If a person knows by memory only one verse of Scripture, more than likely it would be Jn. 11:35: “Jesus wept.” But closely following that verse would be Jn. 3:16, called by many, “The Golden Text of the Bible.” It says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The verse is a wonderful declaration of three points of God’s divine love. First, the greatest giver. God gave His Son as an atonement for the sins of man. God’s love for man, His creation, was so great that He would not spare even His only begotten Son to save man from the consequences of his sins. Second, the greatest love. Never was a greater gift given than this! When a man gives his life for another, he manifests ultimate love. It was said by Jesus, “Greater love hath no man than this than that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Third, the greatest receiver: sinful man. The gift of life is a precious one. The gift of eternal life is a gift we can hardly comprehend, and the magnitude of the gift is demonstrated in the fact that it was given to those who did not deserve it.
The verse begins with “For.” That word ties v. 16 together with the preceding verse which likens Jesus being lifted up on the cross to Moses lifting up the serpent for Israel to see. Looking at the brazen serpent brought life to those who were smitten with a deadly serpent’s bite. “Looking” to Jesus brings “life” to Him who “looks.” The figure does not show the suffering and shame God’s Son underwent: it simply typifies that those who “looked” on that brazen serpent were given healing.
Faith was not cited as a condition of healing to the stricken Israelite, but who would look at the brazen serpent if he had no faith for healing of his bite? Faith is cited as a condition of healing when one is “bitten” by the wicked serpent, Satan. Without faith one cannot please God (Heb. 11:6). By faith we walk (2 Cor. 5:7). The righteous live by faith (Rom. 1:17). We are saved and justified by faith (Eph. 2:8; Rom. 5:12). Unbelief kept the Israelites from entering Canaan (Heb. 3:19). The same thing will keep us from heaven (Heb. 4:1-2).
While Jn. 3:16 teaches one is saved by faith, it does not teach, as many suppose, that one is saved by faith alone. The same chapter which records v. 16, also records v. 36: “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
Jesus gave faith as a condition of eternal life or salvation, but He also gave being baptized as a condition of salvation. He commissioned His apostles to “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. He that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:15-16). Those who quarrel with the essentiality of baptism are not quarreling with man; they are quarreling with Jesus, for it was He who gave baptism as a condition of being saved.
Yes, Paul wrote, “By grace are ye saved, through faith and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works that no man should boast” (Eph. 2:8). We cannot earn our salvation through doing good deeds ourselves. We will never deserve salvation no matter what we do or what sacrifices we make. But we must obey God to be saved and that obedience is “works” (Heb. 5:8-9).
The truth is baptism is part of faith. When Paul came to Ephesus, he stayed there about three years (Acts 20:31). Soon after he arrived at Ephesus he found certain disciples and asked them, “Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed and they said unto him, Nay, we did not so much as hear that the Holy Spirit was given. And he said, Into what then were ye baptized? And they said, into John’s baptism. And he said, John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on him that came after him, that is, on Jesus. And when they heard this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:2-5). From this account notice two things.
First, look at the question Paul asked these disciples: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” When he received their answer, he then asked, “Into what then were ye baptized?” He had not asked these had they been baptized; he asked them had they received the Spirit when they believed. The fact that they had believed was evidence to him they had been baptized. He didn’t asked them if they had been baptized. To Paul, when these Ephesians had believed, it meant they had been baptized.
Second, Paul did not tell these disciples of John to be baptized. He told them John’s instruction to his disciples was that they were to “believe” on him that should come him. Believe. Yet when these disciples heard they were to believe on Jesus Christ who came after John, what did they do? They were baptized. Why? Because being baptized is part of one’s faith in Jesus Christ, just as is repentance.