Is baptism necessary for salvation? This is a question that has caused anxiety or confusion for many.
Foremost, I want to stress that in this study, as in all biblical studies, we need to approach this question with a mindset of seeking truth and discernment, asking ourselves with sincerity, “What does the Bible teach about this.”
There are some who preach that salvation is by faith in Jesus—but must be predicated with water baptism. They embrace an interpretation that, unless one receives (water) baptism, one cannot be saved. Yet, the teaching that baptism is conditional to salvation, or necessary for the finalization of salvation, doesn’t align with Scripture! At its very least, it’s a dangerous teaching that diminishes the finished work of Jesus at Calvary. At its worst, it’s a doctrine that purposefully deceives people, and demeans the gospel message of salvation by grace through faith.
Those who insist that baptism is inclusive with salvation will invariably cite Mark 16:16, which says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” They contend these words, which were spoken by the resurrected Christ Jesus, explicitly state that baptism is a requirement for salvation.
Yet, if you look closely at this verse, it doesn’t say whoever is not baptized in water will be condemned. Rather, it says, “Whoever does not believe will be condemned” (emphasis added).
The question, therefore, we must ask is whether Mark 16:16, or any Scripture, states or implies that salvation is contingent on (water) baptism.
For any who advocate that (water) baptism is implied in Mark 16:16 because the word “baptism” is expressed in the first part of the verse, they would do well to recall the biblical caution, “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). For, nowhere in Scripture does it state that a person stands condemned if they are not baptized in water!
To properly interpret Mark 16:16, the interpretation must be in agreement with a full accordance of Scripture.
For, “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). All Scripture is true and unalterable! Yes, we accept Mark 16:16 as absolute truth and Divinely written. With that, though, it is equally true that we use Scripture to interpret Scripture. For, that is both the standard for biblical interpretation and the means for biblical interpretation.
Consider these Scripture verses which speak about salvation, righteousness, and eternal life.
Jesus said . . . “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 1:25-26)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only, Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life . . . Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
Very truly I [Jesus] tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)
All the prophets, testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:43)
What does [Scripture] say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in you heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 8:8-10)
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ (Romans 1:17)
But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:22)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame . . . for, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Romans 10:8-13)
Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
There is no condition of baptism mentioned in any of these verses. Further, there are an abundance of other verses which can be included alongside these.
The Bible teaches—as the Lord Jesus said—that a person is saved by believing in Him (receiving Him as their personal Lord and Savior). Conversely, those who do not believe are condemned.
Although, it needs to be clarified what it means to “believe” in Christ Jesus. For, it is not simply knowing that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. As “even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19).
Romans 10:10 tells us, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified.” We don’t typically associate believing with the heart, for we usually associate believing as a function of the mind. However, biblically, the heart speaks to our will, passions, and longings. In that context, when our “heart” is given to Christ Jesus as Lord over our life, a “belief” in Christ Jesus leads to eternal life. It is a “heart belief” that begins with repentance and leads to profession of Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior.
So, while (water) baptism is not conditional to salvation, repentance is! For, the “belief” that leads to salvation comes from a repentant heart that yields to the Lordship of Jesus. As it is written:
Unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:3; spoken by Jesus, and repeated in v.5)
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance. (Romans 2:4)
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves not regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
[God] commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)
Repent, then, and turn to God. So that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. (Acts 3:19)
The Bible teaches condemnation of a man is solely because of his unbelief (repentance and acceptance of Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior).
To further substantiate that a person is saved solely by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ without the requirement of baptism, we would do well to examine examples of those whom Scripture declares were saved (or would be with Jesus in paradise), yet there is no mention, or even a possibility, that they were baptized.
For example, Luke 19:1-9 gives the account of Zacchaeus’ salvation. Before meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus was a wealthy chief tax collector who was shunned by society because he had lived an unapologetic, carnal, sinful lifestyle. He indulged in a self-serving existence—until he was changed by the presence and person of Jesus.
After spending time with Jesus, Zacchaeus became convicted of his sinfulness and expressed repentance for his past wrongdoings against people (and against the Lord). “Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount’” (Luke 19:8).
Zacchaeus acknowledged Jesus as Lord, and expressed repentance for his past sinfulness. He went as far as vowing to make amends for his past swindling. What, then, did Jesus say, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).
Jesus pronounced salvation had come “today,” which means Zacchaeus was saved before, of even if, he was baptized. To be clear, Zacchaeus wasn’t saved because he intended to make amends for his past wrongs. Zacchaeus was saved because he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ with a repentant heart.
Next, consider the thief dying on a cross next to Jesus. Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). This was Jesus’ assurance to him that he had received salvation and eternal life. Yet, the thief never had an opportunity to be baptized! If baptism was conditional to salvation, Jesus could never have stated that, for the thief would have otherwise been eternally damned and separated from Jesus Christ.
