First Peter 3:21 reads, "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Some understand this verse to teach that baptism is required for salvation. Is it?
Is baptism necessary for salvation according to 1 Peter 3:21?
A thorough look at the passage demonstrates that 1 Peter 3:21 does not teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. Rather, it uses water baptism as an illustration of salvation. In the verses surrounding verse 21, Peter used Noah's ark as a similar example. The verse itself shows that it is not the act of baptism that saves but the "appeal to God for a good conscience" that baptism represents. Baptism is an expression of one's faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. It is Christ who saves; baptism is a signifier of that reality.
In fact, First Peter begins with a clear passage that expresses salvation in Christ by faith alone. First Peter 1:3 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." Also, Peter is recorded in Acts as teaching salvation is based on faith alone in Christ alone: "To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43).
The teaching that salvation is based on grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone is pervasive in the New Testament. Ephesians 2:8-9 notes, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." John 1:12 says, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." These and other passages clearly demonstrate that only faith in the resurrected Jesus as Lord is necessary for salvation.
An important occasion can be found in the situation of the thief who died on the cross next to Jesus. He believed in Jesus as God's Son and was told, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). This criminal did not have the time or opportunity to be baptized, yet it is clear his faith saved him.
So how are we to understand the important role that baptism plays in the Christian life? First, it is clear baptism is important because Jesus Himself was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-10; Luke 3:21-22). Jesus also commanded His disciples to baptize others who believed in Him (Matthew 28:18-20). This command was applied immediately in the early church. For example, the 3,000 people who believed in Jesus at the preaching of Peter on the Day of Pentecost were baptized that same day (Acts 2:41). The people believed, receiving salvation, and were then baptized, following in obedience to this new belief. Baptism is a clear command for every person who follows Jesus, yet is not required for salvation. Salvation has always been by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).
What is the Truth about salvation?
Is salvation by faith or works or both?
Is baptism required for salvation?
What is Christian baptism?
Is there a correct mode of baptism?
Truth about Salvation