Christian Beliefs 101
The Importance of Water Baptism

Importance of Water Baptism

Importance of Water Baptism

The importance of water baptism cannot be overstated as it is at the heart of the process of conversion for the new Christian. The Early Church understood the importance of water baptism which is demonstrated in the book of Acts in many passages.

There are approximately 17 separate occasions in which water baptism is mentioned in the New Testament (not counting the references to John the Baptist’s baptism as his baptism was in the Old Testament) with 14 of them being in the book of Acts. These references in the book of Acts are significant as they are mentioned as the new Church begins to grow and people start to understand their new and unique relationship with God our Father through his son Jesus because of the salvation experience and water baptism.

Understanding the importance of water baptism as a requirement for salvation is a controversial subject in the world of Christianity. There are some that teach in order to be saved you must be baptized in water. Then there are those that teach that water baptism is not necessary for salvation. Both sides will provide scriptures to make their case. Some preachers will present scriptures that they know are highly subjective and try to pass them off as obviously supporting their position. What we will do here, to set us apart, is to present you with the evidence on both sides and then you make the decision as to what you want to believe about the relationship of water baptism to the salvation experience and the importance of water baptism in general.

There are many occasions in the book of Acts (see New Testament Scriptures About Water Baptism) that talk about water baptism as occurring almost immediately around the time that a person accepts the message of salvation. Many of these instances seem to support the idea that salvation and water baptism are tied together. You can argue for the merits of the importance of water baptism being required for salvation or you can argue against it.

If you are not sure about which side is correct, and you haven’t been baptized in water, then the bottom line for you is actually quite simple. It should boil down to only one primary question (with a whole lot of followup questions)—what if? What if I don’t get baptized in water? What will happen to me then? Is there a consequence? Will I make it into Heaven? Will being baptized in water affect my relationship with God? Will it bring me closer? With that last question alone it would seem that anyone who is struggling with whether to get baptized in water would end the mystery and just get baptized. If getting closer to God through water baptism was a possibility for the believer why wouldn’t you do it?

What Did Jesus Say About Water Baptism

Jesus said believe and be baptized. This should underscore the importance of water baptism for all whether you believe it is necessary for salvation or not. If he meant what he said then it would probably be a good idea to get baptized in water. In the early New Testament church it seemed like everyone else did.

15 And he, speaking to them said, “Pursue the journey into all the world, publish and proclaim the gospel openly to every creature.
16 Those that believe and are baptized will be saved; but these who do not believe will be condemned. —Mark 16:15-16

Was Cornelius & His Family Saved Before Being Baptized in Water?

Jesus was quite clear in the scripture above that water baptism and salvation were tied together. But then there are those who believe that the story of Cornelius the Centurion represents salvation as being separate from water baptism. The example set forth in Acts 10:43-48 where Peter is speaking to Cornelius and his family seems to indicate that you can be saved aside from baptism in water. People who argue that water baptism isn’t necessary for salvation will use this section of scripture, and others, to make their point.

43 To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.
45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered,
47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days. —Acts 10:43-48

In this passage of scripture we have Peter talking to Cornelius and his family about the Gospel message. While doing so Cornelius and his family receive the Holy Spirit baptism (this is not not water baptism). This means that they must have been saved, right? At this point they had not been baptized in water but they were obviously saved because they heard the word of God and the Holy Spirit fell on them. They didn’t even have the opportunity to say they accepted Jesus as Peter was still speaking. This is one of the arguments that is made in support of the idea that water baptism is not required for salvation. This makes sense but you will also notice that immediately after they were filled with the Holy Spirit Peter commanded that they be baptized in water.

The second scripture used frequently by those who don’t believe water baptism is a requirement for salvation is Mark 16:15-16 listed above. I believe this is a cheap shot for making their case as it is an irrelevant point—and those that present it know it. Or at least they should know it.

They say that the second part of verse 16 justifies their position since Jesus says that if you don’t believe you will be condemned. The naysayers will state that Jesus didn’t say, “but those who do not believe and are not baptized (and are not baptized are my words to illustrate the point here) will be condemned.” Their argument is that “and are not baptized” is not mentioned so it must not be a requirement for salvation in the first place. Why is this disingenuous on their part? Because if you don’t believe in Jesus you aren’t going to be baptized in water anyway.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you buy a ticket to go to a ball game. You know when you buy your ticket and go to the game they are going to let you in because you have a ticket. Once inside you can buy many things like merchandise or food and drinks and you get to watch the game. But if you don’t buy a ticket you can’t get inside. You know that if you can’t get inside you aren’t going to be able to buy anything or watch the game. So is it really necessary to mention or list all the things you can’t do or buy because you didn’t have a ticket to get in? Of course not, it’s irrelevant.

