What About Baptism?
What about Baptism? Doesn’t a person have to be “water” baptized in order to be saved?

One objection that will certainly need to be addressed when discussing the doctrine of justification by faith with those in the Churches of Christ is the subject of water baptism.

For if the Word of God does teach that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone and our obedience to the commands of God are only the result of our salvation and divine grace (which they contest), how is it then that baptism saves us?

And to be sure, evangelical Christianity does believe we are identified and baptized into Christ when we are saved. However, let us be clear that what we are talking about is true, actual, or Holy Spirit Baptism, rather than rite, ritual or “water” baptism, which is the believer’s outward sign or symbol of that event.

This will be discussed in greater detail in a moment. However, may I first say that much can be written comparing the different views of water baptism held by the Churches of Christ and those beliefs held by evangelical Christianity.

Here those in the Churches of Christ are convinced that the only way an individual can ever receive the forgiveness of sins is through obedience to the command of water baptism. And the salvation of the believer who has done everything as written in the New Testament except have their sins 'washed away' through water baptism is uncertain at best.

However, water baptism is viewed by evangelical Christianity in the same light as Communion and the Lord’s Supper in that it is an ordnance practiced by those who are already saved.

Therefore to say that we have been saved through baptism, is referring to regeneration or the baptism of the Holy Spirit which occurs the moment the individual places their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

As Titus 3:5 says, we were saved “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

Perhaps then the best way to explain baptism is that 'water' baptism is the outward sign or symbol of the believer’s true or actual baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Those in the Church of Christ think of baptism as being first and only with water, as though the definition of baptism (to dip, plunge, or immerse) implies being dipped, plunged or immersed in the medium of water.

Yet in all four gospels and twice in the book of Acts the Word of God tells us that while John baptized with water, that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ (See Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:4-5 and Acts 11:16)

Now viewing baptism in its proper context we can now begin to understand the passages often misused by the Churches of Christ to defend their gospel of 'water' baptism for salvation.

Acts 2:38

In Acts chapter one Jesus said, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Once again we are making a distinction between real, actual, or Holy Spirit baptism and rite, ritual or water baptism, which gives testimony to it.

The Scripture continues and tells us that when the day of Pentecost came, the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The God-fearing Jews were amazed and perplexed over this and began to ask, “What does this mean?”

Peter of course tells them that they are not drunk as they might suppose, but rather that this very event- the pouring out of the Holy Spirit- was spoken of by the prophet Joel:

Verse 17 ” ‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people, …’ “

Verse 18 ” ‘… I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.’ “

Verse 33 ” Exalted to the right hand of God, he (Jesus) has
received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit
and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

The point of all this is that Jesus predicted that they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit back in Acts chapter one, verses 4 and 5.

Another example can be found in Acts chapter 11 when the apostle Peter recounts the conversion of Cornelius to the Jewish believers who were skeptical that the Gentiles could be saved without becoming Jews first.

He says, “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning (i.e. Acts chapter 2) Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 11:15-16

Again, the only reason Peter allowed them to be “baptized with water” in Acts chapter 10, was that they had already received the baptism of Holy Spirit- just as the Jewish disciples had in Acts chapter 2. And please note in the context of Acts chapter 11, that Peter refers to the Holy Spirit event as a baptism.

Remember Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this we know he meant the Spirit, “whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” (John 7:38-39)

So was the baptism of Acts chapter 2 “water” or “Holy Spirit” baptism?

The Bible teaches that when we come to trust Jesus Christ as Savior, we are baptized by the Spirit of God into the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:13)

As new believers we are ”water” baptized in obedience to our Lord’s command, which gives testimony to our true, actual, Holy Spirit baptism. (Matthew 28:19)

Other references to consider:

Isaiah 44:3, Ezekiel 36:24-27, Joel 2:28-29

1 Cor. 12:13, Gal. 3:26-27, Eph. 1:13-14, Col. 2:11-14, Titus 3:4-6

1 Peter 3:21

1 Peter 3:21, is another verse cited by the Churches of Christ- “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you”, once again we begin to understand that the baptism the writer had in mind is the real or actual baptism of the Holy Spirit:

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preach to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype (the superior, true, or actual) which now saves us- baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..."

Scripture often refers to the Holy Spirit as “the living water” that God provides, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. For example in John 4 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water (h2o) will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them (the Holy Spirit) will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Also in John 7 Jesus said, ”Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.”

Thus, it seems apparent “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you” is talking about the anti-type “water” baptism- that is, the superior, real, or actual baptism of the Holy Spirit baptism that now saves you.

May I also point out that if the writer were simply referring to h2o baptism here, then the wrong people in this passage were “water” baptized. For just as the example of Pharaoh and his army in 1 Cor. 10:1-4, the only ones who had h2o baptism applied to them were those who perished in the flood!

So while it is true that water baptism points us to the spiritual reality of the believer’s Holy Spirit baptism, we dare not be trusting in it (the type or the symbol) to save us. For just as there are those within the body of the church who administer the rite of water baptism to new believers (Matt. 28:18-19), it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that actually places us into the body of Christ:

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” 1 Cor. 12:13

Other Related Scriptures

Isaiah 44:3, Ezekiel 36:24-27, Joel 2:28-29

Gal. 3:26-27, Eph. 1:13-14, Col. 2:11-14, Titus 3:45