Does Baptism Save You?
Question: What is the purpose of baptism? Is it
really that important? Does baptism save you?
Or does the sinner's prayer save you? What does a person need to do to
prepare for baptism?
The purpose of this article is to show you the importance of water
baptism. It will prove that the "sinners' prayer" did not take the place
of water baptism. I will explain that water baptism is a sacrament,
which means that God uses the outward action of baptism to impart the
spiritual grace of salvation. You will learn what a person needs to do
before he or she gets baptized.
I grew up in the Assembly of God
denomination and then later transferred to a non-denominational,
charismatic church. They both stressed altar calls and the prayer for
salvation. When the people came forward and prayed a short prayer,
accepting Jesus as Lord, we believed the person was saved at that
moment. Then they were encouraged to be baptized in obedience to Christ
command, but there never was an explanation as to why they should get
baptized, other than to obey Christ. I did not believe a person was
saved when they were baptized, instead they were saved at the altar call
when they prayed the sinner's prayer. I felt that baptism was secondary
to the sinner's prayer; so the sinner's prayer was more important than
This began my journey which eventually
led me to view baptism as the normal means by which a person gets saved.
As I studied the Word of God, I could not find the concept or practice
of altar calls, yet there were plenty of examples of water baptism.
Despite, what I now view as downplaying water baptism, I had a
tremendous and unusual experience at my baptism.
Although my church did not look at
baptism as a sacrament, only as an ordinance1, I,
nevertheless, took my baptism very seriously. I began to fast and pray
and read everything I could about baptism. I read every New Testament
passage about baptism. So when it was time to be baptized I was
As the minister baptized me, I had a
vision. When the minister put me in the water, I found myself in the
tomb of Christ where His body lay. For a moment, I felt that I was in
Christ. I know this sounds sacrilegious, but I do not mean that I had a
Messianic complex, rather I was being "buried with Christ in baptism"
(Rom 6:4). So I felt at one with Christ at that moment. When the
minister pulled me out of the water, I felt Christ' emotions as He was
raised from the dead. I felt the exhilaration of the resurrection. No
longer was I or Christ dead, but we were alive. I came out of the water
weeping for joy. My weeping was so loud that people tried to calm me.
Several put their arms around me and guided me out of the water, but I
was still sobbing, not out of sorrow, but of pure bliss.
What had happened to me? Was I really
in Jerusalem in the tomb of Christ? Was I really feeling Christ joy of
the resurrection? One thing for sure struck me: baptism was something
very special. I now believe that God gave me that unusual experience,
because He knew that one day I would become a pastor, and later a
bishop, and that I would baptize hundreds, even thousands. To this day,
I often share my experience with the candidates so they will be
encouraged to believe that they "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"
Calls v Baptism?
Despite my supernatural experience when
I was baptized, as I began to pastor, I followed suit in the same
tradition, not giving much thought to the subject of baptism. I gave
altar calls and led people in the sinner's prayer and then encouraged
them to be baptized, but not emphasizing it as I should. Although I
enjoyed seeing people give their lives to Christ at the altar call,
something very special took place immediately when I baptized them. I
had to admit that I enjoyed baptizing the people more than leading them
in the sinner's prayer. Why? Because there was something very powerful
about baptism and it was more special than I realized. Nevertheless I
continued to emphasize the sinner's prayer over water baptism.
Eventually I was being bothered by my study of the Bible. I just could
not find altar calls in the Bible. So where did the concept of the
sinner's prayer come from?
First of all, the sinner's prayer
should be uttered at baptism. "Get up, be baptized and wash your sins
away, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16). Please notice two important
steps for salvation: first, be baptized to wash your sins away; second,
call on the Lord for salvation. In other words, both steps are normal
for salvation. However, in recent times, evangelicals have deemphasized
the washing of sins through baptism and emphasized "calling on his
name." But I believe they both should be done together.
The altar call, which is the practice
of leading people in the sinner's prayer, without baptism, has its roots
in Protestantism. It was made popular by DL Moody, Billy Sunday and
Billy Graham. You will not find any mention of altar calls or sinner's
prayer in any of the seven major creeds of the church. However, the
Nicene Creed says, "we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of
sin". The Nicene Creed simply repeated the first sermon of the
Christian church delivered by Saint Peter, "Repent, and be baptized
every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins"
(Acts 2:38, KJV). So is the Nicene Creed and the words of Peter more
reliable than the traditional practice of evangelicalism? More
importantly, what does the entire Bible actually teach?
Believe and be Baptized
"He [Jesus] said to them, 'Go into
all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes
and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be
condemned" (Mark 16:15-16). Jesus linked baptism with salvation. He
assumes that a person who believes will follow suit with baptism and
thus complete his salvation. Something important to note in the passage:
Jesus did not say, "Whoever does not get baptized will be condemned."
