What do you believe? A valid question, and one that SHOULD be approached seriously by anyone who seeks the truth. Also, WHO do you believe? Another important question that should make us stop and consider the source of what we believe.

Recently I was approached on FB by someone who knew my grandparents way back in the 20th Century. This person inquired as to my beliefs and I shared with them some of the scriptures relating to the importance of baptism in the salvation of a believer. Now, I realize that this can be a “controversial subject” and folks have even argued it “to the knife”. But I’d rather allow the Bible to guide me rather than the arguments of folks who claim that their interpretation of the Bible is more valid than the Bible’s interpretation of itself.

As we approach the matter we are faced with two important indicators of what the Bible teaches on the subject. What Jesus and His apostles taught on the matter and what the apostles actually DID. So begins a series of posts on the subject as we consider these two approaches to the subject: “Is baptism vital to the salvation process?”

So, what did Jesus Himself say on the matter?

When Nicodemus went to visit Jesus, he was told “Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 – CSB) and “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) I’ve read and heard all kinds of “reasons” why this OBVIOUSLY couldn’t mean that Jesus was talking about baptism – yet a careful look at other scriptures gives us a very convincing argument in favor of this being exactly what Jesus is referring to.

In Matthew 28:19 in the “Great Commission”, Jesus told His disciples “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (DO read context of all scriptures used, and note that there is a LOT more to be learned from these passages if one is a seeker after truth.) Again, in the Mark 16 account of the ascension and Great Commission, we read Jesus’s words as He said: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” It fascinates me no end to see the mental gymnastics that people go to in order to “prove” that Jesus didn’t REALLY mean what Jesus Himself said – because it does not match up with their theology that is typically based on theologians who came along well over a millennium after Jesus established His church on earth.

So, one must be born again, of the water and the Spirit. One must become a disciple, being baptized. If one believes and is baptized one is saved, but unbelief leads to condemnation. (and why be baptized if you don’t believe? and why NOT obey and be baptized if you DO believe?) These are the clear and simple reading of Jesus’ words.

So, what about the “thief on the cross”? This is tossed out as an “Aha!!!” type argument. “Gotcha! See? No baptism and yet he was saved!”. Well, what about Able? What about Abraham? What about Moses, Joshua, Caleb, David, etc, etc, etc? None of them were baptized either – or were they? Moses, Joshua and Caleb WERE all baptized, and so was Noah. (see I Corinthians 10:1-5 and I Peter 3:20-21) But let’s get back to the thief on the cross. When reading the Bible we need to ask, “Who’s talking?’ “To whom? ” “What is the context (immediate, in the same book, same testament, historical, etc)?” In this case we see Jesus talking to a ‘son of Israel’ (under the mosaic pact), BEFORE Jesus died, BEFORE Jesus resurrected, BEFORE He returned to the Father, BEFORE His church was established on the day of Pentecost. Why is all this important? Because essentially that man was one of the last to be saved through faith in the COMING sacrifice of the Lamb and His victory over death. He was by no means the first of the new pact as it had not been ratified by the death and resurrection of The Lamb.

Jesus’ message from the beginning of His ministry was simple, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17). Repentance is central to the Gospel message. And the thief on the cross repented, as we can plainly see by reading the different accounts of the crucifixion. He went from mocking Jesus (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32) to asking Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom. (Luke 23:39-43). So we see a man who was raised under The Law come to repentance and faith in Jesus, even as the Mosaic Law was about to be consummated by the death of The Lamb of God.

To be continued…

The Bible Vs Popular Christianity – Part 2