Is Baptism really Necessary?

Last post I quoted Jesus from John 3 : He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Condemnation comes by disbelief in Jesus and not by failing the baptism test, a test which many people demand to be set before others to make sure they are acceptable to God. As important a place as baptism is in the whole scheme of things (and yes, I have been baptised as a believer and yes, I have baptised others who believed) the New Testament as a whole does not support the view that baptism is necessary for salvation.

Let me repeat : If baptism is necessary for salvation, then millions upon millions of believers who have failed to be baptised as believers,  no matter how godly and how full of the love of Jesus, will face condemnation.

In Mark 16 we read He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

You cannot use this verse to mean that believers who are not baptised or baptised as believers will be condemned. No. This is all about believing. Without believing, baptism does nothing. There are many who i know who were baptised but they do not confess faith in Christ. Faith is the currency of the Kingdom of God, not what we do. If you believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, changing completely around from the heart (metanoia), you are justified in God’s sight (Romans 3:21-26; 4:1-5; 5:1-2, 10-11; 8:1-4; 10:9-10).  Baptism is an immersion into a state already established as has been shown.

Repentance and faith bring us into the Kingdom. Baptism can then follow—people are baptised as believers –‘believers baptism’! So the Ethiopian after believing Philip says “What is to prevent my being baptised?”—the desire came from his heart, having believed. Then later at the house of Cornelius Peter says “how could anyone forbid water for baptising these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47) Baptism was a privilege following an experience with the Holy Spirit even without any reference to repentance!

Sometimes ‘baptism’ has nothing to do with immersion in water. It can mean the immersing of the person or persons in a spiritual experience. Here are examples of baptism used in a spiritual sense in the New Testament.

Noah and family were immersed into the terrifying covenant of salvation from judgment (1 Peter 3).  And the Israelite ancestors were immersed into Moses in the sea and the cloud as a profound experience of salvation from the Egyptian Pharoah’s army (1 Corinthians 10). But neither Noah and family nor the children of Israel were immersed in water. In both cases it was the unbelievers who were immersed in water (and drowned). But the believers were immersed in the most dramatic events and were saved. Neither Paul nor Peter taught that water baptism saves. In the same letter Peter had already stated emphatically that God has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead  . . . “ (1 Peter 1:3-5)

We also see Jesus stressed at the prospect of the most traumatic experience—His sacrificial and atoning death for us all: I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed  (Luke 12:50).

And again, His reply to the disciples who asked for the best places in the Kingdom of God was Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? (Mark 10:38)

Many commentators take baptism to be part of the gospel. So David Pawson points to Matthew 28:19-20 teaching that “making disciples is in two steps—first, by immersing them; second, by teaching them to live in the way Jesus had instructed”.  But in saying this David has omitted the essential steps of repentance and faith.  Disciple-making begins with repentance and faith. Also this “baptism” goes well beyond water to be seen as an immersing in the character, the kingdom, the life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, especially when we read that in the rest of the New Testament, water baptism was practised consistently only “in the name of Jesus”.

Certainly, water baptism has an important place in establishing a good foundation right at the start for new Christians. But that is just the beginning—discipleship is an ongoing perseverance, a dying daily, a determined transformation of the mind as Paul would insist (Romans 6:3-8; 8:13; 12:1-2) in all his letters.

I hope to address further how the apostle Paul sees baptism and its place of value for the new believer, in my next post.

2 responses to “Is Baptism really Necessary?

  1. Damian Anderson

    Hi Ian,
    I have only just started looking at your blog and it looks like good stuff. I loved your previous post about being born again. So far you are the only person I have come across that shows an understanding of this scripture in John 3 that agrees with what I have been teaching. I am not stating that I have the exclusive truth, just sharing my observation.

    Thank you for the baptism post also. I would just like to add a little to what you have shared as it would be ridiculous to be comprehensive here. I will try to not go too long. If we put baptism in to the salvation package then we call God a liar in much of the new testament, as the majority does not mention it and God’s word must agree.  In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul is correcting a childish church and predominantly discussing their desire to be in someone other than Christ without their realizing it, as he discusses baptizing to another. Paul then tells them in verse 17 “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” Paul is addressing a specific problem with understanding and behaviour but he does also differentiate between baptism and the gospel. As he continues in his letter he expounds about Christ and Godly wisdom and comes to verses 30 and 31 where he writes, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” And so as believers we are of God in Christ, who delivered to us, the now justified, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, and we are justified by faith. So he concludes that they must glory in the Lord, not in the outward which is fleshly including his original point about baptism. I agree with many that baptism is important and commanded, but I do not believe it is necessary for salvation and neither a part of the gospel. All the epistles agree with living as Christ and being set free to do so and warns of being trapped in ordinances. Truly our key to scripture is with agreeing with and understanding the mind of Christ in us as believers so we can be mature and selfless, following after the nature of our Father. One of the passages quoted at times in baptism discussion is 1 Peter 3:21, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:” but the second half of the verse is generally omitted where Paul is explaining that the immersion doesn’t cleanse us of sin but Christ’s finished work does through faith. Once again if we look at Acts 2:38, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” we must use a key to unlocking this that agrees throughout the new testament. If we make this isolated, then we are declaring God to be a liar because we make him inconsistent. Was Peter declaring something new to these Jews? No. As you have highlighted that baptism is integral in Hebrew culture and not new to them, but the remission of sins was and an understanding through John the Baptist that repentance and baptism is about the heart and behaviour, above just the act of covering. The Jews were not scrambling to get baptized (again) but to have their sins remitted. They were pricked in their heart because they were understanding that this Jesus they had murdered is the Messiah and he has now given them the ability to have their sin remitted not just atoned. In Matthew 3:5-11 “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, [6] And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. [7] But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? [8] Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: [9] And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. [10] And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. [11] I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:” Part of John’s point was that baptism doesn’t save but repentance does and baptism is the outward expression of it. The Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to have their sins washed away without any change of heart or behaviour as evidence and John rebukes them because the act of baptism wasn’t what was important. John was preparing their hearts as we read in Malachi, so Israel will not stay focused on ritualistic following of the law without a change of heart or behaviour, as ritual doesn’t change a man but relationship with his Creator does. As earthly fathers we are not satisfied with empty repentance from our children where they may say and act as if repentant and just do things that look right, because there is no repentance of the heart. I am not suggesting that generally Christian’s aren’t sincere when they get baptized but I am trying to highlight the perspective I believe God places in His word. Just as Paul writes about circumcision, that if not of the heart then it doesn’t necessitate being a Jew because it is only outward. Baptism only becomes a powerful experience because our faith in God is powerful and obedience demonstrates this to God. Romans 2:25-29 highlights that the righteousness of the law is not held in the outward symbol, but in keeping the law in faith. A big part of unlocking truth from scripture is about having a single eye, understanding God’s nature and character and from that place applying keys which unlock all scripture and not just small pockets. Psalm 2:12 says to kiss the Son and put your trust in him, not with your physical presentation before him. God is social and all about relationship, not specifically in ritualistic behaviour. Rituals and observance should be a heart response to obedience and love. Abraham didn’t act in obedience with circumcision because he thought that he was going to receive anything, but he acted in love and faith. After we believe we shouldn’t be baptized to get salvation from God, but to demonstrate our love for God and through our faith we do receive of God.

    • Thanks Damian. Your comments are masterly and show a great maturity in understanding the scriptures and how to interpret right across the whole New Testament corpus–in fact the whole Holy Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. Thanks so much for filling in the gaps in my posts and replies. You have left me with less to do in my next installment! Again I say, this is excellent. Thank you Damian.

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