Today, some people become legalistic
concerning baptism. They think unless you get baptized, especially their
way, you will go to hell. Jesus did not stress baptism as the
requirement for salvation, but stressed "belief." "Whoever does not
believe will be condemned." The stress must always be on faith, not
the water. At any rate, baptism is linked to salvation.
When someone tells me, "I already
accepted Christ. Why do I need to get baptized?" My answer is, "Do you
want to be saved? Because Jesus said whoever believes and is baptized
will be saved." At this point, people submit and say, "Yes, I want to be
saved." But if we keep telling people that baptism is not associated
with salvation it will devalue baptism. And today, many evangelical
churches devalue baptism.
Please recognize if Jesus considered
that faith could be expressed completely without baptism, then why does
He connect believing with baptism? It is clear that baptism is linked
with true faith. You can't have one without the other. If you say you
believe then you will get baptized.
Baptism Saves You
"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" (1 Peter 3:18-21).
There could be nothing more clearer in
scripture about baptism saving you. Peter says, "this water
symbolizes baptism that now saves you also...It saves you by the
resurrection of Jesus Christ." What saves you? Baptism saves you.
This is the words of scripture! Yet today, many evangelicals are
squeamish to say that "Baptism saves you." Yet, this is what Peter says.
Why do evangelicals have such problems simply quoting directly from the
Bible? "Baptism that now saves you."
This means that baptism is a sacrament,
not merely an ordinance. A sacrament is an outward act that produces an
inward grace. In this case, baptism is the outward act that produces the
grace of salvation. Just as Christ was flesh and physical, and He
forgave, healed and raised the dead, Christ gave us physical signs that
impart spiritual graces. Sacraments resemble the incarnation. God who is
invisible, became visible to save us. It was the visible Christ who
saved people. So why does it surprise us that He ordained physical
emblems to save us? In this case, Christ instituted baptism, which is a
physical motif, to bring salvation to us.
Baptism has three important things:
first the physical substance of water, second the candidate makes a
public confession of their faith and third the minister utters words and
performs the baptism. This ceremony produces salvation.
Marriage without the Wedding?
At this point, my evangelical friends
might argue that it is superstitious to believe that baptism saves
people. Yet, they have no problem believing that God uses their ceremony
in weddings to wed people. If I asked a minister, "When did the couple
get married? Were they married before you did the wedding? Are they
married simply because they love each other ? And I assume they love
each other and have expressed their love many times before the wedding.
Yet, they are not married until the minister performs the ceremony.
At this point, most ministers will
agree that they are not married in God's sight until the ceremony. Why?
Because marriage is a sacrament also. God uses the physical substance—wedding
rings, etc—and the vows they say to each other before witnesses
and the words uttered by the minister, who says, "I now pronounce
husband and wife." This action creates the holy matrimony. You see, we
do not have trouble seeing marriage as a sacrament, yet we balk at the
most important sacrament of all—baptism that saves us also.
Is the Baptism in the Spirit
Let me try a different approach that shows that baptism does save. Let's
look at the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The baptism in the Holy
Spirit is a different baptism than water. As John said, "I baptize
you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark
1:8). So let me ask my Pentecostal friends these questions: Is the
baptism in the Holy Spirit symbolic or real? Did a person actually
receive the Holy Spirit in His fullness at the baptism in the Holy
Spirit? Was there a conferring of God's grace and power at the baptism
in the Holy Spirit for each believer? I think every Pentecostal would
answer "yes" to all those questions. They would never see the baptism in
the Spirit as a symbolic act, but a real act of God's power.
If you have no trouble seeing the baptism in the Spirit as real and not
symbolic, why do you have trouble seeing that baptism in water as real
and not symbolic? Be consistent in your view of both baptisms. Don't say
one is symbolic and the other is real. Both are real and produces the
needful grace: water baptism produces the grace of forgiveness and
Spirit baptism produces the grace of empowerment. Just as real grace is
imparted at the Spirit baptism; real grace is imparted at water baptism.
Let's look again at what Peter says. "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."
Peter makes clear that the substance of water cannot, alone, save you.
There is a requirement that the person being baptized must meet: they
must "pledge a good conscience toward God." The theological word
for this is "repentance." Repentance means to feel sorry for your sins
with the intent of changing. There must be an intent to change in order
for baptism to be a sacrament. That means, if a person gets baptized
without an intent to change, then baptism cannot save him. They simply
become "wet sinners." Not "cleansed saints."
