Does Baptism Regenerate? A Look at the Times It Didn’t (Series on Baptism)

The Baptism of Prince Vladimir (1890), by Viktor Vasnetsov

The Baptism of Prince Vladimir (1890), by Viktor Vasnetsov (WikiPaintings).

(Part of an in-depth series on Baptism. Part 1. Part 2.)

When we left off, we were examining the Baptist view of Baptism, that it is merely a symbol, a sign of a work of grace that has already taken place in the believer by faith, an ordinance of the Church, not necessary for grace or salvation, but ordained by Lord and done in obedience to Him.

This understanding seems to derive not so much from the interpretation of any particular passage of Scripture that would indicate Baptism was purely symbolic, but a general interpretation of all passages of Scripture pertaining to Baptism as symbolic. The whole argument that Baptism is not sacramental and does not in itself accomplish regeneration in a believer appears to rest on three cases in which believers were apparently regenerated prior to and apart from Baptism: (1) the repentant thief on the cross (Luke 23:39–43), (2) Saul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), and (3) the fall of the Holy Spirit on the gathered Gentiles at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:24–48). But do these cases represent the ordinary working of the Holy Spirit, or were they exceptions? To answer this, let us delve into the Scriptures.

The Repentant Thief

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

The Crucifixion, by Vincenzo Foppa

The Crucifixion (1456), by Vincenzo Foppa (Wikimedia).

So the thief repented, which we know was a work of grace. And we know that the thief died, and that when he did, Jesus welcomed him into His kingdom. In this sense, he certainly received salvation without the necessity of Baptism in water. But does this case demonstrate definitively that the thief was regenerated, his sins washed away and his soul born again in Christ, the way Christian believers ordinarily are, prior to his death? Perhaps he was; perhaps he wasn’t; but this passage doesn’t indicate it.

The Catholic Church believes that Baptism by blood — in which one suffers death for the sake of the faith — can bring the fruits of the Sacrament of Baptism. Whether this is what happened here or not — it is self-evident that if ever there were an exceptional case of salvation in the Gospels, it was that of the repentant thief, who was saved at the very divine fiat of Jesus.

Paul on the Road to Damascus

The Conversion of St. Paul, by Nicolas-Bernard Lepicie

The Conversion of St. Paul (1767), by Nicolas-Bernard Lepicie (Wikimedia).

Now as [Saul] journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” …
Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized. (Acts 9:3-6, 17-18)

In the case of Saul, we see that Jesus intervened directly and tangibly in his life, stopping him in his tracks and turning his life around. But it is not at all clear here that Saul was regenerated or received the Holy Spirit prior to his Baptism.

In fact, elsewhere we find reason to believe that he was not. In the second telling of Saul’s conversion, as Paul presents his defense before the Jews, different words are given to Ananias:

“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And in that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ (Acts 22:12–16)

We see, then, that Saul’s regeneration was not accomplished the moment he met Jesus in the road. He had to be baptized in order to wash away his sins and receive the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but it couldn’t wait — it was of the utmost urgency and necessity.

The Gentiles at the Home of Cornelius

The Baptism of Cornelius, by Francesco Trevisani

The Baptism of Cornelius (1709), by Francesco Trevisani (Wikipedia).

While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (Acts 10:44–48)

Here these Gentiles do receive the Holy Spirit prior to their Baptism — hence the Jews’ amazement! They have been, indeed, regenerated apart from Baptism. But if Baptism were not essential, why is it the very first thing Peter thought of when he witnessed this miraculous manifestation? And is this situation the rule, or another exception? Do any other cases support its being an ordinary occurrence?

