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Ephesians 2:4-9 says:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (NASB)

This passage along with various others in the Bible lead us to believe that only by grace we are saved. Therefore, we are saved when we put our faith in Christ alone, realizing that it was by His blood alone that we have forgiveness of all our past, present, and future sins. This is known as being "baptized in the Holy Spirit."

However, in John 3:1-5, we see this:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (NASB)

So in this passage, Jesus is saying that we must be "born of the spirit" (putting our faith in Jesus alone, as mentioned above) and "born of water" (physically immersed in water as a public profession of your faith)?

I believe--and have seen plenty of strong evidence that supports--that it is by your faith in Jesus alone that saves you, and therefore allows you to live eternally in Heaven when you die or the Lord comes back. However, this verse has always given me trouble with my previously stated belief, and I can't seem to mesh the two together.

So ultimately I am asking this: How do the above two verses correlate with one another in teaching, and why did Jesus say what He did in the Gospel of John if it is only by our faith in Him that allows us to enter into Heaven?

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Thank you all for the input on this! I've been reading all the responses, looking at a lot of scripture & spending time in prayer over this topic. I can't say that I've come to a definite conclusion yet; and like @Dayre said, there may not be a definitive, final, clear, black & white "answer" to this. But I just wanted to let you all know that your responses are all being read and it's very much appreciated! If you all find more on this, please keep chiming in, as I will do the same. Otherwise, I'll post more when I get a clearer conviction on the issue. Thanks again! –  AmbiguousX Sep 11 '11 at 4:34
    
Here's an excellent video of Christ's conversation with Nicodemus: lds.org/bible-videos/videos/… –  JustinY May 23 '12 at 3:06
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The assumption that "born of water" = "water baptism" is suspect. It certainly is one interpretation, but it's not the only one nor is there overwhelming evidence to prefer this interpretation. Jesus goes on to say in the next verse, "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." It is quite likely that "born of water" refers to physical birth (not baptism) and "born of the Spirit" refers to spiritual birth. Nicodemus exhibited confusion over needing to be reborn physically. Jesus explains that it's not another physical birth that Nicodemus needs, but a spiritual one. –  Narnian Jun 20 '12 at 15:52
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11 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

This is a difficult question - not the question are we saved by grace, because we are - but the question of why does Jesus say "water and spirit". I am not sure an answer can have any finality to it, because of the nature of deep study that is required, and many top theologians disagree on the meaning of it.

So, what does Jesus mean when he says "born of water". Does he mean necessarily mean baptism? Its important to have the right interpretation so we can know if Jesus is saying we nee to be baptized to be saved.

I get three different interpretations from this scripture (I know there are more).

  1. Jesus is referring to a believers baptism. I am not sure if he would make baptism a requirement, because then it would be a direct contradiction to the thief on the cross going to heaven (there was no time for baptism there)

  2. Jesus is referring to the baptism of John. I think this is plausible because Nicodemus would have known about John's baptism as all teachers of the law. And some thought that baptism of the water is what redeemed them. But of course John just came to prepare the way for Christ, so therefore the statement paraphrased this way, you see John baptizing with water you can't just be baptized with water, but also by the Spirit.

  3. Jesus is referring to natural birth. I think this is also possible, considering we are all in a water sack (placenta) in our mother's womb. This can make sense because Nicodemus says, how can I be born again, can I go back into my mother's womb?, and then Jesus answers (in this interpretations perspective) you must be born naturally (of course you have to be alive first) and born spiritually in order to enter the kingdom of God.

In the verses 7 - 8 Jesus says - 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus drops the born of the water here and just says "So is everyone who is born of the Spirit". So that could provide context to what He said earlier. Meaning that ultimately it is those who are born of the Spirit, and the water is referring to maybe one of the interpretations above, meaning the water is only a start, but the Spirit is what does it.

Last quick note: Mark 16:16 Jesus says - He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

Jesus says here that you should believe and be baptized, but only those who don't believe will be condemned. I personally believe you should be baptized if you're a believer, because Jesus commands it and he says those who obey Him are those that love Him. And I also believe the thief on the cross disproves the belief that you have to be baptized in order to be saved. But again... if you are able to be baptized I believe you should be.

