Do You Need to be Baptized in Order to be Saved?

Do You Need to be Baptized in Order to be Saved?

Water baptism is an important topic that often arouses much controversy and confusion. Many Christians around the world are asking whether or not water baptism is necessary for salvation. Do you need to be baptized in order to be saved? Some say that baptism is a requirement for salvation while others say it is not. But what does the Bible teach?

What is Water Baptism?

Baptism comes from the Greek word “baptizo,” which comes from bapto, meaning “to dip,” “to immerse,” “to plunge under” or “to change the identification of.” Among the Greeks, when a piece of white cloth was to be dyed, it was plunged under the colored liquid until changed into the color of the dye.

The idea of identification is central to the meaning of baptism because when an object is dipped or immersed, it becomes totally identified with the substance in which it was placed. When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, he publicly identified Him who was sinless with sinners in anticipation of His death and resurrection as their sin-bearer. Jesus referred to His own impending death as a “baptism” which He had to undergo (Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50).

Did you know that the rite of baptism was a ritual in the Jewish culture from the beginning? Ceremonial washing of priests and the dipping of temple utensils into water was part of the law. For instance, before a priest takes his office as priest, he is first baptized in order to dedicate and identify him in his position. The baptism of the priest set him apart to take part in the temple and worship sacrifices while the baptism of the utensils set them apart for a specific use in worship.

In the same way, the baptism of John the Baptist was an Old Testament economy baptism which only signified the participant’s willingness to confess his sin. John’s baptism was not for salvation because when the Jews came to him, the Lord Jesus had not yet paid the price for sin. John the Baptist’s baptism was for repentance (Acts 19:4).

Be baptized to be saved? 

Although there are some verses that seem to indicate the necessity of water baptism in salvation, the Bible clearly tells us that salvation is a gift that is received by grace through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ; no external act is necessary for salvation because it is only by divine grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:22-30; Galatians 2:16; Philippians 3:9).

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. To require anything else in addition to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is a works-based salvation. It’s like saying that Jesus’ death on the cross was not sufficient to purchase our salvation.

If baptism is necessary for salvation then anyone who receives Christ on his deathbed and who confesses Jesus as Lord and Savior of his life would go to hell if he doesn’t get baptized before he died. And also all babies who die go to hell since they weren’t baptized. Because when we say that baptism is necessary, there can be no exceptions – otherwise it isn’t necessary.

To say that one needs to be baptized in order to be saved is to say we must add our own good works and obedience to Christ’s death in order to make it sufficient for salvation. So how do we deal with some verses that seem to indicate that baptism is necessary for salvation?

The Necessity of Water Baptism in Salvation

There is a belief that’s been going around for quite some time now which teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation; it’s called “baptismal regeneration.” Those who hold to this view are quick to quote 1 Peter 3:21 (NIV) as proof text because it says, “baptism that now saves you.” But is this really what Peter was saying? If this were so then Peter would be contradicting many scripture passages that show people being saved prior to being baptized or without being baptized at all.

A closer look at 1 Peter 3:21 shows that Peter is not actually saying that water baptism saves. He says, “Not the removal of dirt from the body, but an appeal to God for a clear conscience.” Water can only remove dirt from the flesh but it is the blood of Christ which removes the filth from our hearts because, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).

The apostle Paul in Titus 3:5 seem to be saying that God saves us through the washing of regeneration, but in the immediately preceding words he says that “God saved us not by the works of righteousness we have done.” How can Paul say something contrary to what he just said earlier in the same verse?

Does the New Testament teach that one needs to be baptized in order to be saved?

If everyone who comes to Christ must be baptized in order to be saved, we would expect to find it stressed whenever the Gospel is presented in Scripture. But that is not the case. The apostle Paul never made water baptism any part of his Gospel presentation. Paul gives a concise summary of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 and there is no mention of baptism.

Paul even said in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel.” (It is important to note that Paul only baptized a few.) If baptism is part of the Gospel and is necessary for salvation, Paul would have made it a central theme of his ministry. If one needs to be baptized in order to be saved, why didn’t Paul baptize every one of those who received the Gospel message?

