part of the what is truth? series

The act of baptism is well recorded in Scripture. Not only was it a tradition among the Hebrew people for centuries, but it is what at least one Bible character was know by (John the Baptist) and it was something that Jesus the Messiah did himself. (Matthew 3:13-17) Some other questions about baptism have been answered through the BSF such as exactly what it is and what Scripture says about its purpose, but is baptism required or necessary for salvation?

How Scripture answers "Is baptism required for salvation?"

Salvation is a process beginning with God’s grace1 to all. However, it is only received by those that believe/accept Jesus Christ1,2 and live Godly lives1,2. Scripture is very consistent on the critical role of baptism4,6,7,8,9,10,12. Its requirement for salvation is stated emphatically3,6,13 and demonstrated over and over by new converts4,5,9 (Saul is another great case study). Specifically, it is the very first “work” of obedience4,6,9,12 and added to His church6,8,12. It is the moment we are cleansed and forgiven of sin and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit6,7,8 – exactly how Jesus appears to be defining being “born again” to Nicodemus11.

Many religious leaders today would say, “No!” To conclude that baptism is required for salvation, they would argue, would make salvation “works-based” thereby mitigating or eliminating God’s grace. Their “Scriptural basis” for this would likely come from Paul’s definitive statement in Ephesians 2:4-81 that we are “saved by grace.” A case in point follows:


From AllAboutGod.comIs Baptism Necessary for Salvation – The Conclusion
Is baptism necessary for salvation? If the question is concerning water baptism, the answer is no. We are not saved by ritual or works but by “grace through faith.” “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).”


This “Conclusion” from AllAboutGod is classic “Scripture weighting” – where a conclusion is drawn based on one or just a few verse/verses, then all other passages are interpreted through the lens of that conclusion. It also directly contradicts letting Scripture interpret Scripture. Paul says “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), not “some Scripture is more inspired than other Scripture.”

Maybe you can only get to a point of saying it’s “important” or will go so far as to say it’s “very important”? You aren’t alone! This is what many say, not willing to go so far as to conclude it is required for salvation. A recent national ad campaign for a website – FindingTruePeace – counsels believers to “consider baptism” — this is after they have been taught to say the ‘sinners prayer’ for salvation.

If that’s your position, where does that leave you? Isn’t that rather ambiguous when one’s eternal salvation/damnation is weighing in the balance? Is that the instruction we see given in any Bible example or the attitude we find in any new believer we read about in Scripture?

Just because one aspect of our salvation is emphasized in one part of Scripture (grace through faith in Ephesians1), doesn’t negate or minimize other aspects of our salvation mentioned elsewhere in Scripture2,3,4,6,7,8,9. In fact, there are many aspects of our salvation. Of course, these are only possible by God’s good grace! That is plain…but there are conditions to receiving it. It is not unusual or inappropriate for an inspired writer to emphasize one aspect of salvation over another given the broader context of his message and the overall point he’s trying to make. It explains why Paul would choose to emphasize grace (“grace through faith”)1 given his broader message to the Christians in Ephesus while James emphasizes works (“faith without works is dead”)2 in his letter to Jewish Christians.

Yes
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No

1

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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

It’s by grace that you have been saved through faith.  It’s not based on your works lest you get arrogant, but it is a free gift from God.  Instead, it was God’s plan from the beginning that you be the result of His gift – a born again person in Jesus Christ able to do good works and live righteously.

Paul is writing to the Ephesians (Christians), but specifically and importantly, they were Gentile Christians (vs 11, 3:1), not Jewish Christians.  He reminds them of their past lives in sin (vss 1-3) and cut off from God’s promise (vs 12) that had been available only to the “circumcision ” (Jews).  However, now are “brought near by the blood of Christ” (vs 13).

How does it apply here?

God’s free gift (grace) of Jesus Christ is fundamental in saving us. Without this gift (grace) there is no chance of salvation, certainly not through any “work” we could do. The grace is received by us through faith (belief) and should result in us doing good works in His name. This confirms there is no value in faith or works if there is no grace. However, it doesn’t negate the need for faith or works.

2

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
It’s worthless for someone to say they believe but then don’t obey.  Faith can’t save by itself.  We understand that someone lacking clothing or food isn’t cared for by simply telling them to “be warmed and filled.”  We must give them the things they need.  Likewise, belief without obedience is dead.

