If Jesus advocated baptism, then how can it not be essential for salvation?


Email Received:

In your writings, it appears as though you do not believe that water baptism is essential for the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. Yet Jesus said, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16). Furthermore, in Matthew 28:19 He tells the disciples to go make disciples and baptize them. Then a few days later Peter tells the people at Pentecost to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin. Paul and Ananias said to be baptized and wash your sins away in Acts 22:16.

Then again, in 1 Peter 3:21, Peter says that the flood water symbolizes baptism that now saves you. "Not the removal of dirt from the body" implies that he's talking about water baptism here instead of Spirit baptism. If water baptism doesn't have anything to do with salvation then wouldn't that mean all these guys were liars? It sounds to me like there are a couple of "To Do" lists for you before the big Day.


Ted's Response:

You must be referring to the water baptism section of my online book. Personally, I was raised in a Baptist church. At age 7, I chose to be baptized in water. I am glad that I did, and I strongly would recommend that every Christian be baptized in water, as it is an outward, public, tangible representation of our belief and faith. Hopefully, it also will influence others to do the same.

The first high priest, Aaron, was washed with water—in essence, baptized—and anointed with oil to consecrate him for service to God (Leviticus 8:4,10). The same thing happened to Jesus, with the anointing of the Spirit of God coming on Him, along with the Father's approval, after He came up out of the water (Matthew 3:16,17). Then He began His earthly ministry as the ultimate High Priest in service to God (Hebrews 2:17).

So Jesus demonstrated the importance of water baptism as a precursor to becoming a servant of God. The purpose of Jesus' baptism was not to obtain salvation from sin, since He never sinned; it was to show us a vitally important step in beginning our service to God the Father and our ministry to others, on His behalf.

Peter spoke to the people and told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38). I do not believe that the act of being baptized was what led to God's forgiveness of their sins but, rather, the fact that it was done in the name of Jesus Christ.

Being immersed in Jesus' name is a demonstration that the person is confessing Him as Lord. Coming up out of the water corresponds to His resurrection, and it signifies that the person believes Jesus was raised from the dead. So being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ demonstrates that a person acknowledges Jesus as Lord and believes in His resurrection from death, which is the foundation of salvation (Romans 10:9,10). It is the person's belief that saves him or her, not the act of going in and out of the water.

Water baptism (Mark 16:16) is a common byproduct of belief, just as good deeds are a natural result of faith (James 2:14-26). However, one is not saved by baptism and good deeds. Confession that Jesus is Lord and belief that He rose from the dead compile the basis of salvation. Note that the last portion of Mark 16:16 says that "whoever does not believe will be condemned." It does not say that "whoever is not baptized will be condemned."

Nicodemus told Jesus that someone cannot re-enter the womb to be born a second time (John 3:4). The phrase "born of water" in Jesus' response (3:5) was a referral to the water involved in the natural birth of every person—that is, the water in the birth bag within which each fetus is located. Baptism is not the topic of this passage, although one might say that being born of the Spirit could refer, indirectly, to Spirit baptism, by which one is born again.

It was expected for Jesus to tell them to do this, since He Himself had been baptized by John the Baptist. Obviously, He was a supporter of baptism. And, yes, during a water baptism, the phrase "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" is used. But in Spirit baptism (which is the baptism that saves), one is acknowledging and accepting the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a unified, triune God.

There is nothing in that passage about the requirement of water baptism for salvation. Many of those who wanted to become followers of Jesus also chose to be baptized, as an expression of their discipleship.

Pertaining to Peter at Pentecost, presumably, you are referring to Acts 2:38. Some will argue that the baptism that Peter was advocating was Spirit baptism, since Peter indicated that those who would be baptized would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This may or may not be the case.

However, Peter said, "Repent and be baptized." My view is that it was repentance that led to the forgiveness of sins, and those who repented chose to be baptized in water as a public display of this repentance and of their faith.

Note that later, speaking of Jesus, Peter said, "God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel" (Acts 5:31). Here, there is no mention of baptism. That is because it is repentance, not water baptism, that is required for the forgiveness of sins.

Paul said that it is repentance that leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). In fact, Paul baptized only a few people in water (1 Corinthians 1:14-16). He even affirmed, "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel..." (1:17). Would not Jesus have sent out Paul specifically to baptize everybody who repented if water baptism were a requirement for salvation? I believe He would have, if that were the case; yet He did not.

In Acts 22:16, Paul was describing his previous experience to others. In the original experience with Ananias (9:10-19), Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit when Ananias laid his hands upon him (9:17)—that is, he was baptized with the Holy Spirit. Some will say that Paul was referring to Spirit baptism in 22:16. I disagree, because it was after the scales fell off of Saul's eyes that Saul was baptized (9:18), presumably in water.

Nevertheless, this was no different from any other water baptism. A person "sees the light," repents of his/her sins, and then is baptized as an expression of his/her belief and acceptance of Jesus as Lord. As in any case, the water baptism was a symbolic washing away of Saul's sins; but it was the Spirit baptism that actually had washed them away. Why would Saul need to have his sins washed away, by water baptism, if they already had been washed away by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, when Ananias had placed his hands on him? He would not have.

I never said that "baptism doesn't have anything to do with salvation." Baptism is an outward, public demonstration of repentance, but it is that repentance that leads to salvation. Baptism, in and of itself, is not a prerequisite for salvation. If it were, then the remorseful thief crucified with Jesus, who feared God and acknowledged his evil deeds (Luke 23:40,41)—that is, repented of his sins—would not have been saved, because he had not been baptized in water. Yet, Jesus told him that he would be with Jesus in paradise (23:43). Knowing that the thief had not been baptized in water, was Jesus a liar when he said this? Of course not.

It sounds like it definitely is on your "to do" list to inform as many people as possible, before the "big Day" of His coming, that unless they experience water baptism, they will remain unsaved from their sins and condemned for eternity. It also appears that you want to believe that, and I think you should believe whatever you want to believe.

In any case, if you are serious about reaching as many people as possible with your message, then I think that what you should do is to create a website and post your message about salvation by water baptism on the internet, for multitudes of people to see. Consider that if your message is true, but if you have not done all that you can do to reach the world's masses with that message, then when you meet the Lord face-to-face, you may not hear those important words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."


Return to Email Questions and Ted’s Responses

Go to Ted’s Bible Commentaries and Other Links

View the New International Version of the Bible

Go to Ted’s Homepage