Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

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  • Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

    Matt Slick

    One of the most nagging questions in Christianity is whether or not baptism is necessary for salvation. The answer is a simple, "No, water baptism is not necessary for salvation." But you might ask, "If the answer is no, then why are there verses that say things like ' . . . baptism that now saves you . . . ' (1 Pet. 3:21) and ' . . . Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins . . . ' (Acts 2:38)?'" These are good questions, and they deserve a good answer, so we will look at these verses later. But for now, the reason baptism is not necessary for salvation is that we are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1, Eph. 2:8) and not by faith and a ceremony (Rom. 4:1-11). You see, a religious ceremony is a set of activities or forms peformed by someone. In the Bible, circumcision was a ceremony where one person performed a religious rite on another person. Likewise, baptism is also a ceremony where one person performs a religious rite on another person, but, we are saved by faith alone, and anything else we do, including ceremonies, will not help.

    If we are saved by faith, then we are saved by faith when we believe and not when we get baptized, otherwise, we are not saved by faith. Furthermore, if baptism is necessary for salvation, then anyone who receives Christ on his deathbed in a hospital and who also believes Jesus is God in the flesh, who died and rose from the dead for his sins, etc., would go to Hell if he doesn't get baptized before he died. This would mean that we were not justified by faith because if we were, then the person would be saved. Also, if baptism is necessary for salvation, then all babies who die go to Hell since they weren't baptized. Remember, when someone says that baptism is necessary, there can be no exceptions, otherwise, it isn't necessary.

    Now, in order to more thoroughly look at this issue, I need to lay a foundation of proper theology, and then I'll address some of those verses that are commonly used to support the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.

    God Works Covenantally

    First, you need to understand that God works covenantally. A covenant is a pact or agreement between two or more parties. The New Testament and Old Testament are New and Old Covenants. The word "testament" comes from the Latin testamentum which means covenant. So, the Bible is a covenant document. If you do not understand covenant, you cannot understand--in totality--the issue of baptism because baptism is a covenant sign.

    If you do not think that God works covenantally, then look at Hebrews 13:20 which says, "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, . . . " The Eternal Covenant is the covenant between the Father and the Son before the creation of the world whereby the Father would give to the Son those whom the Father had chosen. That is why Jesus says things like, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away," (John 6:37). And, "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day," (John 6:39). And, "I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours," (John 17:9).

    If you fail to understand that God works covenantally and that He uses signs as manifestations of His covenants (rainbow, circumcision, communion, etc.,), then you will not be able to understand where baptism fits in God's covenant system.

    Second, you need to know what baptism is. It is a ceremony that represents an outward representation of an inward reality. For example, it represents the reality of the inward washing of Christ's blood upon the soul. That is why it is used in different ways. It is said to represent the death of the person (Rom. 6:3-5), the union of that person with Christ (Gal. 3:27), the cleansing of that person's sins (Acts 22:16), the identification with the one "baptized into" as when the Israelites were baptized into Moses (1 Cor. 10:2), and being united in one church (1 Cor. 12:13). Also, baptism is one of the signs and seals of the Covenant of Grace that was instituted by Jesus.

    The Covenant of Grace is the covenant between God and Mankind where God promises to Mankind eternal life. It is based upon the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and the condition is faith in Jesus Christ. As the Communion Supper replaced Passover, baptism, in like manner, replaces circumcision. "They represent the same spiritual blessings that were symbolized by circumcision and Passover in the old dispensation" (Berkhoff, Lewis, Systematic Theology, 1988, p. 620). Circumcision was the initiatory rite into the Abrahamic covenant. It did not save. A covenant is a pact or agreement between two or more parties and that is exactly what the Abrahamic covenant was. God said to Abraham, "I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you," (Genesis 17:7). God later instructed Abraham to circumcise not only every adult male but also eight-day-old male infants as a sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:9-13). If the children were not circumcised, they were not considered to be under the promissory Abrahamic covenant. This is why Moses' wife circumcised her son and threw the foreskin at Moses' feet (Ex. 4:24-25). She knew the importance of the covenant between God and her children. But at the same time we must understand that circumcision did not guarantee salvation to all who received it. It was a rite meant only for the people of God who were born into the family of God (who were then the Jews).

    An important question here is how is it possible for an infant to be entered into a covenant with God. There could be a lot of different answers given, but the point remains: it was done. Infants were entered into a covenant relationship with God through their parents.

