Questions About Salvation: The 100 Most Frequently Asked Questions About Salvation
Have Questions, Find Answers on Otakada.org – Salvation and Works – Daily, people turn to the Internet to find answers to their questions about spiritual matters. Topics related to spirituality are the second-most searched subjects online. Sadly, websites that present false teachings far outnumber those that proclaim the truth of God’s Word. We will provide answers as the Holy Spirit leads us from a biblical perspective. You will also need to pray to secure answers to any question you may have because one of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth – John 16:13. Today, we look at Questions About Salvation and Works and questions that relate to this with biblical answers.. Enjoy
Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?
Do we contribute anything to our own salvation?
Why is being a good person not enough to get you into heaven?
Why is salvation by works the predominantly held viewpoint?
How can salvation be not of works when faith is required? Isn’t believing a work?
What does it mean that salvation is a gift from God?
How can you believe in salvation by faith alone when the only occurrence of “faith alone” in the Bible (James 2:24) says that salvation is not by faith alone?
Why did Jesus tell the rich young ruler he could be saved by obeying the commandments?
Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation? Does John 3:5 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation? Does Acts 2:38 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation? Does 1 Peter 3:21 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?
Question: Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?
Answer: This is perhaps one of the most important questions in all of Christian theology. This question is the cause of the Reformation, the split between the Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church. This question is also a key difference between biblical Christianity and most of the “Christian” cults. Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works? Does just believing in Jesus save me, or do I have to believe in Jesus and do certain things?
The question of faith alone or faith plus works is made difficult by some hard- to-reconcile Bible passages. For example, compare Romans 3:28; 5:1; and Galatians 3:24 with James 2:24. Some see a difference between Paul (salvation is by faith alone) and James (salvation is by faith plus works). Paul dogmatically says that justification is by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), while James appears to be saying that justification is by faith plus works. This apparent problem is answered by examining James’ statement in context. James is refuting the belief that a person can have faith without producing any good works (James 2:17-18). James is emphasizing the point that genuine faith in Christ will always produce a changed life and good works (James 2:20-26). James is not saying that
justification is by faith plus works but, rather, that a person who is truly justified by faith will have good works in his/her life. If a person claims to be a believer but has no good works in his/her life, then that person likely does not have genuine faith in Christ (James 2:14, 17, 20, 26).
Paul says the same thing in his writings. The fruits the Holy Spirit produces in the life of a Christian are listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Immediately after telling us that we are saved by faith, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9), Paul informs us that we were created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Paul expects just as much of a changed life as James does: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). James and Paul do not disagree in their teaching regarding salvation. They approach the same subject from different perspectives. Paul simply emphasized that justification is by faith alone while James put emphasis on the fact that genuine faith in Christ produces good works.
Question: Do we contribute anything to our own salvation?
Answer: From a biblical point of view, humanity contributes nothing at all to salvation. The problem with humanity is its sinfulness. Humanity is thoroughly sinful and can do nothing to earn God’s favor. Because of this sinful state, humanity wants nothing to do with God (see John 3:20 and Romans 1:18-32). It is safe to say that humanity chooses to sin, loves to sin, defends sin, and glories in sin.
Because of our sinful predicament, we are in need of God’s direct intervention. Jesus Christ provided this intervention as the mediator between sinful humanity and holy God (1 Timothy 2:5). Though humanity wants nothing to do with God, God wants everything to do with us. This is why He sent His Son to die for our sins—God’s perfect substitution (1 Timothy 2:6). Because Jesus died, through faith we can be declared justified, or righteous (Romans 5:1). By faith, we are redeemed, bought out of the slave market of sin, and set free (1 Peter 1:18-19).
These acts just mentioned—substitution, justification, redemption—are just a few that are accomplished completely by God, and devoid completely of any human effort. The Bible is clear that we cannot contribute anything to our own salvation. Contributing to salvation is the same thing as working for salvation, which directly contradicts the Bible’s statements and the meaning of grace (see Ephesians 2:8-9).
Some would say that believing is what we contribute to salvation. But, biblical saving faith is simply receiving the gift of salvation that God offers. God has
done all the work, and we simply receive it in faith. Faith/belief is not something we contribute to what God has accomplished through Christ. Further, even faith itself is a gift from God. Salvation is a free gift from God (Romans 6:23), and since it is a gift, there is nothing we can do to earn it. All we have to “do” is receive the gift. “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
Question: Why is being a good person not enough to get you into heaven?
Answer: This is the proverbial million-dollar question, because if you ask anyone on the street what you have to do to get into heaven (assuming they believe in heaven or an afterlife), the overwhelming response will be some form of “be a good person.” Most, if not all, religions and worldly philosophies are ethics-based. Whether it’s Islam, Judaism, or secular humanism, most teach getting to heaven is a matter of being a good person—following the Ten Commandments or the precepts found in the Quran or the Golden Rule. But is this what Christianity teaches? Is Christianity just one of many world religions that teach that being a good person will get us into heaven? We’ll examine one of Jesus’ encounters found in the Gospels for answers. The story is found in Matthew 19:16-26 and is about the rich young ruler.
