Baptism As Essential To Salvation

There are entire denominations based on the fact that baptism is essential to salvation. Does the Bible teach that it is? Passages used to support the belief baptism is essential to salvation will be dealt with individually, but first consider some other aspects.
A pastor of a church which teaches baptismal regeneration was asked if baptism was really essential to salvation. After a momentary pause he said, “You might say it is man’s part.”

If that is true what Christ did on the cross of Calvary was incomplete. If a part is missing the result in incompleteness.

A second consideration is the concept that the act of baptism earns God’s favor. This is salvation by works not grace. Salvation is all by God’s grace not man’s work.

Ephesians 2: 8,9 “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.”

Baptism isn’t mentioned in that passage and approximately 100 others related to salvation.

The idea of a salvation based on works makes God and man both look bad.

It makes God look like He can be bought off.

It makes man look as though everything he does is in order to get something rather than gratitude for what has been received.

Romans 10: 9, 10 in telling how to be saved doesn’t mention baptism: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.”

John 3:16 does not allude to baptism as being essential to salvation: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should have everlasting life.”

Consider one further thing before reviewing the following passages that are used to claim baptism is essential to salvation. In the study of Scripture if you come to a difficult passage you don’t readily understand read a passage on the same topic that is clear on the subject and interpret the challenging passage in light of it. That said, now interpret the following passages in light of the ones just read.

I Peter 3:21 “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), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

What baptism is depicted here as saving us form is not sin but a guilty conscience. Faith in the resurrect Christ who has gone on to heaven (vss. 19-22) saves us. Baptism symbolizes this. Such a step of faith saves us from a guilty conscience.

Saving faith (“saving” —- because of its object Jesus Christ) is expressed in baptism.

Acts 2:38 “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins….”

The main Greek verb METANOESATE, is translated “repent.” It is a reference to the original repentance of a sinner resulting in salvation.

The verb translated “be baptized” is in the indirect passive imperative of the Greek BAPTIZO which means it does not have the same force as the direct command to “repent.”

The Greek preposition EIS translated “for” in the phrase “for the remission of sins” is key to interpreting the passage.

It can be and is appropriately translated “for.” EIS and our word “for” have several meanings, such as, “in return for,” “in consideration of,” “in honor of,” and “because of.”
As used in the text it does not mean in order to obtain forgiveness but because of forgiveness. We do it because something has been done for us. That something is our salvation.

Thus, it literally means “for the purpose of identifying you with the remission of sins.”

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

Here baptism represents a fact that has already taken place. That fact is salvation though Christ. It is picturesque language meaning , “Let a demonstration be made of the washing away of your sins.” Baptism is that demonstration. It is a symbol of the cleansing received as a result of calling on the name of the Lord.

This statement in context was made to Paul by Ananias immediately after Paul’s experience with Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul had already been saved on the road when Ananias told him to be baptized. We know this because Ananias addressed him as “Brother Saul….”

Water baptism is a public announcement which says, “I have accepted what Jesus Christ has done for me.” Paul had done so.

Galatians 3: 27 “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
No one is saved by baptism. Baptism is an outward sign of a union with Christ that exists through faith. Paul mentioned baptism once and faith five times in this passage.
Having put on Christ, that is, having submitted to Him as Savior then one should be baptized is the teaching of this passage.

Colossians 2: 11 – 12 “In Him you were all circumcised with the circumcision made not without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 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.”

A comparison of circumcision with baptism is not the emphasis of this passage. Baptism is not a magical right, it is an act of obedience by which persons symbolize the essence of the spiritual experience they have at the moment of trusting Christ as Savior.

The word “forgiven” used in verse 13 is built on the root for “grace,” means literally “to grant a favor.” It is a term used for the cancellation of a debt. As used in this passage it means divine grace is the root principle in forgiveness. That brings us back to the passage mentioned above: Ephesians 2:8,9.

While on their crosses at Calvary Christ told the repentant thief he would be with Him that very day in Paradise. That thief did not have occasion to do any good work to earn God’s favor. Baptism was out of the question. Salvation was being given him by grace, God’s unmerited favor.

Mark 16:16 “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Belief and baptism should be closely associated. The inward reception (belief) should be followed immediately by the external witness of faith (baptism).

Baptism is a special act of obedience taught by Christ Himself. It is a divinely ordered consequence of salvation. However, it is faith in Christ that is the one essential to salvation. Baptism should not be considered a basis of salvation, but rather the natural result of it.

This passage stresses the theme of the entire section (vss. 9-20), that is, the refusal to believe results in judgment. It says one “who does not believe will be condemned.” It does not say one who is not baptized will not be saved. This text teaches condemnation rests on not believing not on not being baptized.

Inward belief in Christ should be evidenced immediate by being baptized. However, it does not add to what faith has already accomplished, rather it only demonstrates it. Belief should be translated into the action of baptism.

Baptism does not save us. A classic example supporting this reality is the Bible character Simon Magus (Acts 8:13) who was baptized but was not saved.

Upon being saved a person should seek to be baptized in water as soon as possible. It is a beautiful act of obedience indicating a desire to follow Christ in all things.

Never equate baptism as being essential to salvation for to do so is to water down the blood of Jesus Christ.