Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
I was asked to aid in a discussion about the necessity of baptism this morning. As is the case in many such discussions, there was a lot “what if…” and “but why…” going on. Following was my writeup to get the discussion back on track. This is a discussion many of us come across and might struggle to formulate a response, or even be afraid of taking on the challenge of the discussion. Be encourages that the scriptures do contain the answers and that we need to be ready to make a defense (1 Peter 3:15).
In order to have a common ground, I assume everyone reading this believes that the scriptures are inspired by God and are thoroughly complete, as Paul said to Timothy: 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” I would also point out that the New Testament is unique in the way information is presented, at least as far as man is concerned. Much of what we have is a preserved copy of letters written to churches that had specific issues that needed to be dealt with. In addition to this, we have the Acts of the Apostles, a record of the actions by those working to spread the gospel and establish local churches in the first century, the gospels, with each one written with specific goals in mind leading to a more complete picture of the life and teachings of Christ, and a book of comfort concerning the victory of Christ and those that are His in the book of Revelation. When we understand how and why these various books of the New Testament are written, then we also understand that each one is not written to the exclusion of the others – we can’t take one book and say that it contains EVERYTHING. It addresses issues and concerns specific to circumstances and we have to put them all together in order to get a complete picture. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Part of this seeking is to work toward a complete understanding through the scriptures. We have to put in the work. At the same time, these scriptures were not written so as to be confusing or beyond the reasoning capability of the common man. 1 Corinthians 1:20-24 says, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” There will always be those who are either unwilling to seek God through the scriptures, or they refuse to believe what they find. They shut their ears and eyes to the truth. I say all this with no intention of slight against anyone engaging in this discussion, but to point out that we can’t hang our faith on one point and pretend there is nothing else to know. We must all be students of the Word, with honest hearts, ready to receive what God has said. If there is a limitation, it’s ours and not His.
Regarding baptism: Why is there such a contention over the necessity of baptism? Can we simply accept what the Word has revealed to us of it’s purpose and necessity? Is there anything God tells us is important to our salvation that we can discount? Would we deny the necessity of hearing and understanding the gospel (Romans 10:17)? Would we deny the necessity of faith (Hebrews 11:6)? Would we deny the necessity of confession (Acts 8:37, Romans 10:9-10, Matt hew 10:32-33)? Would we deny the necessity of repentance (2 Peter 3:9, Luke 5:32, Acts 11:18, etc)? Would we deny the necessity of faithfulness (Titus 2:11-12, 2 John 9, Revelation 2:10)? So then why would we deny the necessity of baptism (Acts 2:39, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:1-8, 1 Peter 3:21)? Is it not the limitation of man that does not want to accept this? What else can we take out of scripture (if we advocate taking out the necessity of baptism)? If we refuse to accept what God has said, do we believe we will be found faithful and welcomed into heaven? Matthew 7:21-23 makes it clear that it is not our own concept of righteousness that is the standard, but the will of God!
I have seen many explanations given to try and discount baptism, and I am not going to try and address every one of them at this time. The scriptures teach plainly the necessity of baptism, so how can we reason it away? If we truly do not WANT to believe, God won’t force us. That is part of our own free will. 2 Thessalonians 2:11 states, “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.” I will share some points to at the least provoke some thought that will hopefully help others in their study:
We have all sinned (Romans 3:23). Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). Man can’t overcome that separation on his own — Jesus the Christ, as the lamb of God is the only solution to that separation. It was His sinless blood that brings about forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9; 4:15). So at what point do we contact the blood of Jesus and gain forgiveness of sins?
It’s not at merely the point of belief, for even the devils believe and tremble but we know they are not saved (James 2:19). It’s not at the point of repentance even. Saul, after being confronted by Jesus, was grieved, fasting, and praying. He repented, but he wasn’t saved! Remember that sin separates us from God, and he was told, “Arise and be baptized, washing away your sins.” (Acts 22:16)
It’s not the point of confession either. When the eunuch asked what hindered him from being baptized, he was told that if he believed, he could, and he made the good confession, but then was baptized (Acts 8:37-38). Confession without an obedient faith is just words.
Are all of these things necessary for salvation? Yes. Are there passages that deal with only 1 of these without the others? Yes. We seek the whole picture, though and put them all together!
Baptism does several things: 1) It is an action based on faith. 2) It brings us into Christ (Gal 3:27). Is there salvation without being in Christ? No. 3) It is the answer of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21) 4) It is the point that we are baptized into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6). We do not gain forgiveness of sins without the faithful, obedient act! (see also Acts 2:38, James 2:14-16, Colossians 2:12)
On the day of Pentecost, Peter taught the first gospel sermon, convicting men of their lost condition. Act 2:37-38 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Did they argue? Did they ask why they had to be baptized? No. 3,000 souls obeyed the gospel that day and gained forgiveness of sins.
I pray this will be useful for you. I pray that you will search the scriptures without hesitation, without reservation, and with an honest heart, ready to accept what our Lord and Savior has given as requirements in order to be a citizen of the kingdom and gain the promise of eternal life.