James, the brother of Jesus, is writing a very practical letter to Christians of the “dispersion” (dispersed) when encountering trials and the testing of their faith.   He goes on to point out that even demons believed, calling those “foolish” that would consider themselves saved with “faith only”.

How does it apply here?

Much like Paul emphasizes the relative importance of grace (and faith), James emphasizes works (from faith). James doesn’t mention grace but that’s not the focus of his message (although, he does allude to it in 1:16-18).

3

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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Baptism, like Noah being saved through the water, isn’t a bath in the physical sense of bathing. It “saves you” and is your commitment to God for a good conscience by Jesus’ resurrection, the same Jesus that ascended to heaven and is at God’s right hand, with all angels, authorities, and powers made in subjection to Him.

Peter is comparing the way in which Noah and his family were saved (through water) to the way baptism now saves (also through water).  Importantly, he’s not discounting or negating the gift of God’s son and His sacrifice which makes it all possible.  Those elements that make salvation possible at all are alluded to, it’s just not his main point right here.

How does it apply here?

Much like Paul does12, Peter pulls an Old Testament example forward to apply to the New Testament Christian’s baptism. The saving element in both instances is the water, therefore water baptism saves us spiritually.

4

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized? And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Philip begins with a Scripture [Isaiah] and shares the good news of Jesus.  As they were traveling along the road, the eunuch sees water and wants to be baptized, so together they go “down into” the water where Phillip baptizes the eunuch.  When they “came up out of” the water, the Spirit took Philip away.  The eunuch joyously returns home to Ethiopia and never sees Philip again.

Phillip is sent by the Spirit of God to teach the eunuch who is reading Isaiah while he’s traveling back from home from visiting Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. When they see water, they stop in order for the eunuch to be baptized.  We hear no more about Ethiopia in the Bible, but history records it to have a great Christian history.

Philip quotes from Isaiah 53

How does it apply here?

The eunuch was convicted by the “good news about Jesus” and apparently understood from Phillip that baptism was required. He wanted to be baptized immediately. (Seems that if it was just symbolic he would have waited to be home with his family and friends?)

5

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And he said to him, Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

One of the crucified criminals mocked Jesus by asking if He was the Christ that He should be able to save Himself and them.  But the other criminal rebuked the first by acknowledging God’s authority and the fact that they were guilty and worthy of their death sentence but that Jesus was innocent. He went on to ask Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom.  Jesus responded that he would be Him in Paradise that very day.

The crucifixion of Jesus and a remarkable confession by a thief that obviously knew who Jesus was and what his death (and resurrection) would mean (“come into your kingdom”).

Parallel accounts of the robbers are Matthew 27:38-44 and Mark 15:27-32.

How does it apply here?

Jesus clearly promises salvation without the man’s opportunity of being baptized. Of course, Jesus is God so he certainly has that right but also this is before he has come into his kingdom through his death, burial and resurrection. The new covenant isn’t in effect, therefore being baptized into Christ is not yet relevant.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

This is probably the most cited passage to argue against baptism being required for salvation, and yet it is not relevant given its context before the new covenant. See: What about the thief on the cross?

6

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brothers, what shall we do? And Peter said to them, 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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

When they heard these words, they were pierced in the heart and asked Peter and the other apostles what they should do [to be saved].  Peter told them that they each should repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins, and they would then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This “gift” was the promise made for all that the Lord calls to himself, even those far off.

Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost where he recalled several prophetic statements from Joel and David (vss 16-36). By divine inspiration, Peter interpreted these statements to apply their fulfillment to Jesus and the ushering in of the “last days.”

On believing his message (that Jesus was the Christ), they asked what they needed to do to be saved. More were continuing to be saved and they began meeting together as the Lord’s church (

vss 41-47
).

How does it apply here?

A direct question and direct answer. We also see a bit of a summary of events in vs 41 – they received the word, were baptized, and vs 47 – the Lord added them to the church.

7

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,

God appeared in the form of Jesus and saved us, not based on our merit but by His mercy, by the “washing of regeneration” and by renewal of the Holy Spirit, poured out fully through Christ.

Paul’s letter of encouragement to a young preacher Titus. Much like his letters to Timothy, Paul instructs Titus regarding the different churches “in every town” (1:5) to which he was ministering. Also, like Timothy, he encourages Titus to “let no one [in the church] disregard” him (2:15).

