Is baptism required for salvation?
Baptism is one of the most controversial issues in the Christian faith. Infant baptism vs. believer's baptism? Baptism by immersion or baptism by sprinkling/pouring? Baptism as a symbolic act of obedience and identification with Christ's death and resurrection vs. baptism as a requirement that God will not grant salvation without? Out of all of these debates, by far the most important is the question: Is baptism required for salvation?
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What makes this question difficult is the fact that there are some Scripture verses which seem to indicate that baptism is necessary for salvation (Articles on each are here: Mark 16:16; John 3:5; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21). However, there are numerous other Scripture references which clearly and explicitly state that salvation is received by faith, with no other requirement (John 1:12; 3:16, 18, 36; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). Further, in 1 Corinthians 1:14-17, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that baptism is not an aspect of the gospel. In Paul's brief outline of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, baptism is not even mentioned.
To add baptism, or any other work, to the gospel is to say that Jesus' death on the cross was not sufficient to secure our salvation. To say we must 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. Jesus' death alone paid for our sins (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). If we must do anything beyond receiving by faith God's salvation, that makes salvation dependent on our works, instead of dependent on the perfect and complete sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Those who believe baptism is necessary for salvation are quick to argue that baptism is not a work that earns salvation, but rather is a work that God requires before He grants salvation. They contend that while baptism does not make us worthy of salvation, it is the act which results in salvation occurring. In contrast, the biblical message is that salvation occurs at the moment of genuine faith. Salvation is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Good works and obedience to God's Word, including baptism, are inevitable results of salvation, not requirements for salvation. So, defining baptism as a different type of work does not change the fact that it is a work. Baptism is something we must actively participate in. Salvation is a gift we simply receive from God's gracious and merciful hands.
Yes, there are some verses that seem to indicate baptism as a necessary requirement for salvation. However, Scripture does not contradict Scripture. If the Bible says that salvation is received by faith, with no other requirement (and it says that numerous times), then there is nothing else that can be added as a requirement for salvation with making God's Word contradict itself. The Bible verses that clearly link salvation and baptism do so because baptism identifies conversion; it is the declaration that salvation has occurred. The idea of an un-baptized believer was anathema to the New Testament writers. If a person claimed to believe in Christ, but was ashamed to proclaim that faith in public, it would be an indication that the person's faith was not genuine.
Baptism is not necessary for salvation. Baptism is an important step of obedience that every Christian should take. Baptism is a public declaration of faith in Christ. Baptism is an identification of an old life dying with Christ and a new life being resurrected as a new creation (1 Corinthians 5:17). So, while baptism is very important, it is not a requirement for salvation. To make baptism a requirement for salvation is an attack on the perfection and sufficiency of God's provision of salvation through Jesus Christ.
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Truth about Salvation