A friend emailed me and asked why I believe baptism is necessary for salvation. Here's my quick reply. I realize it's not the most eloquent, but with a four month old on my lap as I type, it'll have to do.
“He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” --Mark 16:6
My friend asks: How is requiring people to be baptized for salvation different than requiring Gentiles to be circumcised?
Paul, in Galatians 5:15, answers that question. He says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” How do we become a new creation? John 3:5 makes clear that one must be saved by being born again.
Circumcision was a remnant of the old covenant that Jews could not let go of. Baptism, however, was instated by Jesus as necessary for salvation. Jesus does this by his example, his directions and, by his commission of Peter holding the keys of the kingdom:
First, there is Jesus’ example in Matt 3: 13-17. Jesus himself was baptized and immediately after, God’s voice came down from heaven and said “listen to him”—that is, be like Jesus—doing what he says and imitating his lifestyle. Jesus said in Luke 13: 24 that many will try to be saved but will not be and that Christians should make every effort to enter in through the narrow door. Jesus went on to command that his followers go on and baptize others (Matt. 28:18-20).
Jesus also gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, meaning that Peter was to be the one in the early days dictating how believers were to enter the kingdom. Peter, filled by the Holy Spirit, commanded believers who wanted to be saved to, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the forgiveness of Sins that you may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Baptism was THE way Peter told the group to get rid of their sin and receive salvation. This was also a necessary condition to receive the Holy Spirit.
There are plenty of verses that make clear baptism is necessary for salvation:
Romans 6: 3-5 makes baptism the qualification for being united with Jesus in his resurrection. Paul says that “IF we have been united with him like this [the baptism that he mentions in the previous verses] in his death, [then] we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection”.
Galatians 3:26-29 makes it clear that water baptism will unify believers into one body. Paul says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ…..” If you notice, these Scriptures speak of baptism as a given. There was no debate about whether baptism was necessary, but more of how much significance it carried.
1 Peter 3:21 --Peter in this verse speaks of the “baptism that now saves you also” and that baptism “saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.
Other verses back up baptism as expected for salvation:
Titus 3 4-7
1 Corinthians 12: 12-13
Colossians 2, esp. 11-12
In addition, there are all the many examples of conversions in Acts:
-The crowd in Jerusalem (2:37-41)
-Samarians and Simon the magician (8:9-13)
-The Ethiopian (8:26-39) (His reaction should be humbling to those resisting baptism today : “Look, here is water, why shouldn’t I be baptized?)
-Saul (Paul) 9:17-19; 22:12-15
-Gentiles at Caesarea (10-44-48)
-The Phillipians jailer (16:27-34)
-Crispus and other Corinthians (18:5-8)
Ephesian believers (19: 1-5)
Some who are rather defensive against baptism as necessary for salvation note that there are Gentiles in Acts 10 who receive the Holy Spirit before they are baptized. I believe that this is a special example, a special gift of the Holy Spirit to a few Gentiles to show Peter, and other Jews, the extent of God’s grace—that even Gentiles deserve to be baptized into Christ. Soon after Peter and some other Jews see these Gentiles filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter “orders” them to be baptized, not as a punishment, but as an extended gift—salvation going from the Jews to the Gentiles also.
Some also use the example of the criminal on the cross as a reason for not being baptized, because one criminal on the cross alongside Jesus had not been baptized, yet Jesus granted him entrance into heaven nonetheless. This however backs up my argument that baptism is necessary for salvation. Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 14:6). He gave a special exception to the guy on the cross but to the rest of us, he has made it plain that baptism is our way into heaven and communion with Him. Since we cannot expect a special revelation from heaven: “Cherry, I grant you permission to not be baptized…” we should all do what the Bible makes clear: Be Baptized for the Forgiveness of Sins!