Bible Class Curricula - First Principles - Lesson #6 - Objections to Baptism Answered


The Bible is very clear on the subject of baptism. Jesus said, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16). Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). The Apostle Peter said, "There is also an antitype 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" (1 Peter 3:21). In his first gospel sermon, "Peter said to them, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). At Paul’s conversion, Ananias said, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). Oftentimes when people are confronted with such overwhelming evidence on the essentiality of baptism, instead of submitting to its teaching and obeying God, they begin to make excuses. Let us examine some of the alleged arguments and excuses (2 Corinthians 13:5). 

Objection #1: The Thief on the Cross

One of the main reasons people object to baptism is because of the example of the thief on the cross. The argument usually goes something like this: The thief was not baptized. The thief was saved. Therefore, a person does not have to be baptized to be saved. However, the thief on the cross is not a valid example for the following reasons:

First, the thief lived under the Old Testament. The law of Christ, or New Testament, did not go into effect until after Jesus died on the cross of Calvary (Ephesians 2:14-18, Colossians 2:13-17). As the Hebrew writer said, "a testament is in force after men are dead since it has no power at all while the testator lives" (Hebrews 9:17). If someone wants to learn what to do to be saved today, they must look to the New Law (Romans 3:19; Hebrews 10:9).

Second, the thief lived while Jesus was on the earth, and while He was on the earth, Jesus had power to directly forgive the sins of the thief and others (Matthew 9:6). Jesus Himself said, "that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" (Mark 2:10). Jesus is no longer on the earth (Acts 1:9-11). He has been resurrected to the right hand of God in heaven (Hebrews 1:1-3). Since the Lord is no longer on earth, we must look to His written will to find out what we must do to be saved (John 6:63). In that written will, Jesus specifies: "He that believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16).

Third, the thief may have been immersed. It is possible, even likely, that the thief was baptized prior to the events of the cross. The Bible says that "Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him [John], and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matthew 3:5-6). How do we know that the thief was not one of those who were baptized by John? In fact, it was considered rejecting the will of God not to be baptized by John’s baptism while Jesus was on the earth (Luke 7:30). One can only suppose that the thief was not baptized. The point is we cannot know for sure if the thief was or was not baptized.

Therefore, we should not use the thief on the cross as an example of salvation.

Objection #2: No Works in Salvation

Some object to baptism by claiming it is a form of one trying to earn salvation through works and that one’s works have nothing to do with one’s salvation. While it is true that no one can earn or merit one’s salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), the Bible also teaches that one must meet certain conditions in order to obtain salvation (Matthew 7:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). In fact, James says a man is justified by works and not by faith only (James 2:24). It is obvious that there is a distinction in the Scriptures between (1) works of law/merit which do not justify a soul (Romans 4:2; Galatians 2:16) and (2) works of faith/obedience which do justify a soul (Matthew 7:21; Ja. 2:21-25). To clearly understand the error of the “no works” argument, one must realize that even belief is a conditional work that man must keep. Is belief a work of merit or an act of obedience (Hebrews 3:12-4:2)? Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29). It is clear from this text that belief is a work/condition of obedience that one must meet to be saved – without implying merit. The very people who claim that you cannot have any works in salvation condemn themselves when they say you must believe – for belief is a work! While baptism is indeed a necessary condition, it is important to note that the actual work in baptism occurs on God’s side. Paul said, "buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (Colossians 2:12). This text teaches it is the working of God that raises the sinner out of the water of baptism into the new life in Christ. Works of merit are the kind of works by which we are not saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). Works of God or works of obedience are the type of works by which we are saved (Ja. 2:24-26; Hebrews 5:8-9; Acts 5:32). After we follow God’s Word and are baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Galatians 3:27; Acts 2:16), all we can say is, "we are unprofitable servants, we have done what was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10).

Objection #3: “What If” Scenarios

Another objection to baptism is based on “what if” hypotheticals and pure emotion. For example, someone might say, "What if a person is on his way to the water to be baptized and he dies before he gets there? Are you saying that person is going to hell?" Here are some facts to consider:

Emotional arguments do not change the absolute truth, tone, or teaching of Scripture on the subject of baptism (Prob. 18:2; Proverbs 28:26). In fact, since emotional arguments are subjective (and truth is objective, John 8:32; 17:17), such argumentation can always be turned against their own plans of salvation. For example, ask them: "What if someone was one second away from believing in Jesus and they died. Are you saying that person would go to hell?" Such hypotheticals may tug at the heart strings of people in an attempt to weaken Scripture but remember: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12). The honest Bible answer to the “what if” argument is “Yes!” If people are not baptized before they die, the Scriptures teach they are not saved and they will go to hell (Mark 16:16). You have to be baptized into Christ to put on Christ and obtain His blood (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:26-27).

