Another common question surrounds the necessity of baptism. Many denominations agree that baptism is commanded and is important. But the disagreement is about the purpose of baptism and the necessity of baptism. The first half of the lesson will consider the purpose of baptism, according to the scriptures. The second half of the lesson will be answering commonly used arguments against the necessity of baptism.
The Purpose of Baptism
Baptism is how we ask God for forgiveness
There are many scriptures that speak about baptism being the way we are able to ask God to forgive us for our sins we have committed.
And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name (Acts 22:16). Ananias told Paul that baptism was the way we call upon the name of the Lord asking for our sins to be washed away. Ananias describes baptism as the process of calling on the Lord’s name. Ananias also describes baptism as the way our sins are washed away. By putting these two things together, it becomes clear that baptism is the process by which we ask God for forgiveness of our sins.
Baptism, which is like that water, now saves you. Baptism doesn’t save by removing dirt from the body. Rather, baptism is a request to God for a clear conscience. It saves you through Jesus Christ, who came back from death to life (1 Peter 3:21). Many translations describe baptism as “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” This is fine as long as we understand an appeal in terms of a legal appeal, making a request of a judge. That is the idea of the Greek word. The literally means “an inquiry, a question.” Baptism is asking God for a clear conscience. Thus, Peter’s argument is that baptism is not some sort of work of washing the body. Rather, baptism saves us because of the blood of Jesus Christ. He has opened the way by his sacrifice to be able to ask God for a clear conscience. But baptism is the way we ask God, just as Ananias told Paul.
Baptism is the way our sins are cut off
After arising, be baptized, and washing away his sins, Paul taught the Colossians that it was through baptism that our sins would be removed.
11 In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah. 12 Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. (Colossians 2:11-13)
Paul uses some great surgery imagery in speaking about baptism. Baptism when the sins are circumcised (cut off; put off). Sins are not cut off without baptism.
Baptism unites us and clothes with Christ
Paul points out that not only are our sins removed through baptism, but baptism is when we are united with Christ.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27).
1 What should we say then? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may multiply? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. 5 For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. (Romans 6:1-5)
How can we argue that we can be forgiven of our sins without baptism, yet the scriptures tell us what we are not united with Christ until baptism? We are united with Christ at baptism and we are forgiven of our sins in baptism because this is how we ask God for forgiveness of sins.
Why Denominations Do Not Believe Baptism Is Essential
Denominations will baptized but they do not believe nor teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. We will let their own words speak on the issue:
“Baptism is not essential to salvation, for our churches utterly repudiate the dogma of ‘baptismal regeneration’; but it is essential to obedience since Christ has commanded it” (Edward T. Hiscox, D.D., The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches).
This sentence alone reflects the confusion, but this is the stance of most religious groups. Baptism is not needed for salvation but it must be done because it was commanded. Well, either baptism is essential or it is not. Let us examine the arguments made against baptism being essential for salvation. Perhaps you hold to one of these arguments as your reason for not being baptized.
The blood of Christ remits our sins, not baptism.
You may be surprised, but I completely agree to this statement. “For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). The blood of Christ does bring about the forgiveness of sins. Without the blood of Christ, there would not be forgiveness. But this argument is not valid once we substitute any number of God’s requirements. For example, it would be ludicrous to say, “The blood of Christ remits our sins, not faith.” Or, “The blood of Christ remits are sins, not repentance.” Yes, the blood of Christ remits are sins. No one disagrees with this. The question is: how do we access the blood of Christ? The blood of Christ does not mean that we do not need faith. The blood of Christ does not mean that we do not need to have belief, repentance, or confession. In the same way, The blood of Christ does not mean that we do not need baptism.
Further, notice that the language of Matthew 26:28 is the same language as Acts 2:38: And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Both scriptures say these things are “for the forgiveness of sins.” Often the argument is made that the word “for” does not mean “for” but it means “unto.” Thus, we are baptized because our sins are forgiven. However, this makes no sense to use this definition in Matthew 26:28. Jesus shed his blood for many because their sins were forgiven??? No, the blood of Christ is for forgiveness and baptism is also forgiveness of sins.
