In it [the ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (NIV)
It is evident from these verses that baptism, all by itself, can’t save me. I am saved when I have the right attitude, i.e., a pledge of a good conscience toward God. A good conscience toward God means that I must believe He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb 11:6.) It also means that if someone comes to me and says that I need to be baptized in order to be saved and jump in the water but don’t care about pleasing God or being submission to Him, then I won’t be saved at all. Outward obedience to a command of God without a heartfelt desire to live for Him isn’t worth anything. This is what God said to the Israelites through Isaiah the prophet. Isa 29:13-15 And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote; therefore, behold, I will again do marvelous things with this people, wonderful and marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hid." Woe to those who hide deep from the Lord their counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?" (RSV)
It doesn’t save me if I don’t acknowledge that Jesus is God, which is proven by His resurrection. If I don’t believe that He is sitting at the right hand of God, baptism is worthless.
Baptism wasn’t invented by Christians. It was around a long time before Jesus came on the scene. Most thought that if they followed ceremonial cleansing, they would become acceptable to God. They thought that doing the right stuff would earn their right to eternal life. They were wrong. John the Baptist was on the right track when he was baptizing people to get them ready for Jesus. Matt 3:11 "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (NASB) John’s baptism didn’t save anyone as was made evident later. However, the outward sign of baptism indicating repentance will save me because I have a desire to submit to God.
When I look at all that must accompany baptism to be saved, it becomes apparent that baptism is not the vehicle or the necessary ingredient for salvation. Rather it becomes an outward demonstration of what has already occurred in the heart of a believer. Baptism should be one of the first steps of obedience of a person who has repented and changed their mind about sin and who God is. I have to confess that it took me seven years after becoming a Christian to be baptized. I would argue with people who said I didn’t have the Holy Spirit and wasn’t a true believer because I hadn’t been baptized. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was saved because the Holy Spirit let me know. (1 John 3:24, 4:13) I also realized that they were teaching a false doctrine because they would also say, only after I interrogated them, that the baptism was only valid if it was done in their church.
However, that changed for me when I heard a preacher talk about baptism from Rom 6:3-7. Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (NIV) I was convicted that I must completely identify with Jesus in His death in order to live a new life in complete victory over sin. He also used out Matt 28:19-20. The Great Commission says that as a believer, I need to baptize followers if they are to be disciples. How could I baptize others if I had refused to be baptized? It was a point of obedience to Jesus’ command. Since I was disobeying Him in this simple act, how could I tell others to obey Him? If I was disobeying Him at this point, I was leaving myself vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. In essence, by ignoring baptism, I was not identifying with Jesus in His death and I was thereby still a slave to sin, the blatant sin of disobedience.
Just to be clear, a person can be saved without baptism. In fact, baptism never occurred in the Bible until someone made some profession of faith. So a person is saved before they are baptized. The thief on the cross never had an opportunity to be baptized but was saved as Jesus said. Don’t tell me he was an exception. He was an example. In Acts 2:41, those who received the word were baptized. They believed first. Acts 10:48 clearly showed that the gentiles had received the Holy Spirit before being baptized. They weren’t exceptions either, but examples.
Acts 19:5 is an example of people who had been baptized but didn’t know about Jesus. They only had John’s baptism. They weren’t saved until they had the right details, the correct knowledge. Faith in the wrong things doesn’t save.
All the comments about the need to have the right heart attitude and to believe before being baptized leads to one other conclusion. Infant baptism or baptizing children who are not capable of making a decision to follow Jesus is not going to save them. When I mentioned this to people who believe the opposite, they point to Acts 16:33 where the jailer and all his household or family was baptized. First of all, the verse does not say infants were baptized. We have no way of knowing whether or not the jailer had babies in his family at that time. To imply that infants were baptized is making the verse say something it doesn’t. In addition, the word household or family is not in the original Greek text. The NASB italicizes “household” to indicate that it is a word that has been added in translation. The Greek simply says he and his all were baptized.
Don’t make the false assumption that because you were baptized as an infant that you have a ticket to heaven. I was, but saw my need for salvation as an adult. Don’t make the false assumption that because your babies have been baptized that they have a ticket to heaven either. You need to make sure they know the way as soon as they can understand.