How can an acceptance prayer save you? - 12/19/2004

Hello. I was interested by some of the articles on your website. I spent some time looking through the site, and found out more about your organization. I ended up clicking on a link entitled "Has Our Website Made You Angry." I wouldn't say that it angers me, but I was intrigued by the Sample Prayer Accepting Salvation included at the bottom of that page. I am going to make a reasonable assumption: that you believe that that prayer will lead to salvation. I'm also going to quote your What We Believe link, "The sixty-six books of both the Old and New Testaments comprise the inspired Word of God and are without error in the original writings. The Bible is God's complete written revelation for the salvation of man and is the final authority regarding Christian life and faith."

I find those two things taken together to be very interesting. If the Bible is the truth, then it can not contradict itself; the entirity must be the truth.  Therefore, all commandments regarding Christian life are not optional, they must be followed. If this is true, then I'm confused by your prayer for salvation. Mark 16:16 states that, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."  Sounds a lot like baptism is an essential part of salvation. Or Acts 2:38: Peter, in response to people asking what to do for their sins, "Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" Or I Peter 3:18-21: "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spririt, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it 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."

It is also interesting to note that there is not one story in the Bible after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that does not include baptism.

I'm not a Biblical scholar, but if the Bible and everything in it is 1) inspired by God and 2) is true, then doesn't it sound like God wants us to be baptized as a part of salvation?



CONTENDER MINISTRIES RESPONSE:

Hi Rebecca.  Thanks for writing.  You bring up a topic that is often a source of confusion for some.  Let me start by addressing your statement, "It is also interesting to note that there is not one story in the Bible after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that does not include baptism."  This is true, but it is wrong to suggest that salvation followed the baptism.  I want to explore this, then address the Scripture references you provide. 
 
First, let's look at some examples during the life of Christ.  One example of salvation without baptism is the thief on the cross.  When this thief placed his faith in Jesus on the cross, Jesus told him, "today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).  There was no opportunity for baptism here, and clearly there was no necessity.  When Jesus was annointed by a sinful woman in Luke 7, He told her that her sins were forgiven (v 48) and further told her "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (v 50).  In this instance, there WAS an opportunity for baptism, but Jesus told her that her faith had saved her.  He never instructed her to be baptised.  Since Jesus' ministry of repentance and baptism had already begun, if baptism were an integral element of baptism, we would expect Jesus to instruct her to be baptised.  This did not happen. 
 
Now let's look at some post-resurrection evidence.  In Acts 16:30, a jailer asks Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved.  Paul's reply in verse 31 was "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved..."  The jailer and his family WERE baptized, but Paul's words in verse 31 reveal the integral part that invites salvation, and it is not baptism.  Probably the most powerful example from the book of Acts is found in Cornelius' house in Acts 10.  In verses 44-46 we find that those gathered were filled with the Holy Spirit (and therefore, saved) BEFORE being baptized in water.  This is important, because the Holy Spirit is the seal of the believer’s salvation (Ephesians 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Romans 8:9). Only after being saved were they baptized in water.  I consider this perhaps the single most important Scriptural example that water baptism symbolizes our salvation, but does not impart it.  It's also significant to read what Peter said when he related this event to the Apostles in Acts 11:15-18, "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”  This is important for two reasons.  First, he does not relate to them anything about his subsequent performance of water baptism on the gentiles.  Second, he quotes Jesus as differentiating between the water baptism of John and the baptism of the Holy Spirit to come.  Clearly, this baptism is the one that is essential, not the water baptism.  Peter apparently learned this lesson here. 
 
Paul understood what was required for salvation.  In Romans 10:9-10 he says, "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."  If baptism were a required element in being saved, then Paul no doubt would have mentioned it here.  Paul makes it clear in many other areas (for instance, Ephesians 2:8-9) that it is by grace through faith that we are saved, and by NOTHING that we can do of ourselves. 
 
Now let's look at the verses you supplied, then we'll assess the Scriptural role of baptism in our lives.  The first passage you list is Mark 16:16, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."  As H. Wayne House of Christian Research Institute says, "The first obvious problem with using this passage is that 16:9-20 is not found in the most reliable Greek manuscript tradition.  Consequently, it is suspect to build a doctrine on the verse."  However, if you wish to include this verse anyway, it's important to look at it's construct.  We have a conditional phrase on what results in salvation, and one that results in condemnation.  What is missing in the second conditional phrase that is present in the first phrase?  Belief!  If baptism were required for salvation, we would expect the second phrase to include it (i.e. but whoever does not believe or is not baptized will be condemned).  However, this isn't the case.  Obviously the primary element of salvation is belief rather than baptism.
 
The second verse you supply is Acts 2:38, "Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.' "  There are some issues here with the Greek grammar and construct that should be considered.  As H. Wayne House said, "One alternative is to repunctuate the passage to read 'Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins,' or 'Repent for the remission of sins, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.' If this were the correct understanding, the [Greek preposition] eis is subordinate to 'repent' alone and not to 'be baptized.' What favors this interpretation is that 'repent' here is a second person plural verb, which would be in proper accord with 'remission of your sins,' while 'let each...be baptized' is a third person singular verb.' The text would read literally, 'You [command] repent...for the remission of your sins.' " 
 
The final passage you include is 1 Peter 3:18-21, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it 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..." The key portion here is the explanatory last phrase, that the impartation of salvation comes not from "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."  In this case, the NIV translation is not very good.  The Greek word here that the NIV translates as pledge is eperotema, for which the NIV footnote provides the alternate translation "response", the KJV translates as "answer", and the NASB translates as "an appeal".  Consequently, the key lesson in this passage is that baptism is our response to salvation, not an action which imparts salvation. 
 
Baptism in the first-century church was so important, that an unbaptized Christian did not stay that way for long.  Biblically, salvation was received based on the faith of the believer, and the believer's primary and immediate response was to be baptized as an outward symbol of the death and burial of our own sinful nature, as well as our resurrection as new creations in Christ Jesus.  In that, we share in His death, burial, and resurrection.  It is an important act of obedience (just as sharing the gospel is), but does not impart salvation. 
 
In Christ,
 
Ben Rast
Contender Ministries