Before I begin, I want to clarify that this is not an antagonistic position against anyone who may hold to the doctrine of water regeneration. Nor is this an exhaustive article on baptism. However, it is my desire to offer the main reasons why I think it is unbiblical and why I preach and teach against water regeneration.
I think that every believer in Christ should recognize baptism as very important but not as the very action or deed that brings them salvation. Because justification has always been by faith alone, the very act in and of itself cannot produce righteousness, and lastly It is a sign that points past itself to something greater.
believers should always remember that justification comes by faith alone and in Christ alone. One of the most encouraging passages of Scripture for me has always been Romans chapter five. It begins with the words
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1 NASB)
This is legal language. This language belongs on a letterhead from the Throne Of God Himself! It uses the easy to follow guideposts of logic. Watch- it says that a guilty party (we) has been justified (literally declared right; acquitted of charges) through a certain act (faith). The Greek word used here for faith is pistis (as in Matt 9:22) which literally means a person is convinced to the point of belief. This action motivated by belief brought about a result: justification, which also brings with it some excellent benefits, “peace with God.”
But it doesn’t end there. He continues to drive home the point that the faith that brings about justification and peace with God still has to be in something/someone. A person’s faith is only as strong as the object it rests in. Hence why Paul finishes by saying “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I think this is the perfect statement that reveals the process of what God has done in us and through His Son. But let’s dive deeper.
The very act in and of itself cannot produce righteousness. As previously explained, faith produces justification. But how does justification come about? What about our sin; does God just turn a blind eye to that which hung Christ on the cross? No. That’s the point of our faith resting in our Lord Jesus Christ. His death on the cross was a substitutionary death (Romans 4:25). He bore the wrath of God in order that we would not.
Staying in the legal lingo, here I want to point back to our guilty record that was hostile against us and crying out for our judgment. (Colossians 2:14) In order to remain perfectly just in His courtroom, God had to deal with our sin; after all, it was a legal offense to Him. So when Christ became sin, He absorbed, or took on, our legal debts. But not only that, His record of complete righteousness was given over to us in exchange. This teaching is called imputation.
But when does that happen? At the moment of repentance of sin and belief in Christ!
Hold on, then why baptism? Why did Jesus command it, then?If righteousness comes at the point of belief, then why do we need baptism? What’s the point? This leads us to my last point.
Baptism is a sign that points past itself to something much greater. I think that R.C Sproul put it best in his book “What is baptism?”
Baptism is a sign of God’s promise to regenerate His people, to liberate them from the moral bondage of original sin, to cleanse their souls from guilt and purify them so they can enter into a saving relationship with Him.
It’s a sign that points beyond itself. It’s a sign, just like circumcision was to Abraham and all Israel. It’s a sign, just like the rainbow in the sky was for Noah. It’s a sign, just like the blood on the doorpost in Egypt, sparing all the firstborn sons of all who obeyed that command. It’s a sign that declares to everyone that the person being immersed has been buried with Christ and raised to walk in newness of life. The sign always followed the belief. The sign itself never brought salvation, it highlighted God’s approval of it. I think that Titus 3:5 uses this imagery in conjunction with the mystical reality of salvation in order to celebrate what God has done. Listen to the language here.
5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
Who is the Savior? God. Who is the Initiator? God. He is the Author and Perfecter of our salvation. He is the One who started the work and will complete it. How was salvation brought about? It certainly isn’t anything we’ve done, but rather by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. We were baptized into Christ by the blessed seal of our salvation by being “plunged” into Christ at the moment of repentance and faith, receiving the washing and regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit; making us new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore, when we receive the newness of life, we lovingly obey Christ in following His command and example of baptism and a life devoted to the Father. If a person says they belong to Christ, they will be compelled to be baptized (Acts 8:36); however, if a person professes salvation and yet refuses baptism, I would venture to say that regeneration has yet to take place and that person is still dead in their trespasses and sins.
Indeed, while some may believe water baptism initiates us into Christ, all believers should recognize baptism as critically important but not as the catalyst of our salvation.
Thoughts or questions? Leave a comment below!