and bring back up out of the water. It is not a work that earns me the wages of salvation any more than stretching out my hand to receive a $10,000 gift earned me that money. Baptism is simply faith manifest in concrete form.
The grammatical structure of Acts 26:20 indicates that “performing deeds appropriate to repentance” is to “repent and turn to God”. The context does not fully define what deeds he has in mind and whether turning to God includes baptism.
Hebrews 6:1-2 is written to baptized Christians. He specifically states that “elemental teaching about the Christ” includes “baptism” (the original word). In essence He is telling them, “you have done it, now move on”. This is more evidence that God is more interested in velocity than in location.
Acts 20:21 lists “repentance” and “faith” but not baptism, but the silence does not mean that baptism was not a part of faith. For example, in Acts 8:35-36 Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch, and “as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” “Preaching Jesus” clearly included baptism.
In Acts 16:31-33, Paul and Silas told the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved,” … “and immediately he was baptized”. Clearly “believing” included being baptized.
When looking at Galatians 3:14, it is important to look at the whole thought: Galatians 3:14-27. Note especially 26 & 27: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Baptism is the initial manifestation of faith.
In the same sense it might be a good idea to see the full context of Ephesians 1:13, since 4:5 says there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” not a baptism of the water and another of the Spirit but a single baptism of water and Spirit.
See 1 Corinthians 1:14-17. Doesn’t this indicate that they were all baptized? If baptism is just obeying one more command of Christ, why in the same breath as Christ‘s momentous crucifixion include only baptism? Paul did not consider who he was the agent in baptizing as much worth remembering. Paul knew baptism was big enough that worldly Christians might revere the one who baptized them at the expense of fully worshiping Christ. It is the factual good news of Christ that Paul proclaimed, not cleverness, which brings people to Christ and to Heaven. That message includes calling people to be baptized, but others could perform it.
Don’t forget James 3:14-26: “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” … “faith without works is dead.”
Let’s stick to vintage, classic Word of God. God predisposed human minds for the coming of salvation in Christ by many great, powerful acts in history. Each of them was so designed because of how He intended the final salvation to be played out. In other words, when God needed to punish humanity in Noah’s day, he chose the method because he already knew the salvation He was planning for the world through Jesus Christ. I have often heard it said that “Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward cleansing.” I believe I understand why people say that. But I would emphasize that we are a church that sticks to the Bible. The Bible never refers to baptism as a sign of or symbolizing, demonstrating, picturing, or conveying.
It helps to know that we are not alone in these views:
Martin Luther King and Lutherans get their naming after Martin Luther, who wrote, “As we have once obtained forgiveness of sins in baptism, so forgiveness remains … day by day as long as we live.”
The Presbyterian and Reformed churches sprang from John Calvin, who wrote, “For He commands all who believe to be baptized for the remission of sins. Therefore those who have imagined that baptism is nothing more than a mark or sign by which we profess our religion before men, … as soldiers wear the insignia of their sovereign as a mark of their profession, have not considered that which was the principal thing in baptism; which is, that we ought to receive it with this promised, ‘He that believes and is baptized shall be saved’—Mark 16:16.”
Methodists and Nazarenes sprang from John Wesley, who wrote: “By … water, then, as a means, the water of baptism, we are regenerated or born again: whence it is also called by the apostle, ‘the washing of regeneration.’” Titus 3:5 Is not “regeneration” a synonym for “born again”?
The famous Episcopal, Anglican scholar, Alan Richardson, wrote: in An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament “The actual historical baptism of the individual Christian is important precisely in the sense in which the actual historical death of Christ is important.” See Romans 6:3-5