Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

In This Lesson
Baptismal Regeneration
Baptism as an Identity Issue
Let Us Reason Together
Difficult Bible Passages
James 2:24
Acts 22:16
Mark 16:16
Dissecting Mark 16:16
"Negative Inference" Fallacy
Condition vs. Requirement
Acts 2:38
Three Other Verses to Consider
Grammatical Foundation
Galatians 3:27
The Type of Baptism
Evidentiary Summation


Many churches and pastors believe and teach that water baptism is necessary for salvation. Many cults, in particular, deny the doctrine of "salvation by faith alone in Christ alone".

Actually the question or controversy over salvation "by faith alone" or "by faith plus works" is the main cause of a major schism within the Church and the eventual formation of Protestantism in the 1500s. As many well-intentioned Priests, Bishops, and Lay persons wrestled with the doctrine of "faith plus works", as taught by the Catholic Church, a sort of "splintering" movement took shape which came to be known as the "Protestant Reformation".

Now, here we are 500 years later and there's been little or no movement or compromise by either side toward a more ecumenical bonding. So, the question remains: "Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?" — in this case, baptism. Am I saved by believing in Jesus and His atoning work alone, or do I have to believe in Jesus and do certain other things, too?

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Baptismal Regeneration
"Baptismal Regeneration" is the name given to the doctrine that requires baptism in order to be saved. Although water baptism is an important step of obedience, we contend that it is not a requirement for salvation. Baptism by immersion illustrates a believer's identification with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, but in no way has any bearing on the person's salvation.

Romans 6:3-4 declares: "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." The action of being immersed in the water illustrates dying and being buried with Christ; and the action of being raised out of the water pictures Christ's resurrection.

Yes, the Bible does contain some verses that seem to indicate baptism as a requirement for salvation. However, since the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is received by faith alone (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), it behooves us to examine Scripture more closely and consider a different interpretation of those other verses.

Baptism as an Identity Issue
As we know, the Bible is God's inerrant Word to us written over a period of about 1500 years by 40-some men who "spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:21) In it, God tells us everything He wants us to know, not only about Him, but also about us and His will for us.

As God is the omniscient and omnipotent self-existent I AM who does not lie (cf. Numbers 23:19), we know His Word does not contradict itself. Therefore, we must dig deeper into the Bible in order to discern what each writer intended when he wrote about "baptism".

One thing we know that should influence our deductive reasoning about this issue is that in Bible times, a person who converted from one religion to another was usually baptized "into" that other religion or person to identify their conversion. Being "baptized into" or "in the name of" identified them as followers of that person or religion. That's why the Apostle Paul asked the question in Acts 19:3, "Into what then were you baptized?" Their answer was, "Into John's baptism." Elsewhere, he wrote: "What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas,' or 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)

So we see that baptism at that time was the means by which a person's decision was made public. If a person refused to be baptized, it then raised the question of whether or not s/he truly believed. Thus, in the minds of the early disciples, the idea of an un-baptized believer was unheard of. When a person claimed to believe in Christ, yet was ashamed to proclaim his faith in public, it raised the question as to whether s/he had true faith or not.

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Let Us Reason Together
Let's look again at the verses in 1 Corinthians above where Paul talks about the object of the person's baptism. Knowing what we do about the Apostle Paul's fervency with which he preached the Gospel, what do we do with the next sentence which says: "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius"?

Of course, we know this passage is really about the divisions among the Corinthian believers. Nevertheless, how could Paul possibly say, "I thank God that I baptized none..." or in verse 17, where he says, "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel..."? If baptism were truly necessary for salvation, then reason dictates that Paul was really saying, "I thank God that you were not saved..." and "For Christ did not send me to save..." How absurd is that deduction!

Also, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, when Paul provides a detailed outline of the Gospel, why would he not mention baptism if it were indeed a requirement?

1"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.
3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."
(emphasis added)

If baptism is a requirement for salvation, how could any presentation of the Gospel not mention baptism? (

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Difficult Bible Passages
Deducing the correct answer to the question of "faith alone" vs. "faith plus works" is made more challenging by some hard-to-reconcile Bible passages. For example:

James 2:24
Comparing James 2:24 with passages written by the Apostle Paul and others, can cause confusion and lead us to the faulty doctrine that we are justified by faith and by works. Consider the following:

  • "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." (Romans 3:28 emphasis added)

  • "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1 emphasis added)

  • "So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24 emphasis added)

If these were the only New Testament verses about salvation and justification, we'd be okay. No question. No controversy. But how do we reconcile the above passages with James 2:24, which states: "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." (emphasis added)

We could say, as some skeptics and antagonists do, that the Bible is not the inerrant word of God and that it frequently contradicts itself; or we could dismiss the seeming debate between Paul and James as mere semantics or perhaps errors in translation. While it really is primarily a matter of semantics, nevertheless we would do well to consider each one's words in their context rather than simply disregard them.

