What About the Person Who...?
The Bible plainly says that baptism is for forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), that it is a washing away of sins (Acts 22:16), and that it saves (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism by itself does none of these things; it is one part of the saving response to the gospel of Christ (Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47). Baptism is into Christ and His death (Romans 6:3), the death that is our atonement and the Christ who is the Savior.
Despite these plain Bible statements, many people think baptism is not essential to salvation. A common approach to denying baptism’s necessity is to construct a hypothetical case in which someone is seeking salvation but has no opportunity to be baptized. It may be a case of “deathbed repentance” or some died-on-the-way-to-the-baptistry scenario. The argument is, if God will save that person without baptism (the presumption is that He will), then baptism is not essential.
Let’s remember three things in such a discussion.
First, God is the judge, not any of us. Our assessments of what His verdict will be in a given circumstance are only guesses. We don’t have the whole picture. We lack omniscience, wisdom, and divine perspective. The only thing we can know about how God will judge is what He said about it.
Second, hypothetical situations do not establish truth. The Sadducees presented such a case to Jesus, one they thought eliminated the possibility of resurrection from the dead (Matthew 22:23-28). (It is quite unlikely, but their story might have actually happened; regardless, the point is the same.) Jesus listened to their story, then He responded, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures or the power of God” (v. 29). Scripture, not entangled scenarios, determines truth.
Third, making an exception does not destroy a rule. If God chooses to save someone who, due to some extreme circumstances, has not complied with all His stated conditions, that is His prerogative. No one is going to complain! But the possibility of that is no basis for my tossing aside what God says I must do. What about one who dies on the way to hearing the sermon that would have brought him to faith in Jesus? Does that make nonsense of all the Bible says about the essentiality of faith? No, this whole approach is what is nonsense!
Each of us will stand before the Lord in judgment. On what basis do you want to do that: 1) creating a scenario and presuming how God will judge it, then based on your verdict, deciding that you can ignore God’s stated requirements for salvation; or 2) taking God at His word and doing what He said you must do to be saved? Which will you choose?