Objection #4: Belief Alone Saves

Some object to baptism based on the claim that belief alone is sufficient for one to be saved (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:9-10). The Scriptures teach belief is absolutely essential to salvation (John 8:24). But one can be equally as strong in proving that belief only does not save (James 2:24)! Notice why this argument will not hold up to biblical examination:

There are clear-cut passages that teach there is more to salvation than mere mental acceptance of Christ as Savior (Matthew 7:21; Ja. 2:24; John 12:42; John 8:30, 44; James 2:19)

A proper rule for understanding the Bible (and really any document) is to put all the information about a subject together before one ascertains truth. In illustrating this point, let us say that you are baking a cake and the recipe starts at the bottom of one page and continues at the top of another page. On the bottom of the first page the recipe says, "Add sugar, flour, and milk." If you only did these three steps, would you get a cake? No! Why not? – Because you did not put all the information together. You did not find out about the other essential information (adding eggs and butter and baking the cake) until the next page. To understand Scripture, we cannot “pick and choose” the ingredients we like and ignore the other ingredients.

Objection #5: For Means "Because Of"

Some object to baptism by stating that the word for in Acts 2:38 really should mean “because of.” The Greek word translated for in Acts 2:38 is the word eis. This Greek word is used primarily to represent a going into, an indication of purpose, or the going in the direction of a goal. Hence, the purpose or goal of baptism is the forgiveness of one’s sins. Due to false teaching, it is important for us to focus on a major false doctrine involving Acts 2:38. Certain false teachers have tried to make the word for (Gr. eis) mean “because of.” In the context of Acts 2:38, the Jews had just asked Peter what they needed to do to be saved (Acts 2:37, 40). If the Greek word eis in this context means “because of,” Peter would be saying to the Jews: "Repent and be baptized because you have already received the remission of sins," resulting in an illogical answer.

This false view of Acts 2:38 is in contradiction with the very words of Jesus. Jesus taught that for a man to be saved, he had to repent before (not after) he had been forgiven of his sins. In Luke 13:3, Jesus told certain people who were still in sin that they had to repent to get out of their sin. Jesus simply said, "I tell you no, but unless you repent you shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). In Matthew 26:28, Jesus said, "This is My blood of the New Covenant which was shed for many, for the remission of sins." What exactly was Jesus saying in this context? Was Jesus, in essence, saying, "I went to the cross and shed my blood because your sins are already forgiven"? Of course not! Instead, Jesus was saying that the reason He was shedding His blood was so that their sins would be forgiven. Likewise, when Peter uses the exact same phrase in Acts 2:38, he is stressing the purpose of repentance and baptism in salvation.

Objection #6: My Family

Another objection to baptism places weight on the beliefs of loved ones who have died. Many persons are presented with the truth about baptism and begin to see the significance of it, but they find themselves stepping back from it because they start thinking about the views of their dead loved ones who were strongly opposed to the essential nature of baptism. Some will even say: "If I were to be immersed for the remission of my sins, I would be admitting that my good, religious grandmother and grandfather went to hell, and I just cannot do that." In response to this, three things are important to remember. First, if your loved ones who died were atheists or Muslims, would you resist being saved from your sins because you would not want to imply by your actions that they perished? Second, your obedience to God will not condemn or save your loved ones. Each person will give an account for his own sins and shortcomings – not for the sins of others (2 Corinthians 5:10; Ezekiel 18:19-21). Third, if your loved ones were lost because they did not obey the gospel, it is a Bible fact that they would want you to be immersed into Jesus in order for you to wash away your sins – even though they did not (Acts 22:16; Revelation 1:5). How do I know that? – A rich man told me so. Luke 16:19-31 mentions a rich man who failed to live faithful to God and was lost in a sinner’s torment. When the condemned rich man realized there was nothing more he could do about his own situation, he then had a strong desire to help his family who were still alive on earth so that they would not end up in torment, too. Listen to his own words: "I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment" (Luke 16:27-28). Reader, if your parents or grandparents were lost because they did not obey the truth concerning baptism, the one thing they want most is for you to obey the gospel. They do not care about their reputation or family beliefs. They want you to become a New Testament Christian and escape a sinner’s torment.

Study Questions

  1. What Law did the thief live and die under?
  2. Can the thief be considered an example of New Testament conversion?
  3. Did Jesus have power while on earth to forgive sins?
  4. The whole argument for the thief on the cross hinges on the fact that the thief was never baptized. Can one prove from Scripture that he was never baptized?
  5. Is belief a work?
  6. Is it inconsistent for people to say baptism is a work/condition without also recognizing belief is a work/condition?
  7. Who performs the work in baptism according to Colossians 2:12?
  8. What is the best way given to answer “what if” scenarios?
  9. Do they in any way, shape, or form weaken what the Scriptures teach?
  10. What single passage teaches that belief alone will never save?
  11. What parallel New Testament passage helps one prove that for in Acts 2:38 does not mean “because of”?
  12. What New Testament individual teaches us that our deceased family members want us to obey the will of God even if they are lost?
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