The rich young ruler is asking a question: “What good thing must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:26). In asking this, he is acknowledging that, despite all his efforts thus far, there is something lacking and he wants to know what else he must do. However, his question comes from the wrong worldview—that of merit (“What good thing must I do …?”). He has failed to grasp the true purpose of the Law, as Jesus will point out to him, which was to serve as a tutor until the time of Christ (Galatians 3:24).
In response to his question, Jesus turns the tables by asking him why he asks about what is good. Jesus gets to the heart of the matter, namely, that no one is good and no one does good except God. Jesus says that, if he wants eternal life, he should keep the commandments. In saying this, Jesus is not advocating a works-based salvation. Rather, He is challenging the young man’s suppositions by pointing out his shallow understanding of the Law and human ability to keep the Law.
The young man’s response is very telling. When told to keep the commandments, he asks Jesus, “Which ones?” (Matthew 19:18). Jesus patiently points to the commandments dealing with interpersonal relationships. The young man’s self-righteous response is that he has kept all of those commandments
since his youth. There are two interesting things here: first, in saying he has kept all the commandments since his youth, he has broken the commandment regarding falsehood. If he were truly honest with himself, he would have said that he has tried (and failed) to keep the commandments. Second, he still knows deep in his heart of hearts that he is not good enough; even his shallow law keeping isn’t satisfying his soul. He asks Jesus, “What do I still lack?” (verse 20).
Jesus masterfully focuses on one particular area in which the rich young ruler has failed. He tells the young man that he must sell all that he has and follow Jesus. Jesus perfectly diagnosed the man’s “lack”—his greed. The man’s wealth had become an idol in his life, and if he truly followed the commandments, he would have had no other gods before the true and living God! This man’s god was his possessions; when faced with the choice of giving up his riches or giving up Jesus, he turned his back on the Lord. The young man was a slave to his great wealth. He claimed to be righteous on the basis of keeping “all” the Law, but he was only fooling himself.
Who can be saved? “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). If left up to man alone, no one could be saved! Why is being a good person not enough to get you into heaven? Because no one is a “good” person. There is only One who is good, and that is God Himself. The Bible says that all people have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Bible also says that the wages of our sin is death (Romans 6:23). We learn that, while we were in our sinful state, Christ died for the unrighteous (Romans 5:8).
Finally, “If you confess with our mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). This salvation in Christ is a precious gift, and it is nothing we can earn through our good works (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). The message of the gospel is that we can never be good enough to get to heaven. We must recognize that we are sinners who daily fall short of God’s glory, and we must obey the command to repent of our sins and place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. He alone was good enough to earn heaven, and He gives that merit to those who believe in His name.
Question: Why is salvation by works the predominantly held viewpoint?
Answer: The simple answer is that salvation by works seems right in the eyes of man. One of man’s basic desires is to be in control of his own destiny, and that
includes his eternal destiny. Salvation by works appeals to man’s pride and his desire to be in control. Being saved by works appeals to that desire far more than the idea of being saved by faith alone. Also, man has an inherent sense of justice. Even the most ardent atheist believes in some type of justice and has a sense of right and wrong, even if he has no moral basis for making such judgments. Our inherent sense of right and wrong demands that, if we are to be saved, our “good works” must outweigh our “bad works.” Therefore, it is natural that when man creates a religion it would involve some type of salvation by works.
Because salvation by works appeals to man’s sinful nature, it forms the basis of almost every religion except for biblical Christianity. Proverbs 14:12 tells us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Salvation by works seems right to men, which is why it is the predominantly held viewpoint. That is exactly why biblical Christianity is so different from all other religions—it is the only religion that teaches salvation is a gift of God and not of works. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Another reason why salvation by works is the predominantly held viewpoint is that the natural or unregenerate man does not fully understand the extent of his own sinfulness or of God’s holiness. Man’s heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV), and God is infinitely holy (Isaiah 6:3). The deceit of our hearts is the very thing that colors our perception of the extent of that deceit; it is what prevents us from seeing our true state before a God whose holiness we are also unable to fully comprehend. But the truth remains that our best efforts are “filthy rags” before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6).
The thought that man’s good works could ever balance out his bad works is a totally unbiblical concept. The Bible also teaches that God’s standard is nothing less than 100 percent perfection. If we stumble in keeping just one part of God’s righteous law, we are as guilty as if we had broken all of it (James 2:10). There is no way we could ever be saved if salvation were dependent on our works.
