Baptism & The Double Cure

The bible consistently relates baptism to the salvation of sinners. Almost everyone would agree that this is true in some sense. All would acknowledge, for example, that baptism and salvation are connected at least symbolically, the act of baptism is a physical symbol of the reality of spiritual salvation. It is “an outward sign of an inward grace”; the application of water to the body depicts the cleansing of the soul.

Some would go further and discern a psychological connection between baptism and salvation. They see the act of baptism as affecting the mental state of the person being baptized, as confirming or sealing upon his heart a deeper assurance of the salvation that God has already bestowed upon him. The baptized person can say to himself, “Just as surely as I am experiencing the baptismal water upon my body, I can be sure that God has applied his grace to my soul.”

Some have gone to the extreme of affirming a causal connection between baptism and salvation. They have attributed to the baptismal water itself, or at least to the act of baptism, the power to cleanse the soul from sin. Thus anyone who submits to the physical act of baptism will surely be saved, even in the absence of a proper knowledge of Christ and a positive faith in him. This is the doctrine of “baptismal regeneration,” and is usually held in connection with certain forms of infant baptism.

How shall we evaluate these views in the light of Scripture?

Actually, none of them adequately expresses the New Testament’s teaching about the relation between baptism and salvation. The causal view described must be rejected altogether. There is no basis for ascribing any saving power to the baptismal water or the act of baptism itself. God’s power and God’s action alone can save; the sinner is saved when God applies the blood of Christ to his heart and gives him the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Also, the symbolical and psychological views must be rejected, not because they are completely wrong, but because in themselves they do not go far enough. That is, they do not give us the whole picture of the relation between baptism and salvation. It is true that water baptism symbolizes the reality of inward salvation and that it strengthens faith in Christ and increases assurance of salvation. The problem is that those who emphasize these points often limit the meaning of baptism to these ideas while denying that it is the specific time when God bestows his gifts of salvation. They claim that as a rule a person is already saved before he is baptized. Baptism is a subsequent outward sign of a previously-given inward grace; it strengthens one’s faith in a salvation already possessed. Such a view, however, is much too weak. It simply does not do justice to the New Testament’s teaching about what really happens during baptism.

We may summarize as follows. First, we reject and causal relation between baptism and salvation. Second, we agree that baptism is symbolically and psychologically related to salvation; but such is not actually stated in Scripture and is only inferred from what is taught therein. Third, the clear and specific teaching of the New Testament is that baptism is the time during which God graciously bestows upon the sinner the double cure of salvation. As such it is a divinely-appointed condition for salvation during this New Covenant era.