The necessity of baptism is an issue that has been debated for centuries. Many people are adamant that a person should not have to do anything to be saved (see article on Faith Only). At the same time there are people who are adamant that obedience combined with faith is necessary for salvation and that if we do not obey Him He will not save us. Then there is that group in the middle who realize that a person needs more than faith to be saved but don't understand why baptism would be so important. For many, they see baptism as nothing more than a person getting wet. So the obvious question would be, how can dipping a person in water save them?
In the scriptures God explains very thoroughly why baptism is so important. While the act of baptism is merely immersing a person in water, God shows us that it involves much more than that. As we will find, the command to be baptized is actually a very wonderful thing.
Baptism is not the total sum of what we must do to be saved. But for some reason it is the one thing that people seem to have the most trouble with. That is why it is an issue here. Because of all the things God has said we must do to be saved people reject baptism most of all. So remember as you are reading this article, there is more to salvation than baptism. Our purpose here is merely to prove the need to be baptized among other things.
Baptism Was Commanded by Jesus
Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus' command to His apostles as He gave them the commission to preach the gospel to all the world. In Mark's account Jesus said, "God into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16). Here Jesus commanded that the gospel be preached. Among those who heard the gospel, those who believed and were baptized were saved. Thus, it is necessary for salvation because Jesus said so. Matthew's account of this commission says, "Go, therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them…" (Matt. 28:19). Here again, Jesus commanded that the apostles make disciples of all nations. But notice how they were to go about making those disciples. In Mark's account the gospel was to be preached and people were to believe and be baptized. In Matthew's account we find that baptism is the means by which we become disciples. "…disciple all nations, baptizing them…" There is no getting around this. Jesus commanded baptism. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John:15). Do you love Jesus? If you are not willing to keep His command to be baptized then perhaps you do not love Him as much as you think.
Baptism Was Commanded by the Apostles
Why did Peter COMMAND the people to be baptized in Acts 2:38? "Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized…" Why were the Samaritans baptized in response to the preaching of Philip in Acts 8:12? Why did Peter COMMAND Cornelius and his household to be baptized in Acts 10:48? "He commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord." Why did Paul baptize the disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19:5? Because these apostles and prophets were fulfilling the commission given them by Jesus to "disciple all nations, baptizing them…" If these men saw fit to make baptism a command according to Jesus' instructions, by what authority do we reject baptism as a command of Jesus? Why is baptism necessary? Because all who preached the gospel in the New Testament commanded that men be baptized.
Baptism Is God's Chosen Method
Men do not decide when or how God does what He does. If God wants to do something it is entirely up to Him to choose how He does it and when He does it. That is His prerogative as Lord, God, and Creator of the universe. There was a man named Naaman who had leprosy. He went to Elisha the prophet in 2 Kings 5:9 to ask him what he could do to be cured of his leprosy. Elisha told Naaman, "Go, wash in the Jordan seven times." At first, Naaman reacted toward this command the same way many people react to the command to be baptized. He was disagreeable to it and he was not going to do it. But Naaman's servant convinced him to at least do what Elisha had commanded him, just to see if would work. So Naaman agreed. He went to the Jordan and dipped. He was not healed on the first dip. Neither was he healed on the second dip or the third, the fourth, the fifth, or the sixth. Only when Naaman had dipped seven whole times according to the command of the Lord was He cleansed. Now, we all know that getting wet does not have the power to cure deadly diseases. If dipping in water did cure disease then every AIDs victim and every cancer victim in the world would have done that and there would be no such diseases today. So how was Naaman cured? Not because there was power in the water or in the motion of dipping. Rather, because that was the condition God gave him to fulfill. Only when Naaman fulfilled the command of God did God cure his leprosy. Today, God has not commanded us to climb a mountain, walk one thousand miles, or dip seven times in the Jordan in order to be saved. Though He could have commanded these things if He wanted to. Rather, God simply commanded us to be baptized. In Baptism we are raised in newness of life. Paul said in Galatians 3:27, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Will you react to God's command to be baptized like Naaman did? Or will you gladly accept God's simple command to be baptized?
Only in Baptism are we Buried with Christ
Understand-there is no power in the water and there is no power in the person who dips us into the water to save a person's soul. The power to save rests entirely with God. Then why baptism? Because God said that that is the point at which He will grant us our forgiveness and make us free from sin in Christ Jesus. In baptism we are buried in the water. Paul likens it to Christ's burial in Rom. 6:4, "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death." Now, when Jesus was buried He was raised up on the third day. What about us? Paul said that when we are buried with Christ in baptism we are then raised, like Jesus, to newness of life. "…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." By this we are united with Christ in His death, and so we will be united with Him in His resurrection (Rom. 6:5).
Observe-when is a person buried with Christ? When he is baptized. If we are not baptized then we are not buried. But if we are not buried then we cannot be raised up. One cannot come up unless he has first gone down. So then, If we are not baptized then we cannot be raised, if we are not raised then we cannot have newness of life. Therefore, baptism is the point at which we are given newness of life. What is the nature of that new life? Paul said in Romans 6:17-18, "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. At what point are we freed from sin? At what point do we become servants of God? At our baptism. These are God's terms, not man's.
When we step back and look at baptism in light of all the scriptures we will find that it is an extremely beautiful thing. We read in awe of Jesus' sacrifice; His death, burial, and resurrection. In baptism we are able to parallel His death burial and resurrection. We are able to join Him in a likeness of the act by which He gives us salvation.
In Colossians 2:12 Paul said that we are buried in baptism from which we are "raised with Him through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead." Notice what he said. What makes baptism effective? "the working of God who raised" Jesus from the dead. At what point do we show our faith in that power? When we are "raise with Him through faith." Baptism is a beautiful picture of a person's faith in God's power to save. God says that when we have faith enough to be baptized with all confidence in the power of God, then we will be saved. This brings us to our final point.
In 1 Peter 3:20 Peter described how eight souls were saved "through water" when Noah obeyed God and built the ark. Like Noah, God has told us that judgment is coming and He had told us what we must do to be saved. So Peter said, "Eight souls were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us - baptism (not a removal of dirt from the flesh, but an answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." In short, just as Noah was saved through water, so we are saved through water. Noah was saved through water in the ark, we are saved through water in baptism. Noah was saved through water by the power of God, we are saved through water by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (the power of God). When we are baptized with this mindset we are not just washing dirt off of our bodies; we are not just taking a bath. In baptism we are making an appeal to God to make our consciences clean. When we want to be forgiven of a traffic violation we go to court and make an appeal to the judge. The Lord is our judge, but we cannot approach His throne as we would a human judge. "For no man shall see Me, and live" (Ex. 33:20). So how do we appeal to God to forgive our trespasses? Baptism. Since Jesus was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God (1 Pet. 3:22), He sees our appeal in baptism and takes our appeal to the Father. "We have and advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." This is why baptism is necessary for our salvation.
Do you believe that Jesus died and was raised from the dead? Then understand that baptism is the means that God has given us to appeal to Him for forgiveness through Jesus. If you believe in Jesus Christ then trust and obey His command to be baptized. Many people believe in Jesus, but do not obey Him. Do not be one of those people. Trust in Him and obey Him in baptism so that you can have salvation in Him.