    In the New Testament, circumcision is mentioned many times. But with respect to this topic it is specifically mentioned in Col. 2:11-12: "In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead." In these verses, baptism and circumcision are related. Baptism replaces the Old Testament circumcision because 1) there was a New Covenant in the communion supper (Luke 22:20), and 2) in circumcision there was the shedding of blood, but in baptism no blood is shed. This is because the blood of Christ has been shed and circumcision, which ultimately represented the shed blood of Christ in His covenant work of redemption, was a foreshadowing of Christ's work.

    If you understand that baptism is a covenant sign, then you can see that it is a representation of the reality of Christ circumcising our hearts (Rom. 2:29, Col. 2:11-12). It is our outward proclamation of the inward spiritual blessing of regeneration. It comes after faith which is a gift of God (Rom. 12:3) and the work of God (John 6:28).

    Third, the Bible says that it is the Gospel that saves. "By this gospel you are saved . . . " (1 Cor. 15:2). Also, Rom. 1:16 says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." Neither of these verses, which tell us what saves us, includes any mention of baptism.

    What is the Gospel?

    It is clearly the Gospel that saves us, but what exactly is the Gospel? That, too, is revealed to us in the Bible. It is found in 1 Cor. 15:1-4: "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." The Gospel is defined as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for our sins. Baptism is not mentioned here.

    Paul said that he came to preach the Gospel--not to baptize: "I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else). For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel . . . " (1 Cor. 1:14-17). If baptism is necessary for salvation, then why did Paul downplay it and even exclude it from the description of what is required for salvation? It is because baptism is not necessary for salvation.

    Additionally, in Acts, Peter was preaching the Gospel, people got saved, and then they were baptized. Acts 10:44-48 says, "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days." These people were saved. The gift of the Holy Spirit was on the Gentiles, and they were speaking in tongues. This is significant because tongues is a gift given to believers (see 1 Cor. 14:1-5). Also, unbelievers do not praise God. They cannot because praise to the true God is a deep spiritual matter that is foreign to the unsaved (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, the ones in Acts 10 who are speaking in tongues and praising God are definitely saved, and they are saved before they are baptized. This simply is not an exception. It is a reality.

    Let's Suppose . . .

    Another way of making this clear is to use an illustration. Let's suppose that a person, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), believed in Jesus as his Savior (Rom. 10:9-10, Titus 2:13) and has received Christ (John 1:12) as Savior. Is that person saved? Of course he is. Let's further suppose that this person confesses his sinfulness, cries out in repentance to the Lord, and receives Jesus as Savior and then walks across the street to get baptized at a local church. In the middle of the road, he gets hit by a car and is killed. Does he go to Heaven or Hell? If he goes to Heaven, then baptism is not necessary for salvation. If he goes to Hell, then trusting in Jesus by faith is not enough for salvation. Doesn't that go against the Scriptures that say that salvation is a free gift (Rom. 6:23) received by faith (Eph. 2:8-9)?

    Saying that baptism is necessary for salvation is dangerous because it is saying that there is something we must do to complete salvation. That is wrong! See Gal. 2:21, 5:4.

    All right, so this sounds reasonable. But still, what about those verses that seem to say that baptism is part of salvation? I will address those now, but because this subject can become quite lengthy, in fact sufficient for a book in itself, I will only address a few verses and then only briefly.

    Baptism Verses

    John 3:5, "Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.'"

    Some say that water here means baptism but that is unlikely since Christian baptism hadn't yet been instituted. If this verse did mean baptism, then the only kind that it could have been at that point was the baptism of repentance administered by John the Baptist (Mark 1:4). If that is so, then baptism is not necessary for salvation because the baptism of repentance is no longer practiced.

    It is my opinion that the water spoken of here means the water of the womb referring to the natural birth process. Jesus said in verse three that Nicodemus needed to be born "again." This meant that he had been born once--through his mother's womb. Nicodemus responds with a statement about how he cannot enter again into his mother's womb to be born. Then Jesus says that he must be born of water and the Spirit. Then in verse 6, He says that "flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." The context seems to be discussing the contrast between the natural and the spiritual birth. Water, therefore, could easily be interpreted there to mean the natural birth process.

    I would like to add that there are scholars who agree with the position and some who do not. Some believe that the water refers to the Word of God, the Bible, and others claim it means the Holy Spirit. You decide for yourself.

