CSC: WELS Topical Q&A: Sacrament of Holy Baptism: Salvation: Baptism and Salvation
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Q:I have done some studying on baptism. I'm not concerned with the method of it as much as its significance. I can't find where it teaches that salvation comes through baptism. I see Acts 2:38 which says, "Peter said to them, Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." But in Acts 10:47 it says, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" They had recieved the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. If baptism is necessary, then why did this happen?

Mark 16:16 is sometimes used which says, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned." This says that not believing condems someone, not unbelief AND lack of baptism.

And of course, there is the thief on the cross.
Did Luther have any explanation on these? I can't find that we need baptism for salvation.

A:Thanks for writing. It is good to hear that you have been devoting yourself to Bible study. You, as you say, have done "some studying" on baptism. I encourage you to continue your study, for it is not complete. Other Bible passages would clarify some of the issues you wrestle with.

You say you cannot see where the Bible says salvation comes through baptism. 1 Peter 3:21 explicitly ascribes salvation through baptism. Titus 3:4-6 explicitly ascribe salvation and rebirth through the Spirit's work in baptism. All references to the forgiveness of sins that flow through baptism (e.g., Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16) identify baptism as an instrument through which God channels blessings associated with salvation.

If I read your words correctly, you are pondering two points. One is that there are examples of people being baptized who already believed or who were already what we might call "saved." But I fail to see how this shows baptism doesn't also "save" or impart blessings of salvation. The truth is that the Holy Spirit uses his Word also as an instrument of salvation. Being brought to faith or saved through baptism doesn't mean God stops working through the Bible, and being brought to faith or saved first through the Bible doesn't mean God stops working through baptism. Let both of them be what God says they are--instruments through which he gives faith, forgiveness, and salvation. If there is already faith when baptism is administered, we trust that baptism will strengthen saving faith and increase a person's g.html on the gift of salvation.

Secondly, you seem to be confused about whether baptism is an "absolute necessity" in the life of a Christian. We have never taught this and the Bible does not endorse this idea. The penitent thief on the cross is often used as an illustration to show that some people in history were saved without having been baptized. That's fine. We don't teach that baptism is an absolute necessity--since people can be saved without it, through the gospel aside from the sacrament.

What we do know from Scripture and teach is this: Not the lack of baptism but the despising or rejection of baptism condemns a person, since that is an act of unbelief and a direct disobedience to the Savior's revealed will.

Feel free to speak with one of our pastors for more information and perhaps some good resource materials to supplement your Bible study.

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