When an individual listens to all of the different viewpoints of the religious world pertaining to baptism, it quickly becomes confusing. One group says baptism is necessary for salvation, one says it is a good thing but not necessary for salvation, another says it is nothing more than an ancient, outdated ritual. Which one is correct and how can we know?
The only way for man to know what God wants him to do is to go to God’s Word. Anything else is simply man’s opinions and desires, which are not, as the saying goes, worth a hill of beans before God. An examination of the New Testament Scriptures shows definitively that baptism is necessary for salvation. Consider three biblical reasons for coming to that conclusion.
Baptism is essential for salvation… because Jesus said it was. This may sound more like the parental “because I said so” reasoning than logical argumentation, but it is true nonetheless. Jesus told his disciples in Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” The word “and” is a coordinating conjunction; it requires both parts of the statement to be accomplished in order to reach the conclusion. If salvation is to occur, Jesus says two things must be present: belief (Believing what God said and being willing to do it) and baptism (Immersion in water). If either of these two things is lacking, Jesus says an individual will not be saved.
People often ask about the lack of baptism’s mention in the second half of the verse. Jesus uses the term “believeth,” which in the original language carries the tense of continuous action. It means “has believed and continues to believe.” Though one may believe and be baptized, if at any point that individual refuses to continue believing, he will be condemned and not retain his salvation. The end of this passage does not negate the necessity of baptism, but instead emphasizes the continued need for active belief beyond baptism. Jesus did not mince words: baptism is necessary for salvation.
Baptism is necessary for salvation… because it is the means by which we have our sins removed. When those gathered on the Day of Pentecost asked the apostle Peter what they needed to do in order to be saved, Peter responded: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). If these people were going to receive salvation, the blood of Jesus Christ would have to work on their behalf to cleanse them from sin (1 John 1:7). Peter says the means by which they come in contact with that blood is baptism; it is “for the remission of sins.” To further illustrate this point, the preacher Ananias told Saul of Tarsus, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Saul had to be immersed in water in order to wash away his sins. If salvation can come without baptism, then salvation can be proffered without the removal of sins. For such to be the case would negate the entire purpose of our Lord’s coming to this earth (Heb. 9:11-28).
Baptism is necessary for salvation… because it is the place where the new man is born. Paul equated immersion for the remission of sins to the likeness of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus when he wrote, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). When an individual, through willing obedience, submits to the will of God through obedient faith and baptism, they come out of that watery grave a new creature. The sins of past life have been done away, and a fresh beginning to life has been given.
Paul explained it to the Colossians this way: “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:11-13). Paul equates baptism to spiritual circumcision; the putting away of a man of sin without care or regard for God’s Word, and the putting on of a man who loves and serves God with willing devotion for the rest of his life. If baptism is not necessary, then it is not necessary to become a “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17), and man can go on living his same sinful life after “conversion.” Such an idea goes against every principle of the Christian life taught in the New Testament.
The evidence is clear and consistent that baptism is necessary for salvation. The necessity of baptism does not mean that one has somehow earned their salvation, for nothing man could do would be enough for him to deserve it; but it does mean that man has fulfilled the necessary prerequisites to receive the gift offered by the Savior.
We have an amazing God, whose love and care for mankind is shown in all that he has done for us. Let us not disregard that by refusing to recognize what he requires from man in return. Instead, let us acknowledge his commands and obey them with willing minds and diligent service.