Another reason the teaching of salvation by works can creep into churches is that passages like James 2:24 are misunderstood: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” Taken in context, this verse does not say our works make us righteous before God; instead, it makes clear that good works demonstrate real saving faith. The person who claims to be a Christian but lives in willful disobedience to Christ has a false, or “dead,” faith and is not saved. James is simply making a contrast between two different types
of faith—truth faith that saves and false faith that cannot.
There are simply too many verses that teach that one is not saved by works for any Christian to believe otherwise. Titus 3:4-5 is one of many such passages: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Good works do not contribute to salvation, but they will always be characteristic of one who has been born again. Good works are not the cause of salvation; they are the evidence of it.
While salvation by works might be the predominantly held viewpoint, it is not biblical. The Bible contains abundant evidence of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Question: How can salvation be not of works when faith is required? Isn’t believing a work?
Answer: Our salvation depends solely upon Jesus Christ. He is our substitute, taking sin’s penalty (2 Corinthians 5:21); He is our Savior from sin (John 1:29); He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). The work necessary to provide salvation was fully accomplished by Jesus Himself, who lived a perfect life, took God’s judgment for sin, and rose again from the dead (Hebrews 10:12).
The Bible is quite clear that our own works do not merit salvation. We are saved “not because of righteous things we had done” (Titus 3:5) because “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). This means that offering sacrifices, keeping the commandments, going to church, being baptized, and other good deeds are incapable of saving anyone. No matter how “good” we are, we can never measure up to God’s standard of holiness (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6).
The Bible is just as clear that salvation is conditional; God does not save everyone. The one condition for salvation is faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible declares faith (or belief) as the sole condition for salvation nearly 200 times in the New Testament (John 1:12; Acts 16:31).
One day, some people asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus immediately points them to faith: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29). So, the question is about God’s requirements (plural), and Jesus’ answer is that God’s requirement (singular) is that you believe in Him.
Grace means that God is giving us something we cannot earn and do not
deserve. According to Romans 11:6, “works” of any kind destroy grace. The idea is that a worker earns payment while the recipient of grace simply receives it, unearned. Since salvation is all of grace, it cannot be earned. Faith, therefore, is a non-work. Faith cannot truly be considered a “work,” or else it would destroy grace. (See also Romans 4—Abraham’s salvation was dependent on faith in God, as opposed to any work he performed.)
Suppose someone anonymously sends you a check for $1,000,000. The money is yours if you want it, but you still must endorse the check. In no way can signing your name be considered earning the million dollars—the endorsement is a non-work. You could never boast about becoming a millionaire through sheer effort or your own business savvy. No, the million dollars was simply a gift, and signing your name was the only way to receive it. Similarly, exercising faith is the only way to receive the generous gift of God, and faith cannot be considered a work worthy of the gift.
True faith cannot be considered a work because true faith involves a cessation of our works in the flesh. True faith has as its object Jesus and His work on our behalf (Matthew 11:28-29; Hebrews 4:10).
To take this a step further, true faith cannot be considered a work because even faith is a gift from God, not something we produce on our own. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Praise the Lord for His power to save and for His grace to make salvation a reality!
Question: What does it mean that salvation is a gift from God?
Answer: The word gift is an important one in the Bible, and it is important that
we understand its definition and implications.
In the New Testament, there are several Greek words translated “gift.” Some of these words are used in contexts other than God’s gift of salvation, such as the reciprocal gift-giving of celebrants (Revelation 11:10), the good things received from fathers (Matthew 7:11), offerings to a ministry (Philippians 4:17), and the gifts of the magi (Matthew 2:11).
However, when it comes to the matter of our salvation, the New Testament writers use different Greek words—words that emphasize the gracious and absolutely free quality of the gift. Here are the two words most commonly used for the gift of salvation:
1. Dorea, meaning “a free gift.” This word lays particular stress on the
gratuitous nature of the gift—it is something given above and beyond what is expected or deserved. Every New Testament occurrence of this word is related to a spiritual gift from God. It is what Jesus offers to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:10). It is referred to in Romans 5:15. It is the “indescribable gift” in 2 Corinthians 9:15. This gracious gift is identified as the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38 and 11:17.
The adverb form of this word is dorean, translated “freely” in Matthew 10:8; 2 Corinthians 11:7 (KJV); Revelation 21:6 (NKJV); and Revelation 22:17 (NKJV). In Romans 3:24, immediately following God’s pronouncement of our guilt, we have this use of dorean: “And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” The gift of salvation is free, and the motive for the gift is nothing more than the grace of the Giver.
2. Charisma, meaning “a gift of grace.” This word is used to define salvation in Romans 5:15-16. Also, in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift [charisma] of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” This same word is used in conjunction with the gifts of the Spirit received after salvation (Romans 12:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Peter 4:10).
Obviously, if something is a “gift of grace,” it cannot be earned. To work for something is to deserve it, and that would produce an obligation—a gift of debt, as it were. That is why works destroy grace (Romans 4:1-5; 11:5-6).
