Was baptism required for salvation before Pentecost (Luke 3:3)?
Paul invokes “the law of first mention” in Romans when he notes that righteousness and faith are introduced together in the Scriptures. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom 4:3). Paul is teaching that, from the beginning, being right with God was on the basis of faith, not by observing religious rites (circumcision) or obeying the Law (vv 1-13). Paul is supporting the text for Romans, “The just (those declared righteous by God) shall live by faith” (1:17). Being saved, which is inseparable from being declared righteous by God, is, has always been, and will always be on the basis of faith.
John the Baptist’s “baptism unto repentance” was not a baptism for salvation. Gabriel described John’s mission: “Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, . . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16, 17). He ministered to the nation to prepare from their number a people waiting for the Lord.” John awakened the conscience of his hearers, whose question was, “What shall we do?” (3:10, 12, 14). His answer did not direct them to faith, as did Paul and Silas’ (Acts 16:30, 31), but to works, to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8 ESV, with vv 11, 13, 14). Their baptism to repentance did not save them; it prepared them for John’s climactic message, “Behold the Lamb of God . . .” (John 1:29).
If the 12 disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7) had been saved through John’s baptism, they would have received the Spirit and been part of the Church at Pentecost (1Co 12:13).
John’s baptism was an expression of submission to John’s message from God. It confirmed a recognition of guilt linked to their own sins and the sins of their nation. It said, in effect, “We need the coming Savior.” For at least some who were baptized by John, their baptism unto repentance preceded faith in Christ.
Does Acts 2:38 indicate that baptism is required for salvation after Pentecost?
Peter, as did John the Baptist, was speaking to Jewish listeners. As John’s baptism was a statement of disassociation from their past – both personal and national – so Peter’s command to repent and be baptized drew attention to their disassociation from past personal and national sins. John’s baptism was “unto repentance”; what Peter commanded was baptism “unto remission” (RV). For some, baptism unto repentance preceded faith; for all, faith preceded baptism unto remission.
Jews, whose birth linked them with the nation that had rejected its Messiah, were saved by gladly receiving Peter’s message from God (v 41), but they saved themselves from “this crooked generation” (v 40 ESV) by their baptism “unto remission.” Their baptism visibly affirmed that they were no longer linked with those who had rejected Christ. It added nothing to their personal faith in Him and contributed nothing to their salvation.
Saul of Tarsus was told, “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (22:16). He himself later shows that “calling on the name of the Lord” is evidence of faith already placed in Christ when he asks, “How then shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed?” (Rom 10:14). Saul was saved before he was baptized, but his baptism affirmed his disassociation from his past life of animosity against the Christ.
In light of Ephesians 4:5, why do we practice water baptism?
The reasoning behind this question seems to be that “one baptism” is the baptism of the Spirit (Acts 1:5; 1Co 12:13) and therefore Christians have no other baptism – no water baptism.
Two possible responses to this depend on how we interpret “one baptism.” Some base their interpretation on the grouping they see in the seven “one things” in Ephesians 4:4-6. The first three form a group: one Body, one Spirit (Who formed the Body), one hope (belonging to the Body, see 1:18). The next three form a group: one Lord (Whom all obey), one faith (by which all have trusted Christ or one body of revealed truth which all keep by obedience), one baptism (by which all have expressed their union with Him). The last is one God and Father of all. The first may be positional (what God has done), the second practical (what we are to do), the third theological and sums up the previous groups. If we accept this interpretation, the one baptism is water baptism which God has ordained for every believer in this age.
There may be reason, however, to view the one baptism as the baptism of the Spirit. The words, “There is” at the beginning of verse 4 are supplied by the translators. The words may obscure the connection of verses 4 through 6 with verse 3. Paul is expanding his statement, “the unity of the Spirit.” At Pentecost, the Spirit formed a unique entity that had never existed before. That unity, the subject of the mystery (ch 3), is composed of both Jews and Gentiles (ch 1, 2). In these verses, Paul sums up the positional teaching of the previous chapters. He uses it as the pivot on which he bases his practical exhortation (“endeavoring to keep . . .”).
The one Lord is the One in Whom all are united and, anticipating the rest of the epistle, Whom all are to obey. The one faith is the revealed body of truth, now including the mystery regarding the Church. The one baptism is the one event that formed the Body. Apart from this interpretation, Paul would be speaking about the unity of the Spirit without mentioning when the Spirit formed it. If that is the interpretation of “one baptism,” in these three verses (vv 4-6), Paul is dealing with our position (what God has done for us). That baptism will never be repeated and does not take place when a believer is saved. The Lord said it would take place not many days after He was with His disciples (Acts 1:5). Paul teaches that water baptism expresses our union with Christ (Rom 6:4, 5) and it is our practical responsibility to be baptized. Further, the Lord associates baptism with discipleship and the message of the gospel in this age (Mat 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15, 16). He also indicates that the believer is responsible to be baptized and that is done not by the Spirit but by those who “go,” “make disciples,” “baptizing them,” “teaching them” (Mat 28:19, 20).