Paul clearly says, without contradiction or confusion, that justification is by faith alone (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9), while James appears to be saying that salvation is by faith plus some work(s). Let's read the entire passage in James chapter 2 verses 15-26:

15"If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
16and 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?
17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder!
20Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;
23and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness' — and he was called a friend of God.
24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
25And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
26For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead."
(emphasis added)

In this passage, James is refuting the teaching that a person can have faith and not produce any good works (vv. 17-18). James emphasizes that genuine faith in Christ results in a changed life out of which pour forth good works (vv. 20-26). He is not saying that justification is by faith plus works. Rather, he is arguing that a person who is truly justified by faith will produce good works as a result of the unmerited grace of God granted to him/her. If a person claims to be a believer, but is without "good works", then s/he most likely does not have genuine saving faith in Christ.

On closer examination of Paul's letters, too, we see that there is no conflict between his and James' teachings, as even Paul mentions works in some of his letters. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10 emphasis added)

We see that Paul expects our salvation to manifest itself in a changed life which would then pour itself out by good works. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV)

James and Paul do not disagree in their teachings regarding salvation. Rather, as two unique individuals — each having his own style of preaching, teaching, and writing and each to different audiences — they simply have different approaches, or perspectives, in their writing on this subject. Paul emphasizes that justification is by faith alone — but not to the exclusion of works — while James emphasizes that genuine faith in Christ produces good works.

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Acts 22:16
This passage of Scripture seems, on the surface, to promote the doctrine of faith plus works. "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name." (emphasis added)

Permit me to reiterate a truth that all serious students of the Bible know well: As we study God's Word, we must filter seemingly-contradictory passages through what we know for sure the Bible does teach elsewhere on the same subject. We should never build a theology on single verses taken out-of-context.

Continuing the comparison between faith-alone or faith-plus-works doctrines in this lesson, we find solid Scriptural support for the faith-alone-in-Christ-alone theology, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9—

"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." (emphasis added)

Really, when we objectively examine the Scriptures to discern the whole truth on this matter, we find that no one contradicts the doctrine that faith is required for salvation. So, we should start such examination from that vantage point on which all sides agree. And from there, it follows that any interpretation of Scripture that reasons the requirement of any other act on our parts — even baptism — might, therefore, render a faulty conclusion. We must be careful to not surrender the requirement of faith in order to embrace any other interpretation, regardless of what we've been taught or believed in the past.

Concerning Ananias' words, " baptized and wash away your sins", we need to examine them in the context of the whole preceding narrative in Acts 22:10-15.

10"And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.'
11And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
12And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
13came to me, and standing by me said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him.
14And he said, 'The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; Act 22:15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.'"

So, we see in the above passage that Paul had already been cleansed spiritually before coming to Ananias to receive his sight. How can we know this for a certainty? Because God called (commissioned) him for ministry prior to his coming to Ananias and prior to his baptism. It is highly unlikely that Christ would commission Paul if he were not yet saved. So, while some churches today might reject the notion that Paul was saved before baptism, it would appear that God certainly was not conflicted concerning Paul's eligibility for salvation.

Thus, we can logically conclude that Ananias was referring to the symbolism of baptism in the name of Christ or that he was quite possibly referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, not water baptism. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, he understood that baptism is a picture of God's inner work of washing away sin.

"But now the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of God's Spirit have washed you and made you holy and acceptable to God." (1 Corinthians 6:11 CEV emphasis added) Where is water baptism mentioned in this verse?

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Mark 16:16
Another verse that, at first glance, seems to say baptism is necessary for salvation is in Mark 16:16 when Jesus says, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."

Before we can state conclusively that this verse teaches or doesn't teach water baptism as a requirement for salvation, let's break it down grammatically to be sure about what it does say and what it does not say. One thing this verse clearly teaches is that belief is necessary for salvation, which of course, is consistent with all the passages in which belief alone is stated, for example:

  • "Whoever believes in him [God's Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18)

  • "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24)

  • "And Jesus cried out and said, 'Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.'" (John 12:44)

Dissecting Mark 16:16
This passage consists of two complete sentences joined by the conjunction "but". So, let's look at each statement on its own.