When presenting salvation, the New Testament writers carefully chose words that emphasize grace and freedom. As a result, the Bible could not be clearer— salvation is absolutely free, the true gift of God in Christ, and our only responsibility is to receive the gift by faith (John 1:12; 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Question: How can you believe in salvation by faith alone when the only occurrence of “faith alone” in the Bible (James 2:24) says that salvation is not by faith alone?
Answer: It is entirely true that the one verse in the Bible that contains the exact phrase “faith alone” seems to argue against salvation by faith alone. James 2:24 reads, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (NASB). However, rejecting the doctrine of salvation by faith alone based on this verse has two major problems. First, the context of James 2:24 is not arguing against the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Second, the Bible does not need to contain the precise phrase “faith alone” in order to clearly teach salvation by faith alone.
James 2:14-26, as a whole, and especially verse 24, causes a lot of confusion. The passage seems to pose a serious problem for the “salvation by faith alone” concept. First, however, we need to clear up a misconception; namely, that James means the same thing by “justified” in James 2:24 that Paul means in Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Here, Paul uses the word justified to mean “declared righteous by God.” Paul is speaking of God’s legal declaration of us as righteous as Christ’s righteousness is applied to our account. In contrast, James uses the word justified to mean “being demonstrated and proven.”
The NIV 2011 provides an excellent rendering of James 2:24: “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone” (emphasis added). James 2:14-26 is about proving the genuineness of your faith by what you do. A genuine salvation experience by faith in Jesus Christ will inevitably result in good works (Ephesians 2:10). The works are the demonstration and proof of faith (James 2:18). A faith without works is useless (James 2:20) and dead (James 2:17); in other words, it is not true faith at all. Salvation is by faith alone, but that faith will never be alone.
While James 2:24 is the only verse which contains the precise phrase “faith alone,” there are many other verses that do, in fact, teach salvation by faith alone. Any verse that ascribes salvation to faith/belief, with no other requirement mentioned, is a declaration that salvation is by faith alone. John 3:16 declares that salvation is given to “whoever believes in Him.” Acts 16:31 proclaims, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.” See also Romans 3:28; 4:5; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; 3:24; Ephesians 1:13; and Philippians 3:9. Many other Scriptures could be referenced in addition to these.
In summary, James 2:24 does not argue against salvation by faith alone. Rather, it argues against a salvation that is alone, a salvation devoid of good works and obedience to God’s Word. James’s point is that we demonstrate our faith by what we do (James 2:18). Regardless of the absence of the precise phrase “faith alone,” the New Testament definitely teaches that salvation is the product of God’s grace in response to our faith. “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? … On that of faith” (Romans 3:27). There is no other requirement.
Question: Why did Jesus tell the rich young ruler he could be saved by obeying the commandments?
Answer: To understand Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler’s question
—“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”(Mark 10:17)—we must consider three things: the nature of the rich young ruler, the purpose of Jesus’ statements, and the essence of the gospel. At first glance, it appears that Jesus is saying that the young man, and by extension all people, must obey the commandments in order to be saved. But is that really His message? Since the essence of the gospel is that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), why would Jesus offer the rich young ruler an “alternative plan”?
The story of the rich young ruler is found in all three of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew 19:16-23; Mark 10:17-23; and Luke 18:18-24. The man is described as a “ruler,” which means he was a prince or magistrate of some sort. Since no Roman ruler would address Jesus as “teacher” or “master,” we assume that this man was a ruler in the local synagogue. This man had “great wealth” (Luke 18:23), and the impact of wealth is what Jesus hones in on. The corrupting power of riches has a detrimental effect on one’s desire for eternal life. The fact that the man was young (Matthew 19:20) and already wealthy seems to indicate that he had enjoyed a life of ease and had become accustomed to it. When he comes to Jesus asking about eternal life, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach about money and true holiness, not about salvation by works.
The first thing Jesus says in response to the man’s greeting, “Good teacher” (Luke 18:18), is that no one is good except God. Jesus is not denying His own divinity. Rather, He is establishing, right away, that the standard for “goodness” is God (not the young man’s sincerity or efforts at Law-keeping).
Jesus, knowing the man’s heart and his thoughts of self-righteousness, pointed to God’s standard of holiness. He recited some of the Ten Commandments and told the man to obey them. The man stands on his own righteousness: “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he says (Mark 10:20). The young man may have been sincere, but he was deceiving himself in thinking he had kept the whole Law. It is at this point that Jesus delivers the ego-shattering news that the young man had not kept the Law. Jesus picks one commandment to show the man that he was, after all, a wretched sinner in desperate need of salvation. With the precision of a surgeon, Jesus cuts right to the heart of the matter, pointing out the young man’s weakest spot—his wealth.
