Over-simplifying Salvation: Are You Saved?

42 comments
Getting saved

The complete and full definition of something is often much deeper than the words that attempt to articulate it. In other words, how we define something may only express a mere part of the reality of the object being defined. That may be because we simply don’t know much about it yet. Or it may be that we simply can’t articulate a particular reality to the fullest extent using only words.

For example, we know that marriage is “the union of a man and a woman.” That is true. But does that express the full reality of a marriage? Of course not. And there are thousands of more beautiful words we can use to define marriage to help us more deeply understand its reality, but they still end up falling short in one way or another. Ultimately, the fullness of the reality of marriage can only be expressed by the marriage itself – not words.

But of course when talking and writing about things, we have to use words. And some theological conversations fall prey to similar types of inadequacies causing needless division in the Body of Christ. The topic of Salvation is one such conversation.

Trying to use a simple definition of salvation and then applying it to multiple, complex theological situations can get confusing. Not to mention that, as often is the case when dealing with metaphysical topics, trying to describe things that transcend space and time with our spacial and temporal language and understanding is a challenging thing to do. But we do the best we can.  However, in doing so we have to be careful not to put our own human limits on God or to give in to the great temptation to over-simplify something simply because we don’t fully understand it.

Regarding salvation, just from scripture we can reason that we have already been saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), we are being saved (1 Cor. 1:8, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and that we should also hope to be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). So which is it?  We can’t give in to over-simplification here.  We must dig deeper and figure out how all of these are true together.

Is it correct to say that salvation happens in a single moment in the past? Sure. But is it a complete definition? No. Our personal salvation is also ongoing and something we hope to continue happening until completed and final in the future (That is…if you believe in what scripture says).

So, for instance, asking somebody “Are you saved?” is a confusing question because it ignores the full meaning and reality of what salvation is. It would have also seemed like a very bizarre question to the early Christians by the way.

If I’ve been baptized, then yes, I’ve been saved. I can answer the question just fine. But the reason Catholics don’t phrase it that way is because it falls short of the full definition of what it means to be saved. It is inadequate and presumes (therefore deceiving people) that salvation happens solely at a single point in one’s life. It doesn’t.

It’s kind of like asking a 20 year old, “Have you been to college?”  The 20 year old could say “Yes.” And the questioner is left without knowing what that entirely means. So they’ve been to college, but did they complete college? Are they still going to college? Etc.

Or the 20 year old could say, “Yes, I just had my first class today – so I’ve been to college. But I’m also still going to college. And one day I hope to graduate from college.  Oh, and my Father paid in full already!” And that would be a more complete and meaningful answer.

Salvation is the same way. Asking someone “are you saved?” is an incomplete question. And we need to recognize that it often carries a different meaning depending on who is asking it!

That’s one of the things I love about the Catholic approach to theology in general. It recognizes that words are not reality (the Truth) in themselves. They merely attempt to describe the Truth. Consequently, words will always fall short because they are not the thing itself.

So attempting to use words to describe the very rich, deep, and mysterious truths of our Faith is often inadequate. And in doing so we recognize that the full meaning of a particular thing may not be comprehensively explained in one, neat sentence, but may only express one true part of its fuller meaning.

In Catholic apologetics you’ll hear things like “both/and” and “either/or.” Catholicism is a both/and kind of religion. It is comfortable embracing mystery.

Scripture and the Tradition of Christ’s Church are clear that salvation is both a moment and a process. It has both happened and is still happening. That may seem like the Church is accepting a contradiction. But that’s not true at all. Just because something is presently beyond our reason doesn’t mean it is unreasonable.  What is unreasonable is to limit God and His work with false dichotomies of either/or.  Again, we can’t fall to the temptation that just because we can’t presently understand something entirely that we must over-simplify it to the detriment of the fullness of Truth.  If we broaden our minds we can easily see how these beliefs can hold true.