Some will get baptized for other
reasons than repentance. They might be pressured by friends and family
to get baptized. They might do it to succor their favor. They might get
baptized so the minister will perform their wedding. There could be
ulterior motives for being baptized. Any motive, other than a desire to
change and live for Christ, is a wrong motive and would make the waters
ineffective to cleanse you from your sins.
Many write to me asking if they need to
be rebaptized. The answer is simple: did you intend to change at the
time of your baptism. If you did not intend to change then you should be
baptize. It would not be a rebaptism since the first one did not
constitute a genuine baptism. The intent to change does not necessarily
mean that you have completely changed. None of us have changed totally.
But there should be evidence of some change after baptism.
Believe the Good News
There is one other requirement for the
candidate seeking baptism. Jesus said, "Repent and believe the good
news!" (Mark 1:15). An alcoholic may attend an AA meeting and desire
to change, but even if he becomes sober, he is not saved. A person must
also "believe the good news" about Jesus Christ. The basic
beliefs of the good news are recorded in the Apostle's Creed.
First, you must believe that Jesus
Christ was born of a virgin. If you say to me, "Oh, Bishop Brown, I
can't believe in something so incredulous." Then you cannot be saved.
Second, you must believe that Jesus
died for your sins and paid the price of punishment for you. If you say
to me, "I don't believe that one man, Jesus, can die for the sins of
everyone." Then you cannot be saved.
Third, you must believe that Jesus was
raised from the dead. If you say to me, "That is hard for me to believe.
I can't believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead." Then
you cannot be saved.
In other words, you must believe the
basics of the good news about Jesus. The good news involves belief in
the miraculous power of God. You cannot simply believe the core of Jesus
teachings—love one other—and think this alone can save
you. You must believe the gospel which involves belief in the virgin
birth, the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His
resurrection. Without belief in these, the baptism cannot save you.
The apostle Paul confirms this, "For
what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ
died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that
he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" 1 Cor
15:3-4). He says in another place, "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" (Rom 10:9). Without belief in the
resurrection of Christ from the dead, you cannot be saved.
did not send me to baptize
I can hear the number one argument
against baptism. It is found in 1 Corinthians 1:17, "For Christ did
not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with words of
human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." Of
course, as we said before, God looks on the human heart to see the
change. The preaching of the gospel changes the heart. Preaching always
Paul writes this because of the
division of the church. People were boasting about the ministers they
followed. "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus
Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no
divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and
thought" (v 10). Divisive people used baptism to prove they were
following genuine apostles. So Paul said to the Corinthian church, "Were
you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize
any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were
baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas;
beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.)" (vs.
So the statement about God not calling Paul to baptized was said in
conjunction with the division caused by baptism. Paul wanted to
emphasize the spiritual unity of the Church, and he saw that people were
using baptism as a means of division. He was not saying that baptism was
not important (after all he did baptize some Corinthians); he was simply
trying to get the church to agree about the unity of our faith in
In any event, it is quite possible that
Paul ordained others to do the baptizing. This is what Jesus did: "The
Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than
John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples"
(John 4:1-2). Jesus delegated the work of baptism to His disciples.
Although Jesus did not perform any baptisms, you cannot conclude the He
did not believe in baptism, only that He ordained others to perform this
function, instead of Him. This might have been the case with the Apostle
Paul, at least in the province of Corinth. But surely this does not
prove that baptism is unimportant or unessential to salvation.
Meaning of the Sinner's Prayer
At this point, many of my dear brothers
and sisters will say, "Now Bishop, you have challenged me in my theology
about baptism. What am I suppose to do now about leading people in the
sinner's prayer?" Still do it. Don't stop. Let me explain.
Jesus gave a parable about a sinner who
went to the temple to pray, and He says that the sinner prayed, "Have
mercy on me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13). Jesus says that "This
man...went home justified before God" (v 14). God answered the man's
prayer and justified him. Listen, God answers prayer, including prayers
whereby we and others ask God to forgive us. To this day, I still lead
people into praying for forgiveness. This is always a good prayer.
I look at the sinner's prayer as an
initial act of conversion and a way to receive salvation and to also
prepare oneself for the full act of conversion through baptism. In other
words, God can still save without baptism. After all, God saved the
thief at the cross even though he had no ability to be baptized. Jesus
promised him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in
paradise" (Luke 23:43). The thief never was baptized, but his prayer
was sufficient to save him, because God knows the hearts of all people;
however, we should follow through with our initial act of conversion all
the way through the sacrament of baptism into full conversion.
sacrament is an ordinance that Christ instituted. It is an outward
action or visible sign that produces actual grace.
For example, anointing the sick with oil
with prayer produces health. Oil,
then, becomes a visible sign of the invisible Holy Spirit. (see James
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