  • The first statement tells us about believers who have been baptized. Clearly, they are saved. However, it does not say anything about believers who have not been baptized.

  • The second statement asserts that if one does not believe, then that one is not saved. It does not say the person is not saved if he has not been baptized.

  • In order for this passage to teach baptism as a prerequisite to saving faith, it needs a third modifying statement, such as: "He who believes and is not baptized will not..." or "He who is not baptized will not..." However, neither statement is found in the passage.

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The "Negative Inference" Fallacy
Those who try to use Mark 16:16 to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation commit a fairly common grammatical mistake that some refer to as a "negative inference" fallacy [false belief or incorrect reasoning]. The "negative inference" principle declares that if a statement is true, then we can assume that all opposites of that statement are also true, whether expressed or not.

Here is a simple illustration I borrowed from GotQuestions?org to help us understand the principle of negative inference. Statement: "A dog with brown spots is an animal." This sentence is completely correct. The negative inference, however, is, "If a dog does not have brown spots, it is not an animal," which we know is not true.

In much the same way, "he who believes and is baptized will be saved" is 100% true. The negative inference, "he who does not believe and is not baptized" is an assumption not born out or supported by any other Bible teachings about salvation.

A second illustration: "Whoever believes and lives in the U.S. will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." This statement is 100% true. All Americans who believe in Jesus will be saved. However, we cannot say that only believers in America are saved and if a person does not live in the U.S., then s/he cannot be saved. To do so would be an example of the "negative inference" fallacy.

While the second half of the passage in Mark 16:16 affirms the negative "he who does not believe ", it does not affirm the negative supposition for baptism. It does not say, "he who is not baptized will not be saved." For us to infer such is an unwarranted assumption with no Scriptural support.

The passage states a fact that baptized believers will be saved. It says nothing, however, about believers who have not been baptized.

Condition vs. Requirement
In looking for answers to whether baptism is required for salvation, we must be careful not to confuse a condition of salvation with a requirement for salvation.

The Bible clearly teaches, and we can say with absolute assurance, that belief is both a condition and a requirement. However, we cannot say the same about the act of baptism. Nowhere in Scripture does it say if a person is not baptized, then s/he is not saved. While we can attach any number of conditions to the requirement of faith, the person is still saved whether they meet any one or more conditions that relate to salvation. As such, no one can state with absolute assurance and authority that baptism is necessary for salvation.

Before we dismiss this all-important question/concern/controversy, let's examine other Scripture references that tell us plainly and conclusively the requirement(s) for salvation.

  • "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 emphasis added)

  • "Whoever believes in him [God's Son] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:18 emphasis added)

  • "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36 emphasis added)

  • "To him[Christ] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:43 emphasis added)

  • "as it is written, 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.'" (Romans 9:33 emphasis added) (cf. Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16)

  • "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13 emphasis added)
  • See also John 6:35,40,53-54; 7:38; 8:24; 11:25-26; 12:46; 14:12; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6.

The above Scripture references most assuredly affirm that faith is a requirement for salvation. However, there is no indication in any of those verses that anything else is required. Doesn't it stand to reason that, if baptism were a requirement for salvation, Jesus and the Apostles Paul, John, and Peter would have said so? Would they really neglect so great an issue when people's eternal souls were involved? I seriously doubt it.

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Acts 2:38
This is yet another verse that proponents of baptism as a salvific issue put forth to prove their ideology. "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.'"

At the heart of the matter is the question: Does "for" mean "in order to receive" or does it mean "because of"? I take aspirin for a headache or cough medicine for a cold and cough. Am I taking these in order to get a headache or cold? Or, am I taking them because I already have a headache or cold?

As we have already discussed in this lesson, we can only discern what an isolated verse of Scripture teaches by filtering it through other passages on the same subject. We already know, too, that the Bible teaches salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of any kind — which would include the work of baptism (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).

This verse in Acts, however, deserves a closer look and a breaking down of all segments to be sure we have a full understanding of what Peter said and what God intends. It definitely seems to say "be baptized . . . for the forgiveness [in order to be forgiven] of your sins."

This passage uses the Greek word eis which is translated "for" here and is also translated "at" in other passages. Those who hold to the belief that baptism is required for salvation assume the word translated "for" in this verse means "in order to receive or get". However, in both English and in Greek, there are three possible meanings of the word "for":

  1. "in order to be", "become", "get", "have", "keep", etc.;
  2. "because of", "as the result of"; or
  3. "with regard to".

