What Must I Do to Be Saved?
Acts 16:31 is another common scripture used to support the idea that water baptism is not part of the conversion experience. Let me read it… we will back up just a little bit and begin in verse 15b so you have the context. The Philippian Jailer has just asked an important question…
Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”
This is Paul’s response to the Philippian Jailer and it comes after that very specific, very direct question. “What must I do to be saved?”
The evangelical’s argument goes like this. If the Bible ever had a chance, once and for all, to tell us baptism was a part of the salvation experience, this would have been the opportunity. But Paul says “believe and you will be saved.” This passage says nothing about baptism. I wholeheartedly agree. This passage says nothing about baptism. So why are we using it as an anti-baptism scripture?
Shouldn’t we also note the absence of obedience, repentance, confession and accepting the message? And, shall I conclude that by their absence they are not a part of the Biblical Plan of Salvation and by extension, the jailer’s belief. Paul does not spell out every single detail involved in belief. But… there are some very curious things which happen in the rest of the story we ought not ignore.
After Paul makes his proclamation, both the jailer and his household were immediately baptized in response to Paul’s message. Why would they be baptized if baptism was not included in the instructions Paul gave them?
Evangelicals make an important and critical claim. Listen to this claim carefully. They say, “If baptism is a part of the Gospel, Paul would have included it when he preached the Gospel.” They point out the fact that Paul sums up the Gospel in several places in the New Testament and water baptism is never a part of those summaries. Once again, I completely agree. It is not a part of those summations.
However, there is a problem with this reasoning. Once again, please listen carefully because this issue will come up again and again.
Baptism is Part of the Gospel?
When I hear an anti-baptism proponent claim that I believe water baptism is “part of the Gospel,” my opponent just created what is known as a “Straw Man” fallacy. A Straw Man Fallacy is created when someone makes a claim which exaggerates or changes an opponents position. Once this false claim is established they then proceed to knock down the “Straw Man” by pointing out the fact that it’s wrong.
Let’s review their argument again. Their claim, which is true, is that in each account where the Gospel is summarized in the Bible, baptism is never mentioned in those summaries. Because it is not mentioned in those summaries, it must not be a part of the Gospel. Therefore, it is not a part of the conversion process.
The argument sounds really good but… nobody said water baptism is part of the Gospel. It’s simply the appropriate scriptural response to the Gospel.
The Gospel is about the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and that man can be freed from his sins when he “obeys” the Gospel. So, again, water baptism is not part of the Gospel message. It is a response to the Gospel message. You’d be mis-stating my argument if you say I claim it that it is part of the Gospel. That’s the Straw Man.
The jailer and his family had a reasonable, appropriate and scriptural response to Paul’s preaching. Baptism was not some sort of human work or ritual they dreamed up right there on the spot. Paul had to have told them about it. They did not pull it out of thin air. There is no negotiation. There is no questioning. There was no confusion… it was done right then and right there.
Where’s the Hurry?
Now, this should raise another question. Why would Paul insist that they be baptized… even at such an early hour of the morning? Why the urgency?
Well, because Paul knew their sins were still intact. Remember, if sins are not forgiven, we are not yet saved. Paul knew, death might be imminent… after all, they were in an active earthquake zone. If baptism was not an urgent issue or if baptism was some sort of optional part of our response to Gospel message, there would be no rush… these terrified people might have waited. You would even think there might be more pressing needs like checking on the neighbors or securing their property after an earthquake. That does not appear to be the focus. Everyone seems to understand; there was absolutely nothing more important than getting right with God… right then and right there!
Baptism is a command of Christ and followers of Christ should be eager to be baptized. In Acts 16:31, we see this urgency. The issue of urgency is all but missing in the evangelical world’s view of baptism. Why don’t these immediate baptisms happen in today’s churches? Why do we wait for a biannual baptism service ?
But, let’s dig a little deeper. Why would Paul think that baptism was an important part of the plan of salvation?
Well, from his own conversion.
Paul knew sins are intact until baptism.
Let me prove this to you.
When we look at the story of Paul’s own conversion in Acts 22, we can determine a specific point in the conversion timeline when he was saved. Now remember, saved, by definition, means sins have been forgiven by God.
When you read the entire narrative of Paul’s conversion, we see the entire process unfold as he comes to faith in Jesus. If saying a prayer and begging God for forgiveness were enough for God to remove sin, surely Paul would have received the forgiveness of his sins. But praying a prayer, probably a lot of prayers over three days, to be saved, did not work. In Paul’s conversion story, we see something vastly different from the modern plan of salvation where we are asked to accept Christ or pray the “Sinner’s Prayer.”
Let’s recall the religious events which happened to Paul. He heard the message, accepted the message, repented of his murderous sin, and he even confessed Jesus as Lord… but he was not yet saved from his sins. How do we know this?
After all these very unique and important religious events occurred in Paul’s life, Acts 22:16 reports that Ananias presented the solution. He said…
“And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”
Did you hear that? Do you understand it? Now, I am not talking about the obvious statement Ananias makes about “washing away sins!” That alone ought to be a compelling reason to at least consider that baptism has something to do with the forgiveness of sins… but I am not talking about what seems so obvious.
I’m talking about what was not said.
You can’t wash it away if it’s not there!
Paul could not “wash away” something which had already been removed! This leaves us only one conclusion. His sins were still intact when Ananias gave the command to be baptized. And notice… it was a command.
This is how Paul knows sins are still attached until baptism so… when he is helping the Philippian jailer, he understands that baptism would be necessary for the Philippian jailer, just as it was for him.
Baptism is how we obey the Gospel. Baptism is not a part of the Gospel. This is the only biblically sanctioned and prescribed response to the Gospel.
Folks, Paul’s pattern has not changed. It’s still the same in every true conversion today. Today’s evangelicals claim people are “saved” when they say a prayer, when they first believe or when they accept Christ.
The “Sinner’s Prayer,” “Inviting Jesus into your heart,” or “Accepting Christ” is the culmination of the evangelical world’s message. When they present the Gospel… which they generally present accurately, their instruction for how to obey, misses the mark.
At the risk of belaboring a point, let’s reason this out. If someone is “saved,” what is the person saved from?
They are saved from their sin, right? You might say they are saved from Hell but that would be the result of their sin… are you with me?
Was Paul saved, just like a modern evangelical… when he accepted the message on the Damascus Road or when he begged God for forgiveness with prayer and fasting? If you say, “Yes.” what was he saved from?
If he was saved from his sins, how could he later have his sins washed away? Shouldn’t they have been already removed by God?
One person teaches another person.
Paul did not have a salvation experience when he huddled and fasted in a dark Damascus room. God answered Paul’s prayers for forgiveness by sending Ananias with the correct information. God washed away Paul’s sins when he obeyed Ananias and was baptized. It’s no different for the Philippian Jailer and his family… or for us. God forgives our sins at the time of our obedience in baptism, not before.
If we want to follow the solid Biblical example of first century Christians, we must use the same pattern. Let’s baptize people immediately when they accept the message and make sure they understand that they are being baptized to wash their sins away and begin a fresh new “born again” life with Christ.
What would be wrong with baptizing someone exactly the same way it was done for Paul and the Philippian Jailer? What would be wrong with proclaiming, as Peter did, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit?” Peter said this at the time of people’s baptisms, why shouldn’t we?
Sins are not washed away when we invite Jesus into our heart. This is a tradition which has aggressively taken root in the last few hundred years. Let’s not follow that tradition and let’s not teach it, now that we understand Acts 16:31. True Biblical belief always includes a humble faith that obeys!Enjoy!