Is Water Baptism necessary for Salvation?

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There are differing views held about water baptism by different denominations. Some churches baptize by immersion, others by pouring and sprinkling. Some teach that only believers should be baptized while others say babies should be included.

I am particularly interested in addressing two views: one, infant baptism and two, the teaching that water baptism is essential to salvation – that it actually washes away sin or contributes to regeneration (baptismal regeneration).

Christian baptism had its origin in the command of Christ to make disciples and baptize them (Matt. 28:19). In the origination of this ordinance there is a particular order established.

The first act was to make disciples, then those disciples were to be baptized. This is the pattern that is carried out in the book of Acts:

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).

Only those who heard the gospel, understood it, and responded to it through faith and repentance were baptized. This eliminates infants who can neither believe in Christ nor repent.

Those who responded to Philip’s message first believed, then were baptized (Acts 8:12), similarly with the Ethiopian (Acts 8:38), with Paul (Acts 9:18), the Caeserean Gentiles (Acts 10:48), Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:32-33), and Crispus (Acts 18:8).

All of these references indicate that baptism follows belief; repentance and faith precede the ordinance of baptism.[1]

From these, it can be inferred that infant baptism is a heresy; one that prevents many from actually receiving Christ to be saved.

In Romans 3-5, Paul convincingly established the truth that salvation is by grace through faith. After indicating the depth of human sinfulness and emphasizing the failure of the law to bring salvation, he made it clear that the only way a holy God declares sinners righteous is through their faith in Christ, the perfect sacrifice for sin .

To demonstrate that human works have nothing to do with salvation, Paul pointed out that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (see 4:1-12).

He said in Romans 5:1 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He then drew an analogy between the first Adam, who brought condemnation and death by his one act of disobedience, and Jesus Christ, the last Adam, who provided justification and life for all through His one act of obedience.

Romans 6:2b “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” When a person receives the Lord Jesus as his Saviour, he dies to the domination of sin. Yes, in Christ believers have died to sin, and this is the truth signified in baptism.

By going down into the waters of baptism, we who have placed our trust in Christ testify that through our union with Him we have been buried with Him in His death.

Having died to sin, we are no longer under its condemnation or bondage. Then, our emergence from the waters of baptism signifies that through our union with the living Lord we have been raised from death with Him.

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).

Water baptism therefore, symbolically speaks of our identification with Christ. It’s the new believer’s first step of obedience and public testimony of a new life of peace with God. Rom. 6:3 says “Do you not know that as many of us were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?

When Paul made reference to believers being “baptized into Christ Jesus,” he used an expression that’s identical in construction to a statement in 1 Corinthians 10:2, where he said that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses.”

The Israelites, having already chosen to follow Moses out of Egypt, were openly identified with him when they passed through the Red Sea.

In like manner, we become followers of the Lord Jesus the moment we place our trust in Him. And in our baptism “into Christ Jesus,” we openly identify with Him as our leader and guide. [2]

Bible scholar F. F. Bruce had this to say about the statement “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” in Ephesians 4:5:

“Baptism in water continued to be the outward visible sign by which individuals who believed the gospel … were publicly incorporated into this spirit-baptized fellowship – “baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:27). It must be remembered that in New Testament times repentance and faith, regeneration and conversion, baptism in water, reception of the Holy Spirit, … admission to church fellowship…were all part of a complex of events which took place within a short time … Logically they were distinguishable, but in practice they were all bound up with the transition from the old life to the new.” [3]

Baptismal Regeneration “Proof texts”?

a) Mark 16:16 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned

This verse does not say that baptism saves or is essential to salvation. It’s those that don’t believe that will be condemned, not those who aren’t baptized. Jesus never baptized anyone. If baptism contributes to salvation, then Jesus is not a Saviour, let alone of the world.

The Bible is clear that salvation comes by believing the Gospel. “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21; see also, Jn. 3:16, 18, 36, Rom 1:16, 4:24).

Paul in fact, distinguished between baptism and the gospel: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17). He admits that he baptized only very few Corinthians, yet he said “for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15).

These verses refute the idea that baptism is essential to salvation.

b) Acts 2:38Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In this verse Peter was addressing a Jewish audience – the same people who not only cried out for the public execution of Christ but also declared, “His blood be on us and our children” (Mt. 27:25).

Peter wasn’t suggesting that baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, rather, he was calling for members of that generation which was guilty of having crucified Christ to separate themselves from a generation under the wrath of God.

That separation was to be publicly signified through baptism – a figure of Old Testament ceremonial washing. It signified that the people had received forgiveness of sin.

Greek scholar, A. T. Robertson has pointed out that the Greek preposition eis, translated “for” in the phrase “for the remission of sins,” may also mean because of.

An example of this can be found in Luke 11:32, where the text says that the people of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of Jonah.” The word at is a translation of the same Greek word eis found in Acts 2:38. The people in Jonah’s day didn’t repent for his preaching but because of it.

