Is baptism necessary for salvation according to Galatians 3:27?
Galatians 3:27 reads, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Some have read this verse to mean that baptism is a requirement for salvation. Is it?
A close look at the context of this passage is helpful. Galatians 3:25-26 says, "But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith." Twice in these two verses faith is mentioned as the sole requirement for a relationship with Jesus Christ. Those "baptized into Christ" were the audience of Paul's letter, Christians who had been baptized. Paul was teaching about "putting on Christ" in the sense of clothing themselves with Christ's righteousness.
Other places in Galatians also make clear Paul's view that salvation is by faith alone. For example, Galatians 2:16 states, "we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." Galatians 1:16-17 speaks about Paul's own conversion and does not mention baptism at all in the context. In fact, Acts 9 reveals Paul's conversion took place three days before he was baptized. This presents a clear space of time between Paul's conversion and his baptism.
Other New Testament teachings confirm that salvation is based on grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. For example, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "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."
Many also refer to the account found at the end of the life of Jesus. While on the cross, He hung between two criminals. One of these criminals recognized Jesus for who He was and believed in Him. When he did, Jesus told him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). This man was never baptized, yet was promised eternal life.
So why is baptism important? Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-10; Luke 3:21-22), His early followers were baptized, Jesus commanded baptism for new believers (Matthew 28:18-20), and baptism plays an important role in publicly identifying those who have become followers of Jesus. While baptism does not provide salvation, it does provide an evidence of salvation. Those who are baptized reveal a commitment as a follower of Jesus in a very public way. Still today, baptism offers a specific and public opportunity to identify as a Christian and to commit to following Jesus and His teachings.
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