Does Water Baptism Save?


A Biblical Refutation of Baptismal Regeneration


8.    Passages That Seem to Teach that Water Baptism Saves (continued)

Acts 22:16


“And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

In this passage Paul is recounting his conversion experience. According to Acts chapter 9, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. It was at this point that Saul was blinded. It was not until three days later that God sent Ananias to Saul, he received his sight and he was baptized in water. The verse given above is what Ananias told Saul to do three days after he had seen the Lord on the road to Damascus.

The key question is similar to our key question under Section 5 (“When is a person saved?”). Here the key question is this: When was Saul (Paul) saved? Was he saved and converted on the road to Damascus or was he saved three days later at the time of his baptism in water?

The following are reasons why we know that Saul was saved and forgiven (sins washed away) before he was ever baptized in water:

1) As a result of meeting the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, Saul confessed with his mouth that Jesus was Lord (see Acts 22:10) and believed in his heart that God raised Him from the dead (compare Romans 10:9). His confession that Christ was Lord (Acts 22:10) was significant because the One who appeared to him had just revealed Himself as “Jesus” (Acts 22:8) the One Saul hated and whose servants he had persecuted. And yet Saul, knowing it was Jesus, immediately called Him LORD! Compare 1 Corinthians 12:3. This involves a drastic change of mind (“repentance”) concerning who Jesus Christ really was.

2) Before he was baptized, Saul apparently was filled with the Spirit (Acts 9:17). Saved people are filled with the Spirit, not unsaved people.  Note:  Acts 9 does not specifically tell us when Saul was filled with the Spirit, but verse 17 connects his being filled with the Spirit with the receiving of his sight.  We know that he received his sight prior to his water baptism. 

3) Before Saul was baptized, Ananias referred to him as “Brother Saul” (Acts 9:17) indicating that Ananias recognized him as a brother in Christ.

4) There is no record that Ananias preached the gospel to Saul or exhorted him to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Saul had already done this. He had already been saved.

5) Before he was baptized, Saul called upon the name of the Lord and was saved (compare Romans 10:13). We learn this from Acts 22:16. Charles Ryrie helps us with the Greek construction of this verse:


Verse 16 should be translated literally as follows: “Having arisen (aorist participle), be baptized; and wash away your sins, having called (aorist participle) on the name of the Lord.” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 112).

Kenneth Wuest, a former Greek teacher, translates the verse as follows: “Having arisen, be baptized and wash away your sins, having previously called upon His Name.” Three days before Saul was baptized, he had called upon the name of the Lord and was gloriously saved (compare Romans 10:13) and inwardly cleansed, all of his sins being forgiven and washed away at the point of faith (Acts 10:43).

What then is the meaning of Acts 22:16? If Saul had already been saved and his sins had already been washed away, then why was he told three days later to “be baptized and wash away your sins”? Because Saul was already cleansed spiritually, these words must refer to the symbolism of baptism. He was to be baptized in token of and as an outward sign of the washing away of his sins which had already taken place. Water baptism is meant to be a wonderful picture of God’s great salvation, including the washing away of sins. When a person is being baptized he is presenting a public testimony to show what happened to him when he was saved. As David Brown has said, “Remission of sins is obtained solely through faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 10:43) but baptism being the visible seal of this, it is here and elsewhere naturally transferred from the inward act of faith to that which publicly and formally proclaims it” (namely, the symbolic act of water baptism).

When a person is being baptized he is presenting this message: “I am being baptized today in obedience to Christ’s command, to publicly show my identification with the Lord Jesus Christ and to present a picture of the new life that I have in Him. I want you all to know that because of what my Saviour did for me on the cross, I am a new creature in Him and all of my sins have been washed away. I now desire to follow Christ and to walk in newness of life, as He enables me to do so. My salvation depends on Christ’s work alone.”

But how contrary to the gospel it would be if a person were to say something like this: “I am being baptized today because even though I have believed on Christ I am not yet saved. I am still in my sins and my sins will not be washed away until I am baptized in water. So although I now stand before you as a filthy, unforgiven sinner, in just a moment I’m going to come up out of the water saved and forgiven. My salvation depends not only on Christ’s work, but also on my work. My salvation is conditioned, not only on faith, but on my being obedient to water baptism.” This is a perversion of the grace of God (see Romans 11:6).



Does Water Baptism Save?

A Biblical Refutation of Baptismal Regeneration

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