“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). When the man heard this, his face fell and he went away sad. He could not part with his great wealth, not even in exchange for eternal life. The man had claimed he had kept the whole Law, but Jesus shows him that he could not even keep the first commandment to love the Lord above all things. Neither could he keep the second commandment to
love his neighbor as himself. He could not love the Lord with all his heart, and he loved the things of this world more than the things of heaven. The man chose to turn away from Jesus and return to his piles of money. No one can serve two masters (Luke 16:13), and the rich young ruler chose to serve himself.
By His words to the rich young ruler, Christ did not say that a man is saved by the works of the Law. Just the opposite. Jesus shows very plainly that not even a sincere, lifelong practice of good works can save anyone. No amount of “religion,” no amount of external conformity to the Law, can compensate for sin in the heart—greed, in the case of the young man. The Bible teaches that human works do not save (Romans 3:20, 28; 4:6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:9; 2 Timothy 1:9). Goodness is measured according to God’s standards, not ours, and He sees the heart.
Question: Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?
Answer: Regarding Mark 16:16, it is important to remember that there are some textual problems with Mark 16:9-20. There is some question as to whether these verses were originally part of the gospel of Mark or whether a scribe added them later. As a result, it is best not to base a key doctrine on anything from Mark 16:9-20 unless it is also supported by other passages of Scripture.
Assuming that verse 16 is original to Mark, does it teach that baptism is required for salvation? The short answer is, no, it does not. In order to make this verse teach that baptism is required for salvation, one must go beyond what the verse actually says. What this verse does teach is that belief is necessary for salvation, which is consistent with the countless verses where only belief is mentioned (e.g., John 3:18; 5:24; 12:44; 20:31; 1 John 5:13).
Mark 16:16 states, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” This verse is composed of two basic statements: 1) He who believes and is baptized will be saved, and 2) He who does not believe will be condemned.
While this verse tells us something about believers who have been baptized (they are saved), it does not say anything about believers who have not been baptized. In order for this verse to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation, a third statement would be necessary, such as, “He who believes and is not baptized will be condemned” or “He who is not baptized will be condemned.” But, of course, neither of these statements is found in the verse.
Those who try to use Mark 16:16 to teach that baptism is necessary for
salvation commit a common but serious mistake that is sometimes called the Negative Inference Fallacy. This fallacy can be stated as follows: “If a statement is true, we cannot assume that all negations (or opposites) of that statement are also true.” For example, consider the statement “whoever believes and lives in Kansas will be saved, but those who do not believe are condemned.” This statement is strictly true; Kansans who believe in Jesus will be saved. However, to say that only those believers who live in Kansas are saved is an illogical and false assumption. The statement does not say a believer must live in Kansas in order to go to heaven. Similarly, Mark 16:16 does not say a believer must be baptized. The verse states a fact about baptized believers (they will be saved), but it says exactly nothing about believers who have not been baptized. There may be believers who do not dwell in Kansas, yet they are still saved; and there may be believers who have not been baptized, yet they, too, are still saved.
The one specific condition required for salvation is stated in the second part of Mark 16:16: “Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” In essence, Jesus has given both the positive condition of belief (whoever believes will be saved) and the negative condition of unbelief (whoever does not believe will be condemned). Therefore, we can say with absolute certainty that belief is the requirement for salvation. More importantly, we see this condition restated positively and negatively often in Scripture (John 3:18; 3:36; 5:24; 6:53-54; 8:24).
Jesus mentions a condition related to salvation (baptism) in Mark 16:16. But a related condition should not be confused with a requirement. For example, having a fever is related to being ill, but a fever is not required for illness to be present. Nowhere in the Bible do we find a statement such as “whoever is not baptized will be condemned.” Therefore, we cannot say that baptism is necessary for salvation based on Mark 16:16 or any other verse.
Does Mark 16:16 teach that baptism is or is not necessary for salvation? No, it does not. It clearly establishes that belief is required for salvation, but it does not prove or disprove the idea of baptism being a requirement. How can we know, then, if one must be baptized in order to be saved? We must look to the full counsel of God’s Word. Here is a summary of the evidence:
1. The Bible is clear that we are saved by faith alone. Abraham was saved by faith, and we are saved by faith (Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:6-22).
2. Throughout the Bible, in every dispensation, people have been saved without being baptized. Every believer in the Old Testament (e.g., Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon) was saved but not baptized. The thief on the cross was saved but not baptized. Cornelius was saved before he was baptized (Acts 10:44-46).
Baptism is a testimony of our faith and a public declaration that we believe in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures tell us that we have eternal life the moment we believe (John 5:24), and belief always comes before being baptized. Baptism does not save us any more than walking an aisle or saying a prayer saves us. We are saved when we believe.
The Bible never says that if one is not baptized then he is not saved.
If baptism were required for salvation, then no one could be saved without another party being present. Someone would have to be there to baptize a person before he could be saved. This effectively limits who can be saved and when he can be saved. The consequences of this doctrine, when carried to a logical conclusion, are devastating. For example, a soldier who believes on the battlefield but is killed before he can be baptized would go to hell.