Some Greek scholars also state that the word eis translated “for” in Acts 2:38 may also mean, “with a view toward.” According to that possible meaning, the people to whom Peter was preaching to were to repent and be baptized with a view toward the forgiveness of their sins. Acts 2:38 does not teach that baptism brings remission of sins.

It must also be pointed out that Cornelius and his household became saved and were filled with the Holy Spirit before they were baptized in water (Acts 10:44-48). [4]

c) Acts 22:16 “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling upon the name of the Lord

The earlier explanation applies here. Ananias was speaking to the recently converted Saul of Tarsus. In trying to understand the meaning of what he said, we must follow this basic rule of Bible study: Interpret every verse in the light of the clear teaching set forth in Scripture.

Since the truth of justification by faith is declared plainly in the Bible, we know that Saul was forgiven and saved the very moment he met Christ on the Damascus road and believed on Him. The baptism couldn’t be to remit his sins any more than in the case of Christ (Mt. 3:16), the eunuch (Acts 8:37) or anyone else (1Cor. 1:13-24).

d) 1 Peter 3:20-21 “Who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. There is also an antitype which now saves us – baptism (not the removal of filth of the flesh but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

Peter wasn’t saying baptism has any saving power. The waters of the flood point to judgement (in that they resulted from the sins of the world) and salvation (in that they offered a means of deliverance through the ark).

In much the same way, the water of baptism symbolises both the judgement resulting from sin, and the cleansing and forgiveness which result only from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. [5]

In other words, as Noah and his family in the ark were “saved” by the very same waters that judged the rest of the world, so also the waters of God’s judgement poured out on Christ at Calvary for the sins of the world became the means whereby all who are in the ark of safety, the Lord Jesus Christ, are saved.

Notice again that Peter specifically says baptism doesn’t remove the filth of the flesh but is the answer of a good conscience toward God.

There is an inward spiritual cleansing that is experienced by only those who have received Christ’s forgiveness. Baptism itself doesn’t remove sin; it’s simply a symbolic testimony of an inner cleansing that has already occurred.

If salvation is by faith in Christ alone, then to add baptism as a condition for salvation is to reject the true gospel and thus to be eternally lost. To teach baptismal regeneration is to teach a false gospel which cannot save.


[1] Paul Enns, the Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Press, Chicago, 2008, 374

[2] Richard De Haan, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, 1994, Radio Bible Class, 6

[3] Epistle to the Ephesians, 1961, 70.

[4] Alister McGrath, NIV Bible Commentary, Hodder & Stroughton, London, 1996, 381.

[5] Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, pp 7-8.

2 thoughts on “Is Water Baptism necessary for Salvation?

  1. Another issue is the name Jesus Christ said in matthew 28 vs 19. He said Baptism should be done in d name of the father, Son and Holy Spirit. I realised that father is not a name but a title, Son is not a name but a title. The disciples baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Not in the name of father and Son and Holy spirit. My take is that, when Jesus said we should Baptise in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he was referring to Himself. That is the name of Jesus.

    Who Baptised John the Baptist and in what name did John the Baptist baptised people? I await your response sir. Thank you for the good work. May the Lord bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Like I said, there are different views of baptism adhered to by various churches. Some baptise with the formula “in the name of Jesus” while others say “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Some others, however, combine both phrases into a lengthy statement. Such differences are inconsequential, but the two heretical views the post addressed are worthwhile.

    In Matthew 28:19, “the name of” denotes three Divine Persons having equal authority. There is a distinction of Persons in the Godhead. The Father is not the same Person as the Son and the Son is not the same as the Holy Spirit. Those who argue otherwise subscribe to an old heresy called Modalism or Sabellianism. (the Oneness Pentecostals today adhere to this)

    To skip to your last question. We don’t know who baptised John (that is, if he was baptised at all) but his baptism is not the same as Christian baptism. There are about 4 types of water baptism in Scripture:

    1. The baptism unto Moses (1 Cor. 10:2)
    2. The baptism of John which is unto repentance (Mt. 21:25, Mk. 11:30, Acts 19:3).
    3. The baptism conducted by Christ’s disciples before the Cross (Jn. 4:1-2)
    4. Christian baptism (the “one baptism” we observe Eph. 4:4)

    The symbolism and immersion in these baptisms are the same. A Christian scholar of Church History has this to say:

    “It appears that at first there was no standard formula of Baptism. For examples, in Acts 2:38, the converts were exhorted to be “baptised in the name of Jesus Christ”; Cornelius and his household were “baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:18), while the twelve disciples of John were “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). However, it could be argued that such expressions were nothing other than an attempt to distinguish Christian Baptism from John’s at River Jordan. The Didache [one of the earliest Christian writings] later gives the formula for the administration of Baptism as follows

    “But concerning baptism, baptize thus: Having said beforehand all these things, baptize ye in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (Samson Fatokun, History and Doctrine of the Early Church, Enicrownfit: Ibadan, pp. 17-18).


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