By Steven Chan
The question of the essentiality of baptism for salvation is a very important one. Unfortunately, there is much confusion among believers about the essentiality or otherwise of baptism for salvation. The teaching of the bible is quite clear by direct statements as well as by examples. Let us consider what God’s Word reveals on this subject:
1. In Mark 16:16, Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16 (NKJV).
The above statement of Jesus clearly places “faith and baptism” as being necessary for one to be saved. Of course, if one does not have faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God then one would not be qualified to be baptized as one could not be saved without faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV).
2. Let’s consider what the bible says about the purpose of baptism:-
In the first sermon preached by the apostle Peter, he declared: “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.” Acts 2:38
Peter clearly explained that repentance and baptism were necessary for one to have forgiveness of sins. 3,000 were baptized on that day: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized, and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” Acts 2:41. According to Acts 2:47: “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” The ones added to the church were those who were saved i.e. those who had believed, repented, confessed Jesus as Son of God, and had been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.
3. Let us consider all the accounts of those who were saved or converted as recorded in the book of Acts: –
a. Acts 2:38: on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 of the Jews were baptized on that very day and added to the church.
b. Acts 8:12: The Samaritans who believed were baptized immediately: “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.”
c. Acts 8:36-38: The Ethiopian eunuch was immediately baptized in the desert when he confessed his faith in Jesus:
“Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went
down into the water, and he baptized him.”
d. Acts 10:47-48, the first Gentiles converts, Cornelius and his family were commanded to be baptized immediately after the Holy Spirit came upon them: “ “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? ” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”
e. In Acts 16, Lydia and her family in the city of Philippi were immediately baptized after Paul had taught her the gospel: “And she and her house-
hold were baptized.” Acts 16:15 (NKJV).
f. In Acts 16:33, the Philippian Jailor and his family were immediately baptized at midnight after Paul had taught them the gospel: “And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediate-
ly he and all his family were baptized.”
g. In Acts 19, Paul taught those in Ephesus that the baptism of John was no longer valid after the coming of the New Covenant which was inaugurated by the shedding of the blood of Jesus on the cross (Heb 9:14-17; 10:9-10; Eph 2:14-16; Col 2:14; Matt 26:28). The baptism commanded by Jesus pursuant to Mark 16:15-16; Matt 28: 18-20 had become the “one baptism” that they should undergo (Eph 4:5). They were then immediately baptized in the
name of Jesus: “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 19:5 (NKJV).
h. In Acts 22:16, Paul himself explained that he was baptized so that his sins may be washed away: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’”
It’s noteworthy that all accounts of conversion included baptism and its immediacy indicating its urgency and importance. This is consistent with what Jesus said in Mark 16:16: he who believes and is baptized will be saved. This fact was also evident when the Spirit took away the evangelist Philip immediately after he had baptized the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:39. The Spirit did not take him away when the eunuch had confessed Christ – but only after he was baptized. The eunuch had fulfilled the terms of salvation after he was baptized, and the evangelist’s work was done.
4. What the bible says about baptism:
a. When one repents and is baptized, he receives forgiveness of sins: Acts 2:38.
b. Paul said that he was told by Ananias to “arise and be baptized and wash away your sins”. It implies that although Paul had seen the Lord earlier on the road to Damascus his sins were still with him and he had to be baptized to wash away His sins.
c. In Rom 6:1-7, the Bible reveals that in baptism the old man (our sinful
life) died and was “buried” with Christ and that when we are “raised” from the waters, we are “raised” with Christ to “walk in newness of life” because in baptism “we have died to sin” and have been born again as new creatures in Christ.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as 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. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.” Romans 6:1-7 NKJV So, according to Paul if a person had not yet been baptized, then he has not yet died to sin. We need to be united with Christ through baptism.
d. Baptism is the putting on of Christ: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have
put on Christ.” Galatians 3:26-27 NKJV. If one has not been baptized then one has not yet put on Christ. Note that all become children of God “by faith” in Christ Jesus and that faith process requires or includes one putting on Christ in baptism. The passage implies that if one has not put on Christ then he is not a child of God.
e. Baptism puts one “in Christ”: Rom 6:3: we are “baptized into Christ”. Gal 3:27: “baptized into Christ”.
Being “in Christ” is where we: –
received all spiritual blessings: “Blessed be the God and Father of
our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places “in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3
have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” Ephesians1:7 NKJV. It is only “in Christ” that we receive forgiveness of sins.
become a new creature: “Therefore, if anyone is “in Christ”, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” II Corinthians 5:17 NKJV. Only “in Christ” one becomes a new creation.
The bible tells us that baptism is the act that puts one “into Christ” – Gal 3:27
f. Jesus said that one has to be born again of water and of the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of heaven: “Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter
the kingdom of God.” John 3:5 NKJV The kingdom of God refers to the realm where Christ is the king – He is the king of kings and He reigns today over His spiritual kingdom (1 Tim6:15; John 18:36): “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” I Corinthians 15:25-26 NKJV. “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14, KJV) Christ is the head of the church, his body (Col 1:18) and He is King in His Kingdom (Matt 16:18-19; Acts 2:30; 1 Tim 6:15).
The same process that gets one into the church (the body of Christ) also gets one into the kingdom of God: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free— and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” I Corinthians 12:13 NKJV
g. Given that baptism puts one into Christ wherein one receives forgiveness of sins, Peter compared it with how Noah was saved through water and he said that in the same manner baptism now saves us: “the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:” 1 Peter 3:20-21 KJV
5. Baptism is a work of God; it is not a meritorious work of man: “buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” Colossians 2:12-13 NKJV.
6. The act of baptism is an act of obedience or submission to God who saves us by His grace when we respond to Him in obedient faith just like how Naaman the Syrian commander who was a leper was similarly cleansed from his leprosy by an act of God’s grace when he obeyed by dipping himself seven times in the River Jordan as commanded by the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 5:1-14. The water did not have any special power to cleanse him; it was his obedience and humble submission to God’s command that resulted in him being cleansed of his leprosy.
Likewise, only the blood of Jesus can provide us with the forgiveness of sins; the water of baptism has no special inherent power to wash away our sins. But it is through our obedience to the command of Christ as per Mark 16:16 and followed by Peter in Acts 2:38 and in all the acts of conversions in the book of Acts, that when one is baptized in water one comes into con-
tact with the blood of Christ, and receives forgiveness of sins.
For it is “in Christ” that one receives forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7), “in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:14), and one is “baptized into Christ” (Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27); The above scriptures revealed that baptism is essential for salvation as it is commanded as a necessary act of obedient faith in order to receive forgiveness of sins by grace through faith due to Jesus having paid the price for our redemption with His precious blood..
The Bible says nothing about baptism being merely an act of public confession.