HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL WHO SEEK GOD’S LOVE AND GUIDANCE
WHAT KIND OF BAPTISM IS ESSENTIAL FOR SALVATION?
By Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Edited December 31, 2020
Christianity is severely split over the doctrine of baptism. Three major denominations teach that baptism by water is essential for salvation (Roman Catholics, Anglicans (Episcopalians), Lutherans and the Church of Christ). Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans baptize infants while the Church of Christ only baptizes those old enough to make a conscious choice. Almost all other denominations do not teach that water baptism is essential for salvation.
Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans also add church sacraments to baptism as essential for salvation. Their answer to the question “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 126:30) is “Be baptized and participate in the sacramental communion.”
Protestant churches answer the question quite differently. The Church of Christ teaches that salvation-baptism must be performed in their own churches. Some charismatic churches teach that speaking in tongues is essential for salvation. Seventh-day Adventists teach that those worshipping on Sunday when Jesus returns will not be saved. And the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints requires its own temple ritual and baptism.
Having written the above, the doctrine of predestinationaist makes all of this irrelevant or moot because the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” is “NOTHING” --- neither baptism nor the sacraments (per Church Fathers Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas). That means the baptism argument is moot or totally irrelevant. Why? Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Reform and many Baptists also teach that man has no free will concerning his ultimate salvation because God predestinates who will be saved or lost. Therefore, a Roman Catholic cannot choose to be baptized or to partake of the sacraments because he/she has no free-will in these matters (Romans 8:28 their interpretation).
I am a Baptist, but not a predestinationist. This article is from the viewpoint of most Baptists. For me, “What must I do to be saved?” is answered with “Believe (have true faith) in Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior” is the only essential necessity for salvation.” Afterwards, one who has been saved should be baptized as a public confession of an inner renewal (Mt 10:32). Some of the texts Baptists emphasize are: Genesis 15:6; Exodus 12:13; Matthew 28:19-20; John 3:16; 4:14; 5:24; 11:25; Romans 3:21-24; 5:1; 8:1; 10:9-10, 13; Galatians 2:16 and Philippians 3:9.
I. MATTHEW 3:11a: John the Baptist's baptism was an old covenant ritual which followed repentance in preparation for the soon-arriving Messiah. It only applied to Hebrews who had already been justified by the Passover lamb. It was not a New Covenant post-Calvary baptism and has no relevance to Christian baptism (Heb 6:2). It did not provide justification or salvation.
Matt 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance …
II. MATTHEW 3:11. IMPORTANT: John the Baptist said that Jesus' baptism would not be with water, but with fire and the Holy Spirit.
A. The Holy Spirit enters and indwells believers the moment they accept Him as personal Lord and Savior.
B. Fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit and was on the heads of believers at Pentecost (Acts 2:3).
C. No literal water was used at Pentecost (Acts 1:5).
D. This is quoted in all 4 Gospels -- plus 4 times.
Matt 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
Mark 1:8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
Luke 3:16, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
John 1:33 … he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
Acts 1:5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.
III. MATTHEW 3:14-15. Jesus' Baptism is His Righteousness for Believers.
A. Jesus did not need to be baptized unto repentance.
B. Nothing man can do can be used as his own righteousness to justify him before God (Isa 64:6; Rom 3:10).
C. The only righteousness which is acceptable is Christ’s righteousness imputed to man (Rom 4:22-24).
D. Jesus' baptism (not the believer's) is part of His imputed sinless righteousness for which believers are accepted as sinless --- along with all of His law-keeping (2 Cor 5:21).
Matt 3:14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
Matt 3:15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer (permit) it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
IV. MATTHEW 10:32. Baptism is a public confession of an inner renewal which has previously occurred.
Matt 10:32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
V. MATTHEW 28:19-20. Jesus commanded believers to be baptized AFTER they had become disciples (been saved or justified). The correct sequence is:
A. Make disciples, witness [justification]; salvation; essential
B. Baptize those old enough to profess faith; after salvation
C. Teach Christian doctrines; after salvation and baptism
D. The sequence is NOT (as most churches teach):
baptize infants, teach catechism and make church members
Matt 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach [make disciples of] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Matt 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
VI. MARK 16:15-16. This is probably the strongest verse in the Bible to support the interpretation that baptism is essential for salvation. Verse 15 parallels Matthew 28:19 which reads differently. Oddly, verse 16 does not read “believeth not and is not baptized.” In order to be consistent with the remainder of Scripture, baptism is the proof of real faith (belief); one who is truly saved will obey, profess his/her faith and be bapdtized.
Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. [compare Matt 28:19]
Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
VII. Luke 23:43 There is only one plan of salvation found in the Bible. God did not have different paths to salvation in the Old and New Testaments.
A. NOAH: Those of Noah’s time were saved by faith and were dry in the baptism of the flood (1 Pet 23:20-21).
B. ABRAHAM was saved (justified) by grace through faith alone. He was not baptized and did not receive church sacraments (Gen 15;6).
C. PASSOVER: Those of the Exodus were saved by faith in the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:13).
D. RED SEA: When Israel was baptized in the Red Sea and cloud, they had already been saved at Passover and did not get wet (1 Cor 10:2).
E. FORGIVENESS: Those under the Law were saved by faith in the sacrificial lamb without any baptism or receiving church sacraments (Lev 4:20).
F. There is no biblical instance of anybody being saved because of water baptism. There is only one plan of salvation in the Bible, not two.
Luke 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Gen 15:6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Ex 12:13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
1 Cor 10:2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
VIII. JOHN 3:3,4. What is this verse discussing? Baptism, or something else?
Nicodemus understood Jesus to be referring to a second physical birth.
John 3:3 Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
John 3:4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?
IX. JOHN 3:5. This is the controversial verse. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans interpret it as only a reference to water baptism which is both essential for salvation and also brings the Holy Spirit. Almost every other denomination interprets it as, first, a reference to physical water-birth and also, second, to a spiritual birth.
John 3:5 … Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
X. JOHN 3:6. This verse strongly agrees with the majority of Protestant interpreters. Jesus is speaking of two very different births.
John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
XI. JOHN 3:15-18. Nothing more is said about water or baptism. “Whosoever believeth” appears in 3:15 and 3:16. “Believeth” and “is baptized” does not occur in John. “Baptism” is not associated with salvation afterwards by John.
John 3:15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Jn 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
Jn 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
XII. ACTS 2:38. God did not change, or amend, His plan of salvation after Calvary. God did not “add” the requirements of water baptism and partaking sacraments. Like John 3:5, Acts 2:38 is a controversial text in Christianity. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and the Church of Christ interpret “for” to mean “in order that” – men and women are to “repent and be baptized” “in order that” you may receive “the remission of sins.” Baptism is the vehicle which brings the remission of sins and the Holy Spirit.
Almost every other denomination interprets “for” in Acts 2:38 to mean “because of.” The sentence should read “Repent” “and” “be baptized every one of you because of the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
In the book of Acts, the “gift of the Holy Spirit” appeared at different times. In chapter 2 He fell on the Apostles disciples in the upper room apart from any baptism. In Acts 8:17-18 Paul received the Holy Spirit before being baptized. In Acts 10:44 Cornelius’ household received the Holy Spirit while Peter was speaking. Therefore, it is wrong to teach that baptism brings the anointing of the Holy Spirit in all cases.
Acts 2:38. Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
XIII. ACTS 8:12. In this verse baptism follows saving faith. “When they believed …. they were baptized.”
Acts 8:12 But when they [Samaritans] believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
XIV. ACTS 8:14-17. In these verses, the Samaritans from verse 12 did not receive the Holy Spirit following salvation after Philip’s preaching. Instead, they only received Him after Peter and John had prayed for them. Why? Perhaps God was showing the superior calling of the Apostles as compared to the deacon. Perhaps the
The Samaritans had doubted the Apostles' authority until this time.
Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
Acts 8:15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:
Acts 8:16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
Acts 8:17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
XV. ACTS 8:36-38. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized by Philip AFTER he believed unto salvation. He was clearly baptized BECAUSE he had already believed. Again, only persons old enough to profess faith are baptized. It is also important to note that he must have been immersed because both went into the water. If sprinkling or pouring were appropriate, a water bag would have sufficed.
