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Some churches teach that you have to be baptized to be saved. But what does the Bible say? Is baptism necessary for salvation? The short answer is “no.”
Romans 3:23 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
This verse talks about salvation but doesn’t say a thing about baptism. A similar verse is found in Ephesians.
Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
Again: salvation is discussed but baptism is not.
Why Do Some People Disagree?
Some teach that baptism is necessary for salvation. They turn to a few verses in support of this view.
John 3:5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.
In this verse, there are three main views on what water means. First, that Jesus is talking about baptismal water. Second, that Jesus is referring to the “water” (liquid) that comes out during birth. Third, that Jesus is referring to Ezekiel 36:25-27 which talks about spiritual regeneration, a new heart, God’s spirit, and the cleansing of water.
In this topic, we’re taking the view that this third option is the correct interpretation of John 3:5 because Jesus so frequently refers to Old Testament (OT) prophecies and how he fulfills them, much like Ezekiel 36 here.
Another verse is at the end of Mark.
Mark 16:16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.
In the second half of the verse, Jesus says that people who refuse to believe will be condemned rather than those who refused to be baptized. The reason for this is that without belief, baptism means nothing (1 Peter 3:21). (See excursus 1 below for more on this.)
Acts 2 is also important.
Acts 2:38 (NIV) Peter replied, “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.
“Repent” is the requirement for salvation, “and be baptized” is the ordinance (not “sacrament;” see excursus 2 below for more information). In this case, baptism is an outward symbol of an inward reality, and all Christians absolutely must be baptized after they place their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation from their sins.
When we trust in Jesus, we are saved and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (See excursus 3 below for more information.) If we want to honor and obey him, we will be baptized, and if we are not willing to be baptized, we are in some sense saying that we do not identify with his death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:4) and that we do not truly believe – that’s why we do it!