Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
I happened onto your site today and after thoroughly enjoying your debate with the Atheist I continued reading all of your other topics. I am a Roman Catholic but three years ago I was turned onto a bible study and was truly graced by God with complete love of Christ as my saving Lord. Although I was enlighten by God, and I pledged to make a change in my life to be more Christ-like, I never made a complete commitment to Christ. God continues to grace my life and has done so recently by giving me the strength and the courage to make an even bigger commitment to Him. Although I have a incredible relationship with God, and I have complete faith and understanding that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for me so that I may be granted eternal life I am confused and concerned that because I wasn't baptized ( by immersion like Jesus was in the river Jordan) that my salvation is still in question. In Mark 16:16 Jesus says "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." I am going to be baptized like Jesus was because I feel that it will help me to remember my rebirth into Christ and to help me focus on living a Christian life but is baptism necessary?
Thank you for writing. I'm happy to hear how you are growing closer to our Lord. In our lives we tend to take matters into our own hands instead of trusting Jesus to handle our problems and guide our decisions. The fact that you're concerned about baptism shows you're striving to live for God and not for yourself.
As to your question, baptism is an important part of being a Christian. Jesus was baptized in Matthew 3:13 and commanded His followers to baptize "In the name of The Father and of The Son and of the Holy Spirit" in Matthew 28:19. It is not, however, essential to being saved. It is an outward sign of something that has already happened inwardly. You must believe to be saved. Notice in the scripture you cite, the emphasis is on belief, and the sign of belief is baptism. It's much like a driver's license. If someone has a driver's license, it doesn't prove they can drive, nor does it help them to drive better. Most people who can drive do have licenses as a sign to show others they already possess that skill. Baptism shows the world that you've died to your old nature and have been born anew
The whole question touches on more than just whether one should be baptized or not. It is really a question of what is salvation and how it is obtained. I think we can both agree that the whole thrust of the Bible is the reconciliation of man to God. Your question is really who accomplishes it.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast." If baptism is a necessary component for salvation then we are saying that Christ's work on the cross is not enough. We need to add something that we do (baptism) to what He did in order to make salvation complete. To say what God did is not enough, not complete, is against everything taught in Scripture. Other Scriptures confirm this:
Romans 10:9-10 "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."
1 Peter 1:18-19 "Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ."(If Christ's blood redeems us, then baptism cannot earn that which has already been purchased.)
The most dramatic example of this is in Luke 23, when the thief on the cross next to Jesus asked for remembrance, and he was not baptized. The Lord still said he would be in heaven. Now some have argued that there was a special dispensation given to this man because of his situation, but I don't find that to be scriptural. We are all dying from our sins right now! It would be unjust of God to change His demands on something as essential as salvation for this person and not the many others throughout history who've suffered sudden deaths.
Just remember, there's nothing that we can do to make Christ's sacrifice "more perfect". On the cross Jesus cried "It is finished!" and I believe He meant exactly what He said. To require baptism would mean that God couldn't do it all Himself, which not only is a contradiction, but elevates man's works to a God-like ability (e.g., "I have to help God with my salvation.") Isaiah 64:6 tells us that even good deeds done in our own strength are unclean before the Lord.
We know that in us no good thing dwells, but only God can bring us to repentance. The Lord loves us so much that He is not willing leave our salvation in anyone else's hands, including our own. We are imperfect, and He would never risk us "messing up" our eternity because we had to do some human thing in order to make it complete.
One final thought; whether you are sprinkled, immersed or have water poured over your head really doesn't make that much difference. God looks on the heart and is much more concerned as to your motivation than the technique by which you were baptized. This is why I only recommend people old enough to understand salvation and the meaning behind their act of baptism to be baptized. Dedicating an infant to the Lord before a congregation of believers is important, but I don't feel baptism was given us for this purpose. I'm not saying it's wrong or sinful; I just don't see any support for it in scripture.
(for more on this issue, please see Does 1 Peter 3 Mandate Baptism?)