Was the Baptism by the Holy Spirit just for the Disciples?

It’s clear from simply reading the New Testament that baptism by the Holy Spirit is not just for the apostles (Jesus’ first disciples). To see this, we only need to go to the most famous verse in the whole Bible, and read it in context. It is, of course, John 3:16. It’s important to read the whole section in John 3.

Here’s the situation: Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and a member of the Jewish ruling council. Nicodemus was not an apostle. He asked Jesus how someone can be born again (v4). Jesus answered this way:

Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Jesus was explaining how anyone could be born again, which is a requirement for being part of God’s kingdom. That’s all the evidence we need, but that’s not all we have. We can also look at 1 Corinthians 12:13: For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Clearly, not everyone in the church at Corinth was an apostle…right?

We can also go to Mark 1:8 and see this, spoken by John the Baptist: After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Clearly, John was not addressing only the apostles…right?

No, baptism in the Holy Spirit IS what makes one a “new creature” in Christ. We must be born again, which is a spiritual thing…performed by the Holy Spirit on everyone who believes the gospel and places their trust in God. Have you decided to trust God with your life yet?

Thanks for the question, Billy.

Can you go to Heaven if you’re not baptized?

Can you go to Heaven if you're not baptized? Do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven? What if you're not baptized?

I saw your comments regarding baptism and you said baptism is not necessary to get to heaven…but its Jesus’ commandment for us to be baptised. If we don’t, aren’t we disobeying? Isn’t disobedience a sin? How can we get to heaven without baptism?

Aaron

You ask an interesting question, and it’s one that puzzles a lot of people. Your question isn’t really about baptism, but about salvation. How, you ask, can a disobedient person go to Heaven? You may be surprised at the answer:

Sin isn’t what sends people to Hell, so it’s not the disobedient who go there.

I know: that’s not what you’ve heard before. Let’s walk through it together…

  1. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) . The Bible is very clear on this. There’s a penalty for sin.
  2. Jesus paid the penalty for all sin, for all people, for all time. 2 Corinthians 5:14 tells us this very clearly: ‘one died for all, therefore all died’ . Jesus died to take our place…He paid the penalty for ALL of our sin. There’s no sin that His death did not cover.
  3. Because #1 is true, and because #2 is true, then #3 is equally true: were you to sin by never being baptized, that would not send you to Hell. God would not make you pay the penalty that Jesus paid for you!

Now, that leads us to another question: why does anyone end up in Hell? The Bible is abundantly clear that some people will be there, but it’s not because of their sin. Read more in 2 Corinthians 5: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Those who are reconciled to God go to Heaven. Those who are not reconciled to God go to Hell. Sin is no longer the issue because, as that passage tells us, “all died” when Jesus died for us. There’s no penalty left to pay.

So: because all sins for all time were covered by Jesus’ death, nobody would go to Hell for not being baptized. They would only go there for not being reconciled to God. Let me ask you: are YOU reconciled to God? We’re not perfect, but God’s children will naturally mature and look for ways to please Him. If you’re a Christian, you should be baptized…not so you can go to Heaven, but because you want all that God has for you. If God thinks baptism important enough to command it, then we should do it.

Acts 2:38 and Baptismal Regeneration

Can you go to Heaven if you're not baptized? Do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven? What if you're not baptized?

One of the hottest topics at GodWords is whether one needs to be baptized to become a Christian. This post is actually a comment…I replied to a commenter, and thought it would be useful to post it here as well.

Acts 2:38 says to be baptized for the remission of sins.

Anonymous GodWords Reader

Nope. Acts 2:38 clearly says to REPENT and be baptized…for the remission of sins. It’s important to read what’s actually there: Peter replied, “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.

There are two ways to read this:

  1. Repent and be baptized (because without both your sins won’t be remitted).
  2. Repent for the remission of sins (and don’t forget to be baptized while you’re at it).

Acts 2:38 can be legitimately read in both ways, linguistically. Theologically, not so much. In light of the rest of Scripture – especially Acts 10 – it’s clear that baptism better fits the #2 reading. Were baptism part of regeneration, Paul would not have said “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”. He would have said “For Christ sent me to preach and baptize”.

You questioned me on what “for” means. You can see the definition here. It can mean into, unto, to, towards, for, or among. Greek prepositions are notoriously tricky things. There are lots of them, and they’re pretty complex. It’s always a GOOD idea to do what you’ve done, and compare one usage with another. I applaud you. However: in light of the accepted definitions of EIS (“for”), I see no conflict. The only conflict I see is the one where baptism is NOT necessary for salvation in most passages, but is presumed to be necessary in others.

