Bible Question:

Please look at these scriptures regarding baptism. I believe that baptism is required for salvation. John 3:1-7 says that we must be born again of water and the spirit. Jesus taught that this was necessary by his use of the word must (v. 7). Acts 2:36-38 reads that Peter says we must repent and be baptized. And Romans 6:3-4 indicates that the Bible never says that we don't have to be baptized to be saved. But Jesus said we must be born again of water and the spirit to enter the kingdom of God.

Bible Answer:

There are four points to consider in answering your questions:

First

We need to honestly ask ourselves the following question. Why, if baptism is the key difference between eternal life with God or eternal life in hell why does it ONLY show up in four places in the New Testament “as a condition of salvation?” There are also two other questions on this topic. That is a serious question since there are at least 25 other times baptism is never mentioned as a condition of salvation.

Second

There are two key passages we need to look at. Luke 7:50 is the first passage. Here Jesus has just turned to a woman who had washed His feet and says,

And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Hebrews 10:16-18 (NASB)

Notice He did not say that her faith and baptism saved her. He said that her faith saved her. That is all!

The second passage is the most significant. We find the apostle Peter speaking,

Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. Acts 10:43 (NASB)

While Peter was still speaking . . . the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message and all . . . who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also . . . Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” Acts 10:44-47 (NASB)

God tells us in Acts 10:43 that Cornelius and his family were saved by faith without being baptized. Notice the Holy Spirit comes upon these new believers and Peter is surprised. Not until verse 47 does Peter say there is no reason not to let them be baptized. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is proof Cornelius and his family were Christians (1 Cor. 12:13), not baptism by water. Water baptism did not save them. Baptism is only a symbol of an inward reality. Baptism is commanded in scripture as an act of obedience – as a statement that Jesus is our Savior. (Rom 6:3-4).

Third

If baptism is essential for eternal life, then the thief who hung on a cross next to Jesus never made it to heaven. But that is not what Jesus said. Jesus DID promise the thief eternal life because He believed (Luke 23:42-43). The thief died on the cross. He never had a chance to be baptized, but he did go to heaven – he believed – he trusted Jesus.

Fourth

The discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus starts in John 3:1 and goes until verse 21. Baptism is not mentioned in John 3:1-7. It is important to note that just because we see water in scripture, we should not conclude it refers to baptism. Water was a symbol of becoming spiritually clean (Ezek. 36:25-27). The Jews were preoccupied with ritual cleansing. The concept is not unusual today. For example, the Roman Catholic Church uses “holy water” and so do the Hindus and Muslims. John the Baptist did not allow someone to be baptized unless they had confessed their sins.

Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. Matthew 3:5-6 (NASB)

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. Mark 1:4-5 (NASB)

For the Jew in Jesus’ day, water symbolized cleansing from sin. Men and women do not come to God until they see their need for God and Jesus tried to explain that our need was to be cleansed from our sin. We must start with the fact that we are sinners and then we can be born of the Spirit.

Notice that Nicodemus asks Jesus in verse 9, “How can these things be?” How does Jesus respond? Sixteen verses later He says,

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NASB)

Jesus had already explained that we must understand our need for cleansing. Jesus does not include baptism or water because it does cleans a person from their sins – believing in Jesus does. God’s forgiveness of our sins does not depend on something we do but on Jesus’ sacrificial death (Rom. 4:5; James 2:14-26). Salvation is not by works but by a GIFT of faith (Eph. 2:8-9).

Conclusion:

By faith in Jesus we enter heaven. By baptism we show our submission to Jesus. Baptism is an act of obedience. Believe and be baptized!

Reference Links:

God's Great Passion
Is Baptism Required For Salvation?
Do you believe that baptism is a part of salvation?
Is baptism symbolic?
Do I need to be baptized as an adult?