Consider Abraham also, who is known as the father of faith? Abraham “believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). There is no mention that Abraham was ever baptized. Abraham was counted as righteous because of his faith. “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring . . . to those who have the faith of Abraham” (Romans 4:16).
Although Abraham lived before the earthly days of Jesus Christ, the Lord’s promise remains in full today. It is a promise of righteousness by faith, and guaranteed to all of Abraham’s offspring. Those who receive Christ are counted as righteous through faith, by God’s grace. The promise is conditional on faith, not on faith plus anything else (i.e. baptism).
King “David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works” (Romans 4:6).
We must also study what the prophets and apostles taught about salvation and baptism. Consider what Peter, Paul, and even John the Baptist proclaimed.
First, let’s study an account which is often quoted by some today who insist that water baptism is a requirement of salvation:
On the day of Pentecost, there were thousands who were “cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38).
Peter told the people to repent and be baptized. So, we ask, by telling them they should be baptized, does that mean baptism is necessary for salvation? No. Rather, Peter responded to their question, “What shall we do?”
They didn’t ask him, “what shall we do to be saved.” For, Peter had already told them how to be saved when he quoted Scripture to them, saying, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).
The people asked Peter “what shall we do?” They wanted to know what to do upon their believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and receiving Him as Savior! In answer, Peter told them to repent and be baptized. That’s what they needed to do next, to be baptized and to live a changed life in accordance with their repentance.
Baptism is an act of obedience. It is an outward expression of one’s acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. For those who were there on the day of Pentecost, they were saved by grace! And Peter was telling them baptism was an act that they should then do in obedience. That is something Peter encouraged, as we also should encourage all who are saved to be baptized as a testimony to one’s salvation.
Peter didn’t preach that (water) baptism was necessary to be saved! Rather, he taught water baptism symbolizes being baptized with the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 3:21). For, at the very moment, of salvation, we are given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirt. This is not our doing, but Christ’s! It is a spiritual “baptism,” which means we are in Christ Jesus. It is not by water, but by the Spirit of Christ.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
Question: Are we “clothed into Christ” through being immersed in water or by having the Holy Spirit “immerse” us spiritually in Christ? Certainly, we were not physically clothed through being immersed in water. Rather, Paul speaks of being spiritually clothed. Likewise, in Christ, we are spiritually baptized.
Again, “All of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death . . . We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3).
Is Paul speaking about the physical or the spiritual? Were we physically buried into death by being temporarily placed under water? No! As, we were spiritually buried with Christ, we are spiritually baptized into Christ. In Christ, our old self is spiritually dead. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
As John the Baptist (or John the Baptizer) said, “I baptize you with water, but he [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). John, too, made a distinction between water baptism and being baptized with the Holy Spirit. To be baptized with the Holy Spirit means that a person receives (is gifted) the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, “who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Ephesians 1:14).
John the Baptist is known for baptizing crowds of people, yet his core message was not about baptism but “that through [Messiah Savior] all might believe” (John 1:7). “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus” (Acts 19:4). John preached that water baptism was an outward expression of a repentant heart. For, in a heart that is truly repentant, there will be consequential good fruit of a changed life.
It is a heart of repentance that leads to salvation. Yet, afterwards, in being saved through Christ, (water) baptism is something one absolutely should do if they are able. And, we do this in gratitude, joyfulness, and excitement. No, (water) baptism is not essential to one’s salvation, but it is such a blessing and a testimony to one’s dedication to Christ. One misses out tremendously if they neglect to be baptized.
For a biblical understanding of the significance and symbolisms of baptism, see this link: What does baptism mean?
Now, compare what the crowd asked Peter on the day of Pentecost, “What shall we do?” to what the jailer asked Paul and Silas. The jailer asked, “’Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ [And] they replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’” (Acts 16:30-31).
Paul and Silas told the jailer that salvation was conditional on belief!
The jailer didn’t neglect baptism. He and his household were baptized later that night—after they believed in, and received, Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Again, baptism is not a condition of salvation but an act of obedience that we, as believers in Christ, should do if we are able.
To expound, the Apostle Paul, who participated in sharing the gospel and baptizing the jailer later wrote to the Corinthians, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:1:14).
Think about Paul’s words: “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). That statement alone tells us that Paul didn’t consider salvation to be predicated by baptism. For, could Paul have said that if baptism were a requirement of salvation? Absolutely not! If baptism were an action required for salvation, Paul indeed would’ve been sent to baptize—for he “was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:11). Yet, as an apostle and a teacher, Paul makes a distinction between baptism and the “gospel.”
The “gospel” that Paul speaks about is the message of salvation! As Paul says, “The gospel . . . is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Is water baptism required for salvation? No.
It is through believing in, and receiving, the Lord Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior that one is saved, by grace through faith! Thereafter, baptism is encouraged as a biblical act of obedience and a displayed testimony to our profession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Have you received, by faith, Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?
If you are unsure, please read this: What must I do to be saved?
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