Jesus made a promise about eternal life. How does that promise get applied to me? Do you merely believe it? Must you speak your faith out loud? Do you say a prayer? What makes it mine?
One of the most commonly used methodologies for this very thing is to say the “Sinner’s Prayer”. It sort of makes sense. Still, when you look for a Sinner’s Prayer or somebody using something like a Sinner’s Prayer in the Bible, you don’t find it at all. A Sinner’s prayer is human logic and culture, and we need something from the culture of God.
Another favorite, this one biblical, is Romans 10:9-10, “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” In isolation, this passage would seem to be the answer, but there is more to consider. What if a person can’t speak or is profoundly retarded or senile or too young? None of these people could articulate their faith and some wouldn’t even be able to intellectually comprehend what Jesus did. So how does Romans 10 apply to them? Does Romans 10 describe how we get connected or the symptoms of being connected to Jesus for most people? We need to be careful about understanding a saving connection to Jesus in terms of intellectual ascent or belief. These are not the cause but rather the effect. The connection that Christ forms to you is spiritual not intellectual.
Consider the following passages:
(Acts 2:38f) “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.”
(Romans 6:3f) “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Chris was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
(Colossians 2:11-12) In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of your sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God
(1 Peter 3:21) and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not by the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscious toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Baptism seems like a strange, inconsequential thing. It seems strange because it is not ultimately from human culture but rather from the culture of God. It is something that is done to you and not by you. You are baptized by Christ into His own death. The mere act of being baptized doesn’t save you. You couldn’t just go through baptism to cover your bases. The connection to the resurrection of Jesus saves you. And should somebody not believe, they literally cannot be baptized. They only can be made wet.
Baptism is the way God connects a believing adult or their child to Christ. Both would need this connection, because both are sinners. If for some strange reason a believing person could not be baptized before their death, don’t put it past God to find a way to do it after death. Baptism does something. It is not merely a symbol. It is a transaction that seems absolutely necessary.
In Acts 8, Philip explains the Gospel to a eunuch from Ethiopia. The words of his witness move the eunuch to faith. What comes next? A baptism.