Baptism is a New Testament ordinance instituted
by the Lord Jesus Christ just before His ascension to heaven. The
Lord Jesus commissioned His disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all
people, and to baptize new believers in the name of the Father, the
Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16). The rite is
performed by immersing the disciple in water.
Who should receive this rite? Christ commanded
that “disciples” and those who “believe” should be baptised
(Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15,16). All recorded baptisms in the New
Testament follow personal conversion to Christ, as indicated by such
words as believe, repent and calling on His name. (See Acts 2:38;
Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12,13; Acts 8:36, 37; Acts 10:47,48; Acts
16:14,15; Acts 16:32-34; Acts 18:8; Acts 19:4,5; Acts 22:16).
Baptism is God’s sign to the new disciple of
the fellowship with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection
(Romans 6:3, 4, 5; Colossians 2:12) and of remission of sins (Acts
2:38; 22:16). Baptism is a sign (symbol, picture) because it shows
spiritual realities by means of physical elements and actions
(immersion in water). That baptism is a sign is acknowledged by all,
including Roman Catholics:
The sacraments are efficacious signs of
grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which
divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the
sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the
graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who
receive them with the required dispositions…This sacrament is
called Baptism, after the central rite by which it is carried out:
to baptize (Greek baptizein) means to “plunge” or “IMMERSE”;
the “plunge” into the water symbolizes the catechumen's
burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection
with him, as “a new creature” (Catechism of the Catholic
Church, 1131, 1214).
So, baptism is a sign of regeneration and
cleansing of the believer. However, for the Catholic Church, baptism
is something more than a sign. It is an “efficacious”
sign; it “makes present” the grace that it “signifies.”
Baptism is both a “sign” and the “instrumental cause” of
justification (Council of Trent, session 6, chapter 7). This
doctrine, known as baptismal regeneration, confuses the sign with
the reality it signifies.
Not the Cause of Salvation
1. Baptism is not the cause of salvation because
people are saved without, or before, water baptism.
All the Old Testament saints (Noah, Abraham,
Moses, David, etc.) were saved by faith in the Lord. None of them
were baptised. Jesus assured the woman that she was saved by faith:
“Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Luke 7:50). Similarly
He assured the repentant thief, “Assuredly, I say to you, today
you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The introduction
of the baptism in the New Testament church certainly doesn’t
destroy the saving efficacy of faith. After preaching the
gospel, the apostle Peter baptised Cornelius and his household
because he was sure that they were saved by faith in Christ. (Acts
10; 11; 15). The apostle Paul’s mission was “not to baptize, but
to preach the gospel” and he was confident that “it pleased God
through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who
believe” (1 Corinthians 1:17,21). Paul and his associates only
baptised those who had been saved through faith.
On the other hand, there are many baptised people
who evidently are not born again. Water baptism did not
change the heart of Simon the magician, for soon afterwards the
apostle Peter did not hesitate to warn him that his heart was not
right with God and that he was still bound by sin (Acts 8:21,23).
There are thousands like him who have been baptised with water and
yet show no evidence of being born from above (1 John 2:29; 3:9;
4:7). They still love the sin they practice; they have no fear of
God nor respect His commandments; nor do they love the brethren. Yet
they still call themselves Christians, call God their Father and
think that they are members of Christ’s church. Despite their
baptism, they have no share in Christ and they are still enslaved by
2. There is overwhelming scriptural proof that
justification and salvation are received by faith. The Bible assures
believers that they are born again and possess eternal life.
The Bible teaches that whoever believes in Christ
has eternal life: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My
word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life,
and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into
life” (John 5:24); “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes
in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47); “Whoever believes
that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1).
