(Except otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from the American King James Version).
The place and relevance of water baptism for salvation in the New Testament is hotly contested. Some see baptism as a sacrament that literally regenerates, and can be used on its own to wash away sins, the same way a bath washes away dirt from the body, while others see it as just an after-thought ritual that doesn’t really affect salvation, by this meaning that one can be saved without the ordinance of water baptism. What’s the scriptural view on water baptism with respect to salvation? Is the practice necessary for salvation? We shall examine the Scriptures to answer these questions.
The first instance of water baptism we encounter in the New Testament involved the ministry of John the Baptist. John was Christ’s forerunner, sent to prepare the way of the Lord. As a way of preparing the people of Israel to receive the Messiah, John preached the need for people to repent in order for their sins to be remitted. As a sign of their inward repentance, the people who heeded John’s message were required to be baptised by immersion in water. John’s baptism was called “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins”. John did not teach that his baptism on its own remitted sins. What remitted people’s sins was God’s pardon following their repentance, but that repentance and obedience had to be demonstrated by submitting to John’s baptism. Even the Lord Jesus Christ, though he had no sin to repent of and didn’t need any remission of sins, still subjected himself to John’s baptism, to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus recognised John’s baptism as ordained of God, and submitted to it, though he had no need to.
Matthew 3:1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
Matthew 3:2 And saying, Repent you: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Matthew 3:3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Matthew 3:4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
Matthew 3:5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
Matthew 3:6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
Mark 1:2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you.
Mark 1:3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Mark 1:4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Mark 1:5 And there went out to him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
Matthew 3:13 Then comes Jesus from Galilee to Jordan to John, to be baptized of him.
Matthew 3:14 But John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of you, and come you to me?
Matthew 3:15 And Jesus answering said to him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
Matthew 3:16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, see, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting on him:
Matthew 3:17 And see a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law (the lawyers) rejected John’s baptism and did not submit to it, and Jesus called them out for that, making it clear to them that by rejecting John’s divinely ordained baptism, they had closed the door of salvation to themselves. The Pharisees made light of John’s baptism, but it was the way God had ordained to remit the sins of those who had listened to John’s preaching and had repented. If you claimed to repent but refused John’s baptism, it simply meant your sins were not remitted. That’s how God ordained it and the people had the choice of either accepting the entire package of salvation as designed by God (repentance followed immediately by baptism) or rejecting everything. They couldn’t repent alone and expect to be saved, without being baptised. Total obedience to God’s command was required for God to remit their sins, and this entailed repentance and water baptism. Thus, those who rejected the baptism of John actually rejected the counsel of God against themselves, for it was God that sent John to baptise with water following repentance, for the remission of sins. Are those who treat water baptism today with levity any different from those rebellious Pharisees of John’s time? Are those who try to take baptism out of the salvation equation (as proposed by the Lord himself) any better than the obstinate and self-willed Pharisees who would rather have their own traditions than accept the commandment of God? Let the word of God be true, and every man a liar!
Luke 7:24 And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak to the people concerning John, What went you out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
Luke 7:25 But what went you out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously appareled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts.
Luke 7:26 But what went you out for to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and much more than a prophet.
Luke 7:27 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before your face, which shall prepare your way before you.
Luke 7:28 For I say to you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
Luke 7:29 And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
Luke 7:30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.
Matthew 21:23 And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority do you these things? and who gave you this authority?
Matthew 21:24 And Jesus answered and said to them, I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.
Matthew 21:25 The baptism of John, from where was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say to us, Why did you not then believe him?
Matthew 21:26 But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.
Matthew 21:27 And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said to them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.
Matthew 21:28 But what think you? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
Matthew 21:29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
Matthew 21:30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
Matthew 21:31 Whether of them two did the will of his father? They say to him, The first. Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
Matthew 21:32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and you, when you had seen it, repented not afterward, that you might believe him.
Jesus too preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. He and his disciples also baptised people immediately they repented and believed the gospel. That was before Jesus was crucified! Thus, even before his death, the Lord preached and taught the necessity of water baptism following repentance, for the remission of sins.
John 3:26 And they came to John, and said to him, Rabbi, he that was with you beyond Jordan, to whom you bore witness, behold, the same baptizes, and all men come to him.
John 3:27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
John 3:28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.
John 3:29 He that has the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
John 3:31 He that comes from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaks of the earth: he that comes from heaven is above all.
John 3:32 And what he has seen and heard, that he testifies; and no man receives his testimony.
John 3:33 He that has received his testimony has set to his seal that God is true.
John 3:34 For he whom God has sent speaks the words of God: for God gives not the Spirit by measure to him.
John 3:35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.
