Baptism has forever been one of the church’s most sacred sacraments. Even so, right now—today—a tremendous number of people who have professed their belief in Jesus are facing a major dilemma: do I need to be baptized? They are wondering, is it really necessary for salvation and will I be condemned without doing it?
In truth, people throughout the centuries have faced this quandary and many have no doubt anguished over it. This is very, very unfortunate. The reason is that the question, “Do I need to be baptized if I believe in Jesus?” should never exist. It shouldn’t be debated and puzzled over.
There should not have been doubts about the necessity of baptism over the last two thousand years, nor should there be any now. The answer is an emphatic “yes.”
All who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior need to be baptized, and as soon as possible.
If we are allowing Scripture to guide us on the matter, this teaching becomes irrefutable. The problem, of course, is that the Bible has often taken a back seat to human wisdom. Consider the following passages. Note that I have placed bolded italics at critical spots in each of them, so my emphasis!
“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
“The one who has believed and has been baptized will be saved; but the one who has not believed will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). Note the second part too, which excludes the possibility that baptism (without belief) can save.
“In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:11-12).
“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
1 Peter 3:20-21 makes this parallel between the Flood and baptism: “In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.” Baptism is an outward pledge—a symbol—of our allegiance to God.
There is a clear parallel between having our sins washed away and being baptized. It’s not surprising, then, that from these passages the church derived its creedal statement: “We believe in one baptism for the remission of sins.”
It is certainly worth noting that being baptized is a sign of following in Christ’s footsteps. Prior to truly beginning his ministry, Jesus first knew that even he needed to be baptized. When John asked him why he had come to be baptized, Jesus replied: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt. 3:15).
We learn from the Gospel of John that Jesus’ disciples were also baptizing people, even more than John the Baptist (Jn. 4:1-2). And why wasn’t Jesus baptizing them? John the Baptist plainly revealed the answer to this question: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt. 3:11).
These passages are straight to the point. The practice of the apostolic church was to preach the gospel and then baptize those who believe. This was not seen as two wholly separate events, as it is by most churches of our time. It was not about bringing people to Christ and then scheduling a baptism for the third quarter of the year, next November, or if the person ever feels like doing it.
The apostles and earliest disciples took new converts right to the nearest spot where baptism could be done, without delay. Acts 2:41 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Belief and baptism were really seen as one continuous act.
There are many more passages that could be mentioned, but this should prove the point. As far as the Bible explains things, those who believe must be baptized.
BUT . . . don’t you know about the thief??
Without fail, some will point to the thief on the cross and proclaim, “See, see! The criminal was saved without being baptized!” Apart from being about the only example in Scripture one could point to—the ultimate “proof text,” as it were—there are two powerful reasons why this objection is completely baseless.
The first is that there was literally no way for the criminal to have been baptized. Was Jesus supposed to say, “Hey, even though we are both suffering beyond all compare and have only hours to live, let’s get you off that cross so you can get dunked!”? Would the Roman guards have agreed to that, anyway? These are rhetorical questions. If ever there were such a thing as extenuating circumstances, this was it.
Can’t God save one man, in an incredibly unusual situation, without him being baptized? Does that really have to apply to all people? I think not.
The second reason is that the new covenant had not officially begun until Jesus died on the cross. As Jesus said, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30); he had fulfilled Scripture and the old covenant requirements. This is why the temple vale was immediately torn in two (Mt. 27:51). Afterwards, those who follow Christ were commissioned—by Jesus himself—to preach the gospel of salvation and baptize those who believe:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20).
Again, baptism was being done prior to Jesus’ resurrection (as mentioned earlier). But it certainly took on an intensified purpose and became an imperative after the Resurrection.
Now, is it still the case that someone might come to Christ but be physically unable to be baptized? In a word, NO. Or, at least, almost always no. I remember baptizing my dying grandmother just a month or two before she passed. She had terrible COPD and severe osteoporosis. Her bones had become so brittle that they could break if she simply bent the wrong direction too quickly. Still, she received Jesus and knew she needed to be baptized. She was sprinkled with water and asked to recite her baptismal vowels.
There are very, very few cases where someone who believes cannot be baptized. As the old saying goes, “where there’s a will there’s a way.” God can provide a way, just as He did along a desert road when Phillip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). The man was compelled, there and then, to be baptized. It’s as though he just knew it must follow his acceptance of Jesus as Lord.
Those who are trying to find justification for not being baptized are simply making excuses. This speaks far more about their faith and heart condition than anything else.
That said, it is important to note once more that baptism means nothing without faith. Someone can easily go down into the water as a sinner and simply come up as a wet one. The baptism part is unconditionally connected to the faith part.
Here and now, I strongly encourage anyone reading this to do those two things. 1. Believe in your heart that Jesus died for your sins and accept him as your Savior. Then . . . 2. Go and be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Don’t rely on excuses or attempt to find logical explanations to get around being baptized. Simply obey the commands of Christ: believe and be baptized. Do this today! Further, this is something believers should want and be compelled to do. Believing in Jesus should propel us toward obeying him, and this encompasses being baptized.
Jesus was baptized. The apostles were baptized and baptized others. Jesus commanded all his followers to be baptized and to baptize others.
This is one of those biblical issues that does not leave a lot of room for disagreement or debate.
In the end, can I say that it’s impossible to be saved without being baptized? In a sense, it’s like asking if someone can wait to repent until they are on their death bed. I can’t say yes or no to a certainty, and such judgment will not be up to us anyway (thankfully).
What I can say, on both matters, is that no one should try to find out.
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