A lot of the confusion surrounding baptism probably exists because there was no time frame between salvation and the act of baptism. The New Testament church, believed and was baptized, period, unlike today. Instead, we draw it out. When a person puts saving faith in Jesus we do not readily give them a platform to publicly demonstrate it until the next baptism service rolls around. This is often why the question of whether or not baptism is a requirement for salvation comes up, because it does not align with examples from Scripture. In order to know the truth we must look at Scripture and the examples throughout the New Testament to formulate a Biblical viewpoint of water baptism.
However, we must first look at salvation. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is a gift of grace."For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" ( Romans 3:23-24 ).
Secondly, we must understand that we receive salvation by faith “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” ( Ephesians 2:8-9 ).
Next we accept our salvation by confessing and believing in Jesus. "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord,"and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved" ( Romans 10:9-10 ).
Lastly, we demonstrate our salvation by works of faith, not works of the flesh. James said, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” ( James 2:14 ). His point is, that faith acts. When it is real, then faith is made complete by what one does, not to obtain salvation but as an outflowing of salvation ( James 2:22 ). In the same way, baptism is a declaration of faith and while it is not a condition of salvation it demonstrates the faith that does save us which is why Jesus said in Mark 16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned ( Mark 16:16 ). Baptism doesn't save you but if you believe, you will be baptized and the reason you are baptized is because you believe.
The purpose of water baptism is to fulfill or complete your faith in Christ by an action. Baptism does not take away justification by faith, it actually strengthens the point because it gives the platform for faith to be made perfect and complete by demonstration. Look at the example of Noah who believed God and built the ark. “The LORD then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation” ( Genesis 7:1 ). Noah was declared righteous and Hebrews tells us that this declaration came because he believed God to the point that he acted by building an ark to save his family, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” ( Hebrews 11:7 ). Peter tells us that water baptism is the corresponding work of faith as is in the example from Noah, “...God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” ( I Peter 3:20-22 ). Noah had to believe God to build the ark. He had to believe God to get in the ark and set sail. And because of this act of faith he and his family were saved through the waters. The same rings true for us today. This illustration is for us and the waters of our baptism are also an act of faith in God. Just as Noah became an heir of the righteousness of faith we too take hold of it in the same way.
To reiterate, baptism is not what saves, Jesus does. Water doesn't wash away sins, Jesus’ blood does. And faith is what applies His blood to you making you a new creation. God sees saving faith in the heart of a person before it expresses itself in an action. However, God shows us through Scripture how to express that faith with an action.
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” ( Galatians 3:26-29 ).
Tomorrow we will look at why Jesus was baptised. Please join me for part 3, If Baptism is Not a Requirement for Salvation, Why Should I be Baptized?