John 3:36 He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God stays on him.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, he committed the preaching of the gospel to his apostles, who were to take the gospel to all nations, and to baptise all who believe, in order for them to be saved. Here again, Jesus coupled salvation to believing the gospel and being baptised: “he that believes and is baptised shall be saved”. Thus, according to Jesus, water baptism is not an afterthought or an unnecessary part of the gospel message that could be ignored. It is not something to be done much later, if at all, after salvation. Jesus taught that water baptism was part and parcel of the salvation process. Without it, no repentance could lead to remission of sins! Without being baptised after one has repented, no one will be saved! That’s the gospel according to Jesus Christ! This informed Jesus’ message to Nicodemus that to be saved, one had to be born of water and of the Spirit. Being born of water refers to the remission of sins that follows water baptism, after repentance. Being born of the Spirit refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit that follows repentance and water baptism. Water baptism (after repentance) together with the baptism of the Holy Spirit makes one to be born of both water and the Spirit. Only such a person can see/enter the kingdom of God (that is, be saved).
Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.
Matthew 28:19 Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Matthew 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatever I have commanded you: and, see, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen.
Mark 16:14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
Mark 16:15 And he said to them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
Mark 16:16 He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned.
John 3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
John 3:2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that you do, except God be with him.
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 3:4 Nicodemus said to him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
John 3:5 Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
John 3:7 Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again.
The apostles of Jesus Christ understood his views on salvation perfectly and so emphasised water baptism immediately after repentance. On the day of Pentecost, when Peter’s convicted audience asked what they needed to do to be saved, Peter told them: “repent and be baptised everyone of you, for the remission of sin, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”. And, the thousands who repented were baptised the same day, fulfilling Jesus’ command that “he that believes and is baptised shall be saved”. When Philip preached the gospel in Samaria, all that believed and repented were immediately baptised for the remission of their sins (born of water). Peter and John later came to lay hands on them to receive the Holy Ghost (to be born of the Spirit). Even people who received the Holy Spirit before water baptism (an exception to the rule) had to be immediately baptised by water, to be fully born again (born both of water and the Spirit). That’s how important the apostles viewed water baptism!
The Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brothers, what shall we do?
The Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The Acts 2:39 For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.
The Acts 2:40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.
The Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.
The Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
The Acts 8:13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
The Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John:
The Acts 8:15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:
The Acts 8:16 (For as yet he was fallen on none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
The Acts 8:17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
The Acts 10:44 While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
The Acts 10:45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The Acts 10:46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
The Acts 10:47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
The Acts 10:48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
When Paul himself repented after meeting Christ on his way to Damascus, Ananias was sent to him to tell him to arise and wash away his sins (be baptised), calling upon the name of the Lord. Thus was Paul (then Saul) baptised immediately by water, following his repentance, for the remission of sins. Paul too applied the same formula of salvation to all those he preached to, baptising people immediately they repented— he even had to baptise some people at midnight, to show the urgency and immediacy of water baptism, after one has repented and believed the gospel! That’s how important the issue of baptism was taken by the apostles! They didn’t see baptism as an afterthought, something to be postponed to a convenient date, after salvation. They saw it as part and parcel of the salvation process that couldn’t be delayed. No wonder Philip baptised a man on his way from church, in the same clothes he wore to church! Philip didn’t care he was going to soil the man’s clothes and make him go home drenched! The man’s baptism was too vital and too urgent to be put off till a more convenient time when a change of clothing could be arranged!
The Acts 9:17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared to you in the way as you came, has sent me, that you might receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
The Acts 9:18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight immediately, and arose, and was baptized.
The Acts 22:12 And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelled there,
The Acts 22:13 Came to me, and stood, and said to me, Brother Saul, receive your sight. And the same hour I looked up on him.
The Acts 22:14 And he said, The God of our fathers has chosen you, that you should know his will, and see that Just One, and should hear the voice of his mouth.
The Acts 22:15 For you shall be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.
The Acts 22:16 And now why tarry you? arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
The Acts 16:25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God: and the prisoners heard them.
The Acts 16:26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.
The Acts 16:27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
The Acts 16:28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do yourself no harm: for we are all here.
The Acts 16:29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
The Acts 16:30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
The Acts 16:31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your house.
The Acts 16:32 And they spoke to him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
The Acts 16:33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
The Acts 19:1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,
The Acts 19:2 He said to them, Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed? And they said to him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
The Acts 19:3 And he said to them, To what then were you baptized? And they said, To John’s baptism.
The Acts 19:4 Then said Paul, John truly baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying to the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
The Acts 19:5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The Acts 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spoke with tongues, and prophesied.
The Acts 8:35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached to him Jesus.
The Acts 8:36 And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what does hinder me to be baptized?
The Acts 8:37 And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
The Acts 8:38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
The Acts 8:39 And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
In conclusion, water baptism in the New Testament is an integral and inseparable part of the salvation process, being coupled to repentance, for the remission of sins. It was ordained of God in the baptism of John and in the post-resurrection great commission Jesus entrusted to his apostles. Thus, according to Jesus, “he that believes and is baptised shall be saved”. It is only those who have repented and have been baptised by water that are qualified to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which completes the salvation process, making the person to be born of both water and the Spirit. Baptism is thus not a trivial afterthought to be conducted at a later date for those who have repented, but a necessary part of the salvation process, without which there would be no remission of sins. That’s what Jesus and his original apostles taught and practiced.
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