Salvation is through faith in Christ. “For by
grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of
yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8); “And that
from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to
make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ
Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15); “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of
Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes,
for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Justification is also by faith in Christ: “Therefore,
having been justified by faith, we have peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1); “We have believed
in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in
Christ” (Galatians 2:16); “And be found in Him, not having my
own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith
in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith”
These and scores of similar passages clearly
teach that salvation is received by faith. Faith is the “instrumental
cause” of justification – the spiritual hands that receive the
gratuitous gift of the righteousness of God. If baptism is taken as
the instrumental cause instead of faith, all these scriptures are
contradicted and negated. Faith is incapacitated!
3. Like circumcision, baptism does not justify
It is generally agreed that Christian baptism
corresponds to the Old Testament rite of circumcision. It is
therefore helpful to study what the New Testament has to say about
this sign, and its relation to faith and salvation (Romans 4).
The apostle Paul establishes the principle of
justification by faith and apart from the merit of personal works
(4:1-8). Then he asks whether both Jews (the circumcised) and
Gentiles are justified in the same manner, namely by faith. He takes
Abraham as an example: the patriarch was circumcised many years after
he had been justified by faith. What then is the use of circumcision
if it does not achieve justification? Paul answers, Abraham “received
the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith
which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father
of all those who believe” (4:11).
The physical sign did not cause justification.
Circumcision is a sign and a seal. It is God’s symbol and mark to
Abraham of his justification, which had been received by faith. The
apostle Paul applies this principle to the rest of us: like Abraham
we are all justified by faith. If God’s method of justification
had been changed in the New Testament (by baptism, instead of by
faith), Paul’s argument is rendered meaningless. Evidently, God
justifies the ungodly today as he ever did before! By faith! We have
a different sign today, baptism, which like circumcision is a sign
and seal of the righteousness of faith. Thus, the biblical sequence
1. Faith >> 2. Justification >> 3.
We would do well not to mix up the sequence. It
is a great error to attribute to baptism what the Bible attributes
to faith. A person is justified by faith and he is afterwards
baptised. Catholicism actually reverses the order for infants:
1. Baptism >> 2. Justification >> 3.
Faith (later on, hopefully)
Infants are said to be justified by baptism even
though they cannot exercise personal faith. Catholicism also mixes
things up in adult converts. Faith is a necessary disposition for
adults to worthily receive baptism (Baltimore Catechism, Q668). Yet
the catechumen is told that he is not yet justified even though he
already believes in Christ. He must wait until baptism to receive
1. Faith >> 2. Baptism >> 3.
Catholics repeat the same mistake of the Jews by
confusing the sign with the reality it signified. The Jews boasted
about their circumcision, without realizing that the “true
circumcision” is a matter of the heart and performed by the Spirit
(Deuteronomy 10:16, Romans 2:29) Similarly, the Bible makes a clear
distinction between baptism from the reality it represents. We
receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Galatians
3:14); salvation is through sanctification by the Spirit and belief
in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Water baptism follows faith
to signify the Spirit’s saving work in the heart.
Not a Mere Sign
Sometimes Catholics argue, “If baptism is a
mere sign, and if it does not regenerate or justify, why should we
bother with baptism at all? It is completely useless.” This is a
false dilemma. The alternative to “baptismal regeneration” is
not an empty and useless sign. Circumcision was not useless to
Abraham, nor is baptism useless to Christians. Through baptism, God
bestows great spiritual blessings to the believer.
Like the written Word (which in its ultimate
analysis is also a sign), baptism is a God-given means of revealing
Himself to His people. We are blessed when we receive God’s truth
by faith and obedience. Neither the Word nor the sacraments confer
any spiritual blessing in a magical or automatic manner. The Bible
would be of no benefit to me if I simply hear or read it without
believing and obeying God’s commands and promises. “For indeed
the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which
they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those
who heard it” (Hebrews 4:2). Thus, James also warns us, “But be doers
of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves”
Baptism is God’s Word in a living and dramatic
form. When a Christian understands the meaning of baptism,
believing the great transformation that has occurred in his life,
and obeys its message, baptism becomes the means of grace and life.