Ultimately, “being saved” is not ever entirely past tense for us here on Earth.  It is not only something you said once or did once.  Or only something you think or believe.  It’s not a magic trick we let God do on us.  It’s not passive.

Salvation is an active process.  Not because God needs us to act – but because He desires us to act.  Our action is not necessary because Christ’s sacrifice is lacking.  It’s necessary because that is how God allows us to participate in His sacrifice.  The currency is Grace, but the economy is faith, hope and love – in action.  It’s a cross we wake up every day and embrace over and over again with each step we take through life.  It’s a grace we must continually cooperate with and allow to sanctify us unto the very end.

Anything less than that just misses the real, good stuff.

Further reading:
Justification vs. Sanctification vs. Salvation
Clarifying Faith and Works
Mark Shea on Salvation

42 comments Add comment

Tony L September 2, 2009 at 10:13 am

This is a great post! I was looking for a way to explain it to a couple of protestant friends that think it is only a single event once. Of course I lack the gift of expressing my thoughts so this post comes in handy, thanks and keep up the posts coming.

Ann July 21, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Love this article! I don’t believe we are truly Saved until we are resting with the Lord. Everything else seems like a commercial for blemish creme! There is no quick-fix. You have to wake up everyday wanting to make it to heaven!!!

Lisa@SoundMindandSpirit July 21, 2010 at 2:57 pm

I agree with Tony. You have explained this in a great way. I’m going to share it with friends who will find it helpful.

Jane December 2, 2010 at 11:54 am

A friend of mine recommends replying with, “Yes, I was saved on a Friday afternoon about two thousand years ago.” That takes the focus off us (ie, salvation by one time saying “Hey, Jesus, you rock!”) and onto Jesus’s salvific action in our lives.

bethanne December 2, 2010 at 1:14 pm

I like that! I sometimes quote or paraphrase Fr. Corapi and answer, “yes! everday!” That might actually be a two dimensional answer to a much more dimensional question, though. But, like this article states, “Are you saved?” is an incomplete question. I like your response to such a question, Jane! I think I will borrow it!

glenn lego December 2, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I appreciate this blog because I can think things but have trouble putting them into words. I have been through the evangelical version of salvation (several times) but every time I would hear another “fire and brimstone” sermon I’d feel the need to go forward and “get saved” all over again. Now armed with the Catholic understanding that salvation focuses on Christ rather than on me makes more sense than anything I’ve ever experienced.

Martha Wiggins December 3, 2010 at 7:46 am

I enjoyed this post. Many years ago, when we first moved into our neighborhood, I was invited to a ladies, non-denominational Bible study. It was very enlightening for me, and probably for them also. There were only two Catholic women in the group of eight to ten. Being saved was a topic which often came up. Of course they never really understood how we thought we were saved, when we didn’t follow their method of being saved! I wish I had your post back then. When they could never be convinced, I used to tell them that we ‘renewed’ our baptism at confirmation and were therefore, saved, more in tune with their beliefs. That seemed to be acceptable! I especially like your statement, “…words are not reality (the Truth) in themselves. They merely attempt to describe the Truth.”

Francis Khoury December 4, 2010 at 6:26 am

Thanks, this makes a lot more sense to me than the all-at-once salvation idea.

While specific moments in our life (e.g., Baptism, or even “being saved” by responding to an altar call in a non-Catholic church) are very important, faith and salvation are a life-long journey, and include times when one strays away from it all, and/or feels like God has left one alone.

Yvette January 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Thank you, what a great and clear article! I especially like the College student analogy. This will be very helpful to me in explaining Catholic teaching on salvation. Thanks again, so much! :)

Jane, I also like your response to the question, “Are you saved?”. I think I’ll be borrowing that in the future, if that’s ok with you! :)

D Roper January 11, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Fascinating discussion, everyone! I’m curious where in the Bible it talks about baptism securing salvation? How does that fit into Jesus’ command, “You must be born again” ? Yes, Jane, everyone’s salvation was secured on that cross, and He does wish all men to “come to the knowledge of the truth.” However, not everyone will choose to accept it.

