Reaching Beyond the Choir With Baptism

Almost in unison, heads were nodding in agreement as affirming smiles gently broke over the congregation. And why shouldn’t they? He was preaching to the choir. But drop that same message upon informed detractors and you may have a whole new ball game. To reach beyond our choir, we need to start on unfamiliar turf while seeking common ground. This requires us to begin within a different perspective while adhering to commonly held truth.

Here is one suggestion on how we might respond to the common objection that the criminal on the cross reveals we do not need to be baptized.

What About the Thief on the Cross?

“You are right that the thief was not baptized to be saved. I think we can both agree that there are many people who lived before Jesus’ death and resurrection who will be saved, but who were never baptized. Take for instance, Abraham” (see Luke 16:22).

“Have you ever considered Luke’s purpose for including this story about the wonderful grace given to the criminal on the cross? To understand Luke’s message, let’s take a quick look at another story of salvation, the paralytic. As the paralytic’s friends lowered him down through the roof, Jesus looked at their faith and forgave the paralyzed man! (read Luke 5:20-26) Isn’t that surprising! The point of this story is Jesus is good news because he has the authority to forgive sins. We might also notice that salvation was given as a gift of grace, the paralyzed man had not earned it. What also stands out about this story of the paralyzed man is that this is not a model of how I can expect Jesus to forgive me. Jesus does not look at your faith and then turn around to forgive me. Luke’s reason to include the stories of the paralyzed man and the thief is not to teach us how to rely upon Jesus to be saved, but to unequivocally announce that Jesus really is good news for our lives.”

“Let me make another suggestion as to why the criminal on the cross fails to provide a valid reason to deny baptism is necessary today. We can both agree the gospel announces our need to trust in Jesus, who died and rose again, so that we can be saved. We can also agree that the call to trust in the risen Lord for salvation began to be preached after Jesus rose from the dead. Accordingly, what has been called Christian baptism did not even start to be practiced until after Jesus had died and was risen to life, because it is a baptism into his death (Romans 6:3,4). The first time this baptism was practiced was on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-47). Because of these things, it was impossible for the thief or Abraham to have been baptized in Jesus’ name. Neither they nor the example of the paralytic proves that now that the gospel has come God will accept us without baptism.”

“The gospel message tells us to rely upon the risen Lord by being baptized (Acts 2:36-38). God then forgives us on account of Jesus’ death and takes us to belong to him as spiritual babes” (Galatians 3:26,27; Colossians 2:11-13).

I hope these thoughts may bless you in speaking the truth in love to those beyond the choir.


5 Replies to “Reaching Beyond the Choir With Baptism”

  1. Are you saying that a person that accepts Christ on their deathbed will not be accepted into Heaven since they weren’t baptized?
    I agree that baptism should occur when possible, but I feel that there are legitimate times when it MUST be omitted.

  2. Thanks for the article. I’m glad that you didn’t re-enforce the false doctrine that the thieves died under the Old Covenant. They died under the New Covenant (John 19:32). We cannot be saved like the thief because he didn’t believe in the resurrection. Believing in the resurrection IS essential NOW for salvation (Rom 10:9).

  3. Thanks for the comments. Dialogue is valuable for sharpening our thinking.
    May I gently suggest the following brief observations as food for thought.
    1) How does someone accept Jesus on their deathbed without baptism since baptism is involved in accepting Jesus?
    2) Since salvation comes through trusting in Jesus which begins with baptism, how can I or anyone sit in God’s judgment seat to determine what God will do? All we can count on is God’s revealed will. Would not the teaching that there are situations when baptism must be omitted and that God will accept those unbaptized individuals be based upon something other than the Bible?

