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Is Baptism Essential for Salvation?

Is Baptism Essential for Salvation?

by Anthony Brockett

Originally published in
The Christian Informer
July, 1998


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Last updated:
July 28, 1998.

THE BIBLE IS BY NO MEANS SILENT about the subject of baptism.  The words "baptism", "baptize", or "baptized" occur ninety-three times in the New Testament, this not including the many inferences to the subject that are found in other scriptures.  There are many conflicting doctrines about this subject in the religious world today.  Every denomination or religious group has an opinion or practice about baptism that is different from the others; and so different have been the views on the subject that it has even been the source of debate among and between religious bodies.  Perhaps the problem lies in a failure to understand what baptism is and its spiritual significance to Christianity.  As with any subject dealing with spiritual matters, the Bible must be our primary source of reference, whether it be by direct command or by necessary inference.  With the subject of baptism, there is little doubt about its importance to the doctrine of Christ, as baptism is a command given by the Savior himself in the great commission.  What about baptism?  How does it relate to the Christian and salvation?  Is baptism essential for one to be saved?

WHAT IS BAPTISM?

To understand the importance of baptism to the Christian life, it is necessary to fully understand what it is and what it involves.  The word "baptism" originates from the Greek work "baptisma" which describes the "process of immersion, submersion, and emergence" (W.E. Vine).  The act of baptism is described by the Greek word "baptisma" meaning to dip or immerse.

The Greek words are of special importance in any Bible study because the English language Bible that we have today was taken from the original and early manuscripts of the New Testament, which were written in Greek.  Thus, to truly understand the meaning of a word or phrase in the modern Bible, it is necessary to go back to the Greek text to comprehend its original meaning.  There can be little doubt that the Greek words dealing with baptism in the New Testament describe it as being an act or process by which a person is "dipped, immersed, or submerged" (Vine).  Even this characteristic of baptism has been lost in the modern world.  Many denominations today do not require immersion, but merely "sprinkling" or "pouring" water upon one's head.  But this cannot be the original intent of the scriptures, because of the very meaning of the word "baptism" itself.  Besides this, there are other scriptures dealing with the symbolism of baptism that also discount the practices of many today.

THE COMMAND

Few can deny that baptism is an essential part of Christianity and the doctrine of Christ.  This is one command that the Savior himself gave to his disciples. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus, in the announcing of the great commission, said: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and of the Holy Ghost."  This same command is echoed in the words of Jesus in the account of Mark in Mark 16:15-16 where he says: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned."  Also, by inference, Jesus clearly speaks of the connection between baptism and entering the kingdom of God.  In John 3:5 Jesus says: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."  It is quite clear that as Jesus commanded his disciples to "go and teach" that an essential part of this doctrine required that all who believed their words concerning Jesus were to be baptized.  Part of "preaching the gospel to every creature" was not only teaching the existence and divinity of the Savior, but also, on that belief, they were to be baptized.

PEOPLE ON PENTECOST

The Bible records that his disciples did indeed preach and do as the Lord had commanded.  We find that Peter, shortly after the Lord's ascension, preached to the crowds on the day of Pentecost, in Jerusalem.  In Acts 2:37-38 it is recorded: "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..."  Very clearly, Peter was echoing the words of Jesus in the great commission message: to go forth and preach and baptize those who believe.  Peter was later teaching, and in Acts 10:48 says concerning Peter's words: "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord."

PHILIP IS CONVERTED

In the story of Philip preaching in Acts chapter 8, we find that evidently Philip also preached baptism.  In verse 12 we find: "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."  Philip also preached to the Eunuch later in the same chapter.  By the Eunuch's response, it is evident that he preached baptism to him as well.  Acts 8:35-365 records: "Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.  And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water; and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?"  Then in verse 38 it is recorded: "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."

SAUL, OF TARSUS

In the famous story of the conversion of Saul in Acts 9, we find that the Lord appeared to him along the Damascus road, and records Saul (Paul) as saying in verse 6: "And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me do?  And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do."  What happened then?  Paul went on to Damascus, and met a man named Ananias, who had been chosen by the Lord to talk to Saul, and Ananias told him what he needed to do.  Verse 18 says: "And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales; and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized."  It is evident that Paul did not just spontaneously suggest baptism, but it must have been a part of the Lord's instructions to Ananias.  Obviously, Ananias taught Saul the necessity of baptism.  To not have done so would have been a denial of one of the basic teachings of Jesus Christ.  However, we know that Ananias did teach baptism. In Paul's account of the event in Acts 22, Paul spoke of Ananias and his words, beginning in verse 12.  In verse 16 Paul quoted Ananias as saying: "And now why tarriest thou? arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord."  After Paul's conversion, he also taught the necessity of baptism.

LYDIA AND HER FAMILY

In Acts 16 beginning at verse 14, he preached to a woman named Lydia and her family.  There it is recorded: "And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshiped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken by Paul.  And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there."  By this account, it is quite evident that Paul taught the necessity of baptism, as this woman and her entire family followed his teachings by being baptized.

THE JAILER

Later in that same chapter, the story is told about the jailer who was guarding Paul and Silas in prison.  In Acts 16:30 the jailer asks them, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?  And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.  And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway."  We find that Paul must have taught baptism, because when the jailer and his family believed their words, they were baptized that same hour.  They didn't wait on some church council to convene and vote on their membership, nor did they give them a grace period to test their faith, but immediately after the jailer and his house affirmed their belief in Jesus Christ, they were baptized.  Wouldn't it be nice if church membership were as simple today as it was back then!  It is, when it is done the Bible way!  It is very evident that the necessity of baptism is taught by the scriptures, both by the explicit commands of the Lord himself, and by his very apostles who worked and preached in the years after the cross.    7429 Oceanline Dr.
   Indianapolis, IN 46214

[One of the remarkable facts that becomes quite clear from this study is that in every conversion the person or persons were baptized.  Even though it must have taken much time and effort to accomplish it, three thousand converts were baptized on the day of Pentecost.  And as our brother points out the Lord made them members of the church that very day (Acts 2:47).  We hope to carry brother Brockett's "The Purposes of Baptism" next time, Lord willing.  --R.N.]

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