Ann January 12, 2011 at 8:59 am

RE: Baptism and Salvation

Mk 16:15–16
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Jn 3:5
Jesus answered (Nicodemus), “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

Titus 3:5
… not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth (baptism) and renewal by the holy Spirit.

1 Pet 3:20–21
God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.

Rom 6:3–4
Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

Acts 2:38–39
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 will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.”

D Roper January 12, 2011 at 10:36 am

Thank you, Ann! Both Acts 2 and Mark 16 state repenting or believing first before being baptised. John 3:5 refers to being born again, as does Titus 3:5. In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul explains to Timothy how to be saved; it’s not thru baptism, it’s through faith in Jesus Christ: “and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Scripture needs to be interpreted by scripture. The thief on the cross had no time to be baptised! :) It’s a matter of the heart.

Ann January 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I think we all have are own interpretations of the scripture. Which would be why there are so many Christian denominations. The question is who is right? That is where my faith in the Church I believe Christ founded comes into play. I don’t know about you – but I don’t want to be the thief on the cross! I want to be part of the body of Christ, and be an active participant in my Salvation (from birth to death)! God’s grace can not be measured nor limited – but it also shouldn’t be tested. I don’t believe every person who isn’t baptized goes to hell, but I know baptism is a step in the right direction! I know that the sacraments help me get to heaven, and with God’s grace I might get there some day.

Dan April 11, 2013 at 7:04 am

Ann, Why do you doubt your salvation? You mentioned. “with God’s grace I might get there someday”.

The most important question that can be asked. ”How can I be saved?” deals with where we will spend eternity after our lives in this world are over. There is no more important issue than our eternal destiny. Thankfully, the Bible is abundantly clear on how a person can be saved. The Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul and Silas responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Thankfully, God is loving and merciful – eager to forgive us of our sins!
2 Peter 3:9 tells us, “…He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God desires to forgive us, so He provided for our forgiveness

The Bible says: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13)
The later part of Romans 6:23, syas, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The best part about these scriptures are you do not need any interpretatioin. Very easily explained.

I do not have the time to list the hundereds of God’s promises in scripture that says we have eternal life. We just have to believe in Jesus Christ. God’s grace is free. There is nothing we can do except believe in his son. If you need any other scriptures I will post as many as I can to help you along. Please have no doubts.

D Roper January 12, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Oh, Ann, don’t put your faith in a church, put your faith in Jesus Christ, as Peter tells the rulers and elders: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Baptism is an outward sign of an inward faith or belief, it has no power in and of itself. The sacraments won’t help you get to heaven. Belief in His name, inviting Him into your heart to rule and reign as revealed in Romans 10:10 – “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” You will no longer have to say “I might get there some day” – You will know that you know that you know!

Matthew Warner January 12, 2011 at 3:50 pm

D Roper – Where in the bible does it say that “Baptism is an outward sign of an inward faith or belief, it has no power in and of itself.”? It says no such thing. That belief is a “tradition of men” not found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As a Catholic I believe in 100% of what the scriptures tell us. And as scripture (many times) tells us (as Ann so clearly shows in her comment above), there is a direct link between baptism and salvation.

Yes, there are baptisms of desire (the criminal on the cross) and of blood (martyrs), but the way that Jesus’ Church and the obvious intention that Jesus and the Holy Spirit through scripture intends us to receive the graces of baptism is through a real, sacramental baptism by water…as the Catholic Church also teaches.

Believing in Jesus’ Church (his bride) is in no way believing LESS in Jesus or depending LESS on Jesus. It is quite the opposite. It is through His Church (which HE founded and gave us) that we experience Jesus Christ that much more intimately. It’s pretty awesome!

