Published: 1 November 2021

Is Baptism A Part Of The Gospel?

part of the gospel

Strictly speaking, baptism is not part of the gospel. The good news, as the Bible defines it, is about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism isn’t included in the gospel itself. However, it is inextricably linked to the gospel. In every case of conversion in the book of Acts, once a person came to faith they were immediately baptized.  

Since baptism isn’t part of the gospel, if we teach that immersion is necessary to become a Christian, aren’t we guilty of the Galatian heresy? In Galatia, false teachers said the gospel wasn’t enough to save people. They taught that in addition to the gospel, those who wanted to be Christians had to also undergo circumcision and keep the law of Moses (Gal 5:2, Act 15:1, 5). Paul said this teaching perverts the gospel and is in fact no gospel at all (Gal 1:7 NIV).

Does the New Testament contradict itself?

The Bible clearly states that baptism is a necessary condition to become saved.

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16 ESV)

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38 ESV)

And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ (Acts 22:16 ESV)

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Pet. 3:21 ESV)

These passages are very plain and we don’t have to guess as to their meaning. Peter says in certain terms that baptism is related to our salvation! How do we reconcile this? 

How do we respond to the gospel?

In reality, baptism is not an addition to the gospel, it is a response to the gospel. This is also true of repentance (Act 3:19, 17:30) and confession (Rom 10:9-10). When a person hears and believes the good news about Jesus, the God appointed means of responding is repentance, confession, and baptism

Because baptism is a response to the gospel, it is not an addition to it. It is not something added to the gospel and therefore is not the Galatian heresy nor any other kind of heresy. Baptism is the way God has instructed us to respond to the gospel

Some people teach that the response to the gospel is to say the sinner’s prayer. Interestingly, the Bible says nothing about praying in order to accept the good news about Jesus. Although it is perfectly fine to pray to God during one’s conversion, it is not a substitute for what God actually said to do. The biblical response for one wishing to accept the gospel is repentance, confession and baptism.

Spontaneous baptism

In the earliest days of the church, no one would have delayed immersion by waiting days, weeks, months, or years. After all, since repentance, confession, and baptism are the means of accepting the good news and being adopted into God’s family, why would they have wanted to delay? 

Today, baptism is routinely delayed because people think it has nothing to do with accepting the gospel! By the same logic, would people say it is okay to delay repenting, or confessing that Jesus is the Messiah? 

Baptisms in Acts
Cases of conversion in the book of Acts.

In every recorded case of conversion in the New Testament, baptism was immediate. It would have never occurred to anyone in the early church to wonder at what point a person got saved. Repentance, confession, and immersion immediately followed when one came to faith. There was no speculation about the exact point in time a person’s sins were taken away because there was no concept of delaying baptism, repentance, or confession. It all happened almost simultaneously. 

Returning to a biblical understanding

Some well known ministers and scholars have come to recognize “spontaneous baptism,” as some call it, as the biblical norm.

“Explicitly, in the rest of Acts, we read over and over again of people accepting the gospel and being immediately baptized. As the Ethiopian eunuch put it immediately after hearing the gospel from Philip, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”[1]Jamieson, Bobby. Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership. 2015., 38.  — Bobby Jamieson, PhD  Associate Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC.

“In the NT era it was unheard of to separate baptism from faith in Christ for such a long period. Baptism occurred either immediately after or very soon after people believed. The short interval between faith and baptism is evident from numerous examples in the book of Acts.”[2]Schreiner, Thomas R., and Shawn D. Wright, editors. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. B & H Academic, 2006., 93.  — Tom Schreiner, PhD  Professor of NT Interpretation and Biblical Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.

“Our church chose to hold our first [spontaneous] baptism service after we noticed the biblical pattern of spontaneous baptisms while preaching through a series in the book of Acts. After all, every single baptism recorded in the New Testament, without exception, is spontaneous and immediate. For New Testament believers, the pattern was alarmingly simple: Believe, confess, get baptized. There was never a gap between when a person trusted Christ and when that person was baptized. Not one.”[3]https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/j-d-greear-why-baptism-sunday/   — J.D. Greear President, Southern Baptist Convention.

The NT uses the words “faith” and “baptism” interchangeably

The experience of conversion in the New Testament involved faith, repentance, confession, and baptism. This fact has been noted by Dr. Robert H. Stein. Dr. Stein (retired) was senior professor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. 