Luke 23:42-43 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Of course that is all just studying this from my perspective, there are probably holes in it, but hopefully that helps a bit.

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The example of the thief on the cross becomes less confusing when you realize that heaven and Paradise are not the same thing. (See the linked answer in my answer.) –  Mason Wheeler Sep 9 '11 at 21:04
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I read ur post... but I don't think John 20:17 definitely answers the question about what paradise is. Revelation 2:7 “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”’ 2 Cor 12 - 2 ...such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Paradise may not exactly be heaven... but I still don't think someone going to hell would be in Paradise. –  Darye Sep 9 '11 at 21:09
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I didn't say that he would end up in hell. Remember that the judgment, where people are sent to heaven or hell, happens after the resurrection, not after death. Trying to reason anything about where someone in paradise will or won't go is trying to work off of incomplete information. –  Mason Wheeler Sep 9 '11 at 21:19
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@Darye - Good answer. On the second topic, I've always taken "paradise", "the bossom of Abraham", and even "heaven" to mean the same thing. When believers die they immediately go there (Lk 16:22, Lk 23:43) and when unbelievers die they immediately go to what Jesus always referred to has "Hades", and Peter once referred to as "Tartarus" (2Ptr 2:4) A Greek world understand both places as punishment for the dead. –  San Sep 9 '11 at 21:49
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Like you said though, after the resurrection and final judgement hades will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14) and the saints will actually live on the New Earth in New Jerusalem with Jesus (Rev 21). Actually, translations that render the greek word "hades", to the english word "hell", are somewhat misleading since hades is immediate and hell, or the lake of fire is the second death after resurrection and judgement. Eschatology is fun, fun, fun, fun. –  San Sep 9 '11 at 21:49
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You also see passages like I Peter 3:21:

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (ESV)

All in all, baptism is directly mentioned more than 80 times in the New Testament, but is strangely absent from the teachings of many modern Protestant denominations. Instead, what you will commonly find is a construct known as the "Sinner's Prayer". Nowhere in the bible is any such prayer ever mentioned, referred to, or shown by example, but many denominations use it.

I put it to you that baptism is merely the way in which Gods asks us to ask Him for salvation. There is no power in baptism, just as there is no power in faith or prayer, but rather in the one in whom you place that faith or to whom you pray. Baptism would not then be a "work" to subvert grace, any more than the sinners prayer would be.

God is Sovereign. He can choose to save whomever he wants. If you choose not to be baptized, it is possible that God will still save you. But if you want to be certain, baptism seems to me (and the fellowship I belong to) to be the only proscribed way in which Gods wants you to ask for that Salvation.

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The Catholic Church (and some older Protestant denominations) believe in the sacramental significance of baptism. The Catholic Church also (and I don't know if this is common in Protestant churches, so I will not assume) recognizes a baptism of the will. For instance, if one legitimately accepts God in his/her heart but is not able to be baptized before dying, we believe that through God's grace that person's soul probably will have been baptized, but as you said, to be certain, and the preferred and prescribed way, we must be baptized by water and the Spirit. –  Ben Richards Sep 9 '11 at 20:42
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The doctrine of "salvation by faith alone" is quite incorrect. It comes from taking a few specific passages badly out of context, and it leads to some very scary places on the moral landscape. It also flatly contradicts pretty much everything that Jesus personally had to say on the subject.

When you read Jesus's own teachings, as well as Acts and the writings of Peter and James to help keep Paul in context, a very different picture emerges: salvation comes through sincere repentance and obedience to the laws of the Gospel, virtuous acts which are motivated by our faith. Without faith, these are simply useless works, but without obedience and good works, our faith is dead and has no power to save us. (See James chapter 2 for a clear explanation of the principle.)

If salvation comes by faithful obedience to God's commandments, and God has spoken saying that baptism is a requirement for salvation, as he did in John 3, (see also the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:37-38,) then that's about as clear as it gets.