Dan April 10, 2013 at 7:43 am

The Bible Says . . .
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from ALLl unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Baptism, as an act of obedience, is only a symbol of what God has already done in your life. It has no magic power or ability to wash away sins. Only Jesus can wash away your sins. This happens when you ask Him into your life to be your Lord and Savior. The symbol of water is a cleansing symbol of what Jesus did when He saved you.

Being Baptized does not save you or wash away your sin.

The Bible says .“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”
Acts 16:31

Only by confessing that you are a sinner in need of a Savior will you receive salvation. Once you have received salvation you are ready for baptism. You do not have to be a bible scholar to be baptized, you don’t have to be a good person or sinless to be baptized. You don’t have to finish a church study course to be baptized. You don’t have to have permission from anyone to be baptized. You just have to trust Jesus to be your Lord and Savior! He is the one who washes away your sins, not the act of baptism.

Not being baptized does not keep you from being saved.

The Bible says . “Jesus replied, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:39-43

Two thieves were crucified next to Jesus, one on the left, one on the right. One their believed in Jesus and asked Him to allow him to be saved. The other did not. To the one who did, Jesus promised that he would be with Jesus in paradise. Did this thief have a chance to get off the cross and get baptized before he died? No. He died and then went to be with Jesus in paradise. He was never baptized. Baptism is not required for salvation, just as a sign of obedience. Should we get baptized? Of course, certainly, yes, and yes again!!! If something prevents us from being baptized will we still go to heaven? Of course, certainly, yes, and yes again!!! Should we purposely delay our baptism out of fear, procrastination, or disobedience? NO!

Matthew Warner April 10, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Dan – you’re cherry-picking scripture and over-simplifying it. Not that I’m suggesting it is overly complicated at all. But there’s just no reason to take it as far as you are taking it. Clearly Jesus requires us to be baptized. It is repeated throughout scripture. But you’d also benefit from realizing that Catholic teaching on baptism also includes the story of the thief and the martyrs…recognized as a kind of baptism of blood or baptism of desire. But clearly the norm intended was a water baptism that was clearly more than symbolic.

dan April 10, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Hello Matthew……
Here is a better explanation. There is no over-simplifying.

God’s word is the truth, John 17:17

1 Peter 3:21 does NOT teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?”

As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches by first filtering it through what we know the Bible teaches on the subject at hand. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation.

Those who believe that baptism is required for salvation are quick to use 1 Peter 3:21 as a “proof text,” because it states “baptism now saves you.” Was Peter really saying that the act of being baptized is what saves us? If he were, he would be contradicting many other passages of Scripture that clearly show people being saved (as evidenced by their receiving the Holy Spirit) prior to being baptized or without being baptized at all (like the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43). A good example of someone who was saved before being baptized is Cornelius and his household in Acts 10. We know that they were saved before being baptized because they had received the Holy Spirit, which is the evidence of salvation (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 3:24). The evidence of their salvation was the reason Peter allowed them to be baptized. Countless passages of Scripture clearly teach that salvation comes when one believes in the gospel, at which time he or she is sealed “in Christ with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).

Thankfully, though, we don’t have to guess at what Peter means in this verse because he clarifies that for us with the phrase “not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience.” While Peter is connecting baptism with salvation, it is not the act of being baptized that he is referring to (not the removal of dirt from the flesh). Being immersed in water does nothing but wash away dirt. What Peter is referring to is what baptism represents, which is what saves us (an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ). In other words, Peter is simply connecting baptism with belief. It is not the getting-wet part that saves but is the “appeal to God for a clean conscience” which is signified by baptism, that saves us. The appeal to God always comes first. First belief and repentance, then we are baptized to publicly identify ourselves with Christ.

An excellent explanation of this passage is given by Dr. Kenneth Wuest, author of Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. “Water baptism is clearly in the apostle’s mind, not the baptism by the Holy Spirit, for he speaks of the waters of the flood as saving the inmates of the ark, and in this verse, of baptism saving believers. But he says that it saves them only as a counterpart. That is, water baptism is the counterpart of the reality, salvation. It can only save as a counterpart, not actually. The Old Testament sacrifices were counterparts of the reality, the Lord Jesus. They did not actually save the believer, only in type. It is not argued here that these sacrifices are analogous to Christian water baptism. The author is merely using them as an illustration of the use of the word ‘counterpart.’