Because I don’t believe that Scripture contradicts itself, I’m forced to rule out your interpretation of Acts 2:38. It’s not a dogmatic position that I prefer…it’s a reasoned position, arrived at in light of the whole of Scripture.

Questions about Baptism

Can you go to Heaven if you're not baptized? Do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven? What if you're not baptized?

An awful lot of GodWords readers ask me this question: do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven? They ask it in a thousand different ways, but it’s still the same question.

I’m a stat junkie. I don’t obsess over the traffic info for GodWords, but I do keep an eye on things. As a web designer and former search engine consultant, it’s kind of my job. Anyway, I spent a couple of minutes looking through my stats today. I have a bet with Andy Williamson from TheWordslinger.com over who will get more traffic, so I always check on the first of the month. Here’s what I found: an awful lot of you are worried about baptism.

So far this year, more than 4000 people have searched for a phrase like “do I have to be baptized” and come to GodWords to read what I’ve written. While that’s gratifying, it’s also a bit disheartening: a lot of people have no idea about what the Bible says, or about whether they, themselves, will end up in Heaven. Sometimes, it’s a bit depressing to see that. Still, that’s why GodWords exists: to make available the kinds of things I learn while studying Scripture.

This post isn’t at all intended to be the final word on baptism…but I thought I’d pull together a handful of questions and link to some info, just for your convenience.

Q: Do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven?
Yes and no. You do NOT have to be dunked in water in a public ceremony to go to Heaven. You DO, however, have to be baptised by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). That’s what happens when you trust God with your life: the Holy Spirit comes to live in you (John 14:16-17, Romans 8:9) and makes you a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17). You can’t do this by yourself, you can’t make it happen on your own. This is God’s gift to every believer.

Q: Can an unbaptized person go to Heaven?
This seems like the same question, but it comes from a different angle. Jesus told the thief on the cross next to Him that they would be together in Paradise that day. That thief, of course, was never baptized as a believer in Christ…yet Jesus gave him that promise. From that example alone, it’s clear that an unbaptized person CAN go to Heaven. To make the point even more clearly, anybody who claims that you have to be baptized in Jesus’ name to go to Heaven must also make the claim that Abraham MUST end up in Hell, because he wasn’t baptized. As you can see, that’s nonsense.

Q: Will unbaptized babies end up in Heaven?
While Scripture doesn’t address this specifically, it does address it indirectly. People don’t go to Hell because they’ve never heard about Jesus Christ, or because they never got baptized, or because they were too young to become a Christian. People go to Hell because they reject God. Unless you can back up the claim that babies can reject God, you’ll have a hard time making a case that God will send babies to Hell. God is just…and being eternally separated from God due to no fault of your own would be unjust. We can rest assured that babies go to Heaven.

Baptism is not a spiritual act. Baptism is a public ritual where a new believer is immersed in water to show that he or she is ready to join the community of believers. In the New Testament, baptism went hand in hand with being “born again”…first you believed, then you were baptized as a natural result of your new faith. Being baptised is an act of obedience, which IS a spiritual act…but the part about getting wet does nothing more than express your desire to join with other believers, make your t-shirt temporarily see-through, and mess up your hair. I heartily recommend baptism for Christians…it’s a powerful testimony of your new life in Christ. I also heartily recommend Bible study, so believers will know that it is not baptism that saves them, but that God graciously saves those who have faith in Him. As it is written:

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3)

You can trust God with your life. I hope you will. If you haven’t, but you’d like to learn more, please feel free to contact me for more information.

Do infants go to Heaven if they’re not baptized?

Should infants be baptized? Is it okay to baptize a baby? Do I need to be baptized?

I love getting email from GodWords readers, and I always answer each message personally. Sometimes, the messages are intensely personal. While I try to be sensitive to those involved, I think that many private questions deserve to be published. I would never divulge anyone’s identity in a touchy situation, but here’s how I see it: if one person asks, chances are good that others struggle over the same issue. I’ve left out some of the details, of course…but here’s a recent question:

I lost my grandaughter to illness at the age of 4 months. I have been haunted by the fact she wasn’t baptised. I always wonder if she is in heaven and ok. What is your feeling about this?