    Acts 2:38, "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.‘"

    This verse is often used to say that baptism is part of salvation, but we know from other Scriptures that it is not, lest there be a contradiction. What is going on here is simply that repentance and forgiveness of sins are connected. In the Greek, "repent," is in the plural and so is "your" of "your sins." They are meant to be understood as being related to each other. It is like saying, "All of you repent, each of you get baptized, and all of you will receive forgiveness." Repentance is a mark of salvation because it is granted by God (2 Tim. 2:25) and is given to believers only. In this context, only the regenerated, repentant person is to be baptized. Baptism is the manifestation of the repentance--that gift from God--that is the sign of the circumcised heart. That is why it says, "repent and be baptized."

    Also, please notice that there is no mention of faith in Acts 2:38. If this verse is a description of what is necessary for salvation, then why is faith not mentioned? Simply saying it is implied isn't good enough. Peter is not teaching a formula for salvation but for covenant obedience, which is why the next verse says that the promise is for their children as well.

    1 Pet. 3:21, "and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

    This is the only verse that says that baptism saves, but the NIV translation of the verse is unfortunate. A better translation is found in the NASB which says, "and corresponding to that, baptism now saves you." The key word in this section is the Greek antitupon. It means "copy," "type," "corresponding to," "a thing resembling another," "its counterpart," etc. Baptism is a representation, a copy, a type of something else. The question is: "Of what is it a type?" or "Baptism corresponds to what?" The answer is found in the previous verse, verse 20: "who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you." (NASB).

    Some think that the baptism corresponds to the Ark because it was the Ark that saved them--not the floodwaters. This is a possibility, but one of the problems is that this interpretation does not seem to stand grammatically since the antecedent of Baptism is most probably in reference to the water--not the Ark.

    But, water did not save Noah. This is why Peter excludes the issue of water baptism being the thing that saves us because he says, "not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God." Peter says that it is not the application of water that saves us but a pledge of the good conscience. Therefore, baptism here most probably represents the breaking away of the old sinful life and entrance into the new life with Christ--in the same way that the flood waters in Noah's time was the destruction of the sinful way and once through it, known as entering into the new way. Also, Peter says that the baptism is an appeal of a good conscience before God. Notice that this is dealing with faith. It seems that Peter is defining real baptism as the act of faith.

    Acts 22:16, "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name."

    Is the washing away of sins done by baptism, the representation of the circumcised heart (Col. 2:11-12) which means you are already saved, or is it by the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:14, Rom. 5:9, Eph. 1:7)? Obviously it is the blood of Jesus, and the washing here refers to the calling on Jesus' name.

    Rom. 6:4, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

    Because the believer is so closely united to Christ, it is said that the symbol of baptism is our death, burial, and resurrection. Obviously we did not die--unless, of course, it is a figurative usage. And that is what it is here. The figure of baptism represents the reality of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. It is a covenant sign for us. Remember, a covenant sign represents the covenant. The covenant sign of baptism represents the covenant of grace which is that covenant between God and the Christian where we receive the grace of God through the person of Christ by means of His sacrifice.

    Titus 3:5, "he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit."

    The washing of rebirth can only be that washing of the blood of Christ that cleanses us. It is not the symbol that saves but the reality. The reality is the blood of Christ.

    Gal. 3:27, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."

    This is speaking of the believer's union with Christ. It is an identification with, a joining to, a proclamation of loyalty to, etc. In 1 Cor. 10:2, the Israelites were baptized into Moses. That means they were closely identified with him and his purpose. The same thing is meant here.

    Conclusion

    Baptism is not necessary for salvation. It is the initiatory sign and seal into the covenant of grace. As circumcision referred to the cutting away of sin and to a change of heart (Deut. 10:16, 30:6, Jer. 4:4, 9:25, 26, Ezk.44:7, 9), baptism refers to the washing away of sin (Acts 2:38, 1 Pet. 3:21, Tit. 3:5) and to spiritual renewal (Rom. 6:4, Col. 2:11-12). The circumcision of the heart is signified by the circumcision of the flesh, that is, baptism (Col. 2:11-12).

    One last thought: If someone maintains that baptism is necessary for salvation, is he adding a work, his own, to the finished work of Christ? If the answer is yes, then that person would be in terrible risk of not being saved. If the answer is no, then why is baptism maintained as being necessary the same way as the Jews maintained that works were necessary?