We don’t have to look very far, in fact, to find a counterexample:

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve of them in all. (Acts 19:1–7)

Here we likewise see Gentile converts, who had not yet been baptized with Jesus’s Baptism, but only with “John’s Baptism.” They had “believed” and were apparently “disciples” of Christ — and yet had they really heard the full Gospel of Christ, if they had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit? We observe several things:

  1. These believers had not yet received the Holy Spirit — and the first thing Paul asked them was “Into what, then, were you baptized?” Paul’s implication is clear: if they had been baptized properly into the Baptism of Christ, they should have received the Holy Spirit.
  2. If they had been baptized into Christ, they also should have heard of the Holy Spirit — suggesting that despite St. Luke’s reference to being “baptized in the name of Jesus,” the Apostles did in fact baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), the traditional Trinitarian formula which the Church has always observed. [The Oneness Pentecostals, for example, seize on this verse and several others in the Acts of the Apostles to insist that they should baptize only “in the name of Jesus,” contrary to orthodox Christian practice.]
  3. These disciples received the Holy Spirit only after their Baptism, not before, when they profess to have “believed” (even if their understanding appears to have been incomplete). Clearly, then, mere “faith” or belief was not sufficient for their regeneration. This invalidates the above example from Acts 10.

The conversion of the Gentiles at the home of Cornelius, then, appears to have been an exceptional case, a demonstration of the power of God to save and regenerate even Gentiles, specifically to convince Peter of their inclusion into Christ. The manifestation coincided with Peter’s vision of Acts 10:9–16, a similarly direct intervention and revelation, and clearly itself an exception from the mode in which believers were generally saved. Once these Gentiles had believed, Peter urged them to Baptism as the essential next step, for their incorporation into the Body of Christ, the Church.

Believers Baptized but not Regenerated?

Almost as a counterpart to the previous example, here’s one more, presenting an opposite problem: these believers had been baptized, but had apparently not received the Holy Spirit.

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to a city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. (Acts 8:4–7)

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14–17)

St. Philip the Deacon

St. Philip the Deacon (

Now, this does appear to present a complication. Had these people really been baptized and not regenerated? This poses an equal problem to both the Baptist and Catholic views. To the Catholic, it would seem that Baptism had not regenerated them; to the Baptist, it would appear that believing in Christ had not regenerated them!

Again, we observe first of all that the expectation was that these believers would have received the Holy Spirit at their Baptism; because they had not, the Apostles Peter and John had to make a special trip. But there is even more going on here than first appears. Clearly, when Philip (this is Philip the Deacon, not Philip the Apostle) brought the Gospel to Samaria, the Holy Spirit worked through him miraculously, exorcising unclean spirits, healing the lame and paralyzed. That the Holy Spirit came upon these people with such wondrous manifestation as they believed and were baptized does indicate, in fact, that they were regenerated, born again in Christ — they did receive the Holy Spirit. So why did Luke say they had not?

In the interpretation of the Catholic Church, what we are witnessing here is an early example of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Because this was yet early in the development of the Church and of Christian doctrine, St. Luke didn’t know quite how to describe what was happening. But yes, the Samaritans had been baptized in Christ and had been regenerated, and had received the Holy Spirit in some measure. But they had not received the Holy Spirit in His fullness, in the full anointing of Pentecost. Because this was one of the first times a missionary who was not an Apostle had preached to people unto conversion, it was probably just as much a surprise to Philip and to the Apostles as it is to us, that these new believers did not receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. As the teaching of the Church developed, it was understood that the Sacrament of Confirmation could only be conferred by a bishop (a successor of the Apostles) or by a priest to whom the bishop specifically delegated it. In the previous example from Acts 19, when Paul “laid hands” on the newly-baptized believers, this too is understood as the completion of their baptismal grace in the Sacrament of Confirmation.


In conclusion to what I realize is a really long post — but one which I hope has been revealing and helpful — I do not believe that these four examples, unusual and early cases of conversion and regeneration, support the Baptist position, that Baptism is purely symbolic and unnecessary for salvation. Even these examples, when examined closely, indicate strongly that Baptism was necessary and efficacious in accomplishing the grace of Christ, through the working of the Holy Spirit. Next time, I will explore in depth some of the many other references to Baptism in Scripture, which likewise support a sacramental understanding.

19 thoughts on “Does Baptism Regenerate? A Look at the Times It Didn’t (Series on Baptism)

  1. Great post! I think you dealt with all the issues very thoroughly and fairly. I’d never made that last connection about Philiip being a deacon and the sacrament of confirmation. How neat is that!! 🙂 Really loving these posts.

