Millions of Christians Think Baptism Is Unrelated to Justification — Here’s Why They’re Wrong

‘Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy.’ (CCC 1992)

Rembrandt, “The Baptism of the Eunuch,” 1626
Rembrandt, “The Baptism of the Eunuch,” 1626 (photo: Public Domain)

The Bible repeatedly and undeniably connects baptism to redemption and salvation. It also closely identifies baptism and justification. Recently, I realized this all the more, in answering a Protestant apologist who tried to deny the connection. This person claimed that Jesus redeemed “independent of baptism.” But that’s simply not true:

Matthew 28:19 (RSV) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …
Mark 16:15-16 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
John 3:5-6 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
John 3:22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized.
John 3:26 And they came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.”
John 4:1-3 Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again to Galilee.

Far from attempting to separate baptism from salvation or redemption, Jesus immediately mentioned baptism after referring to the making of new disciples, and connected baptism with believing, for salvation. He noted that baptism was required to “enter the kingdom of God.” He baptized via his disciples, who represent him (Mark 16:17; Luke 10:16). The Bible refers to Jesus (i.e., his entourage) baptizing in this manner three times (John 3:22, 26; 4:1-2), and even “baptizing more disciples than John” (the Baptist). Thus, he was baptizing more than even the person (John the Baptist) whose main characteristic and function was to baptize!

The first thing the new disciple was to do was to be baptized. It’s what St. Paul did, washing away his sins (Acts 9:17-18; 22:16); it’s what Cornelius and other Gentiles did, after the former was told by an angel to go see Peter, to “hear what” he had “to say” (Acts 10:22). When Peter met them and saw that the Holy Spirit come down on them (10:44-46) what did he say?:

Acts 10:47-48 “Can anyone 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.

It’s exactly how St. Peter, the leader of the Church, acted on the Day of Pentecost, too. The Holy Spirit came down (Acts 2:1-4), he preached the first sermon of the Christian age (Acts 2:14-36), and here’s what happened next:

Acts 2:37-41 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 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.

Note that Peter associated it with “forgiveness of sins” and receiving “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And he says that in being baptized, the new believers would “save” themselves (cf. 1 Peter 3:21). Moreover, Luke the narrator casually assumes that it is baptism that adds “souls” to the kingdom of God. What more does one need, pray tell? Again, in the scene with the Ethiopian eunuch, right after Philip “told him the good news of Jesus” (Acts 8:35), he baptized him (8:38). Simon the magician “believed” after hearing Philp preach and was “baptized” (Acts 8:12-13), and many others after they “believed” as a result of Philip’s proclamation of the gospel, “were baptized” (Acts 8:12).

In Lydia’s case, immediately after “The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14), she was “baptized with her household” (16:15). The Philippian jailer was told by Paul and Silas, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31), and — it was just a mere coincidence — the next thing that the text informs us of is, “he was baptized at once, with all his family” (16:33). “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized” (18:8). Paul found some “disciples” who had been baptized by John the Baptist. Sure enough, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5).

St. Paul concurs, too: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4); “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13); “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27); “and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God ...” (Colossians 2:12). 

The biblical data is overwhelming and completely consistent.