Isn't baptism required for salvation?

I have been asked this question numerous times in the past. I think this is a question that many people have and I think it is important to address because it deals with salvation. If it was a side issue I would just let it go but since the answer involves a person's salvation I want to address it here.

My response is in Green:

I do not personally consider baptism as part of salvation.

Let me kind of start from what I do believe is salvation and then tell you what I think about baptism. When I say that a person must believe in Jesus Christ I mean a couple of things. First they must have come to an understanding that they are a sinner, who is lost and under a death sentence by a holy and just God. They must understand that they can do nothing on their own to change that. They must further believe that Jesus is God's Son, meaning that He is God, that He came to earth as a human being (while remaining God). That He lived a sinless life, and died for our sins and in doing so He took all of God's wrath for our sins and that He arose from the dead three days later. The person must also turn from those sins and ask Jesus to forgive them. They are saved by what Jesus did on the cross and God's grace through their faith that Jesus is truly who He says He is.

It is kind of awkward to write out what salvation means in this manner, but I think you get the idea. Now on to baptism. I don't think it is necessary to salvation, however, I don't think it is an option either. Here is my point. Jesus commanded us to be baptized. He commanded the disciples to baptize new believers. I don't have any argument there, but I don't see it as part of the salvation process, I see it as a public stand for Christ. He mentions that more then once too:(Matthew 10:32-33 NIV) {32} "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. {33} But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. I think it is pretty unlikely that a person would have a true conversion experience and then refuse to be identified with Christ, however, I think if they did, they would no longer be saved. But this is different then the teaching (or at least what I understand of the teaching) of the Church of Christ. My understanding is that they teach that until you are baptized you are not saved. For example say a person accepts Christ into their heart (as described above) but for whatever reason is not immediately baptized and dies in the next day or two or even in the next hour or two before being baptized. That person is lost, even though they placed their faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. I just can't buy that. It adds the work of baptism to the what I believe was the finished work of salvation on the cross.

I won't use what I consider the old tired example of the thief on the cross, but I will give you other biblical reasons why I don't believe this. First is this passage and I want to quote it from two different translations:

(1 Corinthians 1:14-15 NIV) {14} I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, {15} so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.

(1 Corinthians 1:14-15 KJV) {14} I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; {15} Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.

Now here is my street cop question. If baptism was necessary for a person to gain entrance into heaven, would Paul have thanked God that He did not "save" any of these people from the fires of hell? Or even be thankful as the NIV states that he did not do so? I don't believe so. If baptism was on the same level as confessing your sins and placing faith in Jesus Christ, then I don't believe for a moment that Paul would have written what he did. I understand why he said what he did, because these people were following the person and not Christ, but the fact remains the same, if baptism were necessary I think he would have found a different way to express his displeasure with them. Now look a couple verses later:(1 Corinthians 1:17 NIV) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-- not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Here again we see that Paul makes a distinction between the gospel and baptism. He makes a very big distinction in fact. If baptism were part of the gospel, as faith in Christ is part of the gospel, I cannot believe he would have said this either.

Now there are two other places I want to show you. Both of these however, deal with the issue from a point of silence instead of coming out and really saying anything. Let me explain. First is the Ethiopian Eunuch. Let me quote the verse I am interested in:(Acts 8:36 NIV) As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" Notice that it is the Eunuch himself that wants to be baptized. Again I am speaking from silence and I realize that, but if baptism were "required" for salvation, I would think that it would be Philip who would have suggested that they find water and finish the job.

One last one:(Acts 16:31-34 NIV) {31} They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved-- you and your household." {32} Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. {33} At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. {34} The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God-- he and his whole family.

Now in this one I will be the first person to admit that the Jailer and his family were immediately baptized, but look at what they told him was necessary for his salvation: "Believe in the Lord Jesus..." They did not say believe and be baptized, they just said believe. I think the Jailer's immediate baptism is consistent with his wanting to immediately be identified with Christ. There are more passages that I could comment on, but I think these show why I don't believe baptism is part of the salvation process, but do believe it is a commandment that each Christian needs to follow in their walk with Christ.