  2. Good analysis on the case of Paul and the gentiles of Cornelius’s house. I’m with you on those. With the thief on the cross, I think you overlooked one important factor: The thief did not die and was not forgiven under the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, he died under the Old Covenant. Baptism is analogous to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, as you have pointed out in previous entries (Rom. 6). Those things had not yet been accomplished when the thief died so it does not make sense to require him to be baptized to receive forgiveness of sins. Further, Jesus had already displayed authority to forgive sins under the Old Covenant (Mt. 9:1-8) so all that was needed was for Jesus to say the word and the thief was forgiven.

    So, when properly considered, the thief on the cross is not even subject to questions regarding baptism. The Father had not yet raised the Son from the grave, so the thief couldn’t very well be raised from the water “in his likeness” (Rom. 6).

    Also, great catch on those “receiving the spirit” in Acts 8. I agree this is a case of them receiving the gifts of miracles via the H.S. and not the gift of regeneration. Philip, being a deacon and not an apostle, did not have the power/authority to lay on hands and bestow miraculous powers to others. Only the apostles had that authority and so they made the relatively short trip up to Samaria to do so.

    And so through 4 parts of your analysis the Catholic and the CofC member are on the same page on baptism! 🙂

    • Thanks, brother. 🙂 I am very pleased that we agree.

      I’m not sure I agree, though, that the good thief was forgiven under the Old Covenant. When do you suppose the New Covenant was instituted? Jesus announced plenty of times that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:14–15), and at the Last Supper, with the institution of the Eucharist, He offered His “Blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25). Even if you want to follow a strict chronology, Jesus died before the thief. But we Catholics believe that God doesn’t necessarily work by a strict chronology, and is not bound by our understanding of time. At the institution of the Eucharist, he offered His Body “which is given for you” (e.g. Luke 22:19), and the Bread and Wine actually became His Body and Blood at that time — even though He hadn’t yet, in terms of chronology, given His Body on the cross. So in the Catholic understanding, it would be perfectly possible for the thief to be saved under the New Covenant; in fact, arguably the other people you mention were also: because the Old Covenant was one of works, but he pronounced forgiveness and salvation to these people out of grace. They didn’t have to offer sacrifices or fulfill the requirements of the Law.

      I think, in general, Catholics and Protestants agree about a whole lot more than they disagree. It is great to know that we share some of the same ideas about Baptism. And your openness to that agreement just goes to show how different even people of the same denomination can be. The brother who initiated this series has been especially vehement in opposing the Catholic Church at every turn, even though I often point out to him that we do agree about many things. I think, regarding Baptism, our agreement might break down when it comes to infant baptism. And the core of that is original sin. What do you believe about original sin?

      • The new covenant was most definitely instituted after Jesus’ death, as Hebrews explains a death is necessary for a covenant to be in place (Heb. 9:16). An argument could also be made for the moment Jesus was raised, for without that our faith, and thereby this new covenant, is useless (1 Cor. 15). Or even the day of Pentacost, since it was at that moment the prophecy of Joel was fulfilled. Either way, it isn’t the timing of the thief’s death that is in question, it is when he is forgiven. And that is certainly before anything occurred which would seal a new covenant. Jesus described in many ways about how the kingdom was “at hand, soon to come, in your midst”, etc. That does not mean it began at the moment he said that. It was simply nearing the time. The partaking of the bread and wine was to prepare the apostles for his sacrifice and teach them about how to remember and honor it. It is a sign of the covenant, it is not the covenant itself.

        You might rethink your chronology argument. Seems entirely subjective and conducive to manipulation to fit an already presumed outcome, which is seems you have done.

        You are correct that our agreement will break down on infant baptism and “original sin”. I’m sure you’ll post on that issue so I will withhold my stance on it until that time. When you do post on that, please remember to recall the many verses you have already cited that require belief, confession, among other things in order to be baptized.

        • The new covenant was most definitely instituted after Jesus’ death, as Hebrews explains a death is necessary for a covenant to be in place (Heb. 9:16).

