The question rages on among Christians. Believers ask: "I confess that Jesus is both the Son of God and Savior of the world. But do I still need to be baptised to be saved?" To try and answer this question, let's take a look at what the scriptures have to say...
Obviously, there are a number of passages in God's word which speak about salvation. And while most everyone agrees that faith in Jesus Christ as Lord is necessary, the question of baptism doesn't seem to be as universally accepted.
Some of the most well known verses about eternal salvation do in fact include the statement that baptism is necessary for eternal life. As one example,(Mark 16:16) says:
"Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved..."
However, other well known texts do not state anything about being baptised for salvation. One such verse is found in (Ephesians 2:8), where we find:
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God."
So which is it? Do we receive God's grace through faith alone, or by both faith AND baptism? And why do we have this question of baptism in the first place? Well, one possible answer might lie with "John the Baptizer" and in the Jewish understanding of baptism.
In (Mark 1:4) we read:"And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." According to "The NIV Study Bible, copyright 1995, pg.1491," commentators make this observation:
"repentance...involves deliberate turning from sin to righteousness, and John's emphsis on repentance recalls the preaching of the prophets (e.g. Hosea 3:4-5)...John was preaching repentance -baptism, i.e. baptism that was preceeded or accompained by repentance. Baptism was not new to John's audience. They knew of baptism for Gentile converts, but had not heard that the descendants of Abraham (Jews) needed to repent and be baptised."
The Jewish community knew that they were "the chosen people of God." And, as such, they were the Old Testament "Bride of God." They had the Lord's special law, but they believed they also had a sort of impunity regarding punishment under that law. Had they considered the entire message of the prophets, they may have better understood God's word.
With the coming of Christ, the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled. A new era of "grace through faith" had begun, and it was to apply to EVERYONE, Jew and Gentile alike! Today, God speaks to everyone through His Son, Christ Jesus, (Hebrews 1: 1-2). The church is the current day "Bride of Christ," (Ephesians 5: 22-30). Further, all who would seek out God and eternal salvation have to do so through belief in His Son, (John 14:6).
And there it is again; another verse about faith in Christ which has no mention of baptism. So once again, we arrive right back at the original question. Is baptism necessary for eternal life?
Perhaps a clearer understanding of baptism is necessary. Again, let's turn to a passage of scripture which tells of a difference between the baptism of John and that of Christ Jesus. In (John 1:24-27), we read these words.
"Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him (John the Baptizer), 'Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?' 'I baptize with water,' John replied, 'but among you stands one (Jesus) you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.' "
Then, in (V33), John continues: "I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God."
Referring once more to "The NIV Study Bible," pg. 1591 the commentators note "John baptized with water, but Jesus would baptize with the Spirit. If a specific event is intended by these words, the fulfillment was the sending of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Ac.2)."
And it is there, in the second chapter of Acts, that we may finally have our answer. Turn now to the happenings recorded for us in (Acts 2: 1-38). We will not read the entire passage here, but a short summary is necessary.
The Apostles, (with Matthias replacing Judas Iscariot), had met together on the day of the "Feast of Harvest," also called the Passover. It was a greatly celebrated occasion, and people from every nation under heaven met this day in Jerusalem. As the Apostles sat in an upper room, suddenly a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house.
It was the Holy Spirit being bestowed upon them as was promised by Jesus Christ. The Spirit was to be their "Helper" now in the physical absence of Christ who had just risen from the grave and ascended back into heaven.
Following this, the Apostles all began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them. When the large crowd heard this, they gathered to see them. As more and more people assembled around them, they were amazed because each one of them heard the Apostles speaking in his own native language simultaneously!
At first, they accused the Apostles of being "drunk on wine." But Peter stood, along with the eleven, and addressed the crowd. He first pointed out that it was only 9:00 A.M. The traditional "morning fast" was not to be broken any earlier than 10:00 A.M. Peter then went on to explain that what they were hearing was the words of the prophet Joel, see (Joel 2: 28-32).
Peter went on to proclaim that Jesus, the man whom the Jews had just crucified, was by their own scriptures, both the Lord and Christ sent from God! Peter's words must have been very moving because many of them were touched in their hearts at what they had done. They asked Peter what they could do about their horrible deed.
In (Acts 2:38), Peter gave them, (and all of us), the answer: "Peter replied, '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."
It is in this reply that we have our answer! In order to be saved, we must receive the Holy Spirit. For that to happen, we must be baptised. If belief alone were satisfactory for salvation, all who were "touched in the heart" by Peter's message would have been saved, then and there!
But Peter, as guided by the Holy Spirit, told those who had just believed in Jesus Christ that they also had to be baptised for forgiveness of sins! He would not have said that if it were not essential to salvation and eternal life...
Yet, despite this obvious, clear-cut evidence, the debate over baptism continues! To any who may remain unconvenced, consider this:
God went to extremes to show that baptism was an important part of His will. He explained it's importance through much scripture and made example of it in the lives of both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Even the Lord Himself felt it significant enough that He was baptised.
If Jesus taught baptism in both word and deed, I'd certainly include it in my Christian life!