Is baptism essential to salvation?

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Many people believe that water baptism is not essential to a person’s salvation. Dear reader, if you happen to be in that number, I urge you to take your bible in hand and study along with me as we discuss this vital topic.

When you examine the cases of conversion to Christ as they are recorded in the book of Acts, you will discover that baptism is that act that stood between the sinner and salvation in every case, without exception. Please note with me some of these accounts, in the space allotted me in this article. 

Let’s begin in Acts 2. Here the apostle Peter is preaching salvation, in the name of Jesus, the resurrected Lord, for the first time in the city of Jerusalem. This happened just as Jesus foretold it in Luke 24:47.  On this occasion the Holy Spirit came on the apostles in Acts 2:1-4. The Spirit was to guide the apostles “into all the truth”, John 16:13. The apostles, including Peter, would be speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Our reading begins in verse 14 that Peter raised his voice and preached Christ and Him crucified. He preached about the facts of the gospel that the men in Jerusalem had to believe. The audience reacted by being cut to the heart. They asked Peter and the other apostles what they needed to do. Peter responded by telling them to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, Acts 2:38. He told them in verse 40 to “save yourselves from this untoward generation”, (KJV).

How would they save themselves? Man cannot save himself, right??? No, man cannot save himself apart from God. But when God provides the means to be saved, then man can take advantage of God’s mercy and grace. The working together of God’s grace, mercy and man’s faith in response to the word preached is seen in this text. In Acts 2:41 we read, “those who gladly received his word were baptized…”. They were baptized in order for the remission of sins, Acts 2:38. Again, the only thing standing in the way for the penitent believer was baptism. 

Later in the book of Acts we find Philip the evangelist.  In Acts 8 he takes the gospel of Christ to the region of Samaria. In verse 26 we read where the Spirit directed Philip to go to a certain chariot that was traveling back from Jerusalem. That chariot contained a person who served Candace the Queen of Ethiopia. He was her treasurer and was himself a eunuch. He was reading from the prophet Isaiah about a person he did not yet know about. Philip asks the Eunuch if he understood what he was reading. The Eunuch responded in Acts 8:31 by saying, “how can I unless someone man guides me?"  Beginning at that same scripture Philip preached Jesus to the Eunuch. We know from Philip’s preaching earlier in this same chapter in Samaria that when he preached Christ, his message included teaching about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus, Acts 8:12. It also included instructions about baptism.

How do we know this? We know this because the Samaritans were baptized as stated at the end of verse 12. Why would they be baptized? Peter told us in Acts 2:38 that repenting and being baptized is for the remission of sins. For the remission of sins means they repented and were baptized so that they could be forgiven of their sins. Now back to the eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. Philip must have taught the Eunuch about baptism. How do we know this? The Eunuch asked Philip in verse 36, as they passed by some water, “here is water, what hinders me from being baptized?" Philip tells him that he can be baptized if he believes with all his heart.

The Eunuch makes that good confession of faith, Romans 10:10, and then he is baptized in water, Acts 8:37-38. Coming up out of the water, the Eunuch went on his way rejoicing, after he was baptized. Why? Jesus tells us in Mark 16:16 that “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved”.  He goes on his way rejoicing because he has been forgiven of his sins. This being the final act of obedience that stood between the Eunuch and being saved? This man who had believed in Jesus Christ still needed to be baptized to be saved.

What about the Philippian Jailor in Acts 16?  Paul and Silas were locked in the prison that he was in charge of. An earthquake occurred at midnight and caused all the doors to open and chains to be loosed.  The jailor was about to kill himself, believing the prisoners had escaped.  But Paul called out to him saying “do yourself no harm, we are all here”, Acts 16:28. The jailor brought out Paul and Silas and asked them what he needed to do to be saved.

Note that this is the same question that the Jews asked Peter in Acts 2:37. Here Paul tells the jailor, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you and your household, and you will be saved.”  It may appear here to the reader that there is a contradiction in Peter’s instructions in Acts 2 and Paul’s in Acts 16, but quite the contrary. The jailor was then taught the word of God, Acts 16:32. Hearing the word is what produces faith, Romans 10:17. The jailor, along with his household, were baptized the “same hour of the night” Acts 16:33.  The urgency of being baptized is shown in the American Standard Version text by use of the word “immediately. What stood between the jailor and salvation from sin in this text?  Baptism!

Last we will consider the case of the Corinthians. This is found in Acts 18 here Paul taught the gospel of Christ in the city of Corinth while visiting the synagogues, Acts 18:4-5. Paul got resistance from some of the Jews in verses 6 and 7 and decided to go to the house of Justus who lived next door to the synagogue. From Paul’s preaching found in Acts 18:8, “many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized”, this being the results. 

This is the pattern that is consistent from the giving of the great commission of Christ in Mark 16:16 all the way through the cases of conversion listed in the book of Acts. People who heard the gospel, developed faith in Christ and were baptized were saved. What final act obedience stood between the Corinthians and salvation? Baptism! 

Baptism of the penitent believer is for the remission of sins. What hinders you from being baptized?  Paul said, “For you are all sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ…”Galatians 3:26-27. I have made an appeal in this article to the scriptures, not my opinion nor my own philosophy. I exhort the reader to seek truth based upon a “Thus says the Lord”, not on the teachings and wisdom of men, 1 Corinthians 2:1-2.  There is a way seems right to a man, but the end is the way of death, Proverbs 14:12.

Robert Knowles is a member of the McArthur Heights Church of Christ and can be reached at Rknowles5@juno.com.