“So water baptism only saves the believer in type. The Old Testament Jew was saved before he brought the offering. That offering was only his outward testimony that he was placing faith in the Lamb of God of whom these sacrifices were a type….Water baptism is the outward testimony of the believer’s inward faith. The person is saved the moment he places his faith in the Lord Jesus. Water baptism is the visible testimony to his faith and the salvation he was given in answer to that faith. Peter is careful to inform his readers that he is not teaching baptismal regeneration, namely, that a person who submits to baptism is thereby regenerated, for he says, ‘not the putting away of the filth of the flesh.’ Baptism, Peter explains, does not wash away the filth of the flesh, either in a literal sense as a bath for the body, nor in a metaphorical sense as a cleansing for the soul. No ceremonies really affect the conscience. But he defines what he means by salvation, in the words ‘the answer of a good conscience toward God,” and he explains how this is accomplished, namely, ‘by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,’ in that the believing sinner is identified with Him in that resurrection.”

Part of the confusion on this passage comes from the fact that in many ways the purpose of baptism as a public declaration of one’s faith in Christ and identification with Him has been replaced by “making a decision for Christ” or “praying a sinner’s prayer.” Baptism has been relegated to something that is done later. Yet to Peter or any of the first-century Christians, the idea that a person would confess Christ as his Savior and not be baptized as soon as possible would have been unheard of. Therefore, it is not surprising that Peter would see baptism as almost synonymous with salvation. Yet Peter makes it clear in this verse that it is not the ritual itself that saves, but the fact that we are united with Christ in His resurrection through faith, “the pledge of a good conscience toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

Therefore, the baptism that Peter says saves us is the one that is preceded by faith in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ that justifies the unrighteous sinner (Romans 3:25-26; 4:5). Baptism is the outward sign of what God has done “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Matthew Warner April 11, 2013 at 2:12 am

Dan – nobody is claiming that baptism is the “removal of dirt from flesh.” You continue to soundly defeat straw man arguments and still have to do some twisting of scripture to come to your conclusion. You’re pov is a good example of what happens when somebody starts with a belief and then tries to fit scripture to it…rather than the other way around. Further, you do so without taking into account the full deposit of faith or even the historical facts of how the first Christians lived and practiced.

Your belief is an anomaly in the entire history of Christianity. Not even the first protestants believe as you do. Baptism as “only a symbol” is a “teaching of men” that has developed only in the recent few hundred years at best.

Here’s a good post on the (normative) necessity of Baptism.

And here is a good list of baptism scripture references (i.e. far more than just 1 Peter 3:21).

Peace.

Dan April 11, 2013 at 7:23 am

There is also nothing about just accepting Jesus as personal Lord and Savior in order to be saved.

Matthew, do you believe the statement above? The reason I posted this statement is because it was listed in one of your references from your previous response.

Ann January 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Thank you for your concern, D Roper. I’ll have to agree to disagree. I have complete faith in Jesus Christ and surrender to God every day. It is that faith that brings me to the Catholic Church. His Church. He speaks to me there. I wish you well, God bless!

D Roper January 12, 2011 at 2:19 pm

If you have complete faith in Jesus Christ and surrender to God every day, you are assured eternal life. I will reserve a big hug for you in Heaven! :)

D Roper January 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Matthew, there’s a great exposition on baptism here: http://www.revearljackson.com/uploads/3/2/2/5/322557/baptism_ryan_bradley.pdf. If you type in “Baptism required for salvation” into Google, you’ll find many reasons why it isn’t. The thief was promised salvation; different distinctions of baptisms aren’t anywhere in scripture. God has one body of believers, the church, and one of these days He’s coming back to take us all home :) I Cor. 12:13 “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Salvation comes from believing alone: Acts 2:21, “….whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Let’s keep it simple!

