Baptism: A Necessity for Salvation

Jesus plainly taught the essentiality of baptism for salvation. Consider carefully the words of Christ: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:16). Jesus clearly teaches here that faith and baptism are essential to salvation. Faith is the foundation where our spiritual lives begin. Because of faith one should sincerely desire to be in obedience to every command in Scripture. There can be no separation of faith and baptism in this passage. Swete remarks, “participles describe acts which are past in relation to the time of the principal verb, for both the acceptance of the Gospel and the ministration of baptism precede salvation.” This ensures our obedience to God will include baptism for salvation. The language does not support, or even suggest, salvation before baptism. No such case exists in the Scriptures.

When one believes and is baptized they “shall be saved.” The phrase “shall be saved” comes from the Greek word sozo and is defined by Thayer as, “to save in the technical biblical sense;–negatively, to deliver from the penalties of the Messianic judgment; to save from the evils which obstruct the reception of the Messianic deliverance.”  Salvation is deliverance from the punishment due sin and is made possible by Jesus Christ. James Burton Coffman remarks, “In linking faith and baptism as binding preconditions to salvation, Christ made it clear enough that salvation is the result, not of merely believing, but of believing and being baptized.” Lenski states,

“Faith and baptism are combined here as the means of obtaining salvation. For one thing, faith and baptism always go together; the moment a man believes he will want and will have baptism. By believing he clings to the gospel, and part of that gospel is baptism. But believing is subjective; the act of baptism is objective. They go together in this way. Baptism cannot, therefore, be a mere sign or symbol that bestows nothing.”

Baptism is the means to salvation. The importance of baptism, as taught in the Bible, is seen in what it accomplishes. The Bible teaches baptism is: “for the remission of sins” (Act 2:38), to “wash away thy sins” (Act 22:16), for putting one “into Christ” (Gal. 3:27), a new birth (Jn. 3:5). It is not just a sign or outward act. It is obeying God’s command and so it is indispensable for salvation.

It is often argued, “It doesn’t say, ‘…he that believeth not and is not baptized shall be damned’.” True—for it does not have to! If one is an unbeliever then baptism will not help such a person—they are lost because of their unbelief. John 3:18 states, “…but he that believeth not is condemned already.” There is no need for such an individual to submit to baptism. They would merely go into the water a dry sinner and come up a wet one.

The Bible is clear that faith precedes baptism. The conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch makes this clear: “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest…” (Acts 8:36-37). Without faith there is no need for baptism to be mentioned or considered. The teaching of Holy Writ is that faith and baptism go together. One never finds in Scripture salvation by faith without baptism. One will not find salvation by faith with an optional baptism coming at a later time; perhaps much later, perhaps never.

The Apostle Peter also spoke of the saving act of baptism in his first epistle: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21). Just as Noah and his family, a total of eight souls, were saved by water, just so, one is now saved by baptism. The water contains no mystical or magical power to save. Rather, they were saved when they were obedient to God’s command to build and board the ark. Thus, the water that wrought the destruction of the wicked was the means whereby Noah and his family were borne to safety.

Along with Mark 16:16, Peter also makes a direct statement linking baptism and salvation. Unless one is intellectually dishonest or has hardened their heart they cannot deny the straightforward connection between the two. Peter not only states the saving power of baptism but also what it does and does not accomplish in redemption. The negative is stated first: “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh.” This is not a religious or ceremonial bath, for the dirt and grime of the body is not designed to come clean in baptism, although water is an agent for such a purpose. Rather, the result of baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” Here the reference is to the spiritual side of the matter. The spiritual truth behind the physical action is what brings the cleansing of the conscience. This is not saying the physical act has no importance—it is significant (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). We already noticed in the previous article concerning the “one baptism” which has validity today (Eph. 4:5), this is a physical action which requires much water. All Peter is doing is showing there is more to baptism than just the water; he is teaching the significance of immersion in water, which is in compliance to the Divine directive and has a distinct purpose, one of which is “a good conscience toward God.” Two explanations exist for the good conscience: (1) obedience to a direct command and (2) baptism is for the forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38; 22:16). When one has their sins forgiven they are relieved of the guilt of their vile sins and possess a clear conscience.

As Peter further explains, the complete answer to how baptism saves is found in the final phrase of the verse: “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The resurrection of Christ was the common theme preached during the first century—note the early sermons recorded in the book of Acts. The Apostle Paul, in the great discourse concerning a bodily resurrection, states, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). He continues, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Had it not been for the resurrection of Christ there would be no Christianity today.

Jack Cottrell astutely observes,

The question has been how baptism as a human act can possibly have a saving force without violating the principle of grace. The answer is that even as a human act it focuses entirely upon the divine action in baptism and shows that the essence of baptism is not anything we do but what God does. The power that saves in baptism is not the power of any human decision or action but the power that comes from God alone. Now the question can be asked, from what specific divine action comes the saving power of baptism? The answer is, “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Pet. 3:21-22). This is not to slight the power of His blood in any way (see verse 18). It simply acknowledges the fact that in the final analysis everything else, even the atoning death of Christ, depends on His triumphant conquest of death and His eternal reign as the living Lord over all His enemies. Thus even “baptism how saves you…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The Apostle Paul throws more light on the manner in which baptism saves, when he writes, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Tit. 3:5). There are no righteous works one can offer God which merit salvation. Salvation is a wonderful gift that manifests God’s grace. It is the very reason Paul states, “according to his mercy he saved us.” This does not demonstrate salvation without any involvement on the part of the sinner. There are still conditions to be met and commands to be obeyed. However, Paul also shows the action in which God’s grace and mercy saves: “by the washing of regeneration.” This, undoubtedly, is a reference to baptism. God’s gift of salvation has been offered, the gift is accepted by obedience to Him in baptism. This is the manner in which God saves the sinner. Baptism is called a washing in a number of passages (Acts 22:16; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22). Billy Orten, in his commentary on the book of Titus, quotes The Expositor’s Greek New Testament and how it explains the word “washing”:

The Greek for “washing” here is loutron and can be translated “laver.” It is called the “laver” of regeneration because it is the instrument used for the washing. As the priest of the Old Testament would wash in the laver outside the tabernacle, before entering the holy place, so we are washed by baptism before we enter the saved state in the church. Baptism is the laver or the instrument of washing.

The connection between baptism and salvation in the Scriptures is irrefutable.  It is a necessity if one desires to be saved according to “the way” of the Bible.  It is with deep sincerity, considering the outcome of eternity, we desire for every person to carefully consider the Biblical position of baptism and salvation.