Water Baptism

Are We Saved By Water Baptism?

Table of Contents


This article is a Biblical examination of the Catholic doctrine of
regeneration through water baptism; i.e., that water baptism actually saves the sinner.

The Catholic Position

The following items from the Saint Joseph Confirmation Book illustrate the Catholic position:
  • 19. When do we first receive the life of grace? We first receive the life of grace in the sacrament of baptism.
  • 78. What is (water) baptism? Baptism is a new birth as a child of God, the beginning of a new life of God's grace in us.
  • 79. What does Jesus do for us in (water) baptism? Jesus himself baptizes and makes us holy with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and marks our soul with a sign that cannot be taken away. Jesus also welcomes us into his Church.
  • 80. Does (water) baptism take away sin? Baptism takes away original sin, the sin we received from our first parents, and also any other sin.

In short, the Catholic stance is that water baptism removes sin and provides salvation.

We Are Saved By Grace Alone Through Faith Alone

In the following paragraphs, we will attempt to examine the Biblical support for this view, then illustrate why such an interpretation is invalid. However, in order to present the truth on this issue, we must first examine what the Bible unequivocally states about how we are saved. The scriptures are not always easy to understand, but if there's one message that's clearly repeated throughout the Scriptures, it's the doctrine that God justifies us by grace alone through faith alone, as opposed to justification by water baptism, by laws, or by any other works a man can do. In fact, it is stated so often and so emphatically, that the following list may seem laborious, even though it's non-exhaustive. (We have restricted the list to 50 proof texts and 21 supporting texts.) Nevertheless, this in itself serves to illustrate the clarity of the scriptures concerning justification by grace alone through faith alone. This is a critical dividing point between various churches today, including a major point of controversy between Catholicism and Protestantism.

The best places to begin are the Bible passages that are dedicated to teaching the doctrine of how to be saved: Romans 1 through 8, and Galatians 1 through 6. Many other passages will be noted later because the same doctrine is restated in many more scriptures. However, to begin, the foundation for any discussion on justification must come from where that doctrine is being explicitly taught; i.e., that's why these entire passages were written: to clarify the doctrine of justification and to show, without question, how we are saved and what saves us.

Proof Texts

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the
salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)

This verse introduces the explanation of how to be saved by summarizing the main theme: That the gospel message (Christ's free grace gift to us of His own death and resurrection to cover our sin) is actually the very power of God which provides salvation for everyone who believes this gospel message.

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:17)

This gospel reveals a righteousness from God which is bestowed to believers by the faith with which they believe this gospel and live by it.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:22)

This verse says that God is the one who provides this righteousness for us. We don't perform any works for it, and we must only accept his free grace gift by faith. This act of freely bestowing this unearned righteousness to us is called justification. God justifies us by imparting the absolute righteousness of Jesus Christ to us, thus declaring us to be righteous in His sight. When God looks at us, He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which alleviates any condemnation for sin.

And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24)

This verse emphasizes the grace through which God freely justifies us through the redemption provided by Christ on the cross. By this redemption, God purchased us out of the slave market of sin from which we had no other escape from our guilt of sin.

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (Romans 3:25)

The verse emphasizes the faith through which we are save.

He (God) did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:26)

The saving work of God demonstrates his sovereign justice by not compromising on the issue of sin, but by requiring the sacrifice of His own son in order to impute His righteousness on to us. Again, this verse also emphasizes that the ones whom God justifies are those who have faith in Jesus Christ.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. (Romans 3:27)

This verse clearly states that our salvation comes on the principle of faith, because nobody is saved by observing the law (man's works).

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Romans 3:28)

Again, this verse emphatically states that we are justified by faith, and not by observing the law (works).

What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Romans 4:3)

Many of the Christians whom Paul was addressing had come out of Judaism, so in order to clearly illustrate that we are justified by believing the gospel message, Paul explains that Abraham also was justified because he believed God.

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)

This passage explains that there are two ways to receive anything: by works, or by faith. For example, when we "work" for our employer, he gives us "wages" in return because we earned and deserved those wages in exchange for our work. In this case, our employer wasn't exercising grace. On the contrary, the other way to receive something, by faith, is how we receive our salvation from God. In this case, we have done no works which are worthy of His gift of salvation, so He can freely give it to us in grace, apart from anything we have done. This passage also addresses the perils of relying upon one's own works for justification. It suggests that if we insist upon working for salvation, we invalidate God's grace. Since His salvation isn't accepted by grace, completely free, through faith, we can't be saved, because salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. In other words, grace and works are mutually exclusive.

David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works. (Romans 4:7)

King David also recognized this truth of justification by faith apart from works.

Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:9)

Again, Paul reiterates that even Abraham, the first Jew, was justified by faith.

Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. (Romans 4:10-11)

Again, to better explain grace to the Jews, who were still making the adjustment from law to grace, Paul illustrates this grace through circumcision, one of the favorite legalisms of the Old Testament Jews. He notes that circumcision (a human work) never justified anyone. Even for Jews who had been circumcised, it was by their faith that they were justified, not by their circumcision or any other human work. He logically explains that this was the case because they had this faith BEFORE they were circumcised. Additionally, he goes on to say again that the ones who are justified are all who believe, even if they haven't been circumcised at all.

And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:12)

Just like the uncircumcised believers, the believers who had both faith and circumcision are also justified by their faith, not by their circumcision.

It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. (Romans 4:14)

Again Paul notes that God's promise to Abraham was through the justification which comes by faith.

For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless. (Romans 4:15)

If we were justified by law (works), then not only does our faith have no value, but the promise of a sovereign and just God is worthless, and this violates the very character of God.

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. (Romans 4:16)

This verse contains an extremely important, but often overlooked principle, revealed in the words, "so that." It is saying that the reason that we're justified by faith, and not by works, is "so that" it can be compatible with God's grace. Since we are saved by God's grace (Ephesians 2:5), then the only thing that could be compatible with that grace is faith, not works. If we were somehow saved by works, then only those who worked could be saved, so they would be saved by their works instead of by grace. Paul notes that this cannot be true because, just as he has already explained in Romans 4:4-5, grace and works are mutually exclusive. If we were saved by works, then nobody could be saved by grace (through faith) alone.

As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. (Romans 4:17)

Again, Abraham was saved because he simply believed God.

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." (Romans 4:18)

Again, Abraham was saved because he simply believed God.

Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God. (Romans 4:20)

Stated yet another way, Abraham regarded God's message in faith, not in unbelief.

But also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness--for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (Romans 4:24)

Just as Abraham was justified by faith, so are we who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

Emphatically stated, we have been justified through faith. Because of this, we have peace (reconciliation) with God through Christ. We gained access to Christ by faith into grace.

So that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)

Just as sin brought condemnation to us, grace, through the righteousness of Christ, brought eternal life to us through Christ.

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith, but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone." (Romans 9:30-32)

Having clarified that Gentiles are justified by faith, Paul explains that the Jews who tried to attain righteousness through the law (works) were not justified. His statement, "as if it were by works," underscores the truth of justification by faith, not works. Works are a stumbling stone to justification.

Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)

Who receives the required righteousness of Christ? Everyone who believes. Christ is the "end of the law" (works) since His "work" on the cross was the ultimate "work." Because of this, the only logical pathway to salvation is through Christ (Matthew 7:13, John 10:9, John 14:7) by grace alone through faith alone, and works CAN'T save us.

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

We are saved when we believe the gospel message in our hearts. This verse is sometimes controversial due to those who don't understand that it presents a cause and effect. The cause (salvation by believing the gospel), causes the effect (public profession of that belief in Christ).

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:10)

We are justified when we believe the gospel message in our hearts. This verse is sometimes controversial due to those who don't understand that it presents a cause and effect. The cause (salvation by believing the gospel), causes the effect (public profession of that belief in Christ).

As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." (Romans 10:11)

Faith is trusting in Jesus Christ instead of ourselves.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? (Romans 10:14)

Again, belief is what's necessary.

And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6)

Just as in Romans 4:4-5, we see that grace and works are mutually exclusive.

Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. (Romans 11:20)

Unbelievers are lost because of unbelief, not because of some work they failed to do. Correspondingly, believers stand firm in their faith.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Through our trust (faith) in Christ, as another grace aspect of salvation, we receive the Holy Spirit. Since He comes by faith, He comes at the point in time that we believe the gospel message, not at some subsequent point as some believe.

Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

How could it be said any more plainly or emphatically? This is probably the most emphatic and complete verse on justification in the entire Bible. How could this possibly be any further clarified?

For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. (Galatians 2:19)

Since we're dead to the law, our works couldn't possibly save us.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Again, we live by faith (Romans 1:17), and Christ gave Himself for us in grace.

Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Galatians 3:6)

Again, even Abraham's justification came because he believed God.

Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. (Galatians 3:7)

Again, those who what? Believe.

The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." (Galatians 3:8)

This amazing revelation tells us that not only are we justified by faith, but this is what God was talking about when He told Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him. We now see that this meant that Gentiles would be saved by faith, as well as Jews.

So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:9)

Who is blessed just as Abraham was blessed through faith? Those who have faith.

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." (Galatians 3:10)

The law is a curse because nobody can keep it perfectly. Therefore, if we were justified by the law (works), nobody could be saved.

Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." (Galatians 3:11)

This is as plain as Galatians 2:16.