Baptism is a work, and we are not saved by works
I think there has been a lot of confusion about this because, while we are using the same words, we are failing to communicate. The problem comes about that the Roman Catholic church does not treat baptism as an act of faith. Rather, the Roman Catholic church treats baptism as a sacrament, a meritorious work not contingent upon faith. That is not at all what the scriptures teach about baptism, but I believe some think that is what we teach about baptism when we simply say that baptism saves. We need more explanation.
But the person who declares that he or she is not saved by works really does not believe this entirely. The reason why is that while declaring that salvation has nothing to do with us, everyone realizes there must be some thing we must do. What we must do are the called the conditions of receiving grace. We know that we need to believe in God and believe that Jesus is the Son of God to receive God’s grace. Is that our work? It is if you mean that we have to do something. But it is not a work if you mean the Roman Catholic term that it is some sort of sacrament that merits salvation. The same is true regarding repentance, confession, and baptism. These are simply the conditions of God’s grace. Being repentance, confessing our sins, confessing Jesus as Lord, and being immersed in water does not earn anything. But we are simply meeting the conditions God has prescribed so that he will extend the blood of Christ over us.
Further, the scriptures tell us that it is not us doing the work in baptism, but God. Notice Paul’s words again: 11 In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah. 12 Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. (Colossians 2:11-13)
Paul said that baptism is our act of faith in the working of God. God is doing the work by cutting off the sins of the flesh from us. What we are doing in baptism is asking God to take away our sins and showing faith in God that he will remove our sins.
Paul was not sent to baptize, therefore baptism is not necessary for salvation
This argument comes from 1 Corinthians 1:11-17, so turn in the scriptures to this text. This passage actually shows the importance of baptism and demonstrates that it is essential. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17). To understand what Paul is saying, we need to see that Paul is using a figure of speech. Here, Paul is using an ellipsis, which is used commonly throughout the New Testament. An ellipsis is a figure of speech where certain words are not directly expressed, but are understood. To see this better, let us look at 1 Peter 3:3-4, Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.
Peter is not saying that women should not wear clothes. This is an ellipsis where Peter is saying that a woman should not only adorn themselves with these things, but also with a gentle and quiet spirit. By using the ellipsis, Peter wants women to see that the greater priority is upon the inner self, not the outer. Thus, the ellipsis has the intended effect of drawing emphasis. Let us look at one more very quickly.
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (John 6:27). Jesus did not teach to not work for food, for that would contradict 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If any will not work, neither shall he eat.” This is another ellipsis. Jesus is saying that we should not work only for food, but also for food that endures for eternal life. The ellipsis places the emphasis on the spiritual food. Our focus must be on the food that endures for eternal life primarily.
Let us come back to 1 Corinthians 1:17 now. When Paul said Christ sent him not baptize, Paul was not saying that baptism was not important or not essential. Christ taught Paul not to baptize only, but to also preach the gospel. The ellipsis places the emphasis on Paul preaching the gospel. Why would that be the emphasis? Paul’s point is that anyone can baptize, but not everyone can preach the gospel at that time because they had the revealed word of God given to them through the Holy Spirit. Paul was not denigrating baptism, but pointing out the apostles had a greater role of preaching the gospel.
The thief on the cross was not baptized, so we do not have to be baptized to be saved either
The first point that must be made is that we do not know if the thief had been baptized by the John the Baptist or one of Jesus’ disciples. There is more evidence, in my mind, that he may have been baptized rather than not simply because he seems to understand some things about Jesus. He asks to be remembered when Jesus came into his kingdom. The criminal accepted Jesus as the Messiah. So what teachings had he heard to know this? The point is that we do not know if he had been baptized.
But more importantly, baptism was not a requirement until after Jesus’ death. The new covenant of Christ did not take effect until his death. “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives” (Hebrews 9:16-17). The law of Moses was still in effect which did not command baptism. We see the command for baptism begin after the resurrection of Jesus.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
Baptism is how we ask God forgiveness, when we have our sins cut off, and how we unite ourselves with Christ. Baptism is simply a condition of God’s grace, not a sacramental work that merits salvation. The blood of Christ saves us through the conditions of God’s grace being met. We must believe in the Lord, repent of our sins, confess Jesus is the Lord, and be immersed in water for the forgiveness of our sins. When we do this, we earn nothing but God extends grace to us.