Matthew Warner January 12, 2011 at 5:23 pm

D Roper – you’re making my point with this post. You are over-simplifying it to the point of neglecting so much good stuff Christ gives us!

Do you not believe scripture in 1 Peter (and the many other verses) when it says “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.”?? Peter literally says baptism saves you now. And you say to Peter…”no no, let’s keep it simple. Pete!”

I’ve no doubt there are many flawed interpretations of scripture that can pick and choose which parts you want to believe (such as the link you provided above) and then concoct your own belief system that is as simple as you’d like. But if we want to respect (and believe) in all of scripture and Jesus’ teachings, then we must recognize it may not be as simple as you’d like. However, it’s still not very complicated…i mean, what the Church teaches on baptism is very simple. AND the best part is that it is consistent with ALL of scripture and apostolic teaching.

Dan April 10, 2013 at 7:54 am

1 Peter 3:21 does NOT teach that baptism is necessary for salvation?”

As with any single verse or passage, we discern what it teaches by first filtering it through what we know the Bible teaches on the subject at hand. In the case of baptism and salvation, the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind, including baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9). So, any interpretation which comes to the conclusion that baptism, or any other act, is necessary for salvation, is a faulty interpretation. For more information, please visit our webpage on “Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?”

Those who believe that baptism is required for salvation are quick to use 1 Peter 3:21 as a “proof text,” because it states “baptism now saves you.” Was Peter really saying that the act of being baptized is what saves us? If he were, he would be contradicting many other passages of Scripture that clearly show people being saved (as evidenced by their receiving the Holy Spirit) prior to being baptized or without being baptized at all (like the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43). A good example of someone who was saved before being baptized is Cornelius and his household in Acts 10. We know that they were saved before being baptized because they had received the Holy Spirit, which is the evidence of salvation (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 3:24). The evidence of their salvation was the reason Peter allowed them to be baptized. Countless passages of Scripture clearly teach that salvation comes when one believes in the gospel, at which time he or she is sealed “in Christ with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).

Thankfully, though, we don’t have to guess at what Peter means in this verse because he clarifies that for us with the phrase “not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience.” While Peter is connecting baptism with salvation, it is not the act of being baptized that he is referring to (not the removal of dirt from the flesh). Being immersed in water does nothing but wash away dirt. What Peter is referring to is what baptism represents, which is what saves us (an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ). In other words, Peter is simply connecting baptism with belief. It is not the getting-wet part that saves but is the “appeal to God for a clean conscience” which is signified by baptism, that saves us. The appeal to God always comes first. First belief and repentance, then we are baptized to publicly identify ourselves with Christ.

An excellent explanation of this passage is given by Dr. Kenneth Wuest, author of Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. “Water baptism is clearly in the apostle’s mind, not the baptism by the Holy Spirit, for he speaks of the waters of the flood as saving the inmates of the ark, and in this verse, of baptism saving believers. But he says that it saves them only as a counterpart. That is, water baptism is the counterpart of the reality, salvation. It can only save as a counterpart, not actually. The Old Testament sacrifices were counterparts of the reality, the Lord Jesus. They did not actually save the believer, only in type. It is not argued here that these sacrifices are analogous to Christian water baptism. The author is merely using them as an illustration of the use of the word ‘counterpart.’

“So water baptism only saves the believer in type. The Old Testament Jew was saved before he brought the offering. That offering was only his outward testimony that he was placing faith in the Lamb of God of whom these sacrifices were a type….Water baptism is the outward testimony of the believer’s inward faith. The person is saved the moment he places his faith in the Lord Jesus. Water baptism is the visible testimony to his faith and the salvation he was given in answer to that faith. Peter is careful to inform his readers that he is not teaching baptismal regeneration, namely, that a person who submits to baptism is thereby regenerated, for he says, ‘not the putting away of the filth of the flesh.’ Baptism, Peter explains, does not wash away the filth of the flesh, either in a literal sense as a bath for the body, nor in a metaphorical sense as a cleansing for the soul. No ceremonies really affect the conscience. But he defines what he means by salvation, in the words ‘the answer of a good conscience toward God,” and he explains how this is accomplished, namely, ‘by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,’ in that the believing sinner is identified with Him in that resurrection.”

