Q: #244. Is baptism needed for salvation?
By: Steve Shirley
A: As I said in my previous study (Q: #243), I have not addressed the various aspects of baptism on this website before because it is such a divisive issue amongst so many religions (most that I consider Christian). However, it is obviously a very important subject, and one I finally felt I needed to address, even if it does ruffle some feathers. No aspect of baptism is without controversy, but the subject we are addressing here is easily the most divisive and controversial. From a personal standpoint, this is also important to me because of my past.
To start, I would like to note that there are two factions within the baptism for salvation camp.
1. Those who believe that a person has to make a decision first, and then get baptized to be saved.
2. Those who believe an infant is saved when it is baptized shortly after birth, without having to make a decision. (Some religions that practice infant baptism [primarily Reformed] do not believe it is a part of salvation.)
If you have read my (previous study), you know I believe the Bible teaches that a decision must be made before one can come to Christ. Therefore, I believe infant baptism is unbiblical, and can even be dangerous if it leads one to believe they are saved by combining their baptism with other church "works" (i.e. going through Confirmation), and thereby never making a personal decision to surrender their life to Christ based on what the Bible says a person should believe (as I once did). On the other hand, I do not find the teaching that a person must be baptized to be saved after making a decision to be nearly as dangerous. The reason being, of course, that if you believe that baptism is not needed for salvation (as I do), then you are already saved after making a decision and before getting baptized, so it cannot mislead someone into thinking they are saved when they are not like infant baptism can.
Having said this, let's look at why I believe both positions are wrong in saying baptism saves.
First off, let's look at the what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit and salvation. We are told in (Eph 1:14)(2 Cor 1:22)(2 Cor 5:5) that when we are saved, we are given the Holy Spirit as an earnest (or guarantee) of our salvation. In other words, having the Holy Spirit is proof we are saved. This is a crucial point to understand. Let's look at 3 verses in Romans 8 that speak of this.
(Rom 8:9) But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
(Rom 8:14) For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are sons of God.
(Rom 8:16) The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
What these verses are telling us, is that when we have the Holy Spirit in us, we belong to God and are His children. (Gal 3:26) says, "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." So putting these verses together, when we make a decision to give our lives to Jesus (by faith), we become a child of God, and the Holy Spirit comes to live in us as a guarantee and proof that we belong to Him.
Let's now go to (Acts 10:44-48).
(Acts 10:44-48) While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. (45) And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. (46) For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, (47) Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? (48) And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord...
These verses show us an important point. Please note the order in which the events occurred.
Verse 44: The Holy Ghost (Spirit) fell on those who had heard the word.
Verse 45: The Jews (the circumcision) were amazed the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit.
Verse 46-47: Peter tells us that they have received the Holy Spirit and asks if any man can forbid that they should be baptized.
Verse 48: Then they were baptized.
Clearly, this shows that the Holy Spirit, which makes someone a part of God's family, is given BEFORE baptism and not after.
In addition, we have several other verses that tell us that the Holy Spirit comes in after: Believing (Eph 1:13-14)(2 Th 2:13)(Jn 7:38-39) and Faith (Acts 15:8-9)(Gal 3:2,5,14), not after baptism.
Secondly, while I know that there are several verses that those who believe one must be baptized to be saved use (i.e Acts 2:38, Mk 16:16, 1 Pet 3:21), these are easily explainable, although I am not going to explain them all for the sake of time. However, let's look at one example: (Mk 16:16). Two things can be said about this verse. First, notice it says, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved," but then follows with "but he who does not believe will be condemned." Why doesn't it say, "but he who does not believe AND GET BAPTIZED will be condemned?" I think the reason is clear. In addition, if you look in most Bibles, you will find that there is a footnote which says about (Mk 16:9-20), "The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." In other words, there is good evidence that (Mk 16:16) and those other verses are not God-inspired. Whether they are or not may be up for debate, but it would be unwise to build a doctrine on any of them.