          Yes, a death was needed — but again, whoever said God’s grace was bound by time? Who said He can’t apply the grace of the cross before it happened chronologically? All of history has already happened for God. Don’t you watch sci-fi movies? Everybody knows that events sometimes happen before their causes. 😉 The awesome thing about God and Redemption is that it’s all true.

          You didn’t address my points about Jesus’s redemption of the thief and the other people in the Gospels being gifts of grace, not works of the Law. Does a just God break His own Law? Jesus died to give us grace — and the clear fact is that He was pouring that grace out on humanity — in smaller measure than He would, of course, but certainly a foretaste — before his Death and Resurrection.

          You might rethink your chronology argument. Seems entirely subjective and conducive to manipulation to fit an already presumed outcome, which is seems you have done.

          How is it subjective or manipulative to say God is not bound by time? I am only observing the facts of the Gospel — that Jesus poured out grace, offering salvation through faith, not through the Law — even before you suppose such a thing were possible.

          The partaking of the bread and wine was to prepare the apostles for his sacrifice and teach them about how to remember and honor it. It is a sign of the covenant, it is not the covenant itself.

          And you suggest that I am “manipulating” my interpretation to fit a foregone conclusion? What makes you so certain that the Eucharist is merely a “sign”? That was certainly not the understanding of the very Apostles who received it or the unanimous Early Church.

          We understand, first and foremost, that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. He said so Himself. More than once. You’re asking the same question the Jews were asking then: “How can this man gives us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52) And well, all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26, Luke 1:37).

          When you do post on that, please remember to recall the many verses you have already cited that require belief, confession, among other things in order to be baptized.

          Of course. But your understanding that these verses “require” belief and confession is not mine.

          • My friend, I think we are talking past each other. I am not saying that God cannot forgive anyone he wants, however he wants, whenever he wants. In fact, I am affirming that position when I say that Jesus forgave specific men of their sins while he was on earth. He had authority over the Old Law to extend his grace to whomever he chose.

            What I am saying is that baptism, the topic on which you are discussing, is the means by which those under the new covenant receive forgiveness of sins. So we must first determine when the new covenant was enacted to see if baptism is even applicable. Just like the old covenant had a specific time in which it began for the Jews, the new covenant began at a specific time for all mankind. Does that make sense?

            As Hebrews 9:16 says, and as you have confirmed that a covenant requires a death, the new covenant could not have began any time before the death of Christ. That does not mean however that Christ could not have extended grace to whomever he wanted, since he had authority over the old law. The thief on the cross is an example of a time when Jesus extended his grace to someone who would have otherwise been judged by the commands of the old law. So, it is a category error to say that because the thief was not baptized then we do not need to be baptized today. Baptism was not applicable to the thief on the cross.

            I would rather we not get into issues of the Lord’s supper on top of all this. I was simply making a counterpoint to something you brought up. Let’s just stick with baptism for now 🙂

        • I see where you are coming from. But it seems not a very useful thing to quibble over. I don’t know nearly enough to make much more of an argument than I have. In any case, it seems not a valid argument to say that because Baptism wasn’t necessary for the thief, it’s not necessary for anybody.

  3. Fascinating. I appreciate reading your posts. I am bemused as to the ways we splice Scripture, covenants, etc. I read the story of Philip and Peter in Acts as a story about God needing to teach Peter. This teaching (and conversion I dare say) continues with Cornelius. Does Cornelius need converting, of course, but it is primarily the story of converting Peter. So I read Acts as a story about God teaching his disciples about what Jesus told them in chapter 1 about going out to the whole earth. Peter is brought to Samaria because Peter has to see this and experience this for himself – God is preparing him for Cornelius. I don’t necessarily read Acts as a story that presents clues for our neat theologies. But where would we be without our complex systems of understanding? And isn’t that what Scripture is for, finding hooks to hang them on? Ha. Forgive me. Look forward to your next post. I agree with your points.

    • Well, there’s more than one valid way to read Scripture. It’s got layers built upon layers. For whatever overarching theological themes it has, Acts is also a work of history and a narration of real events.

