“An outward sign of an inward grace” sounds biblical but it is not in the Bible. What do many mean by “an outward sign of an inward grace”? This phrase is usually used to console consciences in the definition of baptism as an outward sign of an inward grace meaning that baptism is more about the heart.
More Than a Sign
Baptism is not just a sign or pattern of the gospel uniting repentant believers with Christ. Baptism partakes of the reality signified in the gospel of Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection. This is the gospel that saves (1 Cor 15:1–4; cf. Rom 6:3–6; Col 2:12–13). Baptism is a command of Christ, “While going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). Jesus taught, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
Which baptism is this that Jesus commanded? Baptism in the name of the Lord is water immersion (Acts 10:47-48). The believer washes away sins at baptism (Acts 22:16). God forgives sins at baptism (Acts 2:38). Baptism is the exact moment that one goes from self-condemned to God’s forgiveness. Baptism is a passive act where God saves and not for one to saves oneself by any works. This baptism is an act of subordination.
Baptism in Jesus’s Name
Is there anything special about the water or the one baptizing? No. However, there is something special and vital about Jesus’s name and His command for the believer to be baptized in His name. A person does work for the forgiveness of one’s sin as though baptism is a work. Baptism is passive that the believer submits to participating. Christ does the saving, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25–27). Paul expressed, “He [Christ] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb 5:9).
Being saved by grace and not by works is not contrary to submitting to Christ in baptism (Eph 2:4–9; Col 2:12–13). Baptism is not an individual’s own work since one does not baptize oneself and baptism is from God. Therefore, these Scriptures present that baptism is the point at which Christ cleanses believers of their sins and makes them without spot, wrinkle, or blemish. If what is referred to as an inward grace is the forgiveness of sins by Christ, then this would be true of baptism as Christ is the source of grace. Some refer to inward grace asserting the forgiveness of sins before baptism or a moving of the Holy Spirit to cause repentance and faith before baptism. However, no scriptures teach that salvation is complete without God raising believers from burial in baptism in newness of life (Col 2:12–13).
Some say, “Well, I was already baptized after I was saved” or “I did not feel anything at my baptism like when I was saved.” Both of these baptisms are not the baptism that Christ commanded to be saved. Twelve men who were baptized in John the Baptist’s baptism had to be baptized again into Christ’s baptism (Acts 19:1–7). Baptism in Jesus’s name is the moment in which one is saved (Matt 28:19–20; Mark 16:16).
How do you know if you were baptized correctly? The Scriptures reveal only one baptism that is immersion within water in the Lord’s name (Eph 4:4; 5:26; Acts 10:43, 47–48). Peter’s preaching in Acts 2:38 provides the instruction and test to know if you were baptized correctly. Peter proclaimed, “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.” in Acts 2:41 and 47 that were necessary for the first converts to Christ. Here are four observations from Acts 2: (1) The first believers repented to be baptized in Jesus’s name (cf. Acts 8:38–39; Rom 6:4; Col 2:12–13). (2) Baptism is in Jesus’s name as Jesus taught (Matt 28:19–20; Acts 2:38). (3) Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). (4) Through baptism, God adds the believers to the church (Acts 2:41, 47).
Today, church leaders will add believers to their churches apart from the believer’s salvation. Who authorized them to add people when Acts 2 teaches that the Lord adds to the church? However, God adds to the church and any church that one joins apart from salvation is not the church that Christ built and bought with his blood (Matt 16:18; Acts 20:28). Believers want to follow Christ and obey the baptism that He commanded. No one wants to be baptized apart from what Jesus taught, so repentant believers do not want a manmade baptism with invented teachings about cleansing without the forgiveness of sins. Repentant believers do not want to wait for manmade time to be baptized. Believers in the Bible were baptized immediately (Acts 16:25–34). Paul was commanded, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).