  • #2
    Baptism is certainly one of the mysteries. While it isn't necessary for salvation, it does bring one into the family of Christ. It is wonderful how Christ attempts to reach out to us in so many ways.
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    • #3
      I wouldn't risk my salvation on it. I do believe that we are saved by faith because the Bible tells us that, but that's not all that the Bible tells us, and I can't help but accept that the rest of the words are there for a reason too. Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject.

      "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

      Indeed, as you say, water baptism had not yet been instituted at the time that Christ spoke these words. However, the Old Testament is filled with things that speak to truths that had not yet taken place, and I wouldn't deem to believe that Jesus wasn't yet aware of the big picture.

      "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 will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." -- Acts 2:38

      Without the remission of sins, can we be saved? If we refuse to obey the clear commands of Christ and his apostles, where is the evidence of our salvation?

      "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." -- Acts 22:16

      If, in our disobedience, we refuse to wash away our sins, are they washed away? A covenant involves two parties. If we refuse to do our part, where does that leave us?

      "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." -- Galatians 3:27

      "According to His mercy, He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." Titus 3:5

      It sounds to me like this is saying that we are saved through the mercy of God, but that God has chosen to do so through baptism, and that this act of obedience brings on a renewing of the Holy Spirit.

      "There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God)." -- 1 Peter 3:21

      What saves us? According to this verse, baptism saves us. That's not the whole of it, of course, but it shouldn't be ignored. Yes, you can quarrel with the NIV translation, but I would rather not search for one translation that can be made to say what I want it to. The KJV seems to say much the same thing.

      "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 3:21 (KJV)

      I think that it was the Gnostics who were the first to argue that baptism was unnecessary, and that would concern me. In every case where it was possible, one exception being the thief on the cross, a Christian is told to believe and to be baptized. If this was important to the apostles, who walked and learned directly from Jesus, then I believe that it should be important for Christians today.

      If you are simply speaking semantics, as to the exact moment at which a person is saved, then perhaps you are right. If, upon hearing the Gospel, someone asks Christ into their heart, and is immediately struck and killed by a passing truck, I do not believe that his salvation is placed at jeopardy due to the absence of salvation, but only because the intent was there. On the other hand, if someone asks Christ into his heart, then refuses to do the very first act of obedience asked of a Christian, which is to be baptized, I wouldn't expect to see that person in heaven. It's not for me to say, but I would question the salvation of a person who refuses to obey this very basic act of obedience.

      Along the same lines, what about the person who finds the narrow gate but sits down upon entering it, refusing the travel the path that leads to salvation? Again, not for me to say, but I have an opinion.
      Last edited by Ken Anderson; 05-05-2016, 11:30 AM. Reason: Clarity
      Comment>

      • #4
        If I recall correctly, and sorry if I'm wrong, my Bible and religion knowledge is a bit rusty, baptism is to remove the "original sin" made by Adam and Eve when they have defied God and ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. After baptism, you are cleansed of the original sin, but salvation definitely does not depend entirely on baptism. Salvation is for people who have lived a life that's good in God's eyes, and a sacrament at infancy is important - but your daily life growing up and into adulthood, how you treat others and how you practice faith, I think that's a heavier aspect when considering salvation.
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        • #5
          It not only isn't necessary, but Biblically, it vanished during the apostleship of Paul. There is only one Baptism, that of the Holy Spirit, John 3:5 should be followed up with John 3:6. No, the Bible does not say not to baptize with water anymore; it is written that there is only one baptism; after Paul received his direct revelation from the resurrected Christ. Water baptism ceased. It never always was, changed in its purpose, and now is gone except in the traditions of churches. Infant baptism never is mentioned in the Bible. That is certainly a church tradition.
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          • #6
            Being immersed in water isn't necessary for salvation. On the cross the robber who was crucified by Jesus was promised eternal life when he repented. But that doesn't necessarily mean one shouldn't seek baptism. It's a sign that you've died [to your old sinful ways] and are from then the LORD's servant. Many Christians however even after being baptized don't change at all. Makes one wonder why they even seek baptism in the first place.
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            • #7
              Originally posted by Ken Anderson View Post
              "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 will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." -- Acts 2:38
              When Peter preached to Cornelius something different happened.
              While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
              (Acts 10:44-48 ESV)
              The Holy Spirit fell on the people while Peter was still preaching, showing that they were saved. They were baptized in water after they were saved.

              Originally posted by Ken Anderson View Post
              "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." -- Acts 22:16
              Being baptized and washing away sin are spoken of as being two different things.