What good would it have done for Paul to preach the Gospel but not baptized? No one would have been saved! Clearly, Paul understood that water baptism is separate from the Gospel, and hence in no way efficacious for salvation.

What about Peter? Yes, Peter mentioned baptism in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). But when he spoke from Solomon’s portico in the Temple, he made no reference to baptism (Acts 3:12-16). Instead, he linked the forgiveness of sin to repentance (Acts 3:19).

Mark 16:16 is another verse that is often quoted to prove the necessity of baptism in salvation. Aside from the fact that many textual scholars think that Mark 16:9-20 are not an authentic part of Mark’s Gospel, verse 16 is actually a proof of the opposite.

Reading the verse more carefully, one should notice that the basis for condemnation is not the failure to be baptized, but only the failure to believe. Baptism is mentioned in the first part of the verse because it was the outward symbol that always accompanied the inward belief. Water baptism is certainly important and required of every believer. However, the New Testament does not teach that baptism is necessary for salvation.

Conclusion

Sixteen years ago today I was water baptized, four months after I got saved. Did I have to be baptized in order to be saved? No! And you don’t either. Saying that we need to be baptized in order to be saved is dangerous because it is saying there is something we must do to complete our salvation. We cannot rest our hope of salvation on something that we can do for ourselves. We must recognize our need of a Savior and accept the Lord Jesus’ finished work for our redemption.

If water baptism were not necessary for salvation, why then would one be baptized? Baptism is the symbol of what has already occurred in the heart and life of one who has trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an important step of obedience that every Christian should take as an act of testimony to others and a public declaration of the reality of our personal identification with Christ.

Scripture is also clear that genuine saving faith results in obedience. Thus, every true believer who has opportunity will be baptized in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism is the result of salvation, not the means to it.

If you have a different understanding, I encourage you to study the Bible for yourself to see what it really teaches about water baptism and salvation. We must rely on Scripture alone as our authoritative standard, not Church tradition.

 

8 Replies to “Do You Need to be Baptized in Order to be Saved?”

  1. As a young child I used to be very worried about death and often thought about being baptized as a way of ‘avoiding death’ but never actually did it.

    I’m much less worried about death now and as an atheist I have no interest in getting baptized. Despite this I found this article very interesting and will continue to check out your new posts. Thanks for posting!

    1. Hey Chris, 

      I understand exactly where you’re coming from. You may be thinking that being an atheist excuses you from the accountability of having to face judgment and the Judge. Yes, you heard me right! As it is appointed unto men to die once and after that the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Whether you believe it or not, nobody will escape the judgment. It just depends which judgment each one of us will be facing; the judgment of the righteous believers in Christ or the judgment of the wicked and unbelievers.

      By the way, if you read my post carefully, being baptized has nothing to do with your salvation. Baptism does not excuse you from physical death because we will all die physically, that is, our soul and spirit will be separated from our physical body. Baptism is simply a believer’s obedient response to the call of God to show his oneness with Christ. Believers get baptized as a public declaration of their faith in Christ.

      Physical death is not something to be afraid of but to remain spiritually dead is a different story. You see, we were all born into this world spiritually dead because of our sin nature and that is why we need to be regenerated spiritually, we need to be born again. Please check out this article for a more in-depth explanation.
      https://biblical-christianity.com/death-penalty-for-sin-eternal-life-in-christ

      Oh and you may want to check out this video of a former atheist who became a Christian because of the compelling evidence of the truth of the claims of Christianity. I challenge you Chris, as an atheist, to look into the evidence of Christianity, objectively. 
      https://www.facebook.com/j.warnerwallace/videos/1495298513892453/

  2. What you wrote is wonderful to read. I have always believed in Christ and will until I go to be with him. Thank you for giving us a history on baptism. I do believe that a lot of people have the meaning confused. Some people believe that once you are baptized you can go out and sin as it won’t count. Others believe that if you believed Jesus died for our sins then you can go out and sin or stay in sin. I don’t know how much of a sense of humor the Lord had but I don’t think he meant to die on a cross, or be baptized so we can go out and sin and not think anything of it. Again, thank you for your lesson and God Bless!