  4. If a repentant, confessing believer in Jesus Christ has fully committed himself/herself to being obedient to Christ Jesus in baptism, but dies unexpectedly prior to actually complying with that command (due to circumstances beyond his/her control), Will God’s grace cover that person, and will they receive the gift of eternal salvation, based on the genuine intent of their heart at the time of their death???
    If one who has come to that point of conviction and faith in Jesus Christ which leads to a turning away from a life of sin and a turning toward a life of obedience and faithfulness to Jesus Christ, and an acknowledgement both verbally and visibly (in daily living) of the death, burial, resurrection, deity and lordship of Jesus as the Son of God, our Redeemer, has an inner conviction, and willingness of mind and heart, to comply completely and immediately with all, including baptism, the Lord Jesus has required of a person as specified in His inspired New Covenant writings, as best as personally understood, but dies unexpectedly prior to actually complying with that command of baptism (due to circumstances beyond his/her control), will God’s grace cover that person, and will they receive the gift of life everlasting (immortality) with our Lord in Heaven and the redeemed of all ages following the resurrection and judgment, based on the genuine intent of their heart at the time of their death? If a man had come to a deep belief/faith in Jesus Christ, had genuinely repented of his sins, had made the “good confession” before men, and was standing in the waters of the baptistery with the intent of being immersed into Christ Jesus, and this man died suddenly ONE SECOND before being baptized, would he go straight to hell? If that same man in the example was plunged beneath the waters of the baptistery and then suddenly died before his nose broke the surface of the water, would he still go straight to hell?
    ?I mean that you are saved by grace. And you got that grace by believing. You did not save yourselves. It was a gift from God. No! You are not saved by the things you have done. So no person can boast {that he saved himself}.? (Ephesians 2:8-9)
    ?People are made right with God by his grace (kindness). This is a free gift. People are made right with God by being made free from sin through Jesus Christ.? (Romans 3:24)
    ?We have been made right with God because of our faith. So we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through our faith, Christ has brought us into that blessing of God’s grace (kindness) that we now enjoy. And we are very happy because of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory. (Romans 5:1-2)
    ?After those things, God decided to test Abraham’s faith. God said to him, “Abraham!” And Abraham said, “Yes Then God said, “Take your son to the land of Moriah. At Moriah kill your son as a sacrifice for me. This must be Isaac, your only son–the son you love. Use him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains there. I will tell you which mountain.” In the morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. Abraham took Isaac and two servants with him. Abraham cut the wood for the sacrifice. Then they went to the place God told them to go.
    After they traveled three days, Abraham looked up and in the distance, he saw the place they were going to. Then Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey. I will take my son and go to that place and worship. Then we will come back to you later.” Abraham took the wood for the sacrifice and put it on his son’s {shoulder}. Abraham took the special knife and fire. Then both Abraham and his son went together to the place for worship. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” Abraham answered, “Yes, son.” Isaac said, “I see the wood and the fire. But where is the lamb we will burn as a sacrifice ?” Abraham answered, “God himself is providing the lamb for the sacrifice, my son.” So both Abraham and his son went together to that place. They came to the place where God told them to go. There, Abraham built an altar. Abraham laid the wood on the altar. Then Abraham tied his son Isaac. Abraham laid Isaac on the altar on the wood. Then Abraham took his knife and prepared to kill his son. But then the Angel of the Lord stopped Abraham. The angel called from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” Abraham answered, “Yes.” The angel said, “Don’t kill your son or hurt him in any way. Now I can see that you do respect and obey God. I see that you are ready to kill your son, your only son, for me.” Then Abraham saw a ram. The ram’s horns were caught in a bush. So Abraham went and got the ram and killed it. Abraham used the ram as a sacrifice to God. Abraham’s son was saved. So Abraham gave that place a name, “YAHWEH YIREH.” Even today people say, “On this mountain, the Lord can be seen.” The Angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time. The angel said, “You were ready to kill your son for me. This was your only son. Because you did this for me, I make you this promise: I, the Lord, promise that I will truly bless you. I will give you many, many descendants, as many as the stars in the sky. There will be as many people as sand on the seashore. And your people will live in cities that they take from their enemies. Every nation on the earth will be blessed through your descendants. I will do this because you obeyed me.” Then Abraham went back to his servants. They all traveled back to Beersheba and Abraham stayed there. (Genesis 22:1-19)
    ?God tested Abraham’s faith. God told Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham obeyed because he had faith. Abraham already had the promises from God. And God had already said to Abraham, “It is through Isaac that your descendants will come.” But Abraham was ready to offer his only son (Isaac). Abraham did this because he had faith. Abraham believed that God could raise people from death. And really, {when God stopped Abraham from killing Isaac,} it was like Abraham got Isaac back from death.? (Hebrews 11:18-19)
    ?Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.? (Genesis 22:3)
    A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)
    ?On the Sabbath day, Jesus was walking through some grain fields. Jesus’ followers were walking with him. The followers picked some grain {to eat}. The Pharisees saw this and said to Jesus, “Why are your followers doing that? It is against the {Jewish} law to do that on the Sabbath day.” Jesus answered, “You have read what David did when he and the people with him were hungry and needed food. It was during the time of Abiathar the high priest. David went into God’s house and ate the bread that was offered to God. And the law {of Moses} says that only priests can eat that bread. David also gave some of the bread to those people with him.” Then Jesus said to the Pharisees, “The Sabbath day was made to help people. People were not made to be ruled by the Sabbath day. So the Son of Man is Lord (master) of every day, even the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)
    ?Then Jesus said to the Pharisees, “The Sabbath day was made to help people. People were not made to be ruled by the Sabbath day?. (Mark 2:27)
    ?Yes, I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love–not death, not life, not angels or ruling spirits. I am sure that nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us or nothing below us–nothing in the whole created world–will ever be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.? (Romans 8:39)
    ?With Jesus as our high priest we can feel free to come before God’s throne where there is grace (forgiveness). There we receive mercy and kindness to help us when we need it.? (Hebrews 4:16)
    This shows the full meaning of the Scripture that says: “Abraham believed God. And God accepted Abraham’s faith. That faith made Abraham right with God.” Abraham was called “God’s friend.” (James 2)
    ?Why? Because I want faithful love, not sacrifice, {I want people} to know God, not {to bring} burnt offerings.? (Hosea 6:6)

  5. Thanks for responding to the article Edward.
    We might begin by observing that what matters is not what any human thinks, but what God has determined.
    In accordance with scripture, we are saved by grace through faith. Within the New Testament, this means that when a person relies upon Jesus as prescribed by the gospel, God gives salvation as a gift.
    Unfortunately, when some people read “faith,” they’ve been trained to assume this means “just believe.” While in some situations faith might only require someone to believe, to limit the meaning of faith to merely but genuinely believing clearly results in distorting the fundamental biblical usage as Galatians 3:26-27, Hebrews 11:7 and a host of other verses reveal.
    In scripture when faith refers to relying upon Jesus for salvation, the biblical context does not permit separating faith from baptism. In baptism we begin to trust in Jesus for salvation.
    For initial further thoughts on this, consider my Forthright articles: “Christendom’s Blind Spot; The Nature of Faith” (3-22-2006), “Saved by Faith: Some May Need A Paradigm Shift” (8-25-2004); “Not by Works: Some May Need A Paradigm Shift” 9-1-2004)
    My goal is to seek to understand the originally intended message, not defend current thinking. I hope these articles serve that purpose.

Share your thoughts: