Does the act of baptism save us?
Published 3:41 pm Thursday, June 16, 2022
BY TONY HOSS
The question was asked, “If baptism is necessary to salvation, then why did Jesus tell the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise? The Bible does not say that the thief was baptized, so did Jesus lie? The problem I have is, if the thief on the cross was not baptized then how could he have gone to heaven? The church of Christ teaches that one must be baptized to enter heaven, if this is so, then did Jesus lie? So, does baptism save and if so what about the thief on the cross?”
The Church of Christ does not assert that Jesus lied. In fact, we believe that the thief on the cross indeed went to paradise and will spend eternity in Heaven with God. This happened because Jesus said so. But the question we should ask is, can men today be saved in the same way that the thief on the cross was saved?
Throughout the ages God established different covenants with different people. God, by His grace, made a covenant with Noah, it was a covenant that demanded that Noah build an ark (Genesis 6:18). Noah and his family were saved because he BELIEVED and OBEYED God within the confines of the covenant that God made with him.
Later, God by His grace made a covenant with the patriarchs such as Abraham. Abraham’s covenant was established with him and his seed (Genesis 15:18). One of the requirements of that covenant was the circumcision of all the male children (Genesis 17:10). Abraham and subsequent generations were saved because they BELIEVED God and OBEYED Him within the parameters of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants.
Later, by His grace, God made a covenant to the Israelites (Exodus 19:5). Part of the covenant that was given to the Israelites commanded blood sacrifices (Exodus 24:8). As with all other covenant’s situations that men and God were involved in, the children of Israel were saved because they believed God and obeyed God within the covenant that God made with them.
Today, God does not require us to build an ark, to be circumcised or to offer blood sacrifices because we are under a New Covenant; the covenant of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8:7 Hebrews 9:15-17). As with other covenants this covenant was given to us by the grace of God. This covenant came into effect following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Hebrews 9:16). What we must remember is that the terms of this covenant were not in force until after the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18,19; Mark 16:15, 16). Under this covenant we are commanded to be baptized for the remission of our sins (Acts 2:38; Acts 10:48). The fact is, all that BELIEVE God and are OBEDIENT to His commands will be saved. Only those that conform to the terms of the covenant that God made with man will be saved.
Now back to the thief on the cross. We need to ask, under what covenant did the thief on the cross die? He did not die under the covenant made with Noah, so he did not have to board the ark. Neither did he die under the New Covenant (Christian Age) because the terms of that covenant had not yet been given when he died. Jesus had not been resurrected from the dead. (The thief died the same day as Jesus.) So, he died under the Old Covenant. God saved Him based upon his BELIEF and OBEDIENCE to that Old Covenant; he lived under the Law of Moses. Men today will be saved based upon their BELIEF and OBEDIENCE to the New Covenant which involves the commands of Christ and His inspired Apostles. Because of this we cannot be saved in the same way that the thief on the cross was saved. Just like we are not saved in the same way that Noah was saved (by building an ark); just like we are not saved in the same way that Abraham was saved (by circumcision); just like we are not saved in the same way that the Israelites were saved (by offering blood sacrifices). We are saved based upon our BELIEF and OBEDIENCE to the covenant under which God has placed us.
Therefore, we can see that the thief on the cross was not required to be baptized for the remission of sins because he was not living under the New Covenant. Neither can we today be saved in the same way that the thief on the cross was saved because we are under a different covenant with God. Baptism is a requirement under the New Covenant, and we are compelled to obey the new covenant if we desire salvation. Finally, men need to know that under the New Covenant, God does require one to be baptized “for the remission of sins.” Consider the following: Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-10; Galatians 3:28; and 1 Peter 3:21.
(Tony Hoss is minister at Centerview Church of Christ, Elizabethton)