Is It Necessary for Salvation? Is It a Work, or Is It an Act of Obedience?
Note: This page was linked from the salvation page, if you have reached this page before reading about salvation, please go to that page first and read about how you can know for sure you're on your way to Heaven.
In the past I have been confronted by those who disagree with me regarding baptism and its place in God’s plan for salvation. Those who disagree insist that baptism is required for salvation and there are a number of verses used to support this position. I’d like to tackle this issue now so that no one will continue to be deceived on this part of the salvation message. I will discuss the verses proposed in support of baptism being necessary for salvation first, and explain each in detail before I give final thoughts and a conclusion.
The first verse is Matthew 7:21 “ Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” I'm a little confused as to why this verse was deemed support for baptism being necessary for salvation, but nonetheless, I'll address it. It is surely true that not everyone who thinks they will go to Heaven will actually go there. This is because many “Christians” today are not aware of what salvation actually is. They are told they have to work to get to Heaven when, in actuality, salvation is a gift given by God and no amount of works will get us there. Also, there are people who pray the sinner’s prayer thinking they’re saved, never knowing that a prayer doesn’t save you. Only a desire to put your faith in Jesus Christ, which means one must repent of (turn from) their sin and turn towards Christ, relying on Him in all things and choosing to obey Him in all ways. This is what repentance is, and deciding to do this, to follow Christ rather than your own ways, understanding that you’re a sinner and cannot get to Heaven of your own accord but must rely on someone else (Christ) to pay your sin debt for you in order to see the Kingdom of Heaven, this is the kind of attitude one must have in order to be saved. One cannot just say they’re sorry for sin, they must realize how awful their sin is and decide they’re done with it, give it fully to Christ, and decide to trust and obey Him from that moment on. Anyone who does not come to Christ with this attitude in mind is probably not saved and will be one of the ones knocking at the door expecting to be let in, but will be denied.
Mark 16:16 “ He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. “ I’m not sure how this verse can be used to support that baptism is required for salvation either when the verse clearly states in the second half that those who believeth not will be damned. The verse does not say, “those who believeth not and be baptized not” will be damned. Yes, it says we must be saved and baptised, but in order to be damned (go to Hell) we must be in unbelief. Conversely, those who believe are not damned. Being baptized is an act of obedience once we believe but not being baptized will not damn us, as this verse so clearly states.
Galatians 3:27 “ For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Again, this verse only emphasizes the requirement for believers to be baptized, there is nothing in this verse that says baptism is required for salvation. Baptism is a public display of one’s faith and it is a symbol of one’s desire to follow and obey Christ. But at the point of baptism, one already believes and one is already saved. Refer back to Mark 16:16 for this proof.
James 2:14-26 These verses seem a little trickier and many a “baptism is required for salvation” proponent think they are rock-solid proof for their stance. But we must be able to rightly divide the word of God to understand this passage’s meaning. The first verse states, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” which sounds as though the speaker is saying that we cannot be saved by faith. But notice that this verse is posed as a question, not a final statement. This indicates that there is more to consider in the matter, and the rest of the passage is what more we must be considering. What James makes clear here is that works are evidence of faith. One cannot claim to have a faith in Christ if they have no works to prove it. The passage is saying that works without faith is a dead faith, no faith at all. A Christian who proclaims faith in Christ but has no desire to serve Him and to bear fruit for Him cannot claim to be saved. But, one does not have to do any works in order to receive salvation, it is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). These passages don’t even mention baptism. But if we carry the thought through on our current discussion, these passages will only confirm what has already been stated, that we must obey God if we wish to “show ourselves approved” (2 Timothy 2:15) and our first act of obedience is baptism. (To be clear, the verse in Timothy states that we must study to show ourselves approved, but why would we study if we have no desire to obey?)
Matthew 15:8-9 “ This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Again, this is more proof of the fact that there are many deceived, false converts who will end up in Hell because they believe they have to work to be saved or they believe that they don’t have to do anything else once they’re saved. If the Holy Spirit does not convict a person to bear fruit for God, then they either do not have the Holy Spirit in them or they are ignoring the Holy Spirit. This is a dangerous situation. God will allow an unrepentant sinner to live a long life, but God wants to use His sons and daughters. If one is going to ignore the Holy Spirit and refuse to bear fruit, this means God cannot use that person. Will God allow such a person to live such a fruitless life? I can’t say for sure what God will do, but I’m not one to want to take a chance with God deciding I am no longer useful!
The bottom line is, do you trust Christ and His works to get you to Heaven or do you trust something, anything, else? According to Peter in 1 Peter 1:5 , the only power for us to be saved is of God through faith, and there are numerous other verses in scripture that say the same thing (most notably Ephesians 2:8). Water cannot save you. Works cannot save you. If you believe anything other than Christ can save you, you do not have faith in Christ and you may not be saved. The path to destruction is broad and has a wide gate (Matthew 7:13-14) and Satan has devised many, many ways to deceive people straight into Hell. It is so important that the Christian is involved with daily prayer and Bible reading to be filled up with the word of God and to be blessed with discernment and wisdom.
It seems that our discussion is nearly over, but there is one last thing to discuss and explain. This is the matter of spirit and water. There are verses in the Bible which directly express a concept of water when speaking about salvation. One such passage is John 3:1-13 . Again, this is another passage where one must be able to rightly divide the word of God and take into consideration everything we already know about salvation from scriptures. We cannot isolate these verses and make a doctrine out of them. The mention of water in these verses is simply speaking of a physical birth. It is, in no way, referring to baptism. One must be physically created in flesh and then one must be spiritually born in the spirit before one can be saved. If baptism were required, I think Jesus would have let us know here in John 3. Jesus isn’t going to be cryptic about something as important as salvation. In fact, immediately following the water verse (v5), in v6 Jesus clarifies what he means about water and spirit birth; “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Water = flesh, Spirit = spirit. Scripture interprets scripture. We must also be in the right Bible (the only Bible, the KJB) if we’re going to be able to exercise spiritual discernment and be able to rightly divide the word of God. (We’ll save that battle of versions for another time, but to note though; other versions, to include the NIV, HCSB, and RSV, pervert 1 John 5:6-8, another passage about water and spirit, and this perversion makes it impossible to understand the Biblical truth as it relates to water in these passages. However, the studious student will even be able to overcome these perversions if they dedicate themselves to daily reading, study, and understanding of all scripture, rather than just a select few verses. And if the student is humble enough to read what is actually there rather than what they want to be there. (I know, I struggle with humility myself. I think we all do.))
One final thought; the OT sacrificial system was a shadow of what was to come in Christ and, in it, we see absolutely nothing relating to water. Even the drink offerings were given in wine or strong drink, never water. If baptism (water) is necessary for salvation, where was its predecessor in OT days; where was the water symbol for the Jews? Additionally, God has, on many occasions, turned water into blood and when this happened, the bodies of inhabitants of that water died. I think this discussion gives new meaning (at least to me) to these occurrences. I think God wants us to always remember that only blood can save our spirits, though it will surely kill the flesh.
Please do not be deceived by anyone telling you that Christ’s blood alone is not powerful enough to save you. It is a lie straight from Satan. The only thing powerful enough to save you is Christ’s blood. Please trust in that, understand you’re a hopeless sinner with no ability to save yourself, then turn from your sin, accept Christ’s gift and payment for your sin, and be saved. Then obey Him. Your first act of obedience is to be baptized (full emersion into water, just as Christ was baptised). It’s as simple as that. God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) and He would never make salvation so impossible or confusing that you can’t easily receive it. God is so good! Praise Him in all things, He deserves it!
I pray that this study will bless you and thank you for reading.