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Born of Water
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. - John 3:3-5
I have a variety of commentaries sitting on my bookshelf. From time to time they can be helpful; however I believe that most of the time, the Bible is its own best commentary. That is the case as I study through these verses on baptism. Actually there are three sections of scripture I want to look at that are so often misrepresented by religious groups and denominations.
The main teaching of these groups is that baptism is an essential act for salvation. Ephesians 2:8 and 9 make it clear that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation - "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works . . . ." Obviously baptism is something that man performs putting it in the works category and has no saving merit in itself.
Acts 4:12 gives us this important information - " Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Do you see that salvation is a free gift from God by his grace. We do not deserve it, but He gives to us anyway if we come to Him through faith. He [Jesus] is the only name whereby salvation can be experienced.
Shall we not stop there? Consider Titus 3:5 - "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us . . . " Baptism simply is not an essential for salvation. By adding baptism as a requirement for salvation cheapens the sacrifice of Christ. His work was complete. There is nothing we can add to it. It is done.
Ye Must Be Born Again
Born of Water (John 3:5)
So what are we to do then with John 3:3-5? Clearly this scripture teaches that we need to be born again, Also, the scripture clearly teaches that we must be born of water and of the Spirit. But contrary to some beliefs, baptism is not even mentioned in these verses as they claim. We must be born of water, not baptism. We cannot read into scripture what is not there so let scripture be its own best commentary. Jesus tells us exactly what He means in verse 6 of John chapter 3. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
That which is born of water is born of the flesh. Every baby that comes into the world enters by water. Just prior to birth that water is shed either by a gush or a trickle, but the water must be shed before the flesh of a newborn can enter the world. Likewise, Jesus explains that the spirit of man (small s) is born of His Spirit (capital S). In absolutely no way can we substitute the work of baptism for the concept of being born of water in John 3.We absolutely must be true to the Scriptures by taking them at face value. We cannot force what is not clearly there.
I Peter 3:21
Here is another verse that often is quoted out of context. "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us . . ." What I mean in this instance concerning context is that when this verse is quoted to justify baptism for salvation, the whole verse is never used. Again, if we just allow scripture to speak for itself - ". . . (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:" Baptism does not wash us of the filth of the flesh, but rather when we obey Christ in baptism we have a conscience free of offense toward God. There is nothing complicated about it.
There is nothing in this verse that comes close to suggesting that baptism is necessary for salvation. We are called upon to obey Christ. He gives us this command in Matthew 28:19 - "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
If the church is to baptize, then obviously there must be individuals to baptize. But baptism is that outward identification with Christ. We are obedient to Him as we fulfill the command to be baptized. We are walking with Him when we are in obedience to Him. The purpose of baptism is to identify ourselves with Christ. As we obey our conscience is cleansed. Baptism is an outward testimony of an inward change. God looks on the heart, but man looks on the outward appearance (I Samuel 16:7).
Surely Acts 2:38 is teaching that we must be baptized to be saved."Then Peter said unto them, 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." Repentance is necessary for salvation. There must be a change of mind about who Jesus is, about His work on the cross, and about our own rebellious nature. Because of repentance we are told to be baptized as a public witness and testimony to our salvation. God looks on the heart, but remember man looks on the outward appearance ( Samuel 16:7).
Have you been scripturally baptized?
We are told to be baptized for the remission of sins. Or in other words because of the remission of sins. The best way I can explain this is to use two Old Testament verses In I Kings 19:10, Elijah is running from Jezebel when God stops him in his tracks. Elijah offers his excuse - "And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." In verse 14 Elijah repeats himself with the exception of one word change. Read the two verses closely. "And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts:because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. "
Did you catch it? The second time Elijah substitutes the word because for the word for (". . .for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant . . ."; :". . .because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant . . .") For and because are used interchangeably. We are to be baptized because of the remission of sin as a means for salvation.by repentance.
We must take the whole of the Word of God in context and allow scripture to be its own commentary. Works have no place in salvation completely eliminating baptism as a means of salvation. Let me be quick to add that a "sinner's prayer" never saved anyone. A prayer is a work as well. The repentant heart that fully trusts in Christ is what saves. Perhaps that heart is best expressed in prayer or by baptism, but neither were ever meant to be the Way. That belongs only to Jesus.