Part of the confusion on this passage comes from the fact that in many ways the purpose of baptism as a public declaration of one’s faith in Christ and identification with Him has been replaced by “making a decision for Christ” or “praying a sinner’s prayer.” Baptism has been relegated to something that is done later. Yet to Peter or any of the first-century Christians, the idea that a person would confess Christ as his Savior and not be baptized as soon as possible would have been unheard of. Therefore, it is not surprising that Peter would see baptism as almost synonymous with salvation. Yet Peter makes it clear in this verse that it is not the ritual itself that saves, but the fact that we are united with Christ in His resurrection through faith, “the pledge of a good conscience toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

Therefore, the baptism that Peter says saves us is the one that is preceded by faith in the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ that justifies the unrighteous sinner (Romans 3:25-26; 4:5). Baptism is the outward sign of what God has done “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Matthew Warner January 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Here is also a good link with a number of references to Christian teaching on baptism and other sacraments as well that may give more perspective on it.

D Roper January 12, 2011 at 5:44 pm

There can’t be any more good stuff than the free gift of salvation, eternal life with him expressed in two words: Jesus saves! I can’t imagine when Jesus comes back to take His churchas one body, he’s going to leave those behind who haven’t been baptised. The Catholic Church adds so much more that Jesus never said or implied. Mary sinless? I don’t think so, contradicts New and Old Testament, Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and falled short of the glory of God” and Isaiah 64:6, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Let’s stick to scripture, and have scripture interpret scripture. We’ll have to agree to disagree, as Ann said. I see no benefit, example or precedent in the Word for praying to anyone but my Lord. I’m gonna stick to what works! :)

Matthew Warner January 12, 2011 at 9:48 pm

D Roper – It’s not our job to judge who will go to heaven. But to humble ourselves to what Jesus has asked of us.

You’ve expressed yet again a number of views that are not at all found in scripture, but instead are relatively new “traditions of men” within Christian denominationalism. The first Christians (including those in the new testament and thereafter) neither spoke, nor believed as you do.

You keep insisting that we let scripture interpret scripture, yet when faced with scripture that contradicts your beliefs, you simply ignore it and take only the bits of other scripture that can be twisted to support your view.

And I can assure you there are full and scriptural explanations for all of your misunderstandings of the Catholic teachings you reference here. And if you want to “stick with what works” i would suggest, again, the Catholic faith…as it has worked well enough for about 2000 years that it has survived all matter of scandal while also preserving authentic Christian teaching. No other denomination or belief system has done any such thing. And protestantism continues to devolve and divide more and more every year…both doctrinally and organizationally. I’m not sure what “works” about that.

Peace!

D Roper January 13, 2011 at 10:08 am

Oh, Matthew He DOES give us assurance of salvation and eternal life! I ache for Anne (above) who “hopes to get to heaven some day.” That is not His desire that His people be in confusion or doubt. There is just so much in the Catholic faith that does not reside in God’s Word: Purgatory, Mary being conceived without sin, the rosary, praying to those who have died. Since I’m not Catholic, am I not a believer assured of salvation? Why am I denied sharing the Lord’s supper with you? That seems divisive to me. Only one “true” church? Seems divisive as well. I think when we get to heaven, Mary will shake her head sadly and say, Why were you exalting me? It’s Jesus who deserves Your worship! Peace to you, Matthew.