      And thanks. I appreciate your comments. 🙂


    “My sentiments have not changed from the above. I am sorry if my words are harsh have been harsh and if they hurt you. But they are true, and I’m not going to lie to you. It’s none of my business how you pursue your own journey. But for your own sake and for those you encounter along the road, you should think hard about what you mean to imply by calling yourself “Catholic.” You once corrected me that you meant the little-c “catholic,” and yet you continue to inconsistently apply the big-C “Catholic” to yourself. You need to make up your mind who you are, friend. If you want to be a Catholic, then I will applaud you and welcome you as a brother. If you want to deny communion with the Catholic Church, then please, drop the charade. It would be better for you to be who you are, whoever you decide that is supposed to be, than to pretend to be something you are not, and to mislead others in their perception of you.”

    PLEASE NOTE that my domain is “catholicboyrichard.” All three words together and none with caps. ON MY PAGE it reads “Catholic Boy Richard” in the header. All three in CAPS. Neither should lead a person of your obvious intelligence to misunderstand whether I am Romanesque or not. I have not been anything but very open about my journey to Anglicanism. But we consider ourselves “catholic” even if you as a Roman do not choose to recognize us.

    BTW The reason I called you an “ass” earlier is because this is the 4th time you have “rebuked” me for referring to myself as “catholic.” It is okay to have an opinion, I have dozens of them, as do you, but one thing I do not do is harp and hassle people over and over about the same things. I share and then I back off. and as you said correctly, it is truly NONE of your business. Whether I keep my blog or blow it up is not up to you, unless Al Gore has given you permission to take over the blogosphere or something lol. Okay that was a slight joke but my point is serious.

    Ease up. And quit accusing people of being hypocrites when you do not even know them personally. Particularly when they have been open about their journeys and struggles, even if you do not agree with them in their conclusions. That is called RESPECT. And if you want some you need to give it.

    You are the Fred Phelps of Catholicism.

    • I do not want to be the Fred Phelps of Catholicism. Unlike Fred Phelps, I don’t hate you, or think God hates you, or bandy about words like “hate” at all.

      You’re right that I don’t know you. And after our blowup yesterday, I took some time to google you and find out more about you. For one thing, I didn’t know that you had left the Catholic Church so recently. I am even more saddened by this, and sorry, again, that my words have been harsh.

      In your recent post, you may not have intended to, but you did link to a page about the Roman Catholic Church, use the capital-C Catholic, and claim to be a member of it. That is why I was upset and “rebuked” you. You were not, in fact, clear on the face of your blog that you are not a capital-C Catholic. I know that you confused me, and I have noticed several others in the comments of your Facebook and blog who were similarly confused. Though the Anglican church may consider itself “catholic,” Anglicans do not typically go around calling themselves that or including it in their titles, especially not with a capital C — because it does cause confusion. I suspect that you had this name when you were still genuinely big-C Catholic, and did not originally intend it to be misleading. I apologize for accusing you of this.

      My opposition to you calling yourself “catholic” also has nothing to do with your having homosexual inclinations (although it does appear that those are your reasons for departing from Rome). I love you as a Christian brother, and as I said in one of my comments (which you may or may not have received since you banned me), I pray with all my heart that you return to the true Catholic Church. I have also not called you a “hypocrite.” My objection is that your use of the term “catholic” is not the way the Christian Church has traditionally understood that term — which you, having studied the Catholic Church, should understand. You are consciously diluting the term of meaning and causing confusion for others.

      I do wish you the best, and pray that your journey brings you to truth. May the peace of the Lord be with you.

  5. An interesting series, Joseph.

    What we don’t have in your examples is anyone who did not believe being baptised, which is why my church opposes paedo-baptism. It is, as your Samaritan example shows, perfectly possibly for folk to be baptised and not actually to have received the Grace of the Spirit at all, which, is it were a sacrament essential for salvation, would not be possible, surely?

