I am a 16-year-old high school student. My best friend believes that a person must be baptized to be saved. Is baptism necessary for salvation? Is baptism necessary for anything? I’m concerned that my friend may be relying on baptism for salvation and, therefore, is not really saved.
Your letter was a great encouragement to me, for it shows that some teens and children want to know what the Bible teaches about the issues we face. Also, I was happy to sense the concern you have for one of your friends. I know that the Lord will honor your desire to be a witness to others.
Let’s begin with the first part of your question, Is baptism necessary for salvation? The answer is absolutely not! Countless Scripture references show us that salvation is by God’s grace through faith alone. We are saved only through trusting in the finished work of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross for our sins.
A few of the many passages we could study are the following: John 3:16; Acts 16:30 and 31; Romans 10:9, 10, and 13; Ephesians 2:8 and 9; and 1 John 5:12 and 13. I encourage you to read these verses carefully and then share them with your friend, pointing out that none of them mentions baptism as a requirement for salvation. God doesn’t require us to follow a series of steps, a church’s dogma, or a list of requirements to be saved. No, we experience the new birth the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Salvation is so simple that down through time people have tried to add other stipulations. Such teaching is wrong and will not work.
It would be interesting to know why your friend believes that baptism is necessary for salvation. Perhaps he attends a church that teaches this error. Perhaps your friend will show you some Scripture passages that proponents use to defend their belief. We should also look at some of those passages so you can understand what they mean.
One passage is Mark 16:16, which states, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Keep in mind that numerous passages tell us the way to be saved. Not a single one mentions baptism. Mark 16:16 doesn’t contradict those Scripture verses. It is saying, however, that becoming a Christian and then obeying the Bible by being baptized go hand in hand. It does not mean that we’re saved partly through believing and partly through baptism. The second part of the verse makes sure we understand that baptism does not save, because it says that those who do not believe (not those who aren’t baptized) will receive condemnation. If baptism were necessary for salvation, the second part of the verse would surely include it.
Some people use John 3:5: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” But this passage has nothing to do with baptism. John 15:3 shows us that the Word of God cleanses us. Without the work of God’s Word and the accompanying ministry of the Holy Spirit’s using the Word, we could never see our lost condition as sinners and be saved.
Still another passage is Acts 2:38: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” It sounds as if the requirement for being saved includes baptism, but that is not the case. The word “for” actually means “because of.” In other words, repentance brought the remission of sins. Believers are baptized after salvation as a testimony of what has happened to them.
A fourth common passage used to justify baptism as a requirement for salvation is 1 Peter 3:21. But I have never heard it quoted correctly. Those using this verse claim that it declares, “Baptism doth now save us.” But look at it carefully. Rather it says, “The like figure [emphasis mine] whereunto even baptism doth now save us.” Looking at the whole context of verses 20–22, we see that the water didn’t save Noah during the Flood; rather the ark was a type of Jesus Christ. He is the Savior; the water is not. Baptism is a picture, or a figure, of salvation. Pictures, object lessons, and figures don’t save; they simply illustrate the reality. Our salvation is not in baptism—the symbol of death, burial, and resurrection; our salvation is in the One Who, by His work on the cross, saves us.
Now let me get to the second part of your question, Is baptism necessary for anything? Absolutely. The fact that baptism isn’t a requirement for salvation doesn’t mean it is unimportant. It is one of two ordinances that believers need to observe during this Church Age. (The Lord’s Supper is the other ordinance.)
We know that obeying the Lord in water baptism as a believer is important because of the Great Commission that Jesus Christ gave us: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19, 20).
Soon after Christ gave the commission, that exact pattern occurred on the first day of the local New Testament church: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). This pattern is the correct one, even for us in 1995! Souls are to be saved, then baptized on the profession of their faith, then added to the church.
A statement made by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:17 has made some people wonder whether baptism is important. Paul wrote, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” However, Paul was not deemphasizing the importance of baptism. Rather, he was pointing out that the church in Corinth was extremely carnal and worldly. In verse 12 he pointed out that the believers were divided over who was the greatest preacher. For that reason he was glad to emphasize Christ, not get into a controversy over who had baptized them. He didn’t want people to glory in him; he wanted them to glory in Christ.
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