Nearly every religious body associated with Christianity administers baptism in some fashion. Some believe it is an act of obedience that symbolizes a believer’s faith in Christ and death to sin. Others believe that baptism is simply the means by which a believer becomes a member of the church body. But the congregations associated with the Church of Christ are known for their insistence that baptism is an essential part of salvation. On what is this belief based?
This belief is based on the fact that baptism and salvation are clearly linked throughout Scripture. Peter compared baptism to the water that saved Noah and said, “Baptism…now saves you” (1 Peter 3:20-21). Paul compared baptism to circumcision under Mosaic Law and indicated that being “buried with [Christ] in baptism” results in being “forgiven” of all your sins (Colossians 2:11-13). But no one made the relationship between baptism and salvation more clear than Jesus who said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).
This belief is also based on the fact that from the very institution of the church baptism was associated with receiving salvation. When Peter finished delivering the first evangelistic sermon, the audience that heard his message asked, “What shall we do?” He responded, “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:37-38). From that point forward baptism is associated with every conversion mentioned in the book of Acts.
For example, when the Samaritans heard Philip’s sermon “they believed…the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ…[and] were baptized” (Acts 8:12). A little later, when the eunuch learned about Jesus from Philip he asked, “Here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:35-36). Philip responded, “If you believe with all your heart, you may,” which prompted the eunuch to confess his faith and be baptized (Acts 8:37-38). When Ananias visited Saul after the latter’s encounter with Jesus, he asked, “Why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16), which Saul promptly did (Acts 9:18). When God showed Peter that Gentiles would be accepted into the church by miraculously gifting Cornelius and his family via the Holy Spirit, Peter said, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have” and then “commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47-48). When “the Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to heed the things spoken by Paul…she and her household were baptized” (Acts 16:14-15). Then, when a prison guard asked Paul and Silas “what must I do to be saved,” Paul told him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” and “immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:30-33). When the Gospel reached Corinth, “many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8), and when Paul met some disciples in Ephesus who were baptized by John, he taught them about Christ. As a result, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:4-5).
Based on the above references, it is evident that baptism is prominently mentioned in association with salvation throughout the New Testament. But what is baptism’s role when it comes to salvation? Is baptism what saves us? Paul was very clear about what saves us in Ephesians 2:8 where he wrote, “by grace you have been saved.” Therefore, it must be affirmed that we are saved by God’s grace. If God did not extend grace to us, then salvation would be impossible. So, if grace is what saves us then why is it necessary for anyone to be baptized? Consider the implications of the following passages.
In Acts 2:38 Peter said, “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 what point does Peter indicate that one receives “the forgiveness of [their] sins” as well as “the gift of the Holy Spirit?” When he or she is “baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ.”
In Romans 6:3-4 Paul wrote, “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.” At what point does Paul indicate that one dies to sin and receives new life? When he or she is “baptized into Christ.”
In Galatians 3:26-27 Paul wrote, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” At what point does Paul indicate that one is “in Christ” and “put[s] on Christ?” When he or she is “baptized into Christ.”
Based on these passages we see that baptism is essential to salvation because it is when one’s sins are forgiven, when one receives the Holy Spirit, when one dies to sin, when one starts a new life, and when one becomes a child of God in Christ. In other words, “Baptism is the time and place that God forgives and saves.” Thus, when it comes to salvation, baptism is not the what but the when. The moment when you receive God’s saving grace is the moment you emerge from the watery tomb of baptism. That is why baptism is essential to salvation. Baptism “completes our response of saving faith,” which “begins with a confessed belief, continues with repentance, and is completed in baptism.”