Throughout the Bible we see that at the point of faith a believer possesses all the promises and blessings of salvation (John 1:12; 3:16; 6:47; 20:31; Acts 10:43; 13:39; 16:31). When one believes, he has eternal life, does not come under judgment, and has “crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24) —all before he or she is baptized.
you believe in baptismal regeneration, you would do well to prayerfully consider whom or what you are really putting your trust in. Is your faith in a physical act (being baptized) or in the finished work of Christ on the cross? Whom or what are you trusting for salvation? Is it the shadow (baptism) or the substance (Jesus Christ)? Our faith must rest in Christ alone. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Question: Does John 3:5 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?
Answer: John 3:3-7 takes place in the context of Jesus’ conversation about salvation with the Pharisee Nicodemus. The passage says, “In reply Jesus declared, T tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.’””
When considering this passage, it is first important to note that nowhere in the context is baptism even mentioned. While baptism is mentioned later in this chapter (John 3:22-30), that is in a totally different setting (Judea rather than Jerusalem) and at a different time. Nicodemus would have been familiar with the Jewish practice of baptizing Gentile converts to Judaism or even John the Baptist’s ministry. However, to automatically read baptism into this verse simply because it mentions “water” is unwarranted.
Those who hold baptism to be required for salvation point to “born of water” as supporting their view. However, had Jesus actually wanted to say that one must be baptized to be saved, He could have simply stated, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless one is baptized and born of the Spirit.” Further, if Jesus had made such a statement, He would have contradicted numerous other Bible passages that make it clear that salvation is by faith alone (John 3:16; 3:36; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
We should also recognize that, when Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, the ordinance of Christian baptism was not yet in effect. The same people who say the thief on the cross did not need to be baptized because he was under the Old Covenant will use John 3:5 as “proof” that baptism is necessary for salvation. Nicodemus, too, was still under the Old Covenant. If the thief on the cross was saved without being baptized (because he was under the Old Covenant), why would Jesus tell Nicodemus (who was also under the Old Covenant) that he must be baptized?
If being born “of water and the Spirit” is not referring to baptism, then what does it mean? Traditionally, there have been two interpretations. The first is that “born of water” refers to natural birth (with “water” referring to the amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby in the womb) and that “born of the Spirit” indicates spiritual birth. While that is certainly a possible interpretation and would seem to fit the context of Nicodemus’ question about how a man could be born “when he is old,” it is not the better interpretation given the context. After all, Jesus was not talking about the difference between natural birth and spiritual birth. He was explaining to Nicodemus his need to be “born from above” or “born again.”
The second common interpretation of this passage—and the one that better fits the overall context—is the one that sees the phrase “born of water and the Spirit” as describing different aspects of the same spiritual birth; that is, Jesus was expounding on what it means to be “born again” or “born from above.” So, Jesus was not referring to literal water (i.e., baptism or the amniotic fluid in the womb), but to the need for spiritual cleansing or renewal. Throughout the Old Testament (Psalm 51:2, 7; Ezekiel 36:25) and the New Testament (John 13:10;
15:3; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Hebrews 10:22), water is often used figuratively of spiritual cleansing or regeneration.
The Barclay Daily Study Bible describes this concept in this way: “There are two thoughts here. Water is the symbol of cleansing. When Jesus takes possession of our lives, when we love Him with all our heart, the sins of the past are forgiven and forgotten. The Spirit is the symbol of power. When Jesus takes possession of our lives it is not only that the past is forgotten and forgiven; if that were all, we might well proceed to make the same mess of life all over again; but into life there enters a new power which enables us to be what by ourselves we could never be and to do what by ourselves we could never do. Water and the Spirit stand for the cleansing and the strengthening power of Christ, which wipes
out the past and gives victory in the future.’-
Therefore, the “water” mentioned in this verse is not literal, physical water but the “living water” Jesus promised the woman at the well in John 4:10 and the people in Jerusalem in John 7:37-39. Being born of water is the purification and renewal produced by the Holy Spirit, who brings spiritual life to a dead sinner (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Titus 3:5). Jesus reinforces this truth in John 3:7 when He restates that one must be born again and that this newness of life can only be produced by the Holy Spirit (John 3:8).
Jesus rebukes Nicodemus in John 3:10: “‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things?”’ This implies that Nicodemus should have already understood this from the Old Testament—that God had promised a time in which He would “sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move
you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
While this verse does not teach that baptism is required for salvation, we should be careful not to neglect baptism’s importance. Baptism is the sign or the symbol for what takes place when one is born again. Baptism is significant, but baptism does not save. What saves us is the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit when we are born again and regenerated by Him (Titus 3:5).
Question: Does Acts 2:38 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?
Answer: Acts 2:38 says, “Then 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’” (NKJV).