Ann January 13, 2011 at 9:10 pm

D Roper

This conversation started as – “I’m curious”. Clearly it is not curiosity that sparked your questions. I am not confused nor doubtful. I know it is my responsibility to renew my faith daily. Never say never – we all have the nature to fall into sin and through sin we turn away from God. This conversation has turned from curiosity to judgement. I believe there are many places in the Bible where it says not to judge your fellow brothers and sisters. So perhaps if you can’t keep the judgement from entering your comments you should find a blog more suited to your school of thought. I take my faith very seriously, it is what I practice daily. I teach it to my kids. I have a strong devotion to Mary, she is not a distraction she is a path. She brings me closer to Jesus every day . I respect your opinions, but at this point I think we are just talking in circles. Please respect my beliefs and do not ache for me. I will be just fine. Save your worries for those who have not found Christ, for the poor, the sick, and the suffering. May God bless us all!

D Roper January 14, 2011 at 12:43 am

I meant no judgment of anyone; it just saddens me that the assurance of salvation is not taught, as there is such freedom and peace found there! I know it will all be moot point when we get on the other side. Blessings to all.

Matthew Warner January 14, 2011 at 1:24 am

In all kindness, the kind of assurance you are talking about is not taught by Catholics because it was not taught by Jesus and the apostles – and particularly not in scripture. The Apostle Paul himself says “See then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off” (Rom. 11:22). He is speaking to Christians here, warning that they too will be “cut off” if they do not “continue in his kindness.” It’s overwhelmingly clear. Paul also says (among many, many other things) that he is “working out his salvation in fear and trembling.” Yet, here again, you choose to ignore some scripture in favor of other scripture that you can twist to support your own relatively new tradition of men (the idea of this “assured salvation” that you talk about has only been around a relatively short time in Christian history and you certainly won’t find any evidence of it being believed by the first/early Christians at all).

Here is a great article with a much deeper explanation of this issue, along with a lot of other scripture to support it: Assurance of Salvation

Also, please check out this link if you’d like some scripture references to all of the Catholic teachings you mention above in your other comment.

And I think you might find this post helpful as well: Why Do Catholics Believe in Things Not in the Bible?

And since you asked, one reason the Catholic Church asks non-Catholics to abstain from receiving the Eucharist is that, first, you do not believe it to be what we believe it to be (Jesus Body and Blood, as He claims it is). And second, it’s because you are not actually in “communion” with the Catholic Church. Receiving communion in the Catholic Church is also a way of saying, “Amen, I believe this is the body and blood of Jesus Christ and I believe in the teachings of the Church – which He gave authority to.” If you are not in communion with those beliefs, then I’m not sure why you would want to participate in that communion?

Either way, it is not our “communion” that is divisive. That’s entirely backwards. What is divisive is splitting off from Christ’s Church and dividing it and abandoning many of its teachings (as happened in the “reformation” and continues to happen within protestantism continually to this day). Not sharing the communion table together is simply a consequence of that – not the other way around.

Peace be with you!

D Roper January 14, 2011 at 9:14 am

We will agree to disagree; thank you for taking the time to share the links, Matt! Blessings!

sage September 13, 2012 at 12:32 am

Hey Matthew and d roper. How many angels dance on the head of a pin?
Pi–ing contest? How very humble are Christians!

Kathy Moser October 5, 2012 at 5:17 am

Can’t we all just embrace, and love each other? I am Catholic.

Joseph D'Hippolito January 6, 2013 at 4:34 am

Matthew, I think you’re confusing salvation with sanctification. The latter is a process that ends only when we die. The former defines a believer’s status before God in Christ. Those who repent from sin and embrace His atoning sacrifice as the only way to redemption receive salvation. The Holy Spirit is a seal (see Ephesians) of God’s promise through Christ to redeem believers.

Matthew Warner April 10, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Joseph – I think you are confusing justification with salvation. Salvation is a much more broad and less precise term that can be applied in a variety of ways. Here are the Catholic definitions of each: http://fallibleblogma.com/index.php/justification-vs-sanctification-vs-salvation/

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