              Originally posted by Ken Anderson View Post
              "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." -- Galatians 3:27
              This refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, not water bapism.
              For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
              (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV)
              We are commanded to be baptized after we are saved as a public testimony of our salvation but water baptism doesn't save us.
              Clyde Herrin's Blog
              Comment>

              • #8
                I suppose Stratcat and OursIsTheFury have a valid point in that Baptism for the sake of salvation from the original sin has been rendered obsolete with Christ's self sacrifice. However its value still remains in the church mysteries as the rite of initiation of a child or adult into christianity, which can have a very important effect on how the believer proceeds with their life.
                Comment>

                • #9
                  I said that initially in Paul's early teaching that there was still baptism, but later it disappeared. The Scriptures say that Paul said there is one baptism---the Holy Spirit, later as his teachings continued. The 12 were apostles of the circumcised (the Jews), not the Gentiles. Once it was understood that all are one in Christ, Jew and Gentiles, was about the time Baptism was not reported or commanded.
                  Comment>

                  • #10
                    Which examples do you have from the New Testament, other than the thief on the cross (who didn't have access to water for baptism) of anyone being saved and not being baptized?
                    Comment>

                    • #11
                      Originally posted by William View Post
                      Matt Slick

                      One of the most nagging questions in Christianity is whether or not baptism is necessary for salvation. The answer is a simple, "No, water baptism is not necessary for salvation." But you might ask, "If the answer is no, then why are there verses that say things like ' . . . baptism that now saves you . . . ' (1 Pet. 3:21) and ' . . . Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins . . . ' (Acts 2:38)?'" These are good questions, and they deserve a good answer, so we will look at these verses later. But for now, the reason baptism is not necessary for salvation is that we are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1, Eph. 2:8) and not by faith and a ceremony (Rom. 4:1-11). You see, a religious ceremony is a set of activities or forms peformed by someone. In the Bible, circumcision was a ceremony where one person performed a religious rite on another person. Likewise, baptism is also a ceremony where one person performs a religious rite on another person, but, we are saved by faith alone, and anything else we do, including ceremonies, will not help.

                      If we are saved by faith, then we are saved by faith when we believe and not when we get baptized, otherwise, we are not saved by faith. Furthermore, if baptism is necessary for salvation, then anyone who receives Christ on his deathbed in a hospital and who also believes Jesus is God in the flesh, who died and rose from the dead for his sins, etc., would go to Hell if he doesn't get baptized before he died. This would mean that we were not justified by faith because if we were, then the person would be saved. Also, if baptism is necessary for salvation, then all babies who die go to Hell since they weren't baptized. Remember, when someone says that baptism is necessary, there can be no exceptions, otherwise, it isn't necessary.

                      Now, in order to more thoroughly look at this issue, I need to lay a foundation of proper theology, and then I'll address some of those verses that are commonly used to support the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.

                      God Works Covenantally

                      First, you need to understand that God works covenantally. A covenant is a pact or agreement between two or more parties. The New Testament and Old Testament are New and Old Covenants. The word "testament" comes from the Latin testamentum which means covenant. So, the Bible is a covenant document. If you do not understand covenant, you cannot understand--in totality--the issue of baptism because baptism is a covenant sign.

                      If you do not think that God works covenantally, then look at Hebrews 13:20 which says, "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, . . . " The Eternal Covenant is the covenant between the Father and the Son before the creation of the world whereby the Father would give to the Son those whom the Father had chosen. That is why Jesus says things like, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away," (John 6:37). And, "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day," (John 6:39). And, "I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours," (John 17:9).

                      If you fail to understand that God works covenantally and that He uses signs as manifestations of His covenants (rainbow, circumcision, communion, etc.,), then you will not be able to understand where baptism fits in God's covenant system.

                      Second, you need to know what baptism is. It is a ceremony that represents an outward representation of an inward reality. For example, it represents the reality of the inward washing of Christ's blood upon the soul. That is why it is used in different ways. It is said to represent the death of the person (Rom. 6:3-5), the union of that person with Christ (Gal. 3:27), the cleansing of that person's sins (Acts 22:16), the identification with the one "baptized into" as when the Israelites were baptized into Moses (1 Cor. 10:2), and being united in one church (1 Cor. 12:13). Also, baptism is one of the signs and seals of the Covenant of Grace that was instituted by Jesus.

