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Biblical Studies Journal Volume 2, Number 1
February 16, 1998
Questions about Baptism
Early in January, we received the following questions. I reproduce
them here, with answers, because I think they lead us to understand the
significance of New Testament baptism.
"If baptism is needed for salvation how is it that Jesus told
the thief on the cross that if he believed he would be in paradise with
Jesus. This man was not baptized. And many times Jesus said your sins are
forgiven go and sin no more, I don't believe that he told them to be baptized
too and your sins would be forgiven. If baptism is needed for salvation
was the work of the cross incomplete?" -- P.M.
I will try to address your questions in this fashion:
1) what is the meaning of baptism? 2) what
does baptism's meaning tell us about its relevance for the "thief on the
cross?", and 3) what results from baptism?
Based on the answer to these questions, I'll try to answer P.M.'s question,
"If baptism is needed for salvation, was Christ's
work at the cross incomplete?"
I'll make it as brief as
I can, allowing for scripture citations. Pardon my usage of "Old" American
Standard version of 1901. You can verify the passages with the NIV,
NASV, or KJV as you see fit. (Hey, you have to verify the usage of
a passage within its context anyway.)
1) What is the meaning of baptism?
a. Which baptism am I defining? The "one" baptism referred to
by Paul in Ephesians 4:4-5 ("... ye were called
in one hope of your calling: One Lord, one faith, one baptism, ...
"). I am looking to scripture to help us define the singular
baptism of which Paul writes. This is distinct from John's Baptism,
which we may want to discuss another day. Also it is a baptism
in water (Acts 8:26-39 Phillip and Ethiopian Eunuch). Baptism is
the English transliteration of the Greek word for immersion
b. Faith, like baptism, gets its significance from its object. Faith
becomes significant when it is faith in Jesus and His death on the cross
for our sins, His burial, and His resurrection from the dead.
Romans 1:16,17 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power
of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; ... For therein
is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written,
But the righteous shall live by faith."
Thus faith (belief relying on God) is in the gospel (good news about
Jesus' work at the cross). It is significant because it is faith
in God's work.
c. Baptism gets its significance
from it's object and baptism's object is the same as faith's.
Romans 6:3-4, "Or are ye ignorant that all
we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with Him through baptism into death: that like
as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so
we also might walk in newness of life."
Thus, baptism gets its significance through faith in Christ's death on
the cross, His burial, and the power of His resurrection.
2) What does this tell us about baptism's relevance
for the "thief on the cross?"
a. Jesus had not yet risen from the dead. Where would the resurrection
significance of baptism be, for the thief on the cross? The baptism
to which Eph. 4 and Rom. 6
refer does not apply until Christ rises from the dead.
b. Jesus had the authority to forgive the thief's sins. Matthew
9:6-7, "But that ye my know that the Son of man hath authority on earth
to forgive sins (then saith he to the sick of the palsy), Arise, and take
up thy bed, and go unto thy house. And he arose, and departed to
3) What results from baptism?
We answer this from Romans 6:3-4. Here we
find quite a bit resulting from baptism for the purpose of this discussion.
The Roman Christians, to whom Paul was writing, got "into Christ Jesus"
via baptism and thus were baptized into his death.
This immersion "into his death" enabled them to be raised from the
dead so they might walk in newness of life. Just being "IN"
Christ Jesus is a tremendous blessing no one would want to be without.
And "Walking in newness of life" is yet another
blessing resulting from baptism.
4) "If baptism is needed for salvation, was
the work of the cross incomplete?"
I hope I have laid out the scriptures to help answer this. Is
FAITH a work? Neither is baptism. Faith and baptism
both draw their significance from the cross. Christ's work at the
cross is complete. See Ephesians 2:8-10 to
see that there is only salvation by Grace. We realize that
the "one baptism" could never have meaning without faith. Hebrews
11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God." But AS FAITH,
baptism takes on great significance.
If you have difficulty thinking about baptism in this way, here's a
scripture in which we see how baptism has no aspect of meritorious works.
Colossians 2:12, "...having been buried with Him in baptism wherein ye
were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised
him from the dead." Paul declares to the church at Colosse that baptism
is God's work. Who, but God, can take any credit?
Before you decide how to respond, please consider that our ears are open
and our hearts are listening. I believe we can turn to God's word,
the Bible, to answer the critical questions of life. We can turn
to the scriptures for judgements without resorting to our own personal
ones. I rejoice for any help I can get along the way, from anybody,
to gain a better understanding the Bible
-- William Moore, one of the WebServant's
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Ephesians 2:8-10, "for by grace have ye
been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of
God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we
should walk in them."