Thus the apostle Paul first reminds us what baptism really means:
"Don't you know that all of us who were
baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were
therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order
that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of
the Father, we too may live a new life" (Romans 6:3,4).
Baptism means that believers are united with
Christ. His death is their death; His resurrection life is their
life. Then the apostle Paul applies this great Gospel truth in a
"In the same way count yourselves dead to
sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin
reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do
not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of
wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have
been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body
to him as instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:11-13).
How is God’s grace received in baptism? How
does it change the believer’s life? Does it transform a person by
virtue of the application of water? No, it is only through faithful
obedience - counting ourselves dead to sin and alive in Christ,
rejecting sin, pursuing righteousness in the service of God. Only
then does baptism transform sinners to saints. A useless sign? Far
The Catholic Church teaches that baptism is
necessary for salvation (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1277).
Baptism causes regeneration. (In theological jargon, baptism
is said to be the instrumental cause of regeneration).
Baptism is not only a sign; it actually brings about the new
birth. “Through baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons
of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1213). Moreover, as
with other sacraments, baptism acts “ex opere operato” -
literally, by the very fact of the action being performed. The right
application of the outward sign is always followed by the gift of
internal grace if the sacrament is received with the right
In the case of infants, baptism removes original
sin and brings about regeneration even though the infant does not personally
believe in Christ. “It may not be doubted that in Baptism infants
receive the mysterious gift of faith. Not that they believe with the
assent of the mind, but they are established in the faith of their
parents” (Catechism of Trent). In the case of adults, faith is
necessary, but it is not sufficient for forgiveness or eternal life.
Faith is considered as one of the factors constituting the “right
disposition” for baptism. “Besides a wish to be baptised, in
order to obtain the grace of the Sacrament, faith is also necessary”
(Catechism of Trent). Yet the believer does not receive grace
(forgiveness or regeneration) until and unless he is baptised with
To prove that “baptismal regeneration” is a
true biblical doctrine, it is not enough to quote some scriptures
that somehow link baptism to forgiveness or the new birth. Baptism
must be shown to be the instrumental cause of regeneration.
Faith, repentance, baptism, confessing Christ, holiness and good
works are all aspects of the human response to God's grace; all
are somehow related to salvation. That does not mean that faith,
repentance, confession, works, baptism, etc, are all correlated to
salvation in the
same manner. The distinction between the different
roles is clearly seen in Ephesians 2:8-10 - "For by grace you
have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the
gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God
prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
Salvation is "through faith" and "not of
works." The apostle Paul is adamant that good works are not the
means of salvation. Yet, in the same breath, the apostle is equally
insistent that works are the fruit of salvation - "for good
works". So then, whoever "believes" and tries to do
good works to merit salvation does not understand the Gospel. Nor
does the man who "believes" and continues to live in sin,
devoid of good works. Only he who believes in Christ, and forfeits
any reliance on the merits of personal works, and whose life is
overflowing with good works, can be confident that he is truly saved
While it is true that both faith and works are related to
salvation, yet it is fatal to attribute to works the role which the
Word of God attributes to faith. Faith is the instrumental cause;
works are the necessary fruit.
We should therefore ask about the relation of faith and baptism
to salvation. Is faith insufficient to save, or does it require the
addition of baptism? Or is faith sufficient and baptism the sign of
salvation? Think of Paul's argument in Romans 3 and 4. He uses
Abraham as an example of justification by faith. At least for
Abraham, faith was sufficient to justify him (Abraham was never
baptised, and he was justified by faith before he received the sign
of circumcision). Moreover, since Paul uses Abraham as a model for
all of us (in New Testament times), it is impossible to deny the
saving efficacy of faith apart from works of the law and rituals.
Not, of course, that we disown the Law of God; for every believer
seeks to fulfill its precepts (as Paul argues later on in his
letter); nor that circumcision was meaningless, or that baptism is
optional (for he later reminds the believers about their baptism and
the implications to the Christian life).