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note - the question is about GRACE, not FAITH :) –  warren Sep 14 '11 at 18:56
    
@Warren, that's the title of the question. But the content of the question is about obtaining the grace through faith alone without works. That misunderstanding is the root of the problem. –  Mason Wheeler Sep 14 '11 at 19:12
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I disagree; I don't think faith can even exist without obedience. If you truly believe that God exists and that you should follow him and that following him is best for you, then you will follow him. Not do to so would indicate a lack of faith. And works are clearly unnecessary given how Jesus saved the criminal on the cross who did and could do nothing at the end besides acknowledge his fear of God. –  Matthew Read Sep 23 '11 at 23:14
    
@Matthew: The thief on the cross is a red herring. I've dealt with that one in various different other answers on here, since it's so widely misunderstood. –  Mason Wheeler Sep 23 '11 at 23:16
    
Jesus forgave the sins of quite a few others without the need for actions on their part. Anyways, I don't want to discuss in comments, so I'll leave it here. :) –  Matthew Read Sep 23 '11 at 23:21
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You are Saved by Grace Alone.

Yes, you are saved by grace alone. There is nothing that you could do in order to get into heaven without God's grace. It is by God's Grace that He will save you and give you all of the things that He promises He will.

Because God is so faithful, we can rely on the fact that He has said something, therefor if we follow His command then we will be saved. But this is all because of God's Faithfulness and His Grace. It can often seem like we have to DO something in order to get into heaven, but you must understand that we are only DOING what God expects of us.

You are saved by Faith

As Paul in Romans puts it, it is by Faith that we are saved. Look to the thief on the cross, the only thing that we can see is that he had faith in Jesus.

Luke 7:50 NIV

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

This kind of idea echos through the Bible. If you're happy with thinking that you have enough faith/belief in Jesus, then go on your way and don't worry about anything else in the Bible. Most of these people didn't have the new testament and still got saved.

Confidence in your salvation

You are saved by Faith, but as James puts it, not by faith alone. There is more to it then that. It's no wonder why 80% of America preaches faith alone, and Jesus says that the wide road leads to hell.

James 2:24 NIV

You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

Faith is what most people believe, but when you keep reading you'll begin to find verses that talk about something more that is required.

Hebrews 10:26-27 (NIV)

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

2 Timothy 2:19 (NIV)

19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

Luke 6:46 (NIV)

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

There is something that means more to God than Faith.

1 Corinthians 13:13

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Greater than your faith, is your Love.

John 14:15

“If you love me, keep my commands.

The Love command is profound! Click to see!

Baptism for repentance

Getting baptized is your outward confession of repentance.

Matthew 3:11

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Repentance is to turn from your wicked ways and learn how to Love people!

See what Repentance is!

See how you will be judged!

Is Believing enough or do you have to do something else?

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You left out later verses in Matthew specifically 13-16 13) Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14) But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 15) And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. 16) And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water... Christ was baptized to fulfill all righteousness and we are to follow his example so how can you say we have no reason to be baptized? –  ryan Jan 24 '12 at 0:16
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Some traditional Catholics hold that water Baptism is a requirement and use references such as this to argue the point:

Pope Eugene IV, The Council of Florence, “Exultate Deo,” Nov. 22, 1439, ex cathedra: “Holy baptism, which is the gateway to the spiritual life, holds the first place among all the sacraments; through it we are made members of Christ and of the body of the Church. And since death entered the universe through the first man, ‘unless we are born again of water and the Spirit, we cannot,’ as the Truth says, ‘enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (John 3:5) The matter of this sacrament is real and natural water.

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I think baptism by water is more of an analogy for the people of the time, who were used to the idea of salvation by works, rather than a true requirement. Reproducing John chapter 3:

3 Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."

4 "How can someone be born when they are old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!"

5 Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

Here Jesus is essentially conflating baptism by water and baptism by the Holy Spirit. From his references to wind and spirit, and due to the omnipotence of God, I find it very strange that anyone believes physical baptism is necessary for salvation. Baptism is spiritual, and water merely a symbol. The act of purposefully undergoing baptism is purposefully inviting the Holy Spirit to act on you. That purposeful invitation is what is important, not the ceremony.

