The most commonly used verse to support this teaching is found in Acts 2:38. In response to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, the crowd asks “Men and brethren, what shall we do?.” Peter’s response is found in verse 38: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
Recently an article in our local paper asserted:
“The real PLAN of SALVATION is this: Acts 2:38
1. Repent of your sins
2. Get baptized in Jesus’ Name for the remission of sins
3. Receive the Holy Ghost
4. Continue in the Apostle’s doctrine.”
Let’s examine Acts 2:38
In Acts 2:38, the Greek word eis (which is translated as the preposition “for” in the phrase “for the remission of sins”) can mean “on account of” or “on the basis of.” In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist baptized on the basis that people had repented. Consider this simple illustration of many different meanings for the same word:
In World War II, we fought with Germany.
In World War II, we fought with England.
In World War II, we fought with guns and planes.
In World War II, we fought with courage.
All of these statements are true, but the preposition with means different things based on context. The context of the Bible clearly indicates the correct meaning of the word “for” in Acts 2:38. Baptism is to be completed “on account of” or “on the basis of” forgiveness through Christ. Baptism is essential for obedience to Christ and every believer should submit to baptism; however, baptism is not part of the plan of salvation.
Acts 2:38 should not be used to teach salvation by baptism. It is Peter’s answer to the question “What shall we do?” in verse 37. When Paul was asked the narrower question “What must I do to be saved?”, his reply did not include baptism: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:30).
If baptism is essential for salvation, it seems strange that Peter said nothing about baptism in his other sermons (Acts 3:12-26; 5:29-32; 10:34-43). Cornelius and those with him in Acts 10:43-48 were first saved, as shown by their having received the Spirit, and spoken in tongues, and only then were baptized.
If baptism was essential for salvation, then Christ did not save anyone (because He did not baptize anyone – see John 4:2). This strange doctrine even makes Christ a liar when He promised salvation to an unbaptized thief! (see Luke 23:39-43).
Paul apparently was not as successful of an evangelist as we thought either because he baptized only a few people (see 1 Corinthians 1:14-16). “I thank God that I baptized none of you…” (1 Corinthians 1:14) seems like a strange statement for someone who believed that baptism was essential for salvation. Clearly this was not Paul’s belief; he makes a sharp distinction between the gospel and baptism: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (1 Corinthians 1:17).
Since believers are commanded to be baptized, it is important that we have a clean conscience by obeying (1 Peter 3:21), but we must not think that baptism is a part of salvation. Any gospel that adds man’s work to Christ’s work should be disregarded because it is false (Galatians 1:9).
What is the purpose of baptism?
Valid baptism is by immersion after salvation.
1. Obedience to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20)
2. Identification with Christ and His church (Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13)
3. Illustration of salvation (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 6:3-5)