from Baptism: The Believer’s First Obedience
by Larry E. Dyer
The greatest evidence that baptism does not produce regeneration is found in the texts declaring that salvation, justification, cleansing, or regeneration result from faith alone. This evidence is overwhelming. Believing in baptismal regeneration would require assuming that water baptism is to be added to every text about salvation. The following texts are samples of the New Testament evidence:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. (John 1:12)
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14–16)
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. (John 6:47)
[God] made no distinction between us and them [Jews and Gentiles], cleansing their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:9)
For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness . . . to open their eyes so that they [the Gentiles]may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me. (Acts 26:16b, 18)
This [display of Christ as a sacrifice for sin]was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. (Rom. 3:25b–30)
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. (Rom. 4:5)
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:1)
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. (Gal. 2:16)
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.” (Gal. 3:8)
The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. (Gal. 3:24)
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. (Eph. 2:8–9)
I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ. (Phil. 3:8–9)
I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:16)
From childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim. 3:15)
Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)
And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. (1 John 3:23)
All these statements would be untrue, or at best would be only partially true, if baptism were an additional requirement for regeneration. One text actually separates water baptism from the gospel message. In 1 Corinthians 1:13–17, Paul writes:
Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.
If water baptism were an essential part of salvation, then Paul would have included it as part of his commission. If water baptism itself had saving significance, then why would Paul distinguish it from preaching the gospel? If baptism were an essential requirement for salvation, should not Paul have included it with the gospel? Theologically, baptism is not a requirement, but practically, it is the New Testament way of expressing faith.
Peter’s ministry recorded in Acts 10:44–48a demonstrates the proper relationship between regeneration and water baptism:
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit fell in sovereign regeneration and Spirit baptism upon these Gentiles as they heard the Word. The Spirit placed them within the body of Christ in an instant, granting them new life and good consciences because of their faith. The evidence that God had accepted these Gentiles as full members of the body was so overwhelming that the Jewish delegation agreed that they could rightly administer water baptism. The people had already been saved by the Holy Spirit. Water baptism was the outward sign of their inward transformation.
This does not demean water baptism as useless or unimportant. It is the God-ordained means by which faith in Christ is expressed. However, it is not a saving rite. Water baptism is a sacred symbol of the mighty spiritual changes that take place upon the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ. The baptism that saves is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The tendency to see only water in texts where baptism’s significance is taught in the Scriptures lies at the root of the error of sacramentalism.
This post is adapted from Baptism: The Believers First Obedience by Larry E. Dyer. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
Answers to the most important questions about Christian baptism
Baptism is a step of obedience for every believer, but behind this simple act lies a rich tapestry of Christian belief and teaching. In the second edition of this short volume, Larry Dyer responds to the most common questions Christians have about baptism in nontechnical language, making it ideal for personal or small-group study. He explains what baptism is, what it means, why it is necessary, and what the mode of baptism should be. He also addresses whether infant baptism should be practiced, and whether baptism contributes to a believer’s salvation. He ends the book with practical advice for how to prepare for and enjoy one’s experience of baptism.