This is even more clear if you focus on Matthew chapter 22:

36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Under the new covenant, works don't matter. God simply does not care if you get dunked in a pool at church on Sunday, he cares whether your heart is true. Luke 13:

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath."

15 The Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?"

Jesus broke the laws of the Old Testament but it didn't matter because he did the right thing. Jesus makes clear over and over that doing the right thing involves helping people and honoring God. It never involves silly rituals like slaughtering goats at the altar or sprinkling water on a baby.

Jesus walked around Israel forgiving sins with no mention of baptism. Salvation and forgiveness do not come from baptism. With death imminent and no chance of a following baptism, Jesus saves a criminal on the cross in Luke 23:

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don’t you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."

42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

43 Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."

All that is required for Jesus to make you blameless before God is sincere belief. Baptism is irrelevant.

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I've been thinking about this recently and I do not think that being "born of water and the Spirit" is referring to two separate "births", but rather the singular moment of baptism. The same way God took the living man Adam and breathed divine life into him, bridging the gap between merely being alive and being alive in God. It is through the water of baptism that the Spirit enters us for the first time and we are thus "born" into true life rather than merely being alive in the temporal sense, which will end. I believe this is why the older traditions practice infant baptism as well. They understood humans as not having an eternal soul inherently.

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Faith that isn't tested isn't faith. We are indeed saved by faith and not works, but a faith without works is a dead faith and that won't save anyone. If I say I have 1 million pounds in the bank, you can say you believe me as much as you like, but how do I know you really do believe me without some sort of test? So here's the test: I give you a cheque for 1 million pounds. And by the way you happen to be living in a country where you owe a debt of 1 million pounds, and the penalty for failing to pay is death (actually eternal death in the lake of fire). Now you can tell the judge you believe that some kind benefactor (not me actually, but God) has given you a cheque for 1 million pounds as much as you like and you're not lying at all. (Aside: the benefactor is the judge, and that's God). You didn't earn the 1 million pounds. God did. But if you don't pay the cheque into your bank (get baptised), you won't be able to use a single penny of that money, and so you'll be condemned to death. Paying the cheque into the bank (getting baptised) didn't earn you the money and the faith to believe that you needed to pay the cheque into the bank as well as the strength to do so are both gifts of God. Grace and works are not enemies, but friends:

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
(1 Cor 15.10)

Doing work (i.e. being baptised means that the grace is not in vain i.e. faith isn't woolly, but concrete. It accomplishes something. The word which is sown bears fruit if the hearers have a root and receive it, as the Lord explains in the parable of the sower:

18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. 19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; 21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. 22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. 23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

It is faith in something, or rather someone: in God and His Word: His Son. If we believe His words, this means we act accordingly, or else how can we believe? In this case, we're believing the opposite of God' words, just like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Now, if you don't pay the cheque into the bank and you say you believe you have a cheque for 1 million pounds and God's paid your debt, there are only 2 conclusions:

  1. You are lying and you don't believe the cheque for 1 million pounds in genuine.

  2. you don't understand how the banking system works. This is true of many, as The Lord warned us in the first verse of the parable of the sower (which I repeat) and 2 other places:

18 “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. (Matt 13.18-19)

46 “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? 47 Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.[h] 49 But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell.[i] And the ruin of that house was great.”
(Luke 6.46-49)

48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”
(John 12. 48-50)

Yahshua's words:

16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16.16)

Don't allow the devil to deceive you into thinking you will be ok if you ignore God's words spoken by His Son on baptism as he deceived Eve into thinking it was a good idea to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, against God's express command, which she even quoted (you can quote God's Word as much as you like. If it's a command, and you disobey it, it won't help you in the slightest to quote it. What's required is obedience):

3 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
(Genesis 3.1-6)

Remember also this:

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. 24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: 25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. 26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. 28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: 29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

The subject of the thief on the cross and Yahshua forgiving people 'without the need for actions on their part' is very interesting.

