Is water baptism necessary for salvation? Does water baptism play any part in our salvation? Does the administration of this ordinance upon the sinner confer any aspect of spiritual life? Are we saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone, or is there something that we must have done to us by another human being that is integral to salvation? It seems there are many who place an unbiblical importance upon water baptism in regards to our salvation. It is important, as always, to go to the Bible to see what the Word of God has to say about this matter.
First, I believe there is a portion of Scripture that has been misapplied to give an unbiblical emphasis upon water baptism in the matter of salvation. I love God’s Word and I love the Holy Spirit who opens our hearts and minds to understand the truth. As we look at this particular verse, we need to keep in mind the doctrine of the Scripture regarding salvation.
…who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us-baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. 1 Peter 3:20-22
First we should consider the water that Noah and his family were saved through; it was the water of judgment. They were saved because Noah found favor in the sight of God and the Lord warned Noah about the coming judgment. Noah and his family’s salvation were the result of the rescue of God through the water of judgment. In the same way, we are saved from the impending judgment of God upon unbelieving sinners through the judgment that the soon coming Judge, Jesus Christ, bore in our stead. As with Noah, we are warned about the impending judgment and brought to put our faith in Jesus Christ so that we might be saved. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have eternal life and He intercedes for us before the throne of God. The baptism referred to here is the good conscience that we have before God through the forgiveness of our sins and our inclusion in Christ through faith in the resurrected Savior. Jesus Christ made it clear in the Gospel of John that believing in Him secures our salvation.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:14-18
The only requirement for salvation is belief in the Son of God. If water baptism were integral to salvation then how could those who repent and place their faith in Christ just before they die be saved without the administration of baptism?
If baptism were necessary for salvation, then why could Jesus assure the thief also dying on an adjacent cross that he would be with Jesus that day in Paradise if the thief died without being baptized?
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-43
The confession of faith the dying thief professed was enough to secure his place in Paradise. The fact of this sinner’s salvation procured on his profession of faith is enough to give the dying repentant sinner confidence that placing faith in Jesus Christ is all that is necessary for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Later in the book of Luke, when the resurrected Christ met His disciples, He explained the Scriptures to them, giving them understanding, so they would know the message of salvation.
And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” Luke 24:45-49
Wouldn’t Christ have included the necessity of baptism in water if water baptism were indeed a necessary part of salvation? He didn’t, He said that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations. Repentant faith is sufficient for our salvation.
If water baptism were necessary for our salvation wouldn’t the apostle Paul have preached that message to us through the epistles that he wrote? Instead he wrote the exact opposite. We have to keep in mind that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him more than once and gave him the doctrine to preach. This is what Paul said concerning water baptism and concerning the message of salvation in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11:
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. 1 Corinthians 1:13-17
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Here in the first passage Paul does confess that believers are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, but then he states that Jesus Christ didn’t send him to baptize but to preach the gospel. So we see that Christ Himself sent Paul to preach the gospel and not to baptize. If baptism were integral to salvation wouldn’t Jesus Christ have sent Paul to preach the gospel and baptize? In the second passage Paul gives the word preached by him and the other apostles that saves, the gospel. Notice he tells the Corinthians that they are saved by believing the gospel; that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. There is nothing else added to the gospel message. He gives no requirement for salvation other than naked repentant faith.
What place does baptism have in the life of the saint? Baptism is a declaration that we have believed the gospel of Jesus Christ and are counting upon Him and His finished work to secure for us forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18-20
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call. Acts 2:38-39
Water baptism is the signal to all that we have been baptized into Jesus Christ, His death and His resurrection. His death is our death to sins and unrighteousness and His resurrection raises us from the death of wicked willful separation from God to walk in newness of eternal life knowing God as our beloved Father and Deliverer.
Or do you not know that as many of us were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Romans 6:3-4
Water baptism shows the work of faith in our lives through its symbolism to the work of Christ on our behalf. It is a beautiful picture of His saving work in our lives. Those who are saved should follow their Lord in obedience and be baptized. However, if one of His beloved saints is not baptized, due to circumstances beyond their control, they can trust in the work of righteousness that Jesus Christ has accomplished on behalf of His beloved saints.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. Matthew 3:13-15
Jesus Christ is our all in all!
Baptism does not wash away our sins. Jesus Christ’s blood washes away our sins.
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7
Baptism is not the source of regeneration but the Holy Spirit is our source of regeneration and renewing through faith in Christ.
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Titus 3:4-6.
So why are there faith traditions that contradict the Scriptures making baptism a source of righteousness in our lives? Perhaps it is so the clergy can wield power and authority over the laity in the most important of all considerations, our salvation. The administration of the rite of baptism gives legitimacy and purpose to the clergy in the matter of salvation and undergirds their importance in the salvation of souls. Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ so that He can save the sinner is not sufficient for their office, they want to add their work to the Lord’s work of salvation on behalf of the sinner and so they corrupt the gospel of Jesus Christ by making a human work and effort integral to salvation. If preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ was sufficient for Paul, doing his part in the work of bringing the lost to faith in Christ, then following his God given example, those who are leaders in the church should be content with that sacred charge, preach the gospel and pray for the work of God in the life of the sinner as they faithfully expound the Scriptures for salvation and edification. As believers in Jesus Christ, we should obey our Lord and Savior and follow Him in the ordinance of baptism, but we mustn’t ascribe any significance to it as a work of salvation in our lives, because if we do we are adding works to the salvation that God the Father offers us through His Son Jesus Christ and are making null the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus alone, Who alone did everything that was necessary to procure our salvation. All we need to do is repent and believe! Praise God for His grace and mercy given to us through His Son Jesus Christ!