We’ve all heard the arguments, and maybe you’ve made a few of them yourself. Some say that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation, while others claim that it is. So which one is it?
We’ve provided the scriptures that show baptism is essential for salvation, and over the last three blog posts, we have addressed several of the arguments that some try to use to claim baptism is not necessary. You can find the other posts here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. This post will be the final one in this series, and we will address two final arguments.
Argument #7: What if I study and believe, and I wish to be baptized. However, on the way to the church to be baptized, I have a car wreck and die. Are you saying that I’m going to hell?
This hypothetical argument is a very interesting one. It is designed to extract an emotional response. This argument is also very popular because it’s intended to have no right answer. If you answer that the individual would go to hell, you would come across as a heartless person who has tried to put himself as the judge in place of God. If you answer that the individual would go to heaven, then you admit there is a way to obtain salvation without being baptized. So how are you supposed to answer a question like this?
Let’s take a step back from the question for a second. Let’s say that a young man has a friend that he has tried to convince to attend worship services with him for months. He’s been talking to his friend about Jesus and the Christian life quite a bit. After much coercing, the friend finally agrees. He was beginning to think that maybe he needed to find out more about the Jesus that the young man was talking about. When Sunday morning came around, the friend was on his way to the church building. He would hear the most compelling sermon that a preacher has ever delivered, and it would convict the young man. He would decide at that moment that he believed and wanted to change his life. He would be converted at that very service. However, he never made it to the service, because he died in a car accident on the way to the church building. He never heard the sermon. He never believed. He never changed his life. But he would have. He was one his way. He was so close. What would be this young man’s eternal fate? According to passages like John 8:24, this young man would die lost having never believed in Jesus as the Son of God.
No matter what kind of emotional, catch-22 scenario that we can conceive, we must always go back to the Bible for the answer. I John 5:11 teaches that eternal life is found in Christ, while II Timothy 2:11 teaches that salvation is found in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:27 explains that we get into Christ through baptism. These passages, along with other passages like Romans 6:3-4 and Acts 22:16, teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. I couldn’t argue against that even if I wanted to. In the original scenario from the argument, the person in the car accident has apparently not been baptized, meaning he has not fulfilled the requirements for salvation that are laid out in Scripture. Will God make an exception for a situation like this? This is where I can tell you that I am not the judge in this scenario. I don’t see anywhere in Scripture that says He will make an exception (just like Uzzah was not granted an exception in II Samual 6:6-7), but that is a decision that is left up to God, not me. However, why would I want to hang my salvation on the hope that God will make an exception for me? Instead, I want assurance knowing that I obeyed Christ (I John 5:13), and that means I must be baptized to wash away my sins.
Argument #8: Cornelius’ household received the Holy Spirit prior to baptism, so that means their salvation came prior to baptism.
Many in the Church will claim that you can’t find any example of salvation following the resurrection of Christ that doesn’t involve baptism, and that claim is true. However, some will point to the conversion of Cornelius and his family as an example of salvation being obtained prior to baptism. Acts 10:1-2 alone should be enough to prove that belief in Christ and living a good life will not be enough to save you, because it states, “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” At this point, Cornelius has not received the Holy Spirit or been baptized, so he was not in a saved condition. Through the remainder of Acts 10 (which I encourage you to go read), Peter meets with Cornelius and his household, and he preaches to them. Verses 44-48 of that chapter very clearly state that Cornelius and his family received the Holy Spirit, and then they were baptized. That’s very plain in the Scripture and can’t be argued against. The question is whether or not his family receiving the Holy Spirit is an indication of salvation.
What if I told you I can show you in just a few passages that having the Holy Spirit is not a sign of salvation? II Peter 1:21 states “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” So, Scripture teaches that if someone is prophesying, that is because the Holy Spirit is in that person. Do you want to know some people in the Scriptures who have prophesied? Caiaphas the high priest did (Acts 11:49-53), the same Caiaphas who was instrumental in the death of Christ. Saul and his messengers prophesied in I Samuel 19:20-24, all while they were trying to find David to kill him. I hear no one arguing that these men were in a saved condition because the Holy Spirit had fallen on them. The reason that Cornelius and his family received the Holy Spirit when they did is that Peter and the others with him were not yet convinced that salvation was even open to Cornelius because he was a Gentile. Up until this point, salvation had only been extended to the Jews. Peter needed some convincing that this was really what God wanted, and so the Holy Spirit was placed on Cornelius. Acts 10:46-47 shows that this was enough to convince Peter. He didn’t question it anymore. Cornelius and his family were immediately baptized for the remission of their sins. Note that nowhere in this passage does it ever say that Cornelius was in a saved condition prior to baptism. It can’t, or it would be a contradiction to many other passages in the New Testament.
I pray that this series of blog posts regarding the necessity of baptism for salvation has been beneficial to you. I have been looking forward to putting it together for some time. As always, I am open to discussing this in more detail if you like, or if you have other arguments besides the eight that I addressed. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.