39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Notice the following:

  1. the thief on the cross did do something. He challenged the other thief who was deriding The Lord. These words obviously came out of the abundance of his heart. In his heart, he believed The Lord had done nothing wrong and even that He was a king, but much more importantly:
  2. The thief on the cross and the other people referred to were forgiven before Yahshua died on the cross, before He'd risen and issued the following command "...Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16.15-16)

  3. Even the man let down through the roof who was healed and forgiven was instructed to do something:

2 And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. 2 Immediately[a] many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. 3 Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. 4 And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” 6 And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” 12 Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Note that it was when Yahshua saw their faith, that He responded. It's impossible to please God without faith, and faith is something God can see, because what we believe is shown by how we act. It wasn't the man's strength that healed him. It was the grace of God that gave him the power to walk, but nevertheless he walked! In the same way, it isn't our strength which gives us forgiveness and strength when we get baptised, but we still get baptised and thereby appopriate what Yahshua did on the cross! It's the grace of God that made the man walk and it's the grace of God that makes people get baptised. If we could be saved without being baptised, then why in Mark 16.16 are we told that Yahsua said "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned"? Not because God's contradicting Himself (He's not), but because it's perfectly true that he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Never disagree with anything Yahshua said: your eternal salvation depends on it. Getting baptised doesn't mean we saved oursleves by our own work, since it's the goodness of God which leads us to get baptised and the grace of God which empowers us to. Grace doesn't mean you don't do anything. It means you do impossible things and you don't get the glory: God does, but you still do the stuff and you feel great beacuse God has glorified you too (Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified, (Romans 8.30)), as you are abiding in His Son, who has been, is being and will be glorified. I ask people who think that noone's perfect so we can just sin as we please and still get to heaven this question: did The Son of God die on the cross to make us imperfect? Of course not:

21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
(1 Cor 5.21)

What does righteousness mean? Clearly it means doing what is right, not what is wrong. That doing what is right takes place by the grace of God, but it still takes place.

9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
(1 Cor 6.9-11)

13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
(Romans 8.13)

To respond to the note that the question is about GRACE rather than FAITH, I quote Paul again:

5 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5.1-2)

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To be born by Water and Spirit:

Water means the Word of GOD which speaks to us, as the Word comes alive by the power of the Holy Spirit and convicts us of our sin. The Word of GOD and the Holy Spirit working in us allow us to see our sinfulness and and make us understand what JESUS CHRIST did on the cross, who took our sins and the penalty of death on our behalf.

As we acknowledge our hopeless sinful state and accepts the gift of redemption that GOD the Father gave through His Son, we are freed from the power of sin into the power of GOD's redeeming love. We are moved from the power of satan, and born into the Kingdom of GOD. Much like the repentant thief, when JESUS, The Word talked to him and humbled himself, he was saved.

Water represents GOD's Word that speaks to us by the power of the Holy Spirit, and as we surrender to the Lordship of CHRIST, He washes us of our sins and moves us from the clutches of satan into the Kingdom of GOD.

Nicodemus is a learned man of the Word of GOD. Unfortunately, he literally interprets being born again as going back to one's mother's womb. We need to understand that it always takes the Holy Spirit for the Word to come alive (rhema). For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Thus, it takes the Water and the Spirit for a man to be born again, back into the fold of GOD the Father.

To GOD alone be the glory.

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Welcome to C.SE! When you get the chance, please check out our about and specifically How we are different than other sites. If you could link to supports this would improve the answer. –  Affable Geek Oct 8 '13 at 17:43
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Someone asked me to address all of the passages in Scripture that deal with baptism. One of the most important passages is the one in John 3:5 where Jesus said the following:

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

The best way to approach this passage is to ask yourself a few questions.

1) Can physical water (H20) lead to salvation? 2) Can repentance lead to salvation?

I am sure we can all agree that #1 cannot lead to salvation whilst #2 can lead to salvation. Combine the two – water and repentance – and you have what Paul said of John’s baptism: “John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” (Acts 19:4).

