In recent weeks, I have been involved in several friendly debates (discussions) with a denominational friend, whom I have had for over 30 years, on a topic that most Christians, given enough time, will likewise find themselves having: “Is Baptism a requirement for salvation?” My friend argues that “baptism is certainly a good thing, but we are saved, and THEN baptized,” which is followed by the common refrain, “We cannot save ourselves via works.” This is a stance that seems to be growing in popularity across our modern culture. Are these types of arguments valid? The purpose of this brief article is to analyze specifics on what the New Testament has to tell us about this topic, and hopefully educate and prepare ourselves for the inevitable day when we are forced to encounter attitudes similar to that of my friend.
The question we will attempt to address is simply this: “Is Baptism a necessity for salvation?” In future issues, my intention is to discuss and analyze additional baptism related topics, such as immersion verses sprinkling, baptism of infants, etc., but the focus of this particular discussion is about the necessity of baptism, or lack thereof, in regard to eternal salvation.
We will start with Mark 16:16, a verse avoided by many, and argued, and even denied, by others:
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”1
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (NIV).
“He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (NASB).
This seems to be as direct, simple, and understandable as any verse in the Bible could be; belief, followed by baptism, results in salvation, while a lack of belief would make every other facet of a Christian’s salvation irrelevant – a dead issue. Note not only the command of this verse, but also the order that Christians are to follow. This verse, regardless of the translation one uses, does NOT say “a person is saved, and THEN baptized,” nor does any other verse in the New Testament. Baptism precedes salvation, not vice versa.
Let us move next to Matthew 28:18-19; these words are attributed to Jesus Christ, Himself: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…” Here, in the midst of “The Great Commission,” Jesus instructs his followers to spread the word of the Gospel, to baptize, and then how to properly baptize. These are the words of Christ, as stated earlier, and it seems difficult to fathom why supposed “followers” of Christ would deny, ignore, or object to such clear and unambiguous wording. Acts 10:48 reads simply: “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord…” Acts 22:16 famously reads: “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Romans 6:3-7 tells us: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” First Peter 3:21 reads: “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” New Testament verse after New Testament verse echoes the imperative, and non-optional, need of baptism for salvation; yet, akin to a horse wearing blinders, many simply refuse to accept or acknowledge this indisputable Biblical fact, and attempts to do so make the New Testament writers, the apostles, and even Jesus Christ, Himself, liars, at worst, and wrong, at best.
Acts 2:38 is often cited as support for baptism, and it certainly is, but the preceding verse 37 needs to be included, as well. The believing Jews ask the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Note that merely “accepting” Jesus as “one’s personal Savior” is NOT the reply, and neither is simply “asking Jesus to come into one’s heart,” which are both popular and trite sayings today. Peter responds to the query with, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…”
Matthew 3:13-17 provides us perhaps our strongest rationale for baptism, which was the perfect example of the Savior of all mankind, Jesus, who approaches John the Baptist, requesting baptism: “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 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. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus had not sinned in any way, nor would He throughout his lifetime, and would thus have no need for baptism for “remission of sins,” so why would Jesus, our perfect example to follow, engage in an action which pleased God, yet would be OPTIONAL for us today?
Does this mean that baptism, in and of itself, is ALL that is required for salvation? Absolutely not. First and foremost, man can never EARN his way into heaven, for all of us have sinned and fallen short of the perfection of God (Rom. 3:23), and thus grace becomes an absolute necessity for the salvation of each and every one of us. Does this mean that since I can never “earn” my way to salvation, that I should do NOTHING, including being baptized? Again, absolutely not. Baptism is one facet, albeit an indispensable one, of the salvation of mankind. We are to hear the word (Rom. 10:17); we are to believe the word (Acts 8:37; Mark 16:16); we are to repent of our sins (Luke 13:3-5; Acts 2:38); we are to confess our sins (Acts 8:36-37); and, as we have seen repeatedly, we are to be baptized for the remission of our sins (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19), INTO Jesus Christ (Romans 6:1-4). Baptism does not serve as the final act of obedience. Christians are required and expected to remain devoted, dutiful, and dedicated to Jesus Christ after their baptism, and to continue their walk for the remainder of their lives.
The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that baptism is not optional. Simply “accepting Jesus into one’s heart” for salvation, for example, appears nowhere in Scripture, as does the repeated commands and instructions to be baptized. Baptism is an action reserved for, and acted upon, by penitent, obedient believers in Jesus, and it is through baptism, combined with faith, grace, and the Christian life of servitude, that we truly become children of God. It is my sincere hope and prayer that readers of this brief article will see the vast importance of this commanded act, and will open their hearts and minds to the Biblical viewpoint of this topic.
If you truly desire to be a Christian, baptism is not optional. Have YOU been baptized? If not, what are you waiting for?