    • Geoffrey, thanks for the comment. 🙂 You are right that there are no clear examples of people without a mature, adult faith being baptized. But I hope to make a case in upcoming posts for the Church of the New Testament having viewed Baptism as a sacrament, and for why an adult faith was not necessarily a requirement. I’ll link you when I have another post up. For the moment I’m distracted by Indulgences (and I should really work on my thesis, too).

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  7. Your comments reflect a major misconception that evangelicals and the Reformed have of orthodox Christians. Lutherans do not believe that baptism is necessary (mandatory) for salvation. Not even the Roman Catholic Church believes this. All the saints of the Old Testament, the thief on the cross, and thousand of martyrs down through the centuries have been saved without Baptism. Baptism is not the “how” of salvation!

    Lutherans believe that baptism is one of several possible “when”s of salvation, it is not the “how” of salvation. The “how” of salvation is and always has been the power of God’s Word/God’s declaration of righteousness.

    A sinner can be saved by the power of God’s Word when he hears the Word preached in a church, preached on TV or radio, reading a Gideon’s Bible in a hotel room, or reading a Gospel tract that contains the Word. Salvation is by God’s grace alone, through the power of his Word alone, received in faith alone. In each of these situations, the sinner is saved the instant he or she believes. Baptism is NOT mandatory for salvation to occur.

    However, the Bible in multiple passages, also states that God uses his Word to save at the time of Baptism.

    It is the work of the Holy Spirit, using the Word of God, that works salvation in the sinner’s spiritually dead soul, according to the second chapters of Ephesians and Colossians, and the third chapter of Romans. Your “decision for Christ” does not save you, neither does your decision to be baptized.

    God saves those whom he has elected, at the time and place of his choosing. Sometimes God saves them while hearing a sermon in church, sometimes at home reading the Word, and sometimes by the power of his Word spoken during Baptism.

    God does 100% of the saving. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. There is no passage in the New Testament that asks sinners to make a decision for Christ. The Bible states that God quickens sinners, gives them faith, and they believe and repent.

    The sinner does not decide to be saved. God decides to save the sinner!

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    • Hi. Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation; I appreciate the comment. It’s interesting that you should present your view as the “orthodox” one in opposition to mine. That is not how I would characterize Lutheran theology.

      Jesus Himself tells us that Baptism is necessary for salvation (Mark 16:16, John 3:5). The word of Christ in Scripture is the starting point for Catholic theology. Scripture also presents Baptism by water itself as the means (instrument) of justification (Titus 3:5, Ephesians 5:26). Of course it is Christ, by His grace alone, who performs Baptism, by the working of the Holy Spirit, through the faith of the believer. But He uses the matter and form of the Sacrament to convey its grace. Baptism is the efficacious means given by Christ through which justification is normatively accomplished, ex opere operato (Acts 22:12–16, Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21, Colossians 2:11–14, Romans 6:3–5).

      Scripture does not support your contention that “the sinner is saved the instant he believes.” As this post has discussed, the only premises on which such an understanding could be based are these apparent exceptions to the otherwise absolute rule in Scripture connecting salvation to Baptism, in the words of Jesus, the events of Acts, and the implications of Paul. Luther’s misinterpretation of Paul — a justification “by faith alone” by a forensic declaration of righteousness and an imputation of “the righteousness of God” as something external to the believer — takes only a few phrases of Paul and ignores his overall context and the rest of Scripture.

      Scripture also rejects the idea that “the sinner is a passive participant in his salvation.” Apart from Paul’s few references to “salvation by faith, not the works [of Torah]” (never “by faith alone”), the rest of Scripture — even the rest of Paul! — is clear that we don’t reach salvation without working or striving through grace — in Paul: Philippians 2:12–13, 1 Corinthians 15:58, 1 Timothy 4:7–10, 6:12; in James: James 2:14–17; in Peter: 2 Peter 1:5–10, 3:14; and in the words of Christ Himself: Luke 13:24, Matthew 19:16–17 — to only touch the tip of the iceberg. Paul is clear that it is not through “faith alone” that we are saved, but “faith working in love” (Galatians 5:6, 1 Corinthians 13:2). God does the saving, by His grace alone, but by our consent and with our participation — not by our works, but with and through our works, and above all through the Sacraments.

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