Since any one of the three meanings listed above could fit the context of Acts 2:38, we need to study further to determine which one is correct.

Let's look at how the preposition "eis" is used in another unrelated Scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 12:41, "The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here." Here, "eis" is translated "at", which means "as a result of". (emphasis added)

So, clearly, the interpretation of this passage is that they repented "because of" or "as a result of" Jonah's preaching, not "in order for Jonah to preach" (ludicrous, I know, but I felt I needed to say it in order to make my point crystal clear). In the same way, Acts 2:38 may well communicate that the people would be baptized "as a result of" or "because" they had believed. Furthermore, this interpretation is consistent with Peter's next two messages in Acts where he associated forgiveness of sins with only the act of repentance and faith in Christ. In both of those instances, Peter never mentioned baptism (cf. Acts 3:17-26; 4:8-12). Question: If water baptism were indeed a requirement for salvation, can we presume that Peter would carelessly neglect that instruction on other occasions and put people's eternal souls at risk? Of course not!

Noted Greek scholars A.T. Robertson and J.R. Mantey also support the premise that the Greek preposition "eis" in Acts 2:38 should be translated "because of" or "in view of", not "in order to" or "for the purpose of".

Some other passages about salvation that do not mention baptism are:

  • "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12 emphasis added)

  • 14"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
    15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
    16'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
    17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
    18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."
    (John 3:14-18 emphasis added)

  • "And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.'" (Acts 16:31 emphasis added)

  • See also John 5:24; 11:25-26; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:39; 26:18; Romans 10:9; Ephesians 1:12-14.

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Three Other Verses that Use "Eis"
Three other verses where the Greek word "eis" is used in conjunction with the word "baptize" or "baptism" are:

  • Matthew 3:11 where John the Baptist says: "I baptize you with water for repentance." (emphasis added) Clearly the Greek word "eis" cannot mean "in order to get" in this passage because they had already repented and now were being baptized as a public demonstration of their repentance.

  • Romans 6:3 in which the Apostle Paul asks: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into [eis] Christ Jesus were baptized into [eis] his death?" Again, this fits with the meaning "because of" or in "regard to", but certainly not "in order to have".

  • 1 Corinthians 10:2 where Paul says, concerning Israel's exodus from Egypt: "and all were baptized into [eis] Moses in the cloud and in the sea." Again, "eis" cannot mean "in order to get" in this passage because the Israelites were not baptized in order to get Moses to be their leader. Rather, they were "baptized into" him because he already was their leader who had led them out of Egypt.

If one is consistent with the way the preposition "eis" is used in the rest of Scripture, we must conclude that Acts 2:38 is indeed referring to their being baptized "because" they had repented and received forgiveness of their sins. Some other verses where the Greek preposition "eis" does not mean "in order to obtain" are Matthew 28:19; 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 19:3; 1 Corinthians 1:15; and 12:13.

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Grammatical Foundation
The grammatical evidence surrounding Acts 2:38 and the preposition "eis" is clear that, while both views on this verse are well within the context and range of possible meanings of the passage, the majority of the evidence is in favor that the best possible definition of the word "for" in this context is either "because of" or "in regard to" and not "in order to get". Therefore, Acts 2:38, when interpreted correctly, does not teach that baptism is required for salvation, but that the new believer should be baptized because they believe. (GotQuestions?org)

Galatians 3:27
Many who believe in baptismal regeneration often turn to Galatians 3:27 as proof that baptism is necessary for salvation. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

However, in so doing, we ignore the context of the passage. In order to determine if this passage really supports baptismal regeneration, we need to read the immediate context.

23"Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.
24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."
(emphasis added)

Here, Paul is scolding some in Galatia who were turning from the true Gospel to a false gospel that cannot save, as Paul wrote in Galatians 1:6-10—

6"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—
7not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
10For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."

The false gospel — or "distorted" gospel, as Paul called it — mixed works of the Law, including circumcision, as a requirement for being saved. Really, this is no different than those who add baptism as a requirement for salvation.

Paul's message in the entire letter to the Galatians is clear: We are not justified by works. "...yet 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 2:16 emphasis added)

You can see the entire context of justification by faith alone in Christ alone throughout the first three chapters of Galatians. And Paul reinforces that message in Galatians 3:26— "...for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith." We see that Paul does not waver in any of his writings wherein he asserts that salvation is "through faith in Christ Jesus". In order for baptism to have any meaning at all, it must be preceded by faith. While baptism is important as a way of identifying us with Christ, it only has meaning if it comes from saving faith, which always comes first.