    1. Hi Susan,

      Thanks for your comment, I truly appreciate you taking the time to read my post and leaving some words of wisdom and encouragement.

      I get what you’re saying and let me say that’s exactly the danger of teaching that water baptism saves because people might think that after being baptized, they can go out there and and sin since they’re already saved. I believe it’s on the Church to properly teach the Word of God especially when it has everything to do with where people will spend eternity. And as good Bible students, we must diligently do our part to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit as we study God’s written word.

      Believing in Jesus sounds simple and easy isn’t it, but it has to be stressed that the grace of God is not a license for us to continue in sin. Instead, the grace of God should impel (not compel) us to live in obedience to His words.

      This is where good works follow as a result of a genuine saving faith. We get water baptized not to be saved but as an act of obedience to God because we are already saved. Jesus did not model water baptism for us and died on the cross just so we can continue living in sin.

      Shalom and God bless us!

  3. Thanks for your article. I really appreciate your info on the meaning of the word. I’ve been a Christian all my life but I’ve never ’til now heard about the Greek word “Baptizo”. How cool, that image of cloth being colored, changed, by the ‘dunking’. Love it.

    I was baptized in a lake beneath the sun as a teenager. Most seem to get it in a tank or pool. That would be much cleaner! But I’m still glad mine was outdoors, like Christ’s. It doesn’t matter, mind you, but I’m an outdoorsy guy, so…

    Too many people try to make salvation too complicated. It’s simple. It’s a gift. And we are to love God and love our neighbor. Everything hangs on those.

    Maybe one day all men will put their swords down and try it.

    1. Hey TJ,

      I’ve only come to learn about the meaning of the word baptism, which is from the Greek word baptizo, while I was trying to look into the correct mode of baptism. There are some churches who teach that baptism could be done either by total immersion or sprinkling. I was raised in the traditional church (RC) and I always believed that when my parents took me to church and was sprinkled by “holy water” by the priest, that was my baptism. Obviously, I was wrong because baptism means “immersion.”

      When we are baptized, we become identified with Christ. I was baptized in a bathtub, I would have wanted an outdoor baptism because water baptism is supposed to be a public declaration of our faith in and identification with Christ. Nevertheless, what matters is that we obey the Lord’s command to be baptized and we make sure we’re immersed totally in water to symbolize our burial with Christ. And when we come up out of the water, it symbolizes our resurrection into a new life in Christ.

      You’re right, often times, people make salvation complicated by listing so many requirements such as water baptism, when the Gospel message that Paul and the other followers of Christ always taught is as simple as putting one’s faith in the finished works of Jesus Christ and then start living for God (Galatians 2:20).

  4. Hello and thanks for sharing and you are right with what you said, there are many debates about water baptism and the truth is God can and do save people who have not been baptized. Take for instance the thief on the cross. Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He was not baptized but yet Jesus saved him.

    1. I also heard it once from a respected church leader that water baptism saves and as a new believer I believed him as he seemed really sincere in what he’s teaching. He said that yes we are saved by faith alone but we need to obey Jesus’ command to be baptized because this is how we work out our own salvation. Accordingly, salvation is not a “one-shot deal” wherein we just believe in Jesus and then we are saved instantly; we also must do our part to obey.

      The case of the thief on the cross, according to those who hold to the doctrinal view of baptismal regeneration, is exceptional because he did not have time to get baptized. But I say, if there are exceptions then it’s not really something that is necessary for salvation. I think this is what some people don’t get; that when you say it’s a requirement then there should be no exceptions, right?

      Although water baptism is very important and every one who puts their faith in the Lord Jesus should be baptized in obedience to Jesus’ command, I stand on the word of God that salvation is by grace through faith alone in the Lord Jesus. Good works and obedience to God, water baptism included, are the results and evidence of a genuine faith.

      Thanks for your insightful comment Norman, God bless!

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