Therefore it is not enough to show from Scripture that “faith and
baptism” or “repentance and baptism” saves. Evangelical
Christians also believe that “faith and baptism” saves, without
accepting the idea of baptismal regeneration. Evangelicals say that
a person is saved by faith (instrumental cause) and baptism (as the
sign of salvation). Whereas Catholics say that faith is a
predisposition (which is not sufficient to save by itself);
cleansing is actually brought about by baptism (instrumental cause).
So to prove baptismal regeneration, it must be
(as in the case of infant baptism).
Baptism without personal faith saves
Without baptism, faith does not save
(as in the case of catechumens who are not yet saved because
they are not yet baptised, even though they have repented and
believed in Christ).
Let us look at the most important “proof texts”
to see whether they actually prove baptismal regeneration or not.
“Proof Texts” Examined
John 3:5 - Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I
say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot
enter the kingdom of God.”
For the sake of argument, let us ignore the
strong contextual evidence that “water” is not primarily a
reference to baptism; let us assume that in fact it does. In that
case “water” and “Spirit” must refer to different aspects of
the work of regeneration. In Catholicism, the Spirit is the agent;
water baptism is the instrument. In biblical Christianity,
the Spirit is the agent; baptism is the sign of
salvation. Why can’t we understand water as the reality signified
by the external rite (namely spiritual cleansing and new life)
brought about by the Spirit? There is no compelling reason why “water”
must be understood as the instrumental cause.
Christ teaches that the new birth is the
sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit. "The wind blows where it
wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes
from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the
Spirit" (John 3:8); "But as many as received Him, to them
He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in
His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12, 13). Man cannot
determine when and who will be born again; God regenerates whenever
and whoever He wishes. The new birth is not "according to the
will of man." Now if water baptism automatically causes
regeneration, we must say that the wind blows where man wishes, who
can tell exactly where it goes because the administration of baptism
is very much a matter of the human will.
Mark 16:16 - He who believes and is baptised will
be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
Catholics and Evangelicals agree that faith and
baptism save – the disagreement is on their separate roles.
Catholicism takes personal faith as a mere “predisposition” and
insufficient to bring salvation or indeed as unnecessary in the case
of infants. On the other hand, Christians say that salvation is
through faith which is followed and signified by baptism. Jesus
emphasizes the primacy and necessity of faith by warning that “he
who does not believe will be condemned.” We know, at least, that
one can be baptised and still be lost if he does not believe.
Matthew 16:16 says nothing about the unusual case of someone who
believes and is not yet baptised. Therefore, this verse cannot be used to
prove something ("faith is insufficient") that it is not talking about.
Acts 2:38 - Then Peter said to them, “Repent,
and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for
the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy
In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the
apostle Peter powerfully persuaded the Jews that the man they had
crucified as a blasphemer is the Lord and Messiah. They were pierced
to the heart and asked what they should do. Peter replied that they
must repent, i.e. change their mind about Jesus - they who
previously disbelieved Jesus must now believe in Him. Baptism in the
name of Jesus Christ served as a courageous public testimony of
their repentance and faith in Him, knowing full well that it meant
persecution from the Jewish leaders and the rest of the Jews.
There is nothing in the text that compels us to
see baptism as the instrumental cause. Why not take repentance as
the means of receiving forgiveness, and baptism as the sign of true
repentance and forgiveness? Indeed, a short time later the apostle
Peter promised forgiveness on the basis of repentance without even
mentioning baptism (Acts 3:19 - Repent, therefore, and be converted,
that your sins may be blotted out). Faith in the Messiah (implied in
genuine repentance), rather than baptism, receives God's gracious
Acts 22:16 - And now why are you waiting? Arise
and be baptised, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the
The outward act, “arise and be baptised,” is
linked to the heart appeal to Christ, “calling on the name of the
Lord.” The result is spiritual cleansing - “wash away your sins.”