The most important scripture used to support the position that salvation is not tied to water baptism is Ephesians 2:8-9. This is a very convincing scripture and it is 100% correct. We are saved by faith alone. But this scripture is talking about what it takes to be saved not the process of being saved. To be saved we must have faith in what Jesus did on the cross. The process of salvation involves repentance and maybe water baptism!

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. —Ephesians 2:8

I am not trying to defend the possible requirement that water baptism and salvation are intertwined. I’m merely stating that it seems like just about everyone in the New Testament understood the importance of water baptism as most of the examples of baptisms occurred very quickly around the time of the salvation experience.

Additional scriptures support what Jesus said. Other scriptures definitely seem to contradict the requirement of water baptism for salvation. For example we have the scripture from the Apostle Paul below. At first glance it appears that Paul is saying that water baptism isn’t necessary for salvation. But a second look might possibly reveal another meaning.

17 for Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. —1 Corinthians 1:17

The use of this scripture to show that water baptism isn’t necessary for salvation is actually pretty weak. Paul could simply have meant here that while water baptism is required for salvation, he wasn’t going to be the one to submerge people in water. Maybe Paul didn’t want to get wet. Maybe he was to short or too weak to pull people out of the water. Who knows? But it doesn’t mean that water baptism and salvation are necessarily separate. In Acts 19:1-6 Paul encounters some believers who were baptized into John’s baptism (the Old Testament baptism) and had not heard of the Holy Spirit. When Paul told them about Jesus they were baptized in water and then they were baptized in the Holy Spirit.

1 And it came to pass while Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the upper regions and finding some disciples
2 he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.”
4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”
5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.  —Acts 19:1-6

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

If Jesus says in one place that in order to be saved you must believe in him and be baptized, then it might be a good idea to be baptized in water—just in case, right? Even though in other places in the New Testament there are scriptures that talk about salvation without mentioning water baptism.

So, what if we are missing something in our understanding of water baptism? What if we aren’t seeing the entire context? What if the Devil has stepped in and muddied the waters over the years in order to prevent people from being saved and not believing that water baptism is essential for salvation or a growing relationship with God? I’m not saying that water baptism is necessary for salvation, but what if? The book of Acts, the beginning of the Church, is full of instances where people accepted the Gospel message and then were baptized in water.

Is it so difficult to go and be baptized in water? Go to the beach with a Christian friend, or go to a pool, a pond or a church or a hot-tub, or even a bathtub. Is having someone push you under the water and you coming up recognizing that you are now a part of the body of Christ so hard?

Is it important enough for you to even consider water baptism? If you decide to do it in one of the ways mentioned above it would probably be appropriate to have your friend, or you, say a few words at the very least, like, “I’m being baptized.” I mean just in case. Remember, in the early Church it appears that just about everyone was baptized in water around the time of their salvation experience. It doesn’t matter whether you believe water baptism is necessary for salvation or it isn’t. I highly recommend that you get baptized in water!

New Testament Scriptures About Water Baptism

“These that believe and are baptized will be saved…” —Mark 16:16

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…” —Acts 2:38

“Those who gladly received his word were baptized…” —Acts 2:41

“…both men and women were baptized…” —Acts 8:12

“Then Simon himself believed…and when he was baptized…” —Acts 8:13

“They had only been baptized into the Lord Jesus.” —Acts 8:16

“See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” —Acts 8:36

“…Philip and the eunuch went down in the water, and he baptized him.” —Acts 8:38

“…he received his sight…he arose and was baptized.” —Acts 9:18

“Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized…” —Acts 10:47

“…she and her household were baptized…” —Acts 16:15

“And immediately he and all his family were baptized.” —Acts 16:33

“And many Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.” —Acts 18:8

“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” —Acts 19:5

“…Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins…” —Acts 22:16

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” —1 Corinthians 12:12

“…whoever has been baptized into Christ clothes one’s self with Christ.” —Galatians 3:27

“There is an antitype which now saves us—baptism.” —1 Peter 3:21

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Gregg F. Swift, J.D.