The Type of Baptism
Galatians 3:27 says, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Upon closer examination, we find that there is no clear-cut evidence from the context of this passage to conclusively deduce that Paul is speaking of water baptism.

There is more than one type of baptism spoken of in the New Testament. Therefore, is it logical to assume that Paul is speaking of water baptism when there is no evidence to support that assumption? The question we should be asking here is: "How do we get 'baptized into Christ'?" We can find the answer to that question in the following verses:

"You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." (Romans 8:9 emphasis added)

"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:12-13 emphasis added)

The determining factor for whether or not someone is a Christian is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. And the baptism that puts us "into Christ", or makes us a part of Christ's Body is the baptism "in one Spirit".

Clearly, the baptism Paul speaks of above in 1 Corinthians and in Galatians 3:27 is not water baptism. Rather, it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit whereby we are "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13-14). When the Holy Spirit indwells us, then we become part of Christ's Body.

John the Baptist said that he was sent to "baptize with water", and he prophesied that Jesus was the One who "baptizes with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33). At the point at which we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are then "baptized into Christ".

Thus, Galatians 3:27 does not refer to water baptism at all. Water baptism is symbolic of what is accomplished in our spirit when we are baptized into one body by one Spirit. Paul is saying here that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is what matters. It is at that point when we become part of the Body of Christ or are "baptized into Christ".

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Evidentiary Summation
The Bible tells us very clearly that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:6-22).

  • Throughout the Bible, people have been saved without being baptized.

    1. All believers in the Old Testament — for instance: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Rahab, and Ruth, to name a few — were saved by putting their faith in the Messiah who was to come, but they were not baptized.

    2. One of the thieves on a cross next to Jesus was saved but not baptized. Luke tells us in chapter 23, verses 40-43:
      40"But the other rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
      41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.'
      42And he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'
      43And he said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'"

    3. Cornelius was saved and baptized by the Holy Spirit before receiving water baptism (cf Acts 10:44). Peter had not even mentioned water baptism at this point. All he said was, "To him [Christ] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:43 emphasis added) And in the very next verse, we learn that the Holy Spirit fell on them because they believed Peter's message — without having been baptized yet.

      The context is very clear: God forgave Cornelius and his household and baptized them in the Holy Spirit before they were baptized in water. In fact, the reason Peter allowed them to be baptized with water was that they showed evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit "just as Peter and the Jewish believers" had.

  • Scripture teaches that we have eternal life at the very moment we believe. Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24 emphasis added) Baptism is a testimony of our faith and a public declaration that we believe in Jesus Christ.

  • There is not even one verse in the Bible that says if a person is not baptized, then s/he is not saved.

  • If baptism were required for salvation, then no one could be saved without another person being present to baptize them. This, then, puts restrictions or limitations on God's grace based, not on His love, but on human will and ability.

  • At the very point of faith — what we call "saving faith" — a believer possesses all the promises and blessings of salvation (cf. John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 20:31; Acts 10:43; 13:39; 16:31). Read John 5:24 above again.

  • Baptism is important as a public declaration of one's faith in Jesus Christ. However, it is not the means by which we are saved. The Bible, God's inerrant Word for all believers and all times, clearly affirms that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 3:21-30; 4:5; 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 3:9; Galatians 2:16).

  • Requiring anything in addition to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is a works-based salvation. To add anything to the Gospel is to say that Jesus' death on the cross was not sufficient to purchase our salvation. To say we must be baptized in order to be saved is to say we must add something — our own good works and obedience — to Christ's death in order to make it sufficient for salvation. This is a presumptuous contradiction of Scripture which diminishes, or makes weak, Jesus' atoning death (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus' payment for our sins is appropriated to our "account" by faith alone (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, as we stated before, we now state again: baptism is an important step of obedience after salvation but cannot be a requirement for salvation.

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace." (Ephesians 1:7 emphasis added)

If water baptism were truly a requirement for salvation, why wouldn't the Apostle Paul write: "redemption through his blood and baptism"? He didn't write it because he and the other Apostles and early Christians knew that God's saving grace is purely His work, from start to finish.

Is baptism important for new believers? Definitely! Is it a requirement for salvation? No.

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Copyright © 2012 Rev. Linda Smallwood
for AOCI Bible Training Institute

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