Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15).
Sometimes doctrine or religious instruction is built on obscure or unclear passages. Professing Christians and new believers with a limited knowledge of Scripture can fall prey to teachings that are not consistent with clear teaching elsewhere in Scripture.
Bible believing pastors, elders and teachers will invite honest questions concerning the Scriptures. A former pastor of mine used to exhort his congregation by saying; Do not park your brains at the door when you come to church. Bring your Bible with you and do not accept sentimentality or church tradition as sound doctrine if it is contrary to Scripture.
When studying Bible doctrine therefore, always interpret unclear passages in the light of clear Bible passages on the same subject. Remember this principle: the Holy Spirit, who is the author of Scripture (II Peter 1:21), will never lead you contrary to Scripture.
An example of doctrine built on unclear passages of Scripture without regard to clear Bible passages on the same subject is the teaching of baptismal regeneration by water for salvation.
When the Philippian jailer came trembling and fell down before Paul and Silas he asked, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? Their response was simple and direct, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved….
Paul further explained salvation in Ephesians 2:8&9 by saying what it was not; For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. Titus 3:5 goes on to say that salvation doesn’t even come as a result of righteous works.
John 3:16 declares; For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life. Verse 36 of the same chapter tells us why people are lost. It is not because they didn’t participate in a righteous deed. It is because they did not believe on the Lord Jesus. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
Romans chapter 4 reminds us that just as Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, so it is for us. Verse 5; But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith (not baptism) is counted for righteousness.
So how do we interpret the verses that mention baptism in the same breath as salvation? We must interpret them in light of the clear passages.
For example Acts 2:38; …Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost. The Greek word translated for can also be translated because of. In the context of the clear Bible passages, salvation comes as a result of believing, not as a result of being water baptized.
The translation of Acts 2:38 which is most consistent therefore with clear Scripture passages on salvation should read; Repent and be baptized because of the remission of sins. We submit to water baptism because we’ve been forgiven, not in order to be forgiven.
Acts 2:41 confirms this by saying; then they that gladly received his word were baptized. The order here is receiving his word or believing first and then water baptism is to follow.
Note: Water and Spirit baptism are often confused.
- Spirit baptism places a believer into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13).
- Spirit baptism occurs at the moment of salvation (Romans 8:9b).
- Water baptism is done in obedience to Christ and publicly identifies the believer as a follower of Christ.
- Water baptism by immersion pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
…let the word of Christ dwell (take up its life in you) in you richly…