Acts 8:36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? Acts 8:37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Acts 8:38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
XVI. ACTS 9:3-6. It is very likely that Paul was converted (saved) the moment he acknowledged Jesus as "Lord."
Acts 9:3 And as he [Saul/Paul] journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
Acts 9:4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
Acts 9:5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Acts 9:6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
XVII. ACTS 9:17-18. PAUL: The Apostle Paul "received his sight and was filled with the Holy Ghost" when Ananias placed hands upon him ---- not after he was baptized. This is contrary to Roman Catholic teaching.
Acts 9:17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him [Paul] said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
Acts 9:18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
XVIII. ACTS 10:44-48. CORNELIUS: The entire household of Gentile Cornelius was saved and received the Holy Ghost BEFORE they were baptized. Therefore, baptism by water is not essential for salvation.
Acts 10:44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
Acts 10:45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 10:46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
Acts 10:47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
Acts 10:48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.
XIX. ACTS 11:16. This is the SIXTH (6TH) repetition of this quote. How many verses are quoted six times in Scripture??? Yet more emphasis seems to be given to water than to the Holy Spirit.
Acts 11:16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
XX. ACTS 16:14. LYDIA: It is highly probable that Lydia was saved when “the Lord opened her heart” BEFPRE she was baptized.
Acts 16:14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.
XXI. ACTS 16:30-34. PHILIPPIAN JAILER: Here is the question asked by a Roman soldier, “What must I do to be saved?” and the answer is “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” He believed and was then baptized.
Acts 16:30 And [the Philippian jailer] brought them [Paul and Silas] out [of the prison], and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
Acts 16:31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
Acts 16:32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
Acts 16:33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
Acts 16:34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
XXII. ACTS 19:3-6. JOHN’S FOLLOWERS: This sequence is really different. These followers of John the Baptist first believed, secondly, were baptized and third, received the Holy Spirit only AFTER Paul had laid hands upon them.
Acts 19:3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism.
Acts 19:4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
Acts 19:5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
XXIII. ACTS 22:16. Paul is quoting Ananias. The original sequence in Acts 9:17-18 was (1) be saved (believe), (2) receive the Holy Ghost and (3) be baptized. Acts 22:16 depicts the entire event as one action. However, it is clear by comparing all texts that the washing away of sins comes by the baptism by the Holy Ghost when one is saved apart from water.
Acts 22:16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
Of 11 references to baptism in Acts, 9 are clear that belief (justification) precedes baptism. Acts 2:38 removes baptism "for the remission of sins" by interpreting "for" as "because." And 22:14-16 can be explained by Ananias explaining Acts 9:17-18 differently from Paul.
1. Acts 2:38 At Pentecost Peter taught repentance precedes baptism.
2. Acts 2:41 At Pentecost receiving the word [justification] preceded baptism.
3. Acts 8:12 Simon believed Philip's preaching and was baptized.
4. Acts 8:14-17 The Samaritans received the word, were baptized and then received the Holy Spirit after the laying on of hands.
5. Acts 8:36-38 The Ethiopian eunuch believed before being baptized by immersion.
6. Acts 9:3-6, 17-18 When Paul was converted, he first believed, secondly received the putting on of hands, thirdly received the Holy Spirit and afterwards was baptized.
7. Acts 10:44-46 Cornelius and his household first believed, second received the Holy Ghost and were afterwards baptized.
8. Acts 11:16 s the sixth quotation that Jesus' baptism is with spirit, not water.
9. Acts 16:14-16 Lydia believed and was baptized.
10. Acts 16:30-34 The Philippian jailer believed and was baptized.
10. Acts 19:3-6 John's disciples were re-baptized correctly, received the laying on of hands and afterwards received the Holy Ghost.
