“IS BAPTISM FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS?”

Neal Pollard

A very cordial and kind denominational preacher visited our church web site and had questions about the page teaching that baptism is essential.  He had two good questions about what we were teaching.  The first centered around why, if baptism is necessary, people filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts ten needed it.  He sought to reconcile this with Acts 2:38.  Second, he wondered about the thief on the cross and why he was saved without baptism.  How would you answer that?  No doubt many of you could do far better than I did, but here is what I said.
(1) Acts 2:38 and Acts 10:48.  I want you to notice that nowhere in Acts is anyone commanded to receive Holy Spirit baptism.  It is always mentioned as a promise, blessing or gift.  In the same context of Acts 2, Peter says, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (39).  In proper interpretation of scripture, one of the questions we must ask is, “To whom is the speaker or writer speaking?”  The answer here is, “To Jews” (see Acts 2:22).  Also, Jesus had told them to start in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and then the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8-11).  The promise of Acts 2:39 is the receiving of the Holy Spirit.  The “you and your children” would most logically refer to Jews.  Who would “them that are afar off” reference?  Well, in New Testament terminology, there were only two groups-Jews and Gentiles.  Jesus intended for the gospel to go to the Jew first, but also to the Greek (i.e., Gentiles) (Rom. 1:16).  Cornelius is often cited as the first “Gentile convert.”  Why would the Holy Spirit come upon this Gentile household in Acts 10?  The context tells us.  The Jews are amazed because this gift of the Holy Spirit came on them ALSO (Acts 10:45-46).  After this occurs, Peter asks the logical question, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit the same as we have?” (Acts 10:47).  Incidentally, baptized was then commanded of them (Acts 10:48).  In Acts 11:14-15, Peter said they were told words whereby they should be saved.  Those words must have included instructions to be baptized.  You will notice that throughout Acts, baptism was part of the instructions for salvation (Acts 2:38,41; Acts 8:12-13; Acts 8:36-38; Acts 16:14-15; Acts 16:31-34; Acts 22:16).  Other books show us the role of baptism as part of God’s plan to redeem us (1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:1-12; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13).

(2)     The thief on the cross.  We’ve got to remember that baptism is part of God’s plan under the new covenant.  There can not be a change of the testament without the death of the testator (i.e., the one who creates a will)(Hebrews 9:16).  We must remember that Jesus and that thief died under the old covenant, the Law of Moses.  In fact, Jesus nailed it to the cross when dying there (Colossians 2:14).  Also, while Jesus was on earth, He had the power to forgive sins (Mark 2:10).  The thief, then, is not a good example for how we come to salvation today.  He was subject to a different covenant and enjoyed a different circumstance, having Jesus there with Him to forgive His sins.  In light of all of those passages already mentioned telling us how to be forgiven, we must conclude that the terms of pardon are different from us than it was for this penitent thief.

I am sure this is an honest, searching man interested in knowing the truth.  What a reminder that there are those who are willing to open their hearts to scripture.  May we ever be that way, too.  And, let us all be ready to fulfill 1 Peter 3:15 in all its component parts.

7 thoughts on ““IS BAPTISM FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS?”

  1. Your words with regard to the thief are good. I will offer another point worth considering: Romans 10:9. A requirement by God for one’s salvation is belief in the resurrection of Christ. The thief could not have believed that, thus it is not a proper NT example for us.

  2. Neal,
    I have a tract, “What’s In Baptism,” and the material is available for free, either in print or on-line. In print, there’s the added attraction of the beautifully designed cover! If you think it might be helpful, just let me send it to you.

  3. Marc Taylor

    Cornelius and the Gentiles with him were saved when they received the Holy Spirit before their water baptism. Acts 15:7-8 makes this abundantly clear. In Acts 15:7 says they believed and I don’t see any reason why this is to be understood in any other way than salvifically. In Acts 15:8 it reads they were “given” the Holy Spirit. 1 John 3:24; 4:13 teach if one has been “given” the Holy Spirit they are saved. What is described in these two passages took place before their water baptism.

    1. Marc, thank you for your thoughtful reply. What we can never do is isolate one case, especially within a book filled with conversions, and support a doctrinal conclusion without due consideration to context. We also must give close attention to what is actually being said in the verses under consideration.
      First, regarding conditions for salvation, Jesus (right before His ascension) told the apostles what to preach about that matter. In Mark 16:16, He told them to preach, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; He who does not believe shall be condemned.” The first time Christ was preached, on Pentecost in Acts 2, people actually asked what they needed to do. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” (cf. 2:38). Those that gladly received the word did just that (41). Thereafter, we find the specific examples of conversion like the Samaritans (8:12), Simon (8:13), the Ethiopian (8:36-39), Saul (9:18; see 22:16, in Paul’s recounting of his conversion–in baptism, he was told, his sins were washed away), the Philippian jailor (16:31-34, who when he was actually taught Jesus had something to believe and was immediately baptized), and Crispus and the Corinthians (18:8). In all these cases (we’ll look at Cornelius in a minute), you have people who were taught the gospel and responded in belief, repentance, and baptism.
      In the case of Cornelius, we will both agree that baptism was involved. The text makes this conclusion unavoidable (10:48). As we look at Acts 10-11, where Luke records his conversion, and then in chapter 15 at the Jerusalem meeting, nowhere is there a direct connection between the Gentiles’ receiving the Holy Spirit and such producing salvation. The word “salvation” or similar terminology is absent. The question is, “What is the significance of the Gentiles’ receiving the Holy Spirit?” Contextually, Peter needed proof that Gentiles were proper subjects for salvation through Christ. Heretofore, Christianity had only come to Jews, and those of Judea and Samaria. The vision was Peter’s first proof. Their receiving the Holy Spirit was evidence enough for all present that they were proper candidates, in God’s eyes, for baptism (47-48). It strains the context to make their reception of the Holy Spirit more than that.
      So, in light of the whole of Acts and the details of Cornelius’ conversion, you have a consistent practice of baptism being the point where all of these are saved from sin. This also harmonizes with the whole of New Testament teaching, where baptism is taught as essential to salvation.
      Marc, thank you for being a student of Scripture and for your thoughtful comments. God bless you as you continue your study. Please pray for me, and I will pray for you as we seek to understand His will. Have a blessed day.

  4. Marc Taylor

    Hello Neal and thank you for your kind response,
    I do believe that water baptism took place with the Philippian jailer but it doesn’t mean it is salvific.
    As I wrote earlier I don’t see any proof that “believe” as used in Acts 15:7 is to be taken any other way than salvifically. Furthermore in verse 8 it teaches they were “given” the Holy Spirit. 1 John 3:24 and 4:13 make it abundantly clear if one has been “given” the Holy Spirit then they abide in God – which of course describes a saved person.

  5. Shawn

    Many times in scripture, belief or faith is often used as a part representing the whole. The whole including baptism among other aspects such as repentance and so forth. We seldom ask why repentance wasn’t mentioned in some cases but know it is needed and do not question it.
    The other comment I would like to make is why ask why in regards to if someone is saved pre or post baptism? What is the true essence behind that question? I never see a scriptural example of someone asking this question. I do not recall someone asking if they really needed to be baptized since they already believed. Baptism, in scripture has been shown multiple times to go along with someones conversion. They did it, thus we must do it to reach the same end result. No questions asked. Asking why or when is really kind of silly. Just simply follow the examples of conversion found in scripture. There are so many verses that show or explain why it was done. So just do it as part of the rest of the whole. One must put more effort into trying to show it as unnecessary than it takes to simply prove it is necessary. That in itself should raise a red flag to the theory.

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