A GodWords Reader

I’m very sorry to hear about your granddaughter. I can’t imagine how difficult that is for you, but I hope to help make things just a little better. Do not worry about her spiritual condition. =)

We are all born in sin, to be sure. However: we have no choice in that matter. Since it’s out of our control, God would not judge us for it. As Paul wrote in Romans 4, “where there is no law there is no transgression”. Your granddaughter couldn’t have known about any laws, rules, or even guidelines…much less break any of them, so she couldn’t be guilty of any sin. She was guiltless, of course.

According to 2 Corinthians 5, Jesus’ death on the cross covered ALL sins for ALL time for ALL people. That doesn’t mean that everybody will go to Heaven, of course…but that passage makes it clear that it’s not sin that sends people to Hell. Heaven is closed only to the people who reject God. Your precious little granddaughter could not have rejected God. There is no reason to worry, as God is always just. He loves your little one very much.

Baptism, of course, is not a spiritual act. It’s a social act. As I’ve written elsewhere, baptism is a sign to a believers that you share their faith and want to join their community. If you’re being baptized, you’re probably being obedient to God’s instructions to be baptized…and THAT is indeed a spiritual act. The process of getting wet has nothing at all to do with whether you end up in Heaven.

I hope that eases your mind. There is only one question left to ask. I don’t want to offend you by being very personal, but it’s important. Here’s the question: will you be joining your granddaughter in Heaven? If you trust God with your own life, you will be reunited with her. I hope, and I pray, that you trust God…not just to be reunited with your granddaughter, but to receive the grace and forgiveness and love and joy and – especially – the peace that He gives to all who trust Him. If you need to know more about that, please let me know.

Did the Thief on the Cross Go to Heaven When He Died?

No.

Let’s look at some Scripture for our answer. Before they died, Jesus told the thief that they would be together in Paradise on THAT VERY DAY. Jesus could not have meant Heaven. After all, in John 20:17 (several days later, after His resurrection) Jesus told Mary that He had not yet ascended to His Father…so Paradise cannot be heaven.

What is Paradise?

Let’s go to Luke 16:19-31…the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Here Jesus tells of “Abraham’s Bosom” and “Hades”…the waiting places of the righteous and unrighteous dead, respectively. There’s a gulf fixed between them that prohibits crossing over, but they are adjoined. The two together were known as Paradise.

1 Peter 3:18-20 tells us that after Jesus died He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient in the days of Noah. That prison is Hades, which is part of Paradise. Hades is more literally translated “the grave”. The translation to “hell” is an unfortunate one, as hell is not yet populated. So: Jesus told the truth to Mary about not yet ascending to His Father…and He told the truth to the thief about being together in Paradise THAT DAY. Peter’s words give further evidence that this explanation is accurate.

Do you have to be baptized to go to Heaven?

Can you go to Heaven if you're not baptized? Do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven? What if you're not baptized?

That’s a good question. Most people are aware that there are different points of view on the question of whether baptism is required for salvation. Scripture, however, is abundantly clear. Baptism is NOT required for salvation.

Christian baptism has its roots in a much older tradition. Converts to Judaism were baptized in a ritual bath called a MIKVAH. This immersion was a public statement that you wanted to join a community of faith, that you believed as they did, and that you intended to live that way. There are other uses for MIKVAH, such as in preparation for beginning ministry as a Jewish priest, cleansing tools and utensils for use in the Temple, and so on.

When Jesus was baptized, He was beginning His ministry. When those who came after Him were baptized, they were making a public statement of their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, and of their intention to join the Christian community. There’s no part of the ritual that leads to salvation.

Of course, Christians were commanded to be baptized in Scripture…but not until they were Christians. While there are certainly a few verses that appear to teach that baptism cleanses a person from sin, closer inspection shows that they don’t. We have examples of people being saved before baptism, and that should clear things up. Certainly the thief on the cross comes to mind, as do the words of Romans 6:3-4

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Baptism symbolizes Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our decision to partake in the benefits of His sacrifice. Paul pointed to the fact that salvation doesn’t require baptism when he wrote to the Corinthians:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Paul definitely would not say that if baptism were necessary to go to heaven. Possibly the most damaging evidence against the belief that baptism is a requirement for salvation is found in Acts 10:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

The Gentiles (non-Jews) believed the gospel and were saved…and then they were baptized. Again, Scripture is clear on the matter. If you have specific questions about particular verses, let me know.