While neither repentance on our part or the act of baptism in and of itself, divorced from faith has any saving efficiency, scripture has much to say on the subject of baptism and its vital relationship with our salvation.
In John 3:5 Jesus says, “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Apostolic theology understands this as a clear and unmistakable reference to water baptism and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Similarly Titus 3:5 speaks of “the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Here Paul clarifies that neither of these are “works of righteousness which we have done.” Simply stated then, obedience to God is not “works”. Jesus declared, “he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk 16:16). What could make it any plainer than this?
The typical response to this verse is that it says nothing about those who are not baptized. This argument is pointless for obviously those who do not believe are not candidates for baptism nor would they seek it. But what about those who believe and are not baptized? We simply must be honest and acknowledge that on this subject scripture is silent. We have no record in the New Testament of an unbaptized believer after the day of Pentecost, nor does this passage address any such unusual case.
Obviously we must recognize the absolute need for saving faith in connection with both repentance and water baptism, For example, when Paul says that we are “buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him,” he is quick to point out that this is only possible “through faith of [Greek-“in”] the operation of God who hath raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12).
Of course the most conclusive verse on this issue is I Peter 3:21, when Peter declares, “baptism doth also now save us.” Does this not offer clear support to the Apostolic view that baptism is a vital component of New Testament salvation? In fact, it does! When Peter makes this statement he continues on in the same sentence to explain his exact meaning. He points out carefully that the way in which baptism serves us is “not [by] the putting away of the filth [Lit. “dirt”] of the flesh of the flesh, but [by] the answer of a good conscience toward God”. While many continue to wrestle over the precise meaning and intent of Peter’s words, they may be properly understood by simply accepting them at face value. Peter is merely explaining the role of baptism in the salvation process. It is not as an outward physical act which washes dirt away from the body--“but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” In back of the physical act of baptism is the inward, spiritual transaction, it is here that Peter focuses our attention. A valid paraphrase could be: “Baptism now saves you--not the outward ritual act, but the spiritual reality which this ritual depicts.” We must guard against the belief that baptism possesses any form inherent saving power, while also avoiding the opposite extreme of viewing it as a completely unnecessary ritual having nothing to do with our salvation.
The phrase “the answer of a good conscience toward God” is perhaps better understood as “the request made to God for a clean conscience,” or even “the request for forgiveness of sins and a new heart.” Both Hebrew 9:14 and 10:22 address this. The scripture is quite clear that baptism is for the remission of sins and to obey the Lord in believer’s baptism is to make just such an appeal to God.
While I Peter 3:21 does not teach that Baptism saves automatically in the absence of faith or that it confers grace ex opera operato implying that the act of itself has saving power—it does demonstrate that salvation comes about by the obedient exercise of faith which baptism represents.
On the basis of a misunderstanding of Ephesians 5:26, 36 many declare that this is the Word of God which “washes” us from our sins. These verses say that Jesus “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.” It is claimed that it is the Word of God that performs the “washing of water” referred to here and not the physical act of baptism. This is accepted as true by the vast majority of the Protestant Church world and is the dominate theme of most evangelical commentaries on this verse.
We must recognize the truth however, that to make this assertion is to be on tenuous ground biblically. Water in scripture is used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit by Jesus in both John 4:14 and 7:38, 39; it is questionable that it ever refers to the word of God. Dake for example identifies John 3:5; Ephesians 5:26; James 1:18; and I Peter 1:27 all as figuratively using water to refer to the word of God. (Dake 2001. 924).
A simple cursory reading however, of these five passages will reveal that one is an obvious reference to water baptism, while three contain no reference to water whatsoever. That leaves Ephesians 5:26 which alone seems to connect the word of God with water. But is this in fact what is happening in this verse? No, for the Greek construction of the verse gives an entirely different picture than the English alone.
By his choice of the word rhema rather than logos, Paul is revealing that he is referring here not to the written word of God as commonly taught—that would be logos—but rather to a spoken word or saying. What the verse is actually saying more literally is, “the bath of water in saying!” As with the previous verses, this is clearly a reference, I believe to the physical waters of Baptism which “wash away” or remit our sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). As to the “word” or “saying” spoken of here—could this not simply be a reference to the Name of Jesus which is spoken over the candidate water Baptism?
It has been claimed by some that the assertion that repentance or baptism is necessary for salvation is similar to the argument of Judaizers of the first century, which Paul addresses in Galatians. Paul directly accuses the proponents of circumcision of preaching a “different gospel” (Gal 1:16). He points out that those who rely on the works of the law are under a curse (Gal 3:10). The misconception is that in doing this Paul is also sharply rebuking all others who would “add” any form of obedience as a requirement for salvation.
Note carefully the translation from the Revised Standard Version: “Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace. “
(Gal 5:4). It is very important for us to recognize Paul’s emphasis here on “the works of the law”. It would be to go beyond the purpose and intent of Paul’s words both here and in Romans and thereby conclude that nothing at all is required on our part in the salvation process.
We should note here that Apostolic Theology acknowledges the biblical parallels between water baptism and circumcision. In the New Covenant, water baptism replaces physical circumcision as the visual sign of entrance into the covenant community. This is seen most clearly in Colossians 2:11, 12. Baptism therefore, is the New Testament counterpart to Old Testament circumcision. It is for this very reason that Paul so aggressively fought against the Judaizers who sought to retain the components of the previous dispensation while attempting to live under the New Testament.
It is vital that we understand the truth that neither repentance nor water baptism are in any way connected with the Law of Moses. The problem with the Judaizers was their unwillingness to fully accept the New Covenant with its new dispensation of Grace. By insisting on circumcision, Sabbath keeping and observance of the Law of Moses they were in effect trying to live in two worlds at the same time. Paul told them to choose what covenant they wanted--it was impossible to have both, and only one would lead them to life--the other brought only bondage.
Both repentance and water baptism are components of the New Covenant; their observance commended by Jesus as a necessary essential component of New Testament salvation. As we have shown, this has nothing whatsoever to do with “works of the law.” But is rather the simple obedience to Christ which leads to eternal life. Some have referred to this as a “penitent faith” or “believing repentance” (Grudem 1984. 714). Scripture refers to it simply as the “obedience of faith.” While salvation is without question by grace through faith, there are none-the-less, clearly prescribed biblical acts of obedience both commanded and required on our part. Repentance and water baptism in the name Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins demonstrate the reality of our faith and enable the finished work of Christ to perform its work in us, thereby allowing Him to baptize us in his Holy Spirit thus completing our salvation.
While a detailed examination of Apostolic Theology as it relates to New Testament salvation is beyond the scope of this book, it is hoped that this brief review of the scriptural aspects of the New Birth will be useful for a prosper understanding of Apostolic Theology and Oneness Pentecostalism.