Truth overview: Baptismal Regeneration is the unbiblical belief that physical water baptism is how salvation is obtained. This version of works salvation, which is an affront to salvation by grace through faith, is shared to varying levels by many false churches including Catholicism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Methodism, Latter-Day Saint, and the Church of Christ. Christians should be baptized to publicly declare what they believe, but water baptism plays no part in salvation.
LIE: "Water baptism is HOW one OBTAINs salvation"
Paul the Apostle wrote in I Corinthians 1:17 that he was not sent to baptize people. If water baptism saves, how could Paul, one of the most prominent evangelists in the New Testament, say this? The answer is simple. Water baptism does not save. Faith and faith alone in the cross of Christ is what saves.
1 Corinthians 1:17 "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect."
SALVATION IS THROUGH FAITH – The Bible is clear from multiple passages that we are saved by grace through faith. And what is faith? Faith according to Heb. 11:1 is believing in something you cannot see. You can see a baptismal pool.
Ephesians 2:8-9 “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.”
Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
BELIEF FIRST, BAPTISM SECOND – A key passage on the topic of baptism is the story of Phillip and the eunuch found in Acts 8. Here we learn that belief must come before baptism – which is proof that infant baptism is unscriptural. Note: we also see that baptism should be by immersion and not sprinkling as they both went down “into the water.”
Acts 8:36-38 “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.”
Philip’s question and the eunuch’s answer are important to note as they reinforce the truth seen throughout scripture: belief in Christ is the only requirement for eternal life. The thief on the cross didn’t need to be baptized to be able to be with Christ after he died and neither do we. We all must simply believe.
John 3:16 “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.”
John 5:24 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”
John 6:40 “… every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:47 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.”
1 Timothy 1:16 “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.”
1 John 5:13 “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life…”
WHAT IS BAPTISM FOR THEN? Christians should be baptized for the same reason Jesus Christ was Baptist in Matthew 3 – to publically declare personal belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Savior. To be sure, Christ wasn’t baptized for salvation (He doesn’t need saved), He did it to show what He believed. And this is why we are baptized as well.
The idea that baptism is a symbolic act and not one that washes sin away is shown clearly in I Peter 3 when it tells us that baptism does not put away the filth of the flesh, but is instead the answer of a good conscience toward God. In other words, baptism doesn’t save, but we should do it in obedience to God’s word. Note: along with observing communion, baptism is the only other ordinance the Bible commands the church to perform.
1 Peter 3:21 “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (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:”
WHAT DOES BORN OF WATER MEAN? Many who believe in Baptismal Regeneration completely misunderstand (or ignore) the context of John 3 and the story of Nicodemus. Christ tells him that he must be born again for salvation. Nicodemus assumes he is speaking of physically being born again from his mother’s water-filled womb. To this Jesus responds that a man must be born twice: first of water (also called “the flesh” in verse 6) to enter the world and then spiritually to enter the kingdom of God.
John 3:3-7 “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. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”
The context of John 3 is simple, yet deceivers will pretend that Christ is requiring water baptism for salvation. This is absurd, especially when you consider Christ’s mention of the serpent in the wilderness right after this and how all it took for healing was to look to the serpent and how all is takes for salvation is to look to the cross. No work, no action (like baptism) is required on the part of man.
John 3:14-17 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 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. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
DOES HOLY GHOST COME AT BAPTISM? The answer is no. The Holy Ghost comes into your heart at the point of belief/salvation. This is shown in Acts 10 as the gentiles heard the word of God (verse 44), believed and received the Holy Ghost (45), and then Peter suggests that they be baptized.
Acts 10:47 “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”
Some point to Acts 19 as an example of believers not obtaining the Holy Ghost until the point of water baptism. This again is overlooking the context as this crowd in Ephesus was still following John the Baptist and had not been saved. They were still looking forward to a coming savior, and didn’t know the Savior Jesus Christ. Paul tells them that John taught the baptism of repentance, but that they needed to believe on Jesus Christ (verse 4). They believe and are subsequently baptized in the name of the Lord. It should be noted that it isn’t until verse 6, after Paul laid his hands upon them, that the Holy Ghost is mentioned at all and this is only to say that the Holy Ghost “came on them” to speak in tongues (i.e. real languages as it shows in Acts 2). In other words, Acts 19 is in no way a proof text for the heretical belief of baptismal regeneration.
The Bible is clear. You believe first for salvation, and then you’re baptized second to show what you believe. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking that the work of water baptism saves. We’re not saved by works. We’re saved by faith – the evidence of things not seen.
Acts 8:12 "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women."
Romans 6:4 “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Read More: Does Baptism Save? (PDF)