In addition, none of these verses say that
failing to be baptized means a person will be lost or condemned like other verses do that speak of things crucial to salvation.
For example, we are told that if we don't "repent," we will PERISH (Lk
13:3,5)(2 Pet 3:9). If we don't "believe," we will PERISH (Jn 3:16-18), be
CONDEMNED (Jn 5:24), and DIE IN OUR SINS (Jn 8:24). (1 Cor 15:14,17) even
say our faith is IN VAIN (or pointless) and we STILL IN OUR SINS if we deny
the resurrection of Jesus. None of this is said about baptism in the Bible.
In addition, there are dozens upon dozens of verses in the Bible that show
us that salvation is a decision we make by "faith" (the word "faith" is used
245 times in the New Testament alone).
***Note: Some [often Reformed] also use circumcision as an Old Testament picture of baptism, and point out that Abraham was called "righteous" by God (Gen 15:6) before he was circumcised (Gen 17:23-27).
Third, I would also ask you to consider this. If baptism is crucial to salvation, why did Paul say in (1 Cor 1:13-17) that he was thankful he had not baptized many, and that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the Gospel? Why would Christ tell Paul to preach the Gospel, but yet leave off the one thing that would make them completely saved (baptism)? Why would Paul preach the Gospel but be thankful that he didn't do the one thing that would truly save them (baptism)? Why didn't Jesus baptize people (Jn 4:2) if it was a crucial element of salvation?
Fourth, I see the Bible as saying that the things we need to understand and accept for salvation are a matter of mental and verbal assent (accepting the Gospel, trusting, believing, having faith, confessing, repenting, and calling). Adding baptism to the salvation process says to me that we are going outside of verbal and mental assent and adding a "physical act" to salvation. To me, this could easily be equated to adding a "work" to salvation, and of course we know that the Bible says one cannot be saved by any "work" we do (Eph 2:8-9)(Rom 4:5)(Rom 11:6)(Gal 2:16).
Finally, there is also one other dangerous aspect of saying one must be baptized to be saved, and that is, what happens to the professing Christian who has surrendered his life to the Lord and has been living for Him, but either did not have the time to get baptized (perhaps dying in a car wreck on the way to the baptism!), simply didn't believe baptism was necessary, or perhaps believed that infant baptism was sufficient? Or, what happens to the infant who dies before baptism (or the MILLIONS aborted each year)? Are are you willing to say these adults, children, or infants are in Hell? Sadly... some do indeed believe this, while others offer various explanations depending on which of the above categories the person belonged to. I find none of these explanations particularly satisfying, or Biblical, and if I had lost a loved one who was un-baptized, and I believed baptism was crucial for salvation, I would either feel like like he/she was in Hell or I would never have total rest or peace that my loved one was with Jesus for eternity.
However, if one does NOT believe baptism is crucial for salvation, then we can know for sure where a BELIEVING loved one goes when he/she dies: with the Lord! (The thief on the cross was saved by faith without being baptized: Lk 23:39-43.) And, in the case of an infant (or even a child) who dies before they make this decision, they are also with the Lord (See this study: Q: #6). This should be a great comfort to those who have lost believing loved ones. But, on the flip side, it should also be a call to evangelism for those Christians who have unbelieving loved ones. If a loved one has not made a decision for Christ, please take the time to share the Gospel with them so that they (and you) can have assurance of their eternal life. If YOU have never made this decision yourself, you can do so here.
And, AFTER this decision is made, I would strongly urge baptism as soon as possible (if you were baptized as an infant, I recommended being re-baptized after making a first time decision [I did this] or after rededicating your life). While I do not believe baptism is a salvation issue, the Bible is clear that it should be done, and doing so is a matter of obedience to God. If you look at the baptisms in the Bible, baptism is shown over and over to closely follow a decision for Christ (often the same day). In fact, I believe that if more people would follow this pattern of baptism closely after a decision, this topic might not even need to be discussed for the most part.