Often, the discussion of this passage centers on the Greek word eis, translated “for” in this passage. Those who believe that baptism is required for salvation are quick to point to the command “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” They make the assumption that the word translated “for” in this verse means “in order to get.” However, in both Greek and English, there are many possible usages of the word for.
As an example, when one says “Take two aspirin for your headache,” it is obvious that it does not mean “take two aspirin in order to get your headache,” but instead, “take two aspirin because you already have a headache.” There are three possible meanings of the word for that might fit the context of Acts 2:38: 1) “in order to become, get, or, keep,” 2) “because of, as the result of,” or 3) “with regard to.” Since any one of the three meanings could fit the context of this passage, additional study is required in order to determine which one is correct.
We need to start by looking at the original language and the meaning of eis. This is a common Greek word (used 1,774 times in the New Testament) that is translated many different ways. Like the English word for, it can have several different meanings. So, we see two or three possible meanings of the passage, one that would seem to support baptism being required for salvation and others that would not. Such noted Greek scholars as A. T. Robertson and J. R. Mantey have maintained that the preposition eis in Acts 2:38 should be translated “because of” or “in view of,” and not “in order to” or “for the purpose of.”
An example of this preposition in other passages is Matthew 12:41, where the word eis communicates the result of an action. In this case it is said that the people of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of Jonah” (the word translated “at” is eis). Clearly, the meaning of this passage is that they repented “because of” or “as the result of” Jonah’s preaching. In the same way, it is possible that Acts 2:38 is indeed communicating that Christians are to be baptized “as the result of” or “because” they had already believed and received forgiveness of their sins (John 1:12; 3:14-18; 5:24; 11:25-26; Acts 10:43; 13:39; 16:31; 26:18; Romans 10:9; Ephesians 1:12-14). This interpretation is also consistent with the message of Peter’s next two sermons, in which he associates the forgiveness of sins with the act of repentance and faith in Christ without even mentioning baptism (Acts 3:17-26; 4:8-12).
In addition to Acts 2:38, there are three other verses where the Greek word eis is used in conjunction with the words baptize or baptism. The first is Matthew 3:11, “I baptize you with water for repentance.” Clearly, eis cannot
mean “in order to get” in this passage. They were not baptized “in order to get repentance,” but were baptized “because they had repented.” The second passage is Romans 6:3, ’’baptized into [eis] his death.” Again, this fits with the meaning “because of” or “in regard to.” The third passage is 1 Corinthians 10:2, “baptized into [ezs] Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” Eis cannot mean “in order to get” in this passage because the Israelites were not “baptized” in order to get Moses as their leader, but because he was their leader. To be consistent with the way the preposition eis is used in the context of baptism, we must conclude that Acts 2:38 is indeed referring to being baptized because forgiveness had been received. Some other verses where the Greek preposition eis does not mean “in order to obtain” are Matthew 28:19; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 19:3; 1 Corinthians 1:15; and 1 Corinthians 12:13.
So, the lexical evidence favors the definition of the word for as “because of” or “in regard to” and not “in order to get.”
There is also a grammatical aspect of this verse to carefully consider—the exchange of second person and third person in the verbs and pronouns of Acts 2:38. In Peter’s command to repent and be baptized, the Greek verb translated “repent” is in the second person plural; however, the verb for “be baptized” is in the third person singular. Then, the pronoun your in the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” is also second person plural. Peter is making an important distinction. Switching from second person plural to third person singular and back again connects the phrase “forgiveness of your sins” directly with the command to “repent.” Essentially, Peter says, “You (plural) repent for the forgiveness of your (plural) sins, and let each one (singular) of you be baptized (singular).” Or, to put it more simply, “You all repent for the forgiveness of all of your sins, and let each one of you be baptized.”
There is an important difference between a condition of salvation and a requirement for salvation. The Bible is clear that belief is both a condition and a requirement, but the same cannot be said for baptism. The Bible does not say that if a man is not baptized then he will not be saved. If that were true, Jesus would never have been able to assure the criminal crucified with Him that he would be with Him in paradise that very day (Luke 23:39-43). Faith is required for salvation (Acts 16:31). We can add any number of conditions to faith without affecting the requirement for salvation. For example, if a person believes in Christ, he will go to church, give to the poor, etc. Going to church and giving to the poor are conditions associated with salvation and proof of it, but they are not requirements for salvation. The same is true with baptism.
The fact that baptism is not required for salvation is evident a little farther in
the book of Acts. In chapter 10, Peter tells Cornelius that “everyone who believes in him [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (verse 43). To this point, Peter had said nothing about being baptized, yet he connects faith in Christ with receiving forgiveness for sins. Then, the “Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message” (Acts 10:44). It is only after they believed and after they received forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit that Cornelius and his household were baptized (Acts 10:47-48). The passage is clear: Cornelius and his household were saved before they were baptized. In fact, the reason Peter allowed them to be baptized was that they showed evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit “just as Peter and the Jewish believers” had.