                      The Covenant of Grace is the covenant between God and Mankind where God promises to Mankind eternal life. It is based upon the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and the condition is faith in Jesus Christ. As the Communion Supper replaced Passover, baptism, in like manner, replaces circumcision. "They represent the same spiritual blessings that were symbolized by circumcision and Passover in the old dispensation" (Berkhoff, Lewis, Systematic Theology, 1988, p. 620). Circumcision was the initiatory rite into the Abrahamic covenant. It did not save. A covenant is a pact or agreement between two or more parties and that is exactly what the Abrahamic covenant was. God said to Abraham, "I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you," (Genesis 17:7). God later instructed Abraham to circumcise not only every adult male but also eight-day-old male infants as a sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:9-13). If the children were not circumcised, they were not considered to be under the promissory Abrahamic covenant. This is why Moses' wife circumcised her son and threw the foreskin at Moses' feet (Ex. 4:24-25). She knew the importance of the covenant between God and her children. But at the same time we must understand that circumcision did not guarantee salvation to all who received it. It was a rite meant only for the people of God who were born into the family of God (who were then the Jews).

                      An important question here is how is it possible for an infant to be entered into a covenant with God. There could be a lot of different answers given, but the point remains: it was done. Infants were entered into a covenant relationship with God through their parents.

                      In the New Testament, circumcision is mentioned many times. But with respect to this topic it is specifically mentioned in Col. 2:11-12: "In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead." In these verses, baptism and circumcision are related. Baptism replaces the Old Testament circumcision because 1) there was a New Covenant in the communion supper (Luke 22:20), and 2) in circumcision there was the shedding of blood, but in baptism no blood is shed. This is because the blood of Christ has been shed and circumcision, which ultimately represented the shed blood of Christ in His covenant work of redemption, was a foreshadowing of Christ's work.

                      If you understand that baptism is a covenant sign, then you can see that it is a representation of the reality of Christ circumcising our hearts (Rom. 2:29, Col. 2:11-12). It is our outward proclamation of the inward spiritual blessing of regeneration. It comes after faith which is a gift of God (Rom. 12:3) and the work of God (John 6:28).

                      Third, the Bible says that it is the Gospel that saves. "By this gospel you are saved . . . " (1 Cor. 15:2). Also, Rom. 1:16 says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." Neither of these verses, which tell us what saves us, includes any mention of baptism.

                      What is the Gospel?

                      It is clearly the Gospel that saves us, but what exactly is the Gospel? That, too, is revealed to us in the Bible. It is found in 1 Cor. 15:1-4: "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." The Gospel is defined as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for our sins. Baptism is not mentioned here.

                      Paul said that he came to preach the Gospel--not to baptize: "I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else). For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel . . . " (1 Cor. 1:14-17). If baptism is necessary for salvation, then why did Paul downplay it and even exclude it from the description of what is required for salvation? It is because baptism is not necessary for salvation.

                      Additionally, in Acts, Peter was preaching the Gospel, people got saved, and then they were baptized. Acts 10:44-48 says, "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.' So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days." These people were saved. The gift of the Holy Spirit was on the Gentiles, and they were speaking in tongues. This is significant because tongues is a gift given to believers (see 1 Cor. 14:1-5). Also, unbelievers do not praise God. They cannot because praise to the true God is a deep spiritual matter that is foreign to the unsaved (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, the ones in Acts 10 who are speaking in tongues and praising God are definitely saved, and they are saved before they are baptized. This simply is not an exception. It is a reality.

                      Let's Suppose . . .

                      Another way of making this clear is to use an illustration. Let's suppose that a person, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), believed in Jesus as his Savior (Rom. 10:9-10, Titus 2:13) and has received Christ (John 1:12) as Savior. Is that person saved? Of course he is. Let's further suppose that this person confesses his sinfulness, cries out in repentance to the Lord, and receives Jesus as Savior and then walks across the street to get baptized at a local church. In the middle of the road, he gets hit by a car and is killed. Does he go to Heaven or Hell? If he goes to Heaven, then baptism is not necessary for salvation. If he goes to Hell, then trusting in Jesus by faith is not enough for salvation. Doesn't that go against the Scriptures that say that salvation is a free gift (Rom. 6:23) received by faith (Eph. 2:8-9)?

                      Saying that baptism is necessary for salvation is dangerous because it is saying that there is something we must do to complete salvation. That is wrong! See Gal. 2:21, 5:4.

                      All right, so this sounds reasonable. But still, what about those verses that seem to say that baptism is part of salvation? I will address those now, but because this subject can become quite lengthy, in fact sufficient for a book in itself, I will only address a few verses and then only briefly.

