Explicit Biblical Instruction on Saving Souls

The Scriptures make it clear: Baptism is necessary for salvation for all those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.

Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939), “Pentecost”
Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939), “Pentecost” (photo: Public Domain / Public Domain)

On the first day of Pentecost, St. Peter, filled with zeal after the Holy Spirit had fallen anew upon and indwelt the disciples, preached the Resurrection of Jesus:

  • Acts 2:31-32 (RSV) “He [David] foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (cf. 2:24).

Then he preached the divinity/deity of Christ:

  • Acts 2:33-34, 36 “exalted at the right hand of God, ...For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says, `The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand. ... Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ ...”

Good “gospel preachin,’ that! Then Luke the narrator describes the hearers’ reaction:

  • Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”

And here was Peter’s response:

  • Acts 2:38-41 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

This is the biblical “altar call” (as opposed to the Protestant one). The Gospel of the saving death and Resurrection of Christ is preached, and then there is a call to action: for folks to respond and to be saved (i.e., to enter into the Church: without which no one can be saved, and into God’s good grace).

The first thing Peter says, is to “repent,” which is no different from any Protestant evangelist. If a person doesn’t repent, they can’t receive what God has for them. Then what’s next? The “sinner’s prayer?”Reciting of a Bible verse? Having folks pray over the repentant sinner up in the front of the church? No. What’s next is baptism. This was precisely the first thing the Apostle Paul did, too, when he had a change of heart and converted to Christ (Acts 9:18; 22:16), with the immediate result being a filling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17) and a washing away of sins (Acts 22:16).

This is precisely what we see in Acts 2 above. Baptism brings about “forgiveness of ... sins” and reception of “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38). And it saves (i.e., regenerates) them, since Peter urged them to “save yourselves”: which they accomplished by being baptized. Peter elsewhere reiterates the same thing by stating that baptism “saves you, ... through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 3:21), and draws the parallel of the eight persons in Noah’s ark, who were “saved through water” (1 Peter 3:20).

The Gospel of Mark, which many Bible scholars believe was primarily drawn from St. Peter, concurs. First it reports Jesus commanding His disciples, after he rose from the dead, to preach the gospel: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Then what is the very next thing he says (just as in Peter’s case, also)?: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).

Lastly, the notion of “souls being saved” after listening to the saving gospel and being baptized is also present in the text of Acts 2:

  • Acts 2:41, 47 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. ... And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (cf. 5:14: “believers were added to the Lord” and 11:24: “a large company was added to the Lord”)

What were they “added” to? They were added to the kingdom of Jesus; that is, the Church, which included all those who had likewise been “saved” via baptismal regeneration, and who had received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It was baptism that was the entrance rite: not the mere recitation of a sinner’s prayer (though that can surely accompany baptism), or signing one’s name to a confession of faith or creed. Baptism is the sacrament that accomplishes this: a physical means of appropriating grace to human beings.

Though baptism is the normative entrance rite and the concrete indication or sign of a soul entering the kingdom and being purified and regenerated, it’s not the only thing going on:

  • 1 Peter 1:9 As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.
  • 1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God ... [followed by baptism as the means of this salvation: 3:21]

Faith (for those above the age of reason) and grace are part and parcel of the whole process. They bring about the repentance that causes one to be baptized. But the primary reference to the notion of “saving souls” in the New Testament is Peter’s preaching in Acts 2 and the subsequent baptizing of three thousand new Christians. Baptism is clearly in the center of that process.

In other words, if someone wants to go out and “save souls,” baptism — according to the clear teaching of the Bible — can’t be separated from it. And it’s not just symbolic; it actually does something. Protestants admirably claim that they base their beliefs on the Bible. We observed above the biblical teaching on “saving souls.”