A man drowning at sea is suddenly thrown a life ring that splashes into the water next to him. Taking hold of it, he is pulled into the boat by his rescuer and lives the rest of his life eternally grateful to the one who saved his life. Like this man, we are each dying in sin. Because of His work at the cross and the tomb, Jesus is the only one able to save us through the gospel that he casts out to us. We must take hold of the gospel to be saved, but no one rescued would argue that we worked for our salvation because we believed, repented, or confessed ‘Jesus as Lord.’ No, we would adamantly claim that Jesus saved us through His gospel.
But what about the boat?
Why do so many in the denominational world ignore the boat? Why is baptism not part of obeying that gospel as well? After all, it is Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection that make the gospel possible, and it is in baptism that we die with Christ, are buried with Him, and are resurrected with Him to walk in new life (Romans 6). Baptism is the platform from which the life ring can be thrown. It is the vessel from which Jesus stands to cast the gospel out to sinners. Why is being hauled into the boat by Jesus not considered essential by some to bring us from death to life?
I. Galatians 3:23-29. Often verse 26 is taken alone to prove by those against baptism that we are all sons of God through faith, and therefore, it by ‘faith alone’ that we are saved. But the context of the passage shows that this is a contrast between the old system or covenant based on law versus the new system or covenant of faith. What had been largely ritual in the Old Testament is superseded by the New Testament of relationship made possible Jesus’ work at the cross and tomb. The passage then explains the process to come into this relationship with Christ, “As many of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” We needed to get into the boat.
II. Titus 3:4-5. In reaction to the “Church” at the time being very works-based, the Reformation of the 1500s and 1600s swung the pendulum to the opposite extreme and declared salvation to be on “faith alone.” Baptism was seen as a work because it was something tangible, unlike belief, repentance, and confessing ‘Jesus as Lord,’ that we had to do. Romans 10:9-13 is a passage often cited by the ‘faith alone’ crowd as it excludes baptism but tells us we are saved by belief, confession, and calling upon the name of the Lord. But pressed, these same folks will insist that repentance, although not listed there, is also necessary. Obviously, this passage was not intended then to be a complete list. And, where we call upon the name of the Lord, Acts 22:16 tells us, is in baptism. What drowning man would insist that he had worked for his salvation because he submitted to his rescuer pulling him into the boat? Rather, Jesus has done the only work for salvation.
III. 2 Peter 1:3-7. Rescuing sinners is not enough for Jesus; He also gives us the chance to partake in the divine nature. After dying with Jesus, being buried with Him, and rising with Him to new life in baptism, we are “heirs according to the promise.” We must continue to walk as Jesus did to truly abide in Him (1 John 2:6). We must continue to add all of these listed qualities, one to another, in increasing measure to never fall and receive a rich welcome into the Kingdom of God.
Could Jesus save without baptism? If He wanted to … He is God in the flesh after all. But the method He chose that was to continue down through the ages from Pentecost was for us to believe, confess Him as Lord (cut to the heart), repent, and be baptized into Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:36-41) and then to continue living by faith (Romans 1:16-17) as sons of God through faith.