                      Baptism Verses

                      John 3:5, "Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.'"

                      Some say that water here means baptism but that is unlikely since Christian baptism hadn't yet been instituted. If this verse did mean baptism, then the only kind that it could have been at that point was the baptism of repentance administered by John the Baptist (Mark 1:4). If that is so, then baptism is not necessary for salvation because the baptism of repentance is no longer practiced.

                      It is my opinion that the water spoken of here means the water of the womb referring to the natural birth process. Jesus said in verse three that Nicodemus needed to be born "again." This meant that he had been born once--through his mother's womb. Nicodemus responds with a statement about how he cannot enter again into his mother's womb to be born. Then Jesus says that he must be born of water and the Spirit. Then in verse 6, He says that "flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." The context seems to be discussing the contrast between the natural and the spiritual birth. Water, therefore, could easily be interpreted there to mean the natural birth process.

                      I would like to add that there are scholars who agree with the position and some who do not. Some believe that the water refers to the Word of God, the Bible, and others claim it means the Holy Spirit. You decide for yourself.

                      Acts 2:38, "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.‘"

                      This verse is often used to say that baptism is part of salvation, but we know from other Scriptures that it is not, lest there be a contradiction. What is going on here is simply that repentance and forgiveness of sins are connected. In the Greek, "repent," is in the plural and so is "your" of "your sins." They are meant to be understood as being related to each other. It is like saying, "All of you repent, each of you get baptized, and all of you will receive forgiveness." Repentance is a mark of salvation because it is granted by God (2 Tim. 2:25) and is given to believers only. In this context, only the regenerated, repentant person is to be baptized. Baptism is the manifestation of the repentance--that gift from God--that is the sign of the circumcised heart. That is why it says, "repent and be baptized."

                      Also, please notice that there is no mention of faith in Acts 2:38. If this verse is a description of what is necessary for salvation, then why is faith not mentioned? Simply saying it is implied isn't good enough. Peter is not teaching a formula for salvation but for covenant obedience, which is why the next verse says that the promise is for their children as well.

                      1 Pet. 3:21, "and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

                      This is the only verse that says that baptism saves, but the NIV translation of the verse is unfortunate. A better translation is found in the NASB which says, "and corresponding to that, baptism now saves you." The key word in this section is the Greek antitupon. It means "copy," "type," "corresponding to," "a thing resembling another," "its counterpart," etc. Baptism is a representation, a copy, a type of something else. The question is: "Of what is it a type?" or "Baptism corresponds to what?" The answer is found in the previous verse, verse 20: "who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you." (NASB).

                      Some think that the baptism corresponds to the Ark because it was the Ark that saved them--not the floodwaters. This is a possibility, but one of the problems is that this interpretation does not seem to stand grammatically since the antecedent of Baptism is most probably in reference to the water--not the Ark.

                      But, water did not save Noah. This is why Peter excludes the issue of water baptism being the thing that saves us because he says, "not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God." Peter says that it is not the application of water that saves us but a pledge of the good conscience. Therefore, baptism here most probably represents the breaking away of the old sinful life and entrance into the new life with Christ--in the same way that the flood waters in Noah's time was the destruction of the sinful way and once through it, known as entering into the new way. Also, Peter says that the baptism is an appeal of a good conscience before God. Notice that this is dealing with faith. It seems that Peter is defining real baptism as the act of faith.

                      Acts 22:16, "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name."

                      Is the washing away of sins done by baptism, the representation of the circumcised heart (Col. 2:11-12) which means you are already saved, or is it by the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:14, Rom. 5:9, Eph. 1:7)? Obviously it is the blood of Jesus, and the washing here refers to the calling on Jesus' name.

                      Rom. 6:4, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

                      Because the believer is so closely united to Christ, it is said that the symbol of baptism is our death, burial, and resurrection. Obviously we did not die--unless, of course, it is a figurative usage. And that is what it is here. The figure of baptism represents the reality of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection. It is a covenant sign for us. Remember, a covenant sign represents the covenant. The covenant sign of baptism represents the covenant of grace which is that covenant between God and the Christian where we receive the grace of God through the person of Christ by means of His sacrifice.

                      Titus 3:5, "he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit."

                      The washing of rebirth can only be that washing of the blood of Christ that cleanses us. It is not the symbol that saves but the reality. The reality is the blood of Christ.

                      Gal. 3:27, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."