We see immediately that this verse says nothing about forgiveness
apart from personal faith. Nor does it necessarily prove that “calling
upon the Lord” is insufficient for cleansing. For baptism can be
considered as an external sign (washing the body) of the inner
reality (washing the heart from sin) brought about by faith (calling
on the Lord). Grammatically, “wash away your sins” is linked to
“calling on the name of the Lord” and not to “be baptised.”
Elsewhere Scripture is clear that the instrument of salvation is
calling upon the name of the Lord, i.e. by faith. God “is rich to all
who call upon Him. For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall
be saved. How then shall they call on Him whom they have not
believed?” (Romans 10:12-14). In other words, their faith
(manifest in their call for mercy) results in salvation. Baptism
does not repeat what is already achieved through faith (salvation,
cleansing); baptism signifies this great truth.
Romans 6:3, 4 - Or do you not know that as many
of us as were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His
death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death,
that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the
Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
This passage, especially the phrase “buried
with Him through baptism,” seems to support the idea that baptism
is the instrumental cause of justification. However, even here
baptism could be understood as the sign of justification. It is not
unusual in Scripture to call the reality by the name of its sign.
Thus, for example, Paul says that all Christians are circumcised
(even though one may not be physically circumcised!) - meaning that
they possess what circumcision signifies (Philippians 3:3). Using
this kind of language, Paul can speak of the great reality of the
believers’ spiritual union with Christ, and the benefits which
flow from that union, in terms of baptism, its sign.
We are forced to give this interpretation by the
context. Before mentioning baptism in chapter 6, Paul had repeatedly
emphasised that faith alone is the instrumental cause of
justification (Romans 1:16, 17; 3:22, 25, 26, 28, 30; 4:5, 13; 5:1,
2). Righteousness is “imputed to us who believe in Him who
raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because
of our offenses, and was raised up because of our justification”
(Romans 4:24,25). Since they received the benefits of Christ’s
death and resurrection (justification), and that through faith,
believers must be spiritually united to Him
(delivered and raised up with Him). If baptism is taken as the
instrumental cause, then Paul contradicts what he had established
before, namely that justification is by faith.
Elsewhere, the apostle Paul clearly teaches that
what is signified in baptism (buried and raised with Christ)
actually occurs “through faith.” Christians are “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). Justification on account of union in Christ's death, burial and
resurrection is brought about “through
faith” - and is properly symbolised by dipping the new believer in and
out of the water.
1 Peter 3:21 - “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.”
Peter was speaking about Noah and his family who
were saved through the floodwater. He makes a comparison between
that water and baptism. One corresponds to the other (that’s what
antitype means). The flood symbolised baptism. Further, Peter says
that baptism now saves us. Conscious that his statement is liable to
be misunderstood, Peter explains himself. Negatively, baptism does
not save because water is applied to the body: “not the removal of
the filth of the flesh.” Water can only cleanse the flesh
outwardly; it does not cleanse the heart from sin. Positively,
baptism saves because it follows a personal response to God as
indicated by the phrase “the answer of a good conscience toward
God.” The Bible usually uses such terms as “believe,” “repent,”
and “call upon” to describe this personal response to God. It is
that aspect of baptism (what is signified, “the answer of a good
conscience toward God”) rather than the external rite (the sign,
the application of water) that saves. In this sense, we affirm that
Consider the following conversation:
Q. Are you married?
A. Yes, I am married; see, I’m wearing this ring.
Q. What does the ring signify?
A. It means that I gave my consent to my wife and, therefore, I am
united to her.
Strictly speaking, the husband is united to his
wife because of the marriage vows rather than the ring. Yet since
the latter is the sign of their union, it is natural to speak of the
ring to mean the reality it represents. He is married because he
wears a marriage ring. Compare this to a similar conversation about
Q. Are you saved?
A. Yes I am saved, because I am baptised.
Q. What does baptism signify?
A. It signifies that I believe in Christ and, therefore, I am
united to Him.
