The text of Mark 16:15-16 begins, “He that believeth....” Of this believer, our Lord concludes, “shall be saved.” The essential nature of belief for salvation is obvious in the closing words of the verse, “but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). One of the conditions upon which salvation depends, according to this verse, is faith (belief).
This is a point upon which almost all are agreed throughout the religious world. The New Testament makes it clear that God requires faith, on the part of the sinner, for his salvation. For example, we are told, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
The entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews shows the important role of faith in the lives of those pleasing to God, even in the days of the Old Testament. But, the faith described in that chapter is not faith alone; it is faith that responds in obedience to God. Even here, in verse 6, we have action inferred by the references to coming to God and seeking Him. It is that kind of faith (active, obedient) that justifies (Romans 5:1). Bear in mind that this faith comes from hearing God’s Word (10:17). As noted earlier, in the verse preceding our text, Jesus commissioned the preaching of the Gospel. That is the God-given way for people to hear the Gospel. “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:21).
We will soon note in Mark 16:16, faith is not the only condition of salvation according to the Gospel. James’ words are emphatic on the connection between faith and action. “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Jam. 2:24). This, by the way, is the only Biblical reference to faith only. It is significant that James tells us that justification (another word for salvation) is NOT by faith only in spite of the very popular denominational teaching to the contrary.
James then concludes his discussion of faith and works with these words, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (2:26). It could not be any clearer! The faith that saves involves more than mental assent; faith must act to save.
There are even New Testament examples of some who believed, but were not saved. Consider those among the chief rulers: “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43).
Consider the devils (demons, ASV): “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19). Felix believed and “trembled” at the preaching of Paul (Acts 24:25). King Agrippa also believed according to Paul’s own appraisal, “I know that thou believest” (26:27). It is, therefore, clear that man is not and cannot be saved by faith alone; nevertheless, faith is absolutely essential to salvation.
Obedience is also necessary for salvation. Referring to Jesus, the writer of Hebrews notes, “And having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9). According to this, Jesus is the “author of eternal salvation” to “all them that obey him.” Add to this the statement of Peter, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently” (I Peter 1:22). Souls are purified (i.e. cleansed, forgiven of sins, etc.) by “obedience to the truth.”
According to the context of Mark 16:16, that which is to be believed is the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. The historical facts of the Gospel are the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (I Corinthians 15:1-4). Paul wrote that the resurrection was the powerful proof that Jesus was the Son of God, “And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). Hence, Jesus insisted, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). Our sins separate us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2), and thereby cause us to be in need of salvation. If sin remains unforgiven in our lives, we will be lost! Therefore, part of the Gospel which must be believed in order to be saved is that Jesus is God’s Son. Recall that when Philip had preached Jesus to the Eunuch on the road between Jerusalem and Gaza and when the eunuch desired baptism, Philip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” (Acts 8:37). The Ethiopian then properly confessed his faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (cf. Matthew 10:32), and was baptized. Paul commented on faith and confession in Romans 10. He wrote, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Rom. 10:9-10).
Infants And Others Exempt From The Requirements Of This Verse
The necessity of belief to be saved rules out infants and the mentally deficient. Babies cannot believe, nor can those who lack the mental capabilities to learn and make rational decisions for themselves. These are not candidates for baptism since they are incapable of belief which is prerequisite to baptism.
Indeed, these individuals are not in need of salvation for they are safe. The Bible refutes the claim of Calvinism of “inherited total depravity”—that babies are born sinners of the worst sort! Children are born innocent and those who do not mentally progress to the point of making rational decisions based on information given remain in that innocent condition. We are told that we are responsible for our own sins, and not for the sins of our ancestors, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him (Ezekiel 18:20).
Jesus further told us that in order to be saved, we must become like little children, “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
So, we must conclude that children should not be baptized because they cannot be believers, and that children are not in need of salvation until they become sinners.