                      This is speaking of the believer's union with Christ. It is an identification with, a joining to, a proclamation of loyalty to, etc. In 1 Cor. 10:2, the Israelites were baptized into Moses. That means they were closely identified with him and his purpose. The same thing is meant here.

                      Conclusion

                      Baptism is not necessary for salvation. It is the initiatory sign and seal into the covenant of grace. As circumcision referred to the cutting away of sin and to a change of heart (Deut. 10:16, 30:6, Jer. 4:4, 9:25, 26, Ezk.44:7, 9), baptism refers to the washing away of sin (Acts 2:38, 1 Pet. 3:21, Tit. 3:5) and to spiritual renewal (Rom. 6:4, Col. 2:11-12). The circumcision of the heart is signified by the circumcision of the flesh, that is, baptism (Col. 2:11-12).

                      One last thought: If someone maintains that baptism is necessary for salvation, is he adding a work, his own, to the finished work of Christ? If the answer is yes, then that person would be in terrible risk of not being saved. If the answer is no, then why is baptism maintained as being necessary the same way as the Jews maintained that works were necessary?
                      Thanks for writing this, it was never explained to me as anything more than a right of passage or a symbolic act of giving yourself to Jesus and God. I got baptized as when I was eight and all I remember is that the hot tub had way to much chlorine in it. I'm considering redoing it because my faith in Jesus is different than it was when I was a child.
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                      • #12
                        We are saved by our acceptance of Christ's gift of grace that he took the punishment for our sins. Our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ - "no one comes to the Father but through me." Baptism is the testimony of our salvation to man, a symbol of Christ's blood washing away our sins. It is not what saves us, it is us telling the world what saved us.
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                        • #13
                          I think the author of this article draws a false dichotomy. He says that either baptism is necessary for salvation, in which case anyone who dies without being baptized goes to Hell, or it is not necessary for salvation. I think that there is a third option which is not as cut-and-dried as either of the other two. I would ask you the following question. Is living in obedience necessary to salvation? When the Bible consistently says repent and be baptized, it does seem that we are being commanded to be baptized. Is it possible for someone to have died and gone to heaven without being baptized? Yes. Is it possible for someone to have died and gone to heaven while having disobedience in other areas of their life? Also yes. Is it the proper way? No. Can you just continue to get away with unlimited disobedience in all areas and expect to be saved? Certainly not. (Heb 10:26; Rom. 6:1-2). I think that baptism is an issue of obedience. The Bible commands it; therefore we ought to do it.

                          I am also amused by how the author attempts to draw the parallel to circumcision, and yet says that infants should not be baptized. I have never practiced infant baptism, and we have a son who has not ever been baptized, because I'm not entirely clear on this issue. However, the sign of the covenant does not mean that the person is living correctly under said covenant. The mark of circumcision tells the circumcised person what covenant they are living under, and what covenant they are responsible to. Galatians 5:3 - "Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law." Likewise, one who practices infant baptism is simply demonstrating by a sign what covenant this baby is responsible to.
                          Last edited by Pr2612; 05-09-2016, 12:38 PM.
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                          • #14
                            Thank you, Marie. I appreciate your response and reflection of, "...it does bring one into the family of Christ." Amen.
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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Donna View Post
                              We are saved by our acceptance of Christ's gift of grace that he took the punishment for our sins.
                              Hi Donna,

                              May I ask you to elaborate on your comment? I am not saying that you are completely wrong, but by your suggestion it appears that you are stating that it is by "our action" that we are saved. May I ask that you consider our condition? That is, God knew that we're incapable, unfit, and dead to good, but also lamentably perverted, infected, and corrupted by original sin, and if left to ourselves entirely evil, perverse, and hostile to Him by our disposition and nature. So my question to you is whether we are left to ourselves to make this choice for salvation, because as stated your comment left to itself appears completely "man centered"? There are many things that happen behind the scenes, long before we "accept" Christ, perhaps you can elaborate on them?

                              Originally posted by Donna View Post
                              Baptism is the testimony of our salvation to man, a symbol of Christ's blood washing away our sins. It is not what saves us, it is us telling the world what saved us.
                              Can you provide Scripture suggesting that Baptism is a testimony of our salvation to man? I'm curious about whether you believe that this symbol is solely recognized by man alone? Lastly, Baptism is believed to be more than just a symbol by Reformed Protestants, but also a Sign, Seal and Mark. I was wondering whether you may also go into the sign, seal, and mark in relation to the NT Covenant?

                              God bless,
                              William
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