Nicodemus, like every Jew, knew exactly what Jesus meant when He referred to water as a requirement to enter the Kingdom of God. It couldn’t have been physical water of which he spoke because He made it abundantly clear that washing ceremonies couldn’t produce spiritual purity. Ponder these passages for a moment.

Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. (Matthew 15:1-11).

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. (Matthew 23:25)

Having established that Jesus couldn’t have referred to physical water as a requirement to enter God’s Kingdom (to be saved), it must have been something else to which He referred. And indeed, it was. The “water “refers to the repentance ministry of John the Baptist. Jews were very particular about signs (Matthew 12:38-39; 16:1). With John’s baptism the Jews expressed their change of mind (metanoia) in regard to Jesus Christ.

In a nutshell then; the water points to the repentance ministry of John the Baptist and the “Spirit” to the application by the Holy Spirit of Christ to an individual. As such the water baptism of John was a preliminary and anticipatory baptism (Matthew 3:4) making it clear that repentance (a change of mind) was necessary before a repentant sinner could be saved. So Jesus was actually saying that Nicodemus, in order to enter the Kingdom of God, needed to turn to Him (repent) (Matthew 11:18) in order to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit. As such it does not follow salvation (the baptism with the Holy Spirit) as a signal or sign that the repentant sinner has died, been buried and raised with Christ but actually precedes it. Therefore, repentance (expressed in the rite of John’s baptism) leads to salvation.

Repentance (a change of mind) is of itself not salvation. There is nothing man can do of his own accord to be saved. This is where Calvinists miss the boat when they argue that man is unable to do anything to be saved. They presume that anyone who has repented (changed his mind) for the remission of his sins (the message John preached in the wilderness – Matthew 1:4) is assisting God in his redemptive work. Therefore God must sovereignly and irresistibly regenerate the elect only so that they may repent which amounts to a kind of “the elect must first be saved before they are able to repent.” They have reversed the order of salvation, i.e. from “repentance leads to salvation” to “sovereign election and regeneration leads to repentance.” Jesus gave us the order of salvation — “water” (John’s baptism of repentance) and then the baptism of the Holy Spirit (salvation proper). It is impossible to reverse the two. In fact, those who believe water baptism by immersion is a sign or symbol of a believer’s immersion into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ are doing the very same thing. They are saying: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of the Spirit and of water, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” “Water now becomes the sign or symbol of salvation itself (no longer of repentance as in John’s water baptism) and therefore must be administered after salvation (baptism with the Holy Spirit), making it a so-called Believer’s Baptism.

To reiterate what I said earlier, I need to remind you that the believer’s baptism (immersion) into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not constituted by a once-off symbol bearing sacrament but a continual and obedient reckoning (rational) that we are indeed dead to sin and alive to God.

For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin (and NOT, look back in retrospect to your once-off baptism by immersion in water), but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:10-11)

Importance of Baptism

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We are saved by GRACE, because it was GRACE that Jesus won for us, when He gave His Life for us, that is to say, on our behalf (we must never forget that Jesus gave His life, at the behest of His Father - "For God so loved the World, that He gave His only begotten Son..."), to pay the price of our sins, this GRACE, enabled us to be baptized with The Holy Spirit, apart from this GRACE, the presence of The Holy Spirit, His purity, would have killed us - few could ever enter the holy of holy, only the high priest, and with sacrifices to atone for sin, lest he die - after Jesus died, gave His life, the temple curtain that separated God's Spirit, from men, was torn in two, to signify the GRACE that now existed between man, and God - but that GRACE is an offer, we partake in that gift of GRACE, via our obedience to be baptized - baptism with The Holy Spirit, attested to with the gift of tongues, is only possible because God has extended His GRACE to all who will love and obey Him, the GRACE is extended to all, but not all seek to love and obey God - "The one who loves me keeps my commandments."

GRACE - is an opportunity - a moment in time - it will come to an end, and be replaced by judgement.

GRACE extends to us, the opportunity to be reunited with God's Holy Spirit, through baptism.

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Welcome to the site! This next has nothing to do with the quality of your answer, it's just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": the help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Stratton Dec 13 '13 at 1:00
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