Is baptism necessary for salvation? Most of the religious world denies the need for baptism rejecting it for faith alone. The father of faith, Abraham, bears testimony of the necessity of baptism for salvation. At the age of ninety-nine the patriarch and his eighty-nine year old wife, Sara, received the news that within “the time of life” (Genesis 18:10) a son would be born. Before Isaac’s birth, a covenant was established between Abram and his descendants showing a sign of promise with God through the act of circumcision. “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:10-11).
Circumcision was the cutting of the foreskin required of all males born in the house of Abraham or bought with money. Refusal resulted in the person to be “cut off from his people” (Genesis 17:14) as they had broken the covenant with God. The names of Abram and Sara were changed showing the promise of God and the assurance the promise would be found in Isaac and not Ishmael (Genesis 17:19-21). When the Lord finished talking with Abraham He went from him and “Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him” (Genesis 17:23).
Establishing a covenant with Abraham the Lord confirmed with the “immutability of His counsel” (Hebrews 6:17) a promise made in the Garden of Eden of the Seed fulfilled in Christ (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 3:16). The significance of circumcision was the affirmation of God’s promise of salvation through the obedience of Abraham and his descendants to His will. This was not open for argument or discussion and understood so clearly that First Century Christians faced an onslaught of pressure from Jewish converts to follow the law of circumcision (Acts 15). Circumcision was the defining moment when a person entered a covenant with God. Abraham so clearly understood the command of God he circumcised himself at the age of ninety-nine, his thirteen year old son Ishmael and all the men of his house.
Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse bears the mark of Abraham’s obedience when the apostle shows the covenant of God in a spiritual circumcision. “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12). As in the physical act there must be a spiritual action of putting to death the old man creating the new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Baptism is the spiritual circumcision of the heart. The Lord declared the covenant of salvation in circumcision and refusal to keep the command resulted in the person being lost. Without the covenant of baptism there will be no salvation. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
The faith of Abraham caused him to take drastic measures at the age of ninety-nine as well as his son and all the men of his house. Many today refuse baptism as a drastic measure of works and would have refused to be circumcised in the day of Abraham. Did it make sense to the wisdom of man what cutting a piece of flesh would have to do with salvation and especially the nature of the sacrifice? Abraham walked by faith before God commanded him to be circumcised (Romans 4) and when commanded by God to show his faith in the covenant of circumcision “circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him” (Genesis 17:23). His faith led him to obey the command of the Lord without question.
Baptism is the defining moment when a person becomes a child of God as circumcision was for the children of Abraham. Faith alone does not circumcise the heart or repentance alone. The circumcised descendants of Abraham were cut to the heart and three thousand were spiritually circumcised in baptism (Acts 2:36-41). Luke shows in Acts many stories of salvation and each one shows the moment they became a child of God: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Sins are washed away in “the circumcision made without hands” (Colossians 2:11).
Baptism saves because it is the covenant of God and promise of salvation (1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:3-6). “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” (Romans 2:28-29).
-Biblical Insights, May 2014 Gary Kerr, Editor