In Layman's Terms - Bob Sullivan

Is baptism scriptural, or is being ‘saved’?

Apologetics by Bob Sullivan

Baptism is necessary for salvation. It infuses us with God’s grace, making us pure and holy, justifying us (makes us right with God) and removes and forgives all of our sins as well as the consequences for those sins. If we were to die immediately after our baptism, we would go straight to heaven without any need for purgatory.

Yet some of our separated brothers and sisters minimize the importance of baptism. Some claim baptism is purely symbolic and some even go so far as to say it is not necessary at all. Some non-Catholics criticize the Catholic teachings on baptism, claiming that there is no infusion of grace. They claim that, through faith alone (regardless of baptism), we are declared justified, even though we are not actually just.

Theirs is a very legalistic way of thinking about our eternal salvation. Our separated brethren say our sin and guilt was imputed or credited to Jesus Christ and he bore the punishment for our sins on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). So far, so good.

However, if they then say, “His perfect righteousness is imputed or credited to us,” and not actually infused into us, they have departed from Scripture. Such believers sometimes say things like, “I have been covered by the blood of Christ” or, “My sins have been covered by Jesus.” While this is a very humble way to look at oneself, it misses the full truth of baptism and leads many of our separated brethren to resist the initial grace of baptism. The disconnect is the belief that the result of all of Christ’s work on the cross is a purely external legalistic declaration upon us. This is at best, half right.

It is like a criminal who is found guilty, but he is then pardoned, so he does not have to serve any sentence for his crime. For such a criminal, they are actually guilty but they are freed from the consequences of their actions. Everything is external and does not have anything to do with the inner person. Is that how things work in reality? No. Real life requires real change.

As Catholics, we know that we must be pure to enter heaven (Revelation 21:27). We certainly cannot enter heaven until we are baptized because baptism is the only way to remove original sin. We also know that after baptism, we remain susceptible to sin. Therefore if we were to die suddenly, without the opportunity to have our soul purified, we have slim hope of entering heaven without purgatory or worse (infinitely worse), we may never enter heaven.

The “pure” reference in Rev 21:27 does not refer to our external appearance or a declaration about us, it refers to our soul, our innermost being. God gave St. John the inspiration to write Rev 21:27 and He gives us the opportunity to appreciate its meaning in the context of the rest of Scripture. We should thank God for Purgatory.

Scripture also gives us a lot of instruction on baptism. It is unfortunate that our separated brethren reject God’s help on this topic because it goes to the very heart of Christian teaching. Although Protestant tradition has introduced a lot of misinterpretation of Scripture over the last 500 years, infused grace at baptism is still the longstanding and biblically sound teaching. It is also a fundamental teaching which should be explained at every opportunity.

Prior to Christ, God selected the Israelites as the chosen people. God made a series of covenants with His chosen people through men like Abraham, Moses, King David and others. This is called salvation history, which came to completion in Jesus Christ.

Prior to Christ, a male became part of God’s chosen people through circumcision, and a female became part of the chosen people through her family.

However, for centuries before the birth of Christ, God told us that things were going to change with regard to our adoption into the Kingdom of God. Ezekiel 36:25-27 reads: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanliness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.”

While this is a very clear description of the sacrament of baptism, it was revealed through Ezekiel nearly 600 years before the birth of Christ.

This theme of interior cleanliness over the external sign of circumcision is promised in numerous other Old Testament verses such as Jeremiah 31:31-33, Ez 11:19-20 and Ez 37:12-14. Each of these emphasize the internal work performed by God.

In John 3, Jesus explains this to Nicodemus and in Hebrews 8 the inspired writer explains it even further. St. Paul devotes much of his writing to the fact that baptism replaces circumcision as the new means of becoming a member of the family of God. It is an external sign that has an internal reality.

We can use the Bible to show someone that grace is actually infused into the person through baptism. We start with John 3, then show them the above verses from Ezekiel 36, 37 and 11, Jeremiah 31 and finally, Hebrews 8. To point them to further information, direct them to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1210 through 1284, following the footnotes in doing so. The footnotes direct us to more than 30 verses of Scripture and numerous Church documents that discuss Scripture even more thoroughly.

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