In an article he wrote entitled “Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament,” he explains how Christians in the first century viewed the relationship between faith and baptism. Dr. Stein explains using a hypothetical interview with Isaac of Antioch, a first-century believer:

Monday, April 5, A.D. 49

Interviewer: “Isaac, do you remember the day when you were converted?”

Isaac: “Oh, yes, I remember clearly that Barnabas preached that I was a sinner. Yet because of Jesus Christ, if I would turn from my sin, God would forgive me. So, on August 15, A.D. 44, I repented of my sin and became a Christian.

Tuesday, April 6, A.D. 49

Interviewer: “Isaac, do you remember the day when you were converted?”

Isaac: “Oh, yes, I remember clearly that Barnabas preached that God had fulfilled the promises that he made to our fathers and sent his Messiah, Jesus Christ. So on August 15, A.D. 44, I confessed Jesus as the Messiah and Lord and became a Christian.”

Wednesday, April 7, A.D. 49

Interviewer: “Isaac, do you remember the day when you were converted?”

Isaac: “Oh, yes, I remember clearly that Barnabas preached that I could not be saved by my own efforts, for all my works were as filthy rags. He said that I need to trust in the grace of God and simply believe the gospel because God had made salvation in Christ possible for me. So, on August 15, A.D. 44, I trusted by faith in the grace of God and became a Christian.”

Thursday, April 8, A.D. 49

Interviewer: “Isaac, do you remember the day when you were converted?”

Isaac: “Oh, yes, I remember clearly that Barnabas preached that I needed to be born again and that I should not marvel I needed to be made new by the Holy Spirit. So, on August 15, A.D., 44, I was born again through the Spirit of God and became a Christian.”

Friday, April 9, A.D. 49

Interviewer: “Isaac, do you remember the day when you were converted?”

Isaac: “Oh, yes, I remember clearly that Barnabas preached that I needed to die, be buried with Christ, and be raised in newness of life. So, on August 15, A.D. 44, I was baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and became a Christian.”

Interviewer: “Now Isaac, come on. You have told us five different stories. Which is the true one? When were you truly converted? When and how did you really become a Christian? Was it when you repented? When you believed? When you confessed Christ? When you were born again? Or was it when you were baptized?” 

How would Isaac respond to these questions? I believe that he would respond essentially as follows: “All these were involved and associated with my becoming a Christian. When Barnabas preached to me, he not only spoke of my being a sinner and needing to repent, but he also talked about my need to put my faith in Jesus Christ, confess him as Lord and Christ, be born of the Spirit, and be baptized. All these took place on August 15, A.D. 44. All five were involved in my conversion!”

Perhaps an analogy may prove useful. If I were asked when I was married, I could respond, “When I said ‘I do’” or “When I put a ring on her finger and she put one on mine” or “When the pastor pronounced us ‘man and wife’” or “When the witnesses and pastor signed the marriage certificate” or “When we sexually consummated our marriage.” If asked as to exactly which one of these caused me to become married, I would reply, “You cannot separate them. They were all part of my becoming married. When I mentioned any one of these, I assumed the others!””[4]https://equip.sbts.edu/publications/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-21-spring-1998/baptism-and-becoming-a-christian-in-the-new-testament/

Dr. Stein’s paper is one of the best articles on baptism I have ever read and I encourage you to follow the link above and read it in its entirety.

Conclusion

When a New Testament author mentions that someone was baptized, it should be understood to be synonymous with saying they were saved. The same is true of repentance, confession, and faith. The words were all used interchangeably and the use of one word assumed the others.

Baptism is not part of the gospel, but since it is a response to the gospel (as is repentance and confession) it is the way that one expresses their faith in Christ. It is not now, nor has it ever been, an additional requirement to be saved. We aren’t saved by the gospel plus baptism. As Peter said, baptism is a request or an appeal to God (1 Pet 3:21). Baptism is the means God has given us to accept the gospel. It is the means by which we enter into a covenant relationship with God.

The biblical pattern is faith, followed immediately by repentance, confession, and baptism. They cannot be separated; they are all involved in becoming a Christian.

References

References
1 Jamieson, Bobby. Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership. 2015., 38.
2 Schreiner, Thomas R., and Shawn D. Wright, editors. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. B & H Academic, 2006., 93.
3 https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/j-d-greear-why-baptism-sunday/
4 https://equip.sbts.edu/publications/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-21-spring-1998/baptism-and-becoming-a-christian-in-the-new-testament/