As a follow-up to last month’s article dealing with the deadly doctrine of “Salvation by Faith Only,” we want to consider the widespread false teaching that water baptism is not essential to salvation. If one does not give the scriptural answer to the question, “What must one do to be saved,” that is a serious problem.

I have not encountered a single denominational person who does not think that being baptized is a good thing to do. Many of them would say a person ought to be baptized in order to imitate Jesus, because He was baptized. Some would go so far as to tell us that being baptized is a command of the Lord. But, the overwhelming majority of denominations insist that baptism has nothing to do with salvation.

What does the Bible teach about the purpose of water baptism? Is there a connection between being immersed in water and receiving forgiveness of sins? There is, indeed, and the Bible clearly shows it.

Let us begin in Acts 2. Peter, a Holy Spirit- guided apostle, told lost Jews on the Day of Pentecost, “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). According to that verse, what two things were required in order to receive the remission of sins? Answer: repent and be baptized. Put another way, according to Acts 2:38, what is the purpose of water baptism? Answer: to obtain the remission of sins. If baptism was required in order to receive the remission of sins, were those people lost or saved before being baptized? They were lost.

We now consider Acts 22. The Lord sent a disciple by the name of Ananias to the city of Damascus, where Saul of Tarsus had been praying, but had not eaten or drunk for three days (Acts 9:9- 11). What did Ananias charge Saul to do? “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). According to that verse, what was the purpose of Saul being baptized? Answer: to wash away his sins. If baptism was required in order to cleanse him of his sins, would that mean his sins still were “on” him prior to his baptism? Yes, it would.

Let us move on to Mark 16. Before ascending back to heaven, Jesus made this declaration about salvation: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). According to our Lord’s words, who is it that will be saved? Answer: “he . . . will be saved.” Which person? Is it one who only believes? No. It is one who only is baptized? No. In the Master’s language, it is one “who believes and is baptized.” The word “and” means something, correct? When the Bible says “Peter and John” went up to the temple (Acts 3:1), what does “and” signify in that statement? That it was Peter plus John who went. In the same manner, to state that he who believes “and” is baptized indicates that salvation is granted to one who responds to the gospel by believing plus being baptized. According to Mark 16:16, does baptism come before or after salvation? Before. Jesus put it this way: (1) believe . . . (2) baptized . . . (3) saved.

Let me share some evidence that some emphatically affirm that a person is saved before being baptized, which is another way of saying that baptism has nothing to do with being forgiven of sins. In a private Bible study that involved me, two other brothers, and two leaders of a denomination, one of the denom’s deacons stated that he would not baptize a person unless he was convinced that the person already was saved. Thus, his unwavering position was: salvation comes first, followed by baptism. Hmm. That sounds different from Mark 16:16.

From the website of the City Harvest Church:

“While baptism itself has no power to cleanse or save from sin, it is an important step of obedience in a believer’s life as an outward acknowledgment of the salvation experience that has already taken place . . . Baptism follows salvation” [www.chc.org.sg/water-baptism]. Hmm. That sounds different from Acts 2:38.

One group in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area (where I currently live) publicly tells the world, “We believe that water baptism is an act of obedience to the command of Christ and is by immersion after salvation” [www.brainerdhills.com/beliefs]. Hmm. That sounds different than Acts 22:16. A separate denominational website affirms, “. . . baptism is important but not necessary for salvation . . . the Bible teaches that baptism symbolizes that a person has been saved and is not a means of salvation . . . While baptism is not essential for salvation, it is a very important requirement for obedience to the Lord . . . baptism is to follow a person’s conversion” [www.baptistdistinctives.org/resources/articles/believers- baptism; all quotes in this article were taken on 15 September 2020, and all emphasis is mine, rdc].

What an individual or group teaches about the purpose of baptism is not a trivial matter, nor are the issues we set forth in this article “just a matter of opinion.” Our beliefs, teaching, and practice must be based on the Scriptures. God’s word plainly shows that water baptism is necessary to salvation. One may deny that, but God’s truth is still the truth.

— Roger D. Campbell