II. What is the essential requirement for baptism?
There is one essential element that precedes baptism – repentance, i.e. faith or belief, recognising one’s fallen and lost state and accepting Jesus as the only way out of our lost condition by accepting Him. Belief most certainly MUST precede baptism. Baptism is unthinkable without a personal faith and a personal decision to repent from our innate state of sinfulness – this can only be done at an age when a person can confidently demonstrate the ability to make judgment and express understanding of one’s lost state before God and his/her need for a saviour.
In Mark 16:16 The Lord was making a clear statement about two things.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
On the one hand, he was making it clear that faith most certainly, unequivocally, precedes baptism and not, by any means, the other way round. On the other hand The Lord was making a clear declaration that we are saved by faith which is then proclaimed in baptism.
In saying that “whosoever does not believe is condemned” the Lord is just stating the basic thing and does not even need to include baptism in his statement because without faith there is no question or issue of baptism at all. Faith is foundational and the essential ingredient without which baptism becomes null and void. So there is no point in talking about baptism as without faith one cannot (and is not expected to) even conjecture about or consider baptism. Where there is no faith, there is nothing to go forward on so mentioning baptism is a no brainer. Of course there’s not going to be any baptism because there is no faith at all. And what condemns the unbelieving person is not his not being baptised but his not believing as faith is the only ground of salvation.
The lost are not condemned for not being baptised but for their unbelief. This is further consolidated in In Acts 2:38:
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Here Peter is simply echoing Christ’s words to him and the rest of the disciples several weeks ago after His resurrection commissioning them with the gospel (Mk 16:16). After preaching the gospel to the multitudes gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, Peter now responds to their puzzled but honest query of, “Brothers, what must we do?” Simple, “Repent and be baptized every one of you…”. What for? Primarily, “…for the forgiveness of your sins,” in order that you may get back on track and on a right relationship with God, show penitence, express your regret and change of heart by putting your faith in the person God has given for our salvation, change your position and the same Holy Spirit which you saw fill the guys who were speaking in tongues will be given to you as well (see context). What Peter is essentially saying is that faith subsequently expressed through baptism is what, generally speaking, precedes any experience of the Holy Spirit and the reason why He introduces the Holy Spirit is because of the context He currently finds himself in when making the speech and not to establish a formula. We can confidently affirm this because Cornelius and his household were baptised with the Holy Spirit by faith alone before water baptism (Acts 10:44 – 48).
In baptism you publicly express and declare your faith in Christ and your dependence on Him alone to save you from your lost state as a result of your sin. Genuine faith is expressed through baptism which is an outward expression of one’s faith in Christ. It is an outward sign of your identification with the person, works, death and resurrection of Christ through believing and repentance.
There is a saying that, “faith alone saves but saving faith is never alone”. It is always willing to express itself. And that it does through baptism and a transformed life.