I study my Bible quite frequently and recently decided to look at the subject of belief as it relates to the Christian life. For the longest time belief has been one of those things you’re supposed to do in order to be a Christian. It’s always included as a step in the “steps of salvation” charts and is often featured on the “What We Believe” section of the church website, but I’m not so convinced that it needs to be a prerequisite to salvation anymore.
I know what you’re probably thinking
But What About…
“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Cor. 1:21)
Just stop right there.
You can keep pulling those verses out of their context all day long, but you won’t convince me. I’ve heard every argument there is about belief being necessary for salvation. I’m not sold. That’s not to say I don’t think belief is important. It’s good to believe, and I think that God even wants us to believe, but belief being necessary for salvation? You’ve got to be kidding me! Do you have any idea how many people don’t believe in God? Are you telling me that they’re going to spend an eternity in Hell because they don’t believe? That just can’t be what these verses are saying. They must mean something else.
How Ridiculous Would That Be?
Can you imagine talking to someone, like the person I portrayed above, and doing anything other than pull out your hair during the conversation? How ridiculous would it be to hand someone verse after verse about belief being necessary for salvation only to hear them say “it doesn’t really mean that.” It’s about as ridiculous as this:
But what about…
“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins...” (Acts 2:38)
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16)
“Just stop right there.”
Sound familiar? Some of you reading this have been the person handing out verse after verse about baptism only to be told “that’s not what that’s saying.” Others of you reading this have been on the receiving end of those verses only to respond with “that’s taken out of context” or “baptism is important, but not essential” or “You’ve got to be kidding me! Do you know how many people in the world aren’t baptized? Are you saying they’ll all spend an eternity in Hell? That can’t be what these verses are saying. They must mean something else.”
Why is one ridiculous and not the other? Why is it clearly wrong for me to say “you don’t need to believe to be saved” in light of verses that say the contrary, but clearly right for me to say “you don’t need to be baptized to be saved” in light of verses that say the contrary? In one of these verses (Mark 16:16) belief and baptism are even paired together and yet it wouldn’t be ridiculous for me to say, in the religious world today, “That’s not saying that baptism is necessary for salvation”!
Baptism is just as important to God as belief is. The apostles wrote about both, Jesus preached about both and both are discussed as something essential for salvation. There are a few ways you can react to this article: first, you can forget that you ever read it and go on with your day. Second, you can continue to rehash the same “that’s out of context” platitudes you’ve always said in respond to these verses on baptism, or third, you can take a hard look at why Jesus and the apostles put as much emphasis on baptism as they did belief.
If you choose to do this last one be careful, you might find that “you don’t need to be baptized to be saved” statement you’ve said your whole life is ridiculous.