It is not the Church of Christ, but the Oneness church which claims that if you are baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit you are not really saved. They claim you must be baptized in the name of Jesus only. Again they add a work to the finished work of Christ. They can show you a passage in the Bible that seems to buttress their view, but there are also passages that deny it. Such as this one:(Matthew 28:19-20 NIV) {19} Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, {20} and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." These are Jesus' own words, but they reject them.

Acts 2:38 says, remission of sins comes through the washing of baptism. (Acts 2:38 NIV) Peter replied, ôRepent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I will agree that on the surface this passage looks like it says that baptism is required, but you have to do more digging to get the correct meaning. Let me quote a little more of the same passage:(Acts 2:36-41 NIV) {36} "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." {37} When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" {38} Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. {39} The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-- for all whom the Lord our God will call." {40} With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." {41} Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. First notice who Peter was speaking to. He was talking to the Jews, these are the people who had denounced their own Messiah. He tells them to repent and to be baptized. The repenting and the being baptized in Jesus name would have proven their faith in the one they had first rejected. It would also have been a very public stand for Christ.

Bible interpretation is sometimes hard because we are not careful enough. It is easy to find passages in the Bible which appear to contradict other passages, yet we know that God does not contradict Himself. It is easy to find passages which seem to say one thing but which are further clarified in other places, but many times people never get the clarification. That is what happens to most cults. They start out with the Bible but they take things out of context, or they take something from one context but never look at other places which would better clarify what the true meaning is.

We have to understand that many things in the Bible are written to accomplish one thing, not to give us concrete doctrine. What I mean by that is that many things are in the Bible in places to address one thing but other important items which affect the doctrine as a whole are not listed there. I believe this issue of baptism is just such an issue. People take the fact that Peter said for these people to be baptized as doctrine that baptism is required for salvation. Yet they ignore all those other places where salvation is described and baptism is not mentioned. What is always mentioned when salvation is mentioned? Faith or believing.

Romans 10: 9-10 says a person must both confess and believe. See you can't be saved without works as James clearly states.

This is mixing two things together. I don't deny that a person must believe, I stated that it is something that is always mentioned when salvation is spoken of, but that does not prove that baptism is part of salvation.

Let me quote a passage in James:(James 2:14-20 NIV) {14} What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? {15} Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. {16} If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? {17} In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. {18} But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. {19} You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-- and shudder. {20} You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Again I think this is a point where a person uses one passage of scripture to prove a point which is totally outside of the intended purpose of the original Scripture.

Let me explain. James does say that faith without works is dead and cannot save you, however, he is not talking about faith without baptism. You have to see who he is addressing and why, or you will miss the whole point. He is talking to people who claim to be believers, but who are not helping out the poor or showing compassion. He is making a point that if you truly place your faith in Jesus Christ you can't help but exhibit fruit or works.

Jesus spoke of this same matter:(Matthew 7:15-20 NIV) {15} "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. {16} By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? {17} Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. {19} Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. {20} Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

In this passage He again stresses that those who love Him will help others: (Matthew 25:41-43 NIV) {41} "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. {42} For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, {43} I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' Salvation does not come through helping the poor, but helping the poor is proof of where your heart is. So works do not save you, but they will show evidence that you truly were saved. So this brings us back to baptism and these passages get us no closer to knowing whether baptism is part of salvation or just a sign of our salvation.

The Church of Christ teach that you must submit to baptism or you will not be saved. To think that you don't have to be baptized to be saved is to ignore all those passages that say so.

Here is my problem with that statement. It says anyone who will not submit to baptism will not be saved. I say anyone who will not submit to baptism is showing that they were not saved. There is a difference. Jesus commands us to be baptized and if we refuse then we are showing that He is not truly our Lord and Savior, but the baptism is not what saves us. You could just as well say that anyone who refuses to turn from their sin after accepting Christ as their Savior is not truly saved. Because it shows the same thing, that Christ is not truly their Lord and Savior. We do not turn from our sin before we are saved, because we can't, we are sinful creatures. We confess our sins and ask for forgiveness and God helps us to turn from our sinful ways. We must be willing, yes, but it is not a work that saves us, it is a work that shows we were saved.