How does it apply here?

A concise summary of the “saving process” – God’s free gift, our baptism, the Holy Spirit’s renewing. (Close parallel to Peter’s answer to the crowd in Acts 2:38-396 – repent, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.)

8

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
What’s the conclusion then?  We should never continue in sin just so that God’s grace will be magnified. We can’t continue to live in sin after dying to it.  It was our baptism into Christ Jesus that united us in His death.  Our baptism was a death burial together with Him so that just as He was raised to glory by the Father, we too will be raised to have a new life.

Paul is making the broader point of the richness and fullness of God’s grace toward sinful man (chap 5) before turning to man’s response (and responsibility) for salvation. Through the beginning verses of chapter 6, Paul correlates Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection to the Christian’s “death, burial, and resurrection” to a new [spiritual] life.

How does it apply here?

In his conclusion, Paul makes the direct connection to baptism and Christ’s death. In other words, nobody shares in Christ’s death except through baptism. He further states the benefits to “dying with Christ” as:

  • being united with him in resurrection (vs 5)
  • no longer being enslaved to sin (vs 6); being “free from sin” (vs 7)
  • living or alive with him (vs 8)

Do we conclude from Paul’s argument that these benefits are received without being baptized? Of course not!

9

But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Philip preached the good news about the kingdom of God and Jesus, and as they believed they were baptized, both men and women.
The persecution of Christians by the non-believing Jews has begun and as a result the gospel news is spreading beyond Jerusalem into Samaria (vss 4-5).
How does it apply here?

The reaction for believers is to be baptized.

10

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
What’s the point of people being baptized on behalf of the dead?  If the dead are not raised, why are people baptized on their half?
Paul is making a great defense for the resurrection of Jesus and what that means for the Christian’s faith.  Without Jesus being raised, their faith would be “in vain” (vs 14), they’d still be in their sins (vs 17), the dead “in Christ” would have truly perished (vs 18) and everyone else “in Christ” should be “most pitied” (vs 19).  He then shifts to highlight what will happen because He was resurrected and confirm the raising “at his coming those who belong to Christ” (vs 23).
How does it apply here?

Paul, the one who emphasized God’s grace in another letter1 equated those “in Christ” as the “people baptized”.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

11

Jesus answered him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus said to him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus answered with a truth: unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus didn’t understand and asked how someone that is old be born again as he can’t enter back into his mother’s womb?  Jesus answered expounding on the same truth: unless one is born of water and the Spirit [born again] he cannot enter [see] the kingdom of God.
Jesus is approached at night (in secret) by Nicodemus, a Pharisee and “ruler of the Jews” (vs 1).
How does it apply here?

Jesus is definitively stating what is required to enter the kingdom of God (e.g. salvation). Does “born of water” here mean baptism? We can’t be certain with this passage alone, but it would mirror exactly Peter’s answer to the question, “What must we do?” in Acts 26.

12

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
Don’t forget, brethren, that our forefathers were all under the cloud, and all of them passed through the sea, being baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and they all consumed the same spiritual food and drink.  They drank from the same spiritual Rock that followed them, which was Christ.
Paul, in a letter to the young church in Corinth addressing divisions and several serious matters including sin and arrogance, reminds them about those that came before and the unity they have in Christ.  He goes on to share the mostly negative example of those that came before, that “God was not pleased” (vs 5) with them, and implores them to “not desire evil as they did” (vs 6).

Paul’s reference here is going back specifically to the children of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, when Moses led them in a “pillar of cloud” by day and fire by night and through the Red Sea  (Exodus 13-14).

How does it apply here?

Much like Peter does4, Paul pulls an Old Testament example forward to apply to the New Testament Christian’s baptism. In this case, it emphasizes and correlates on the point of who (“all”) and the source or reason (“Christ”). The way Paul uses this example necessitates that all at the church in Corinth were baptized.

13

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Go out and make followers of all the people, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to abide by all that I [Jesus] have commanded.  Behold, I will remain with you to the end of this age.
The very close of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life on earth.  This address was made to the eleven apostles (vs 16) and similar accounts are given at the end Mark (
Mk 16:15-16
) and Luke (
Lk 24:45-47
).
How does it apply here?

Jesus states clearly that a disciple is one that is baptized.

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