So, when we say that baptism saves us, we do not
mean that the sacrament saves us apart from faith in Christ; we mean
that baptism signifies our salvation by faith in Christ. Contrast
this to the position of the Roman Catholic Church. Infants are said
to be saved by baptism even though by reason of his age a baby
cannot make such a personal appeal to God, as the Bible requires. 1
Peter 3:21 actually denies baptismal regeneration ex opere
We have seen that there are a few scriptures that
relate baptism to salvation. All these scriptures also associate
baptism with faith and repentance. Therefore, baptism can be
understood as the sign of salvation received by faith in Christ.
None of these verses prove that baptism, rather than faith, brings
about justification, nor that infant baptism is efficacious since
personal faith is absent in infants. Therefore, baptismal
regeneration is not a proven biblical doctrine.
The Biblical Pattern
Baptismal regeneration does not only lack
biblical proof; it is refuted by the Scriptures. The narrative of
Cornelius’ conversion illustrates that salvation is not preceded
or caused by baptism; on the contrary, having been received by faith, salvation is
followed by baptism. Cornelius’ story is emphasised in the book of
Acts because he and his relatives were the first Gentile converts
admitted into the church. (Acts 10; 11:1-18 and 15:7-11).
An angel told Cornelius to send for Simon Peter,
“who will tell you words by which you and all your household will
be saved” (Acts 11:14). When Peter and his Jewish companions
entered the house, they found Cornelius’ family and friends gathered
together, eager to hear what the apostle had to say. Peter preached
the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, promising that “through His
name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins”
(Acts 10:43). As he spoke, the Holy Spirit came upon the group.
Peter and the Jewish Christians were amazed because they realised
that God had saved and welcomed the Gentiles into the church.
At this point we must stop and ask an important
question. Did they receive the Spirit by baptism? Clearly, they
received the Holy Spirit before they were baptised with water.
Furthermore, we must ask about the significance of the
Spirit's baptism. Could it be that the Spirit was given to show that
they had believed the Gospel and that their hearts were cleansed
from sin through faith? The answer is a definite yes! After visiting
Cornelius, the apostle Peter had to defend himself before the Jewish
Christian community in Jerusalem to explain why he had entered a
Gentile’s house and received Gentiles into the church:
And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell
upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word
of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptised with water, but
you shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God
gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord
Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God? (Acts
According to Peter, the Holy Spirit proved that
Cornelius and the other Gentiles had believed on the Lord Jesus
Christ, just as the apostles and the early disciples had done
before. On another occasion, Peter explained further:
Men and brethren, you know that a good while
ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear
the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart,
acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did
to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying
their hearts by faith (Acts 15:7-9).
We should not miss this important conclusion:
While hearing the Gospel, Cornelius and the Gentiles believed in
Christ, and God purified their hearts by faith. This agrees
perfectly with the promise that “whoever believes in Him will
receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
What should Peter have done in that situation? He
reasoned: “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptised who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts
10:47). So Peter commanded the new converts to be baptised in the
name of the Lord.
Please note that they were baptised after
hearing the Gospel. They were baptised after believing in
Christ. They were baptised after receiving the Spirit. They
were baptised after their hearts were purified by faith.
This clear example cannot be dismissed as an
exceptional case. The apostle Peter declared before the Jerusalem
council: “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus
Christ we (Jews) shall be saved in the same manner as they
(Cornelius and the other Gentiles)” (Acts 15:11). Salvation by
faith in Christ, followed by baptism, is the divine pattern for all
people, whether Jews or Gentiles.
Baptism is not the means by which we receive
salvation. We are forgiven and purified by faith in Christ, followed
by baptism to signify that amazing reality. Every professing Christian
should be careful not to be deceived in thinking that he is right
with God simply because he or she had been baptised - one could be
baptised and still be lost. On the other hand, for every true
believer, baptism is God’s sign of his saving union with Christ.