13. “Baptism does not save you.” The kind lady who was out walking told me this, and when I told her that the Bible actually says the exact opposite…well, I don’t think she believed me.
Here is the KJV translation of 1 Peter 3:18–21:
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Other translations put it, “baptism…now saves us.”
Now, I fill be the first to tell you that taking a bath in mere water does not save anyone. But the Catholic Church has NEVER taught that baptism is a mere washing with water. Also, the Catholic Church has NEVER taught that baptism is a work that we humans do to “work” our way to heaven.
Rather, baptism is a work that God does on our soul, but he does this work using physical matter for our sake as humans (who are both body and soul). Obviously, Jesus could have healed the blind man by saying, “be healed.” But Jesus saw fit to rub spit and mud on the man’s eyes and have him wash it off. Likewise, Jesus heals us of sin in baptism using matter, though it is obviously not the matter itself that does the healing. Baptism is Jesus’s work on our souls through water AND Spirit.
Okay, now consider Baptism for a moment in Scripture. When Jesus says we must be “born anothen” in John 3:3, he immediately expands on what he means by using a parallel expression that we must be “born of water and spirit.” Put the two expressions together, and you get Jesus saying: “you must be born again of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Two points: 1) most Baptists imagine a born again experience to have nothing to do with water, and 2) Jesus joins water and spirit, and in doing so he is joining two things that we find inseparable throughout Scripture.
For instance, consider:
➢ Genesis 1:1—the spirit hovered over the waters out from which came the first creation. We are new creations in Christ, and we arise as new creations from the waters and spirit of baptism.
➢ Genesis 7-9—We see waters cleansing the earth of sin, and the spirit (in the form of the dove) bringing the olive branch of peace and salvation to Noah. In 1 Peter 3:21, Peter specifically cites this as a type of baptism, where Christians in the New Covenant are saved through water and spirit, not by the water’s washing, but by the appeal of a clean conscience brought forth by the spirit…and all this occurs, says Peter, IN BAPTISM! (Keep in mind as well that the Ark is itself a type of the New Covenant Church, which as a whole is saved through the waters and spirit of baptism.)
➢ Exodus 14: Moses crossing the Red Sea. Remember, Moses and Israel were saved from bondage (sin) through water that was parted by a strong wind (the Spirit) to enter the promised land (a type of heaven). Once again, we see water and spirit bound together in Scripture.
➢ Let’s jump ahead now (skipping things like the Jewish rites of purification, which was what the stone jars at the Marriage Feast of Cana were for, by the way…) So, Jesus once again reaffirms the connection between water and spirit as a vehicle for communicating our salvation to us. You could think of all of the Old Testament as a divine pedagogy for recognizing and appreciating everything Jesus does in the New Testament. But does Jesus’s teaching that we must be “born again of water and spirit” really mean baptism? Let’s look at the context of John 3:
➢ John 1: What is going on here? Baptism! And when John the Baptist baptizes Jesus, what appears? The Spirit, in the form of a dove, and the voice of God is heard calling Jesus His son. Likewise, when we are baptized, the Spirit works on our souls and we are made into children of God.
➢ John 2: At the Wedding Feast of Cana, Jesus performs his first miracle using the water in the stone jars for the Jewish Rites of Purification. What were these rites a pre-figurement of? Baptism.
➢ John 3: “You must be born again of water and spirit.” This is the only way that Nicodemus, who approached Jesus at night (in a state of spiritual darkness), can move into salvation (spiritual light). According to Jesus, it must involve water and spirit. Jesus joins them together; let no man put them asunder!
➢ John 3: What do the apostles do right after Jesus teaches this to Nicodemus? They go out baptizing!
➢ John 4: By John 4, how has John framed Jesus’s promise of a “spring of living water welling up to eternal life”? Baptism.
➢ When Jesus dies on the cross, John notices the following: Jesus gives up his spirit, and then water and blood flow from his side. The early church saw in this moment a profound image: Just as the first Eve was born from the side of the first Adam, the new Eve (the Church) is born out of the side of the new Adam (Christ), and the Church is joined to the bridegroom precisely through the water (Baptism) and the blood (the Eucharist).
So, Baptism is never thought of in Scripture as just a bath in water. Rather, it is in Baptism that Jesus Christ saves us. Our salvation is something Jesus does on us, and the Bible says that Baptism is when he does it:
➢ 1 Peter 3:21: “baptism…now saves us.”
➢ Romans 6: “baptized into Jesus Christ”
➢ Romans 6: “baptized into His death”
➢ Romans 6: “buried with him by baptism”
➢ Colossians 2:12: “buried with him in baptism”
➢ Titus 3:5: “he saved us, by the washing of regeneration”
➢ Acts 2:38: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Now, even if you don’t agree with the interpretation above, can you at least see that Christians (Catholic and Protestant) who believe in baptismal regeneration have a Biblical basis for believing this? Add to this the fact that all the students of the apostles and their successors, for the first centuries of Christian history and for many centuries beyond, all believed in baptismal regeneration, and I think the case tilts strongly in the Catholic direction.
Finally, note that what Catholics are accused of (trying to be saved by a mere washing in water)…IS NOT ACTUALLY WHAT CATHOLICS BELIEVE! We believe we are saved by the “water and spirit” of baptism. Jesus joins the two together. Baptists separate them, and then pick on people for believing in water-only baptism, even though NO ONE ACTUALLY ATTEMPTS TO DO WATER-ONLY BAPTISM BUT BAPTISTS (and other Christians who deny baptismal regeneration).
For Catholics, baptism means what Jesus said it means: “water AND spirit.” What God has joined together...