Is Baptism Essential for Salvation?
Typically when people talk about works and salvation there is confusion about terms. There are “good works” such as helping a neighbor, which most denominations support; then there are ordinances which some denominations call “sacraments” such as baptism, and marriage. Dr. Roger Keller, professor of religion at Brigham Young University states, “We are a sacramental church and center much of our worship around our sacraments.”1
The practice of requiring baptism in our church sometimes separates us from other denominations. There are some who argue we are not true followers of Jesus because we don’t follow the philosophy that we need only believe in Christ, or that we need only recite the “Sinners Prayer,” but that we also preach baptism–a work. But, does preaching that baptism is essential make us non-Christian? Does it deny the doctrine of salvation by grace?
To answer this question we can turn to the book of Acts in the New Testament. We look at Acts because it shows the administrative affairs of the church established by Christ, and the development of the understanding of doctrine. In other words, it gives a good description of how things were done after Jesus was not there.
When we first read in Acts 2 we come across verse 21 which seems to give all of the requirements that one needs to be saved.
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.2
But then, when the people respond the teachings and ask what they should actually do they are taught to repent and be baptized.
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.3
Next we read in chapter eight about the ministry of Philip.
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.4
What did they do as they “gave heed” to Philip? According to verse 12, they were baptized.
But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.5
Then there was a Simon the sorcerer who was a very influential man. When he decided to believe, he too was baptized.
Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.6
Philip went on in his journey and met a man from Ethiopia:
And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to a worship,7
Once he believed he was baptized:
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. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.8
When we think of the story of the conversion of Paul, we think of Saul seeing the vision, changing his name to Paul and becoming an apostle of the Lord. But sometimes it is missed that seeing the vision wasn’t all that happened. As soon as he was able to see, he was baptized.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.9
Peter has a famous vision where he is instructed to eat with Cornelius the Gentile. After they receive the Holy Ghost he commands them to be baptized. It isn’t enough that they could be baptized, but he commands it.
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.10
Lydia attended to the things spoken of by Paul, and she was baptized.
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.
And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.11
The Jailer of Paul and Silas let them out and then asked what he should do to be saved. Once again, as in Acts Chapter two he was told to believe. But in the same hour he was baptized.
Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.12
Paul taught in Corinth, and they were baptized.
And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.13
The next scripture is really interesting as we have a group of believers that had already been baptized, but they were re-baptized.
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.14
Then in Acts 22, Paul recounts his conversion and baptism.
For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.15
We can look at all of the scriptures in the Book of Acts where individuals accepted Christ and in every case it resulted in baptism. Even in those instances where it says that one must believe to be saved, the result is still baptism. This should be our model.
|Acts 2: 37-38, 41||Baptism–what shall we do?|
|Acts 8:12||Baptism–People of Samaria|
|Acts 8:13||Baptism–Simon of Samaria|
|Acts 8: 36-38||Baptism–Eunuch of Ethiopia|
|Acts 10:47-48||Baptism–Cornelius baptism commanded|
|Acts 22:16||Baptism–Paul teaching|
Baptism for Salvation
When we consider the scriptures we find that baptism occurs in every instance that individuals accept Christ. Never do the scriptures teach that we shouldn’t be baptized. There are those who seem to argue that we don’t need it. For them Acts 2:37-38 could be altered to read:
Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them…you accepted Jesus–so you’re done! You don’t need to repent or be baptized because those are works and works aren’t necessary.
We have a clear model from the scriptures. We can continue to ask why we need baptism, but the question of should we be baptized has already been answered.
Is baptism essential for salvation? Are those who aren’t baptized damned? The answer to those questions may remain hotly debated, but the answer is irrelevant. Those who spend time arguing about this seem to have forgotten they aren’t the Judge and their time spent arguing won’t change it. Jesus Christ is the author of salvation. He is the judge. It is up to Him to save whom he will. In other words, he makes the decisions, not us. All we can do is to trust him. We can do this by following the scriptures and being baptized. The rest is up to Him.
1 Roger R. Keller, “The Grace of Apologetics,” 2003 FAIR Conference (Orem, Utah: August 8, 2003).
2 Acts 2:21.
3 Acts 2:37-38, 41.
4 Acts 8:5-6.
5 Acts 8:12.
6 Acts 8:13.
7 Acts 8:27.
8 Acts 8:36-38.
9 Acts 9:17-18.
10 Acts 10:47-48.
11 Acts 16:14-15.
12 Acts 16: 29-33.
13 Acts 18:8.
14 Acts 19:1-5.
15 Acts 22:15-16.