In conclusion, Acts 2:38 does not teach that baptism is required for salvation. Baptism is important as a sign that one has been justified by faith. It is the public declaration of one’s faith in Christ and membership in a local body of believers, but it is not the means of forgiving sin. The Bible is clear that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 3:21-30; 4:5; 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:9;
Question: Does 1 Peter 3:21 teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?
Answer: As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches by first filtering it through what we know the rest of the Bible teaches on the subject. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, any interpretation that comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation is a faulty one.
Those who believe that baptism is required for salvation are quick to use 1 Peter 3:21 as a “proof text” because it states, “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you.” Was Peter really saying that the act of being baptized is what saves us? If he were, he would be contradicting many other passages of Scripture that clearly show people being saved (as evidenced by their receiving the Holy Spirit) prior to being baptized or without being baptized at all (like the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43). A good example of someone who was saved before being baptized is Cornelius and his household in Acts 10. We know that they were saved before being baptized because they had received the Holy Spirit as evidence of salvation (see Romans 8:9; 1 John 3:24). The evidence of their salvation was the reason Peter allowed them to be baptized. Countless
passages of Scripture clearly teach that salvation comes when one believes in the
gospel, at which time he or she is sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).
Thankfully, though, we don’t have to guess at what Peter means in this verse. He clarifies it for us: “Not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” While Peter mentions baptism in the context of salvation, he is careful to tell us that he does not simply mean the act of water baptism (“not the removal of dirt from the body”). Being immersed in water does nothing but wash away external dirt. What Peter is referring to is the spiritual reworking of the heart, which is what saves us (an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ). In other words, Peter is simply connecting baptism with belief. It is not the getting wet part that saves; rather, it is “the pledge of a clear conscience toward God,” which is signified by baptism, that saves us. Water baptism is not enough; one must have that “clear conscience” before God—in other words, he must be forgiven. Belief and repentance come first; then baptism follows as a means of public identification with Christ.
Dr. Kenneth Wuest, author of Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, gives an excellent explanation of this passage.
“Water baptism is clearly in the apostle’s mind, not the baptism by the Holy Spirit, for he speaks of the waters of the flood as saving the inmates of the ark, and in this verse, of baptism saving believers. But he says that it saves them only as a counterpart. That is, water baptism is the counterpart of the reality, salvation. It can only save as a counterpart, not actually. The Old Testament sacrifices were counterparts of the reality, the Lord Jesus. They did not actually save the believer, only in type. It is not argued here that these sacrifices are analogous to Christian water baptism. The author is merely using them as an illustration of the use of the word ‘counterpart.’
“So water baptism only saves the believer in type. The Old Testament Jew was saved before he brought the offering. That offering was only his outward testimony that he was placing faith in the Lamb of God of whom these sacrifices were a type … Water baptism is the outward testimony of the believer’s inward faith. The person is saved the moment he places his faith in the Lord Jesus. Water baptism is the visible testimony to his faith and the salvation he was given in answer to that faith. Peter is careful to inform his readers that he is not teaching baptismal regeneration, namely, that a person who submits to baptism is thereby regenerated, for he says, ‘not the putting away of the filth of the
flesh.’ Baptism, Peter explains, does not wash away the filth of the flesh, either [sic] in a literal sense as a bath for the body, nor in a metaphorical sense as a cleansing for the soul. No ceremonies really affect the conscience. But he defines what he means by salvation, in the words ‘the answer of a good conscience toward God,’ and he explains how this is accomplished, namely, ‘by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,’
in that the believing sinner is identified with Him in that resurrection.”-
Part of the confusion with this passage comes from the fact that, in many ways, the purpose of baptism as a public declaration of one’s faith in Christ and identification with Him has been replaced by “making a decision for Christ” or “praying the sinner’s prayer.” Baptism has been relegated to something that is done later. Yet to Peter or any of the first-century Christians, the idea that a person would confess Christ as his Savior and not be baptized as soon as possible would have been unheard of. Therefore, it is not surprising that Peter would see baptism as closely connected with salvation. Yet Peter makes it clear in this verse that it is not the ritual itself that saves, but the fact that we are united with Christ in His resurrection through faith, “an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21 NASB).
Therefore, the baptism that Peter says saves us is the one that is preceded by faith in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ (Romans 3:25-26; 4:5). Baptism is the outward sign of what God has done “through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
Links to Other Q and A on Salvation
Top Questions About the Plan of Salvation with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Jesus and Salvation with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Who Can Be Saved with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Assurance of Salvation with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Salvation and Works with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Salvation Terminology with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Life After Salvation with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Election and Predestination with Biblical Answers
Top Questions About Salvation and the Old Testament with Biblical Answers
Top Miscellaneous Questions About Salvation with Biblical Answers