Speaking of the Jailor and his family: Mark 16:16 says that they spoke the gospel to the jailer and his family. Since baptism is part of the gospel that is why they were baptized.

Let me quote here: (Mark 16:15-16 NIV) {15} He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. {16} Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." I added verse 15 so people will know that Jesus is speaking. Yes it says that those who believe and are baptized will be saved. But do you want to take your theological stand on that? If so then explain why it is only those who do not believe who are not saved? What about those who are not baptized? It does not say. What about those who don't believe but are baptized just in case? My point is that you are taking more meaning from the one sentence then you should or less from the other then you should. If it means that those who do not both believe and get baptized are not saved, then why doesn't it also say that those who do not believe and baptized both will be condemned? You have to take Scripture as a whole. God did not make His word hard to understand so that only a few people could understand it.

Speaking of Paul saying that he was not called to baptize only to preach the gospel: People claim that Paul was only the messenger that his purpose was not to do the physical baptising, his purpose was to do the preaching and the teaching that would lead to baptizm. Someone else did the physical baptizing. They claim there is no separation between the gospel and baptism.

Let me quote the passage again here:(1 Corinthians 1:17 NIV) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-- not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. You cannot ignore the fact that Paul makes a distinction between the gospel and baptism. It is right there. He goes on to say that it is the cross of Christ which has the power. It is not the baptism.

People also say baptism is what gets you into Christ (Gal:3:26-27), and gets you into the body or "church" (1 Cor 12:12-14).

Let me quote these passages also:(Galatians 3:23-29 NIV) {23} Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. {24} So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. {25} Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. {26} You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, {27} for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. {28} There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. {29} If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. You will notice that I quoted more verses again, but I do that so make sure we are getting the right context. This passage is speaking of faith. It says we were justified by faith. It says that now that this faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the law. Yes it mentions baptism but how does it mention it? Does it say that the baptism freed us from the supervision of the law? No, it says faith did that. Does it say that baptism justified us? No, it says faith did that. It says that we were baptized into Christ, but what does that mean. It means that we identified with Christ in our baptism. It is our public confession of our faith in Christ.

As I have said all along I believe that baptism is a commandment for the believer, but I reject the idea that it is what saves us.

(1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NIV) {12} The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. {13} For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. This passage is not even speaking of water baptism, it is speaking of the baptism done by the Spirit when we are placed into the Body of Christ.

I want to make one other point for you to think about. That is circumcision. Circumcision was required in the Old Testament, much like baptism is required in the New Testament. Let me show you how seriously God took the sign of circumcision:(Exodus 4:24-26 NIV) {24} At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. {25} But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses' feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. {26} So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to circumcision.) God was about to kill Moses because he had not circumcised his son. I would say that is pretty serious.

We know that the sign of circumcision started with Abraham, but look at what God's words says about it:(Romans 4:9-12 NIV) {9} Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. {10} Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! {11} And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. {12} And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Don't miss the point here. God commanded all of Abraham's descendants to be circumcised. He took this sign so seriously that He was going to kill Moses over it, yet we know from the New Testament that it is not what saved them, it was a sign of their faith and it was the faith that saved them. Do you see a correlation between circumcision and baptism? I agree we are commanded to be baptized, but it is a sign of our faith, it does not save us, our faith in Jesus Christ is what saves us. I think God takes it just as seriously as He did circumcision, but it is not part of salvation, we are saved before we are circumcised.

If Abraham had been saved by circumcision then his salvation would have come because of works and if we are saved by baptism then we are saved by works.

Look at another part of that passage:(Romans 4:1-5 NIV) {1} What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? {2} If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about-- but not before God. {3} What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." {4} Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. {5} However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. If Abraham had been able to save himself by circumcision then he could have boasted. If anyone could save them self by observing the Law then we would not have needed Jesus Christ to die in our place. So after He died in our place why would we be able to save our self by our own actions (baptism)? Faith is not a work, it is a matter of the heart. We are saved by faith in what God has done for us. We then are commanded to be baptized to show the world that we are dead to the old life and alive in Christ. It is a sign just like circumcision was a sign. I believe also as I have stated before that it is a commandment for all believers.


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