Can a person who is a good citizen, who is morally clean and charitable, and who is straight and honorable in his dealings, be saved without baptism? Which is to say, can a good person be saved without obeying the gospel (Hear, Belief, Confession, Repentance, Baptism)?
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn 8:31, 32). Every Christian convert, without exception, ended with baptism and was not regarded as complete until the penitent believer had been baptized. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). “They were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). “And arose, and was baptized” (Acts 9:18). “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:48). “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes and was baptized, he and all his straightway” (Acts 16:33). “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3: 27).
All were baptized. There were no exceptions. There were no unbaptized Christians in the primitive church. Whether we like it or not, no one was recognized as a Christian, or as being a disciple, until he obeyed the commandment of Jesus to be baptized. In fact, no one who believed in Jesus only was ever called a Christian. Faith requires action and that action is baptism (Jam 2:14-26).
Some entertain the idea that “model” men and “model” women, whose lives are morally exemplary, especially if they are big-hearted and charitable, although having never obeyed the gospel of Christ, have as much hope of heaven as those in the church. We recognize that there are men and women out of the church who are perfect ladies and gentlemen, who refrain from profanity, meet all of their obligations, respond to every call from the poor, and conduct their lives in general with admirable propriety.
However, while we rejoice that there are such people, we also recognize that they, too, need the Savior. They cannot be saved on their own goodness. There is no power in an arm of flesh to save. Jesus died for them and triumphed over death, hell and the grave, to make it possible for them to attain unto life and immortality. The loving Savior, who gave up heaven, came to this earth and died for them, extends to them the gospel invitation. The question is, Must they accept it? If they spurn the proffered invitation of Him who died for them, and claim that they are so good they do not need the Savior, are they really as good as we may have formally thought them to be? Submission to God is the basic principle of goodness.
In Acts 10 is the inspired record of the conversion of a really good man. God, who knows, says that Cornelius was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always” (verse 2). When we pronounce a man to be good we may be mistaken, but when God, who looks upon the heart, says that a man was a good man we may rely upon it.
There is no human denomination today but what would say that Cornelius was a saved man just as he was. They tell people today, who are nothing like as good as Cornelius was, that all they have to do is to hold up their hand, sign a card, or shake hands with the preacher. Many would ridicule the idea that “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always,” was not already saved. But was he? Surely no one will reject what the Bible says about it. Verses 3-6 say: “He saw in a vision openly as it were about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in unto him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And he, fastening his eyes upon him, and being frightened, said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, your prayers and your alms are gone up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and fetch one Simon, who is surnamed Peter: who shall speak unto thee words, whereby you shall be saved, you and all your house (Acts 11:13,14).
So Cornelius, who was really a good man, was unsaved and had to send for Peter to hear what the Savior commands for one to do to be saved. When Peter had preached the gospel to them, “while Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word,” thus miraculously demonstrating that the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, were subjects of the gospel call. “Then answered Peter, ‘Can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (verses 46-48). The promise of salvation is to those who believe and are baptized. “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16).
Obedience is the test that shows whether or not a man has faith in God and whether or not he will take God at his word. God has never blessed or saved men, in any age or under any dispensation, before testing their faith. There is no virtue in water, just as there was no virtue in the brazen serpent to heal the bite of the fiery serpents, and as there was no power in the waters of the Jordan to heal Naaman’s leprosy when Elisha commanded him to “go and wash in the Jordan seven times” (2 Kings 5:8-14). The power to save, to grant remission of sins, is in God. There is not a promise in the Word of God that any one will be saved who fails to obey.
Many make loud protestations of love for God; they cry, “Lord, Lord;” they are extremely active and zealous in religious circles, and “compass sea and land to make one proselyte;” but the test shows that they do not have the faith to forget their own will and preferences and to seek only and wholly to do the will of God. They are aware that God commands all penitent believers in Jesus to “be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins;” but as such does not meet their pleasure, and as they have not the faith to do a thing simply because God commands it and to please God, they refuse to do so, repudiate the authority of God, as the only rightful Lawgiver and Ruler, and claim that the commandment of God is non-essential and unnecessary. Will God admit through the gates into the city those who do not respect his authority and who repudiate his government? Those who may be trusting in their own goodness to save them had better think about this before it is too late for them.