The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." (Galatians 3:12)

Concerning justification, law (works) and faith are mutually exclusive. The fact that we're saved by faith means that we couldn't possibly be saved by works.

He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:14)

Just as in Romans 15:13 and Ephesians 1:13, along with our justification by faith comes the Holy Spirit.

For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. (Galatians 3:18)

Salvation by grace is consistent with God's promise to Abraham.

But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:22)

The promise is given (in grace) through faith in Jesus Christ in order that it could be given to those who believe.

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:23-24)

The very purpose of the law was to lead us to salvation by faith

Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Galatians 3:25)

Again, concerning justification, faith and works are mutually exclusive.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26)

We are God's sons because of faith, not because of works.

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. (Galatians 5:5)

Both the righteousness (justification) and the Holy Spirit came by faith.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

This appropriate summary to our proof texts says that not only are circumcision and uncircumcision (works) counted as nothing, but faith is the only thing that counts.

Supporting Texts

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (John 3:18)

They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household." (Acts 16:31)

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your
salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13)

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. (Ephesians 1:15)

And his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:19)

It is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:5)

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6-7)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:9)

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

On the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Thessalonians 1:10)

And so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. (2 Thessalonians 2:12)

So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:19)

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. (1 John 5:1)

For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 1:4)

Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 1:5)

Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. (1 John 1:10)

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 1:11)

God freely gave us eternal life through His grace. We didn't attain it through water baptism or any other work we could do.

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 1:13)

What do those who believe the gospel have? Eternal life.


Think about it. If God saves us by His grace, then we can in no way work for our
salvation, even part of it. Why then did God choose this particular plan of salvation by His grace alone? Oddly enough, probably because it's the only way it could be fair. This sounds strange to some people, because they think this plan of grace is unfair--that God "has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden" (Romans 9:18). They argue that if God decides whom He saves (predestination) by electing whom he wants to elect (election), then this is unfair to those who are not elected. (This argument is invalid, basically because we all deserve eternal damnation because of sin.) Actually, however, salvation by grace is the only fair system, because it depends only upon God's grace, not our works.

Suppose God had decided to provide salvation only for people who could jump high enough. Suppose he set the bar at 100 feet, and whoever could successfully perform the work of jumping over it could go to Heaven. Of course, nobody could, and that's where we are without salvation by grace, because all of our good works are like filthy rags in God's eyes (Isaiah 64:6). We're short of perfection and the absolute righteousness of God which is required in order for us to enter His unblemished Heaven.

Then suppose that God decided to lower the bar to six feet, enabling a few prime athletes to successfully clear it. Wouldn't we then say that this was unfair, because some people would never be able to clear it? On the contrary, when salvation is based only upon God's grace, there's nothing that any of us can do to attain it. We're all equally condemned, and all equally and completely dependent upon God, the only one who has the power to provide salvation anyway.

Then, since salvation obviously comes only by God's grace, Romans 4:16 above showed us that it must come through faith alone, not any work we could do. Once we have established that it is by Grace, then any work we could do for it would either make us deserve it or pay God back for it. In either case, God's Grace would be nullified because grace is unearned and undeserved favor, and it would no longer be by God's grace (Romans 4:4-5).

It should also be noted that this justification by faith is also in accord with the doctrine of grace (Romans 4:16, 5:2), in that even our faith comes from God (Romans 12:3, Philippians 1:29, Colossians 2:12, 2 Peter 1:1). God is the one who justifies (Romans 8:33, 1 Corinthians 6:11).

It is no accident then, that the most common terms found in the scriptures for differentiating Christians from non-Christians are "believers" and "unbelievers." Justification by faith is even inherent by definition.

The Catholic Objections

The Catholic objections to the above core passages on justification comes primarily from the peripheral passages cited below:

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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 6:3-4)

Catholicism mistakenly interprets the baptism in this passage to be water baptism, concluding that the act of water baptism saves us, which obviously conflicts with the proof texts above. In 431 AD, the Catholic Church issued a proclamation stating that baptism regenerates the soul. To understand the Biblical view, we must know what baptism means.

In general, the word "baptism" simply means identification. For example, when a blacksmith cools hot iron by immersing it into water, the iron is "baptized," or identified with the cooling effects of the water. The Scriptures speak of seven kinds of baptisms: the baptisms of Moses; John the Baptist; Jesus; the cross; fire; the Holy Spirit; and, water. If these are confused (particularly the baptism of the Holy Spirit and water baptism), great distortions of scripture can, and do, result. Unfortunately, this is the source of Catholic misinterpretation of this passage. Romans 6:3, as well as all of Romans 6, speaks of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, not the baptism of water.

Unfortunately, there are many key verses in the Bible that speak of baptism, without clearly stating whether it is speaking of water baptism or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It's not only important to discern, based on the rest of the Scriptures, what it really means, but also that this in itself is a decisive factor in formulating doctrine. It seems fairly obvious that if one believes that most of these verses speak of water baptism, while another person believes they speak of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they will have quite different views, and rightly so.

Water baptism is a beautiful symbol of the baptism of the Holy Spirit which occurred previously when the sinner believed the gospel. Acts 16:30-31 says, "30 He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household." John 3:16 says, "16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:36 says, "36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." The water symbolizes Jesus, with whom we are identified when we believe the gospel message. As a proof text here, I would offer Acts 10:47-48: "47 'Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days." Obviously, these people had previously been baptized with the Holy Spirit and entered the body of Christ when they had believed, and now it was legitimate for them to offer a public symbol of what had happened to them through water baptism. It is through believing (repenting, or changing one's mind) through faith (and the associated baptism of the Holy Spirit) that places us into the body of Christ, not through water baptism or any other physical (work) ritual.

The Scriptures make a great separation between the baptism of water and that of the Holy Spirit. I would cite 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 as a proof text: "12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 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." In my view Paul is clearly speaking of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the all-important means of being placed into the body of Christ. When we are baptized (identified) by the Holy Spirit, we are placed "in Christ" (identified with Him). Romans 6:3 says, "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?" This was clearly prophesied by John the Baptist in Luke 3:16: "John answered them all, "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than
I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." This indicated that something greater than water baptism would come--the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:16, Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever."

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)

Of this verse, Catholics ask, "Then why does Paul use an allegory of washing?" The allegory of washing here is not referring to water baptism; not water baptism; and, definitely not infant baptism. This verse doesn't say that the effects of water baptism are
regeneration, sanctification, and justification. Rather, it says that we are cleansed, sanctified, and justified at the point in time when we receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and are placed in the body of Christ (His Church).

He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration  and renewal in the Holy Spirit, 6) which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior." (Titus 3:5-6)

Catholics then say that this verse shows that baptism regenerates. Again, the washing here is just an allegory, not a reference to water baptism. This verse clearly says that regeneration and renewal are via the Holy Spirit which He (the Holy Spirit) poured out upon us richly when He baptized us.

Paul probably uses the allegory of washing in order to stay consistent with all the other allegories in the Scriptures, such as physical circumcision being a symbol of the removal of the flesh from the heart.

Romans 2:28-29 says, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God."

Just as the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the real baptism, and water baptism is a symbol of it, so is physical circumcision a symbol of circumcision "by the Spirit."

Galatians 6:5 says, "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what
counts is a new creation." Paul said that we shouldn't put confidence in these fleshly rituals:

Philippians 3:3 says, "For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit
of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh."

Jesus said, "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." (John 6:63)

In fact, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 in itself contains an allegory: ". . . we were all given the one Spirit to drink." Why does Paul use an allegory? To help us understand something we can't see physically by comparing it with something that we can--a normal use of allegories.

... in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:20-21)

Catholics argue that Noah and his family were saved through water, and that we are therefore saved through water baptism. This argument seems to be a weak distortion of Scripture. The Catholic arguments says that Noah and his family were saved spiritually (regenerated) because it was water that they were floating on, so the water that we baptize with saves us. Remember, baptism means a symbol of identification. What is the water? Peter plainly says it's only a symbol of something that actually has saving power. What is it a symbol of? This water symbolizes baptism. The baptism that has already occurred: the baptism of the Holy Spirit, when the sinner believed the gospel. In fact, he emphatically states that he's not talking about the baptism of the body into water: "not the removal of dirt from the body." This baptism (of the Holy Spirit) saves one through faith, through the power of the resurrection of Christ.

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized. Now a discussion arose between John's disciples and a Jew over purifying. 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 answered, 'No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven.'" (John 3:22, 25-27)

Catholics then note that Jesus baptized. The fact that Jesus baptized does not imply that water baptism saves the sinner. This passage is talking about Christ's power from Heaven, not about water baptism. To try to prove baptismal regeneration from every verse that uses the word "baptize" is a misinterpretation of the Scriptures, and a desperate attempt to build a doctrine of choice on a false basis since there is no strong Biblical argument for it elsewhere in the Scriptures.

Jesus (as well as Peter, John the Baptist, and the other apostles), called for repentance (the change of mind, or faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) which saves the sinner, by Acts 16:31), and the consequential baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13) to be placed into the body of Christ, to be followed by a public and symbolic display of their faith through water baptism. Again, we're saved through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), not water (1 Peter 3:21).

If we are saved by water baptism, then how was the thief on the cross saved? The Catholic response indicates that an exception is made for the thief on the cross by inventing a new, non-Biblical baptism--the "baptism of desire," which is nowhere mentioned in the Scriptures.

Owen Weber 2009