11. Acts 22:14-16 Thirty years after his conversion in Acts 9:17-18, Paul quotes Ananias who unified the event.
XXIV. ROMANS 6:1-12 -- the Baptism chapter.
A. This is the most important and most detailed chapter in the Bible concerning Christian baptism.
B. Since chapter 6 follows chapters 3-5, it is clear that justification and salvation precede baptism (5:1).
C. Again, it is not our baptism which becomes righteousness for us, but Christ's (Mt 3:15).
D. Baptism is a pictorial reminder that believers have already been crucified spiritually in/with Christ, buried in/with Christ and resurrected in/with Christ (Col 3:3-4; 1 Cor 1:30; Rom 8:30).
E. Knowing that we are already spiritually living in the glory of Christ's resurrection, we are commanded to "reckon" ourselves such for sanctification (6:11-12).
F. Immersion is the only biblical form of New Covenant baptism because it is the only form which pictures a total death, burial and resurrection of the believer in Christ.
Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
Rom 6:2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Rom 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
Rom 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Rom 6:5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Rom 6:6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
Rom 6:7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
Rom 6:8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
Rom 6:9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
Rom 6:10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Rom 6:12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
XXV. FIRST CORINTHIANS 12:13. ONE BAPTISM: The Holy Spirit baptizes the believer spiritually. Much of Christianity has this backwards; they teach that the water brings the Holy Spirit. This is another reference to John the Baptist's declaration that Jesus would baptize with the Spirit. Spiritual baptism occurs the instant one accepts Christ as his/her personal Savior and is born again. The Spirit enters His new home, the believer's body (John 4:14; 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19-20).
1 Cor 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit (from John 4:14).
XXVI. GALATIANS 3:26-27. FAITH: First, sinners are saved (justified, born again) by “faith in Christ” – “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus”; that is when one “puts on Christ.” Paul’s words in 2:16 are crucial -- “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ." Such is the context of 3:27 – “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have [previously] put on Christ” – that is why you were baptized.
Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
Gal 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have [previously] put on Christ.
XXVII. Ephesians 4:5 ONE BAPISM: First, Christ is Lord; second, salvation is by faith in Christ as Lord; third, baptism because one has faith in Christ as Lord. Since baptism pictures a professed believer's choice to be buried with Christ, immersion is the only proper mode of baptism taught in God's Word for Christians. "One baptism" disproves the argument that believers could fall from grace and would require re-baptism. Regardless of one's denomination, baptism by immersion in any Christian church should suffice for all Christian churches. Extreme exceptions may exist.
Eph 4:5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism.
XXVIII. Colossians 2:10-14 CIRCUMCISION: Circumcision and Baptism. "In him" and "in whom" (2:10-11) refers to justification by faith. In 2:11-12, circumcision is given an entirely new meaning after Calvary. Instead of being a sign of the Old Covenant between God and Israel, it is now a constant reminder that one has been born again (justified) spiritually and now wholly identified with Jesus Christ in His life, death, burial and resurrection. It is “without hands” and is spiritual; it is not a physical thing or physical baptism. It is spiritual and occurs the instant one accepts Christ as his/her personal Savior.
The Apostle Paul had been instantly spiritually slain, buried and resurrected in Christ as we read in Acts 9:3-6. After Jesus said “I m Jesus whom thou persecutest,” Paul replied “Lord, what will Thou have me to do?” This was before he was baptized. Likewise, in the story of Nicodemus from John 3:3-18, no baptism is mentioned. Also, with the Samaritan women at the well, Jesus told her to take one drink (of faith in Him) and she would be saved; no baptism is mentioned.
Col 2:10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
Col 2:11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:
Col 2:12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
Col 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Col 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
XXIX. FIRST PETER 3:20c-21. Just as Noah and his family had been saved from the flood while staying dry, the Bible calls their deliverance "baptism."
The “eight souls” who were “saved by water” remained dry (3:20c). It is very clear from these verses that “baptism which doth also now saves us" is NOT that of literal water (3:21a)! Instead, the baptism which doth also now save us” is "the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (3:21b). It is not water at all! Rather, it is spiritual baptism which occurs the moment one accepts Christ as his/her personal Lord and Savior (3:21b; John 4:14).
1 Pet 3:20c … eight souls were saved by water.
1 Pet 3:21a. … the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us …
1 Pet 3:21b … (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD