Water Baptism: Necessary for Salvation?

(Cameron Kufner) #1

Recently, I have been reading over the gospels Mark & Luke and read over these verses about the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus

  1. Mark 15:27-32
  2. Luke 23:39-43

When Jesus said to one of the thieves “Today you shall be with me in paradise”, I started to question if water baptism was really necessary for salvation, and I could be wrong on that. Based on what I read, this is what I came up with:

The thief on the cross had no chance to be water baptized before he died, but I remembered what Jesus said in John 3:5.

I’m a little bit confused and was looking for insight.

Early Christian Creeds and Their Importance for Apologetics: Part 8 - Nicene Creed Lines 12-14
(Matt Western) #2

Hi Cam,
My simple understanding of John chapter 3:5 is that born of water is actually our natural birth (our physical birth), and to be born of the Spirit is talking about being saved. The chapter in John 3 is where Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus about being ‘born-again’ - we come into this world physically (with a sin nature), and that that the spiritual birth is necessary to be able to enter the Kingdom of heaven.

My understanding is that water baptism is a step of obedience - publicly identifying with Jesus, and showing what has already happened ‘on the inside’. I’m sure the thief on the cross would have loved to follow in baptism if he had the chance. To make it a requirement for salvation may make it faith + works = salvation. My understanding of salvation is faith = salvation which then results in good works (book of James talks about faith that results in good works - if one has faith but there is no fruit of the Spirit eventually or good works at all one might wonder the stated faith of a person).

I have heard a simple analogy shared of a wedding ring - the wedding ring does not make me married, it shows externally that I am. Baptism shows what’s already happened as I have put my faith in Jesus.

I’ve heard it explained that it’s a good opportunity to acknowledge Jesus as in Matthew 10:32 ‘whoever confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father in heaven’ - but then in the very next verse it states ‘whoever does not acknowledge me before men, I will not acknowledge before my father’ - I guess there are many ways to acknowledge Jesus publicly - sharing with friends. Actually, to follow Jesus in faith - and public baptism in countries where religious freedom is not tolerated, would mean rejection from family/friends and difficulty getting work, and perhaps a risk of persecution/death. In contrast - making a decision to get baptised in a Western nation seems there is very little to lose.

I am only explaining my perspective - and I hope that there will be more in-depth answers from others, especially from other denominations - so I can learn more! :slight_smile:

I like how theBibleProject talks about Baptism and the Lords supper in their video https://thebibleproject.com/explore/sacrifice-atonement/

Man and Salvation
(Matt Western) #3

Actually this is incorrect sorry. Best to just read the Scriptures than try and be clever with a formula. :slight_smile: Ephesians 2:8-9 is perfect.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

God initiates with Grace, we respond in Faith, and are saved. Works is the results of salvation.

Apologies for getting this incorrect - hopefully someone else can clarify further. :slight_smile:

(Cameron Kufner) #4

Matt, thank you for that in-depth and very thought-provoking reply. I have always believed that your works come as a result of your salvation, like you mentioned. I now believe I read over that verse in John 3 (John 3:5) wrong. I can see your perspective. I was confused because I had thought Jesus was saying Water Baptism and Baptism of the Holy Spirit was required. Thank you again for your reply, God bless!

(Terry Black) #5

Sorry I remain confused! In Matthew 3:13-16 Jesus insisted on Being baptized by John who was reluctant. Yet Jesus said Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness (ESV) are there 2 baptisms? John Baptized with water and Jesus of spirit? One of water where we choose to openly accept Jesus and a 2nd where we are baptized in the Holy spirit. Its been a confusing question for me for some time?

(Cameron Kufner) #6

Terry, no worries, it was confusing to me at first until I understood it myself. The water baptism is an outward declaration of an inward work. But, to be born-again, we must be born of the spirit. To be born of the spirit is not by water, it is by the spirit. Before a true believer gets baptized with water, they have to be born of the spirit. Like I said, the water baptism is an outward declaration of an inward work. Something has to change my way of thinking, my way of life, etc. And that is the Holy Spirit. So yes, there are two kinds of baptisms. One is with the Holy Spirit, and the other is with water, which John The Baptist performed as you mentioned.

(Cameron Kufner) #7

Also, Terry, to further my point, can the power of the Holy Spirit fall on you during water baptism? Yes! I know for me daily, I always feel heat during my prayers, which I like to think of as a continuous basking/baptism in the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit wants to run through me like a river. But yes, you can have a baptism of both water and the Holy Spirit happen at the same time. As I have seen people speak in tongues immediately after getting water baptized. God bless!

(Terry Black) #8

Thanks for your reply! My water baptism was a special moment/declaration. I feel a presence of Holy spirit also but Have so much more to learn and grow with. As well as more questions. God Bless

(Cameron Kufner) #9

God bless you as well, Terry!

(Matt Western) #10

Actually @Terry52, you’ve prompted me to go and do some further reading as well. I’ve never really thought properly about what it meant in verse 15, “it’s fitting to fulfil all righteousness”. I imagine it might be something to do with fulfilling Old Testament prophesies, but has prompted me to go and do some more study.

I have found on www.bible.org a number of free commentaries - and searched for the verse Matthew 3:15 to learn more about this phrase. I won’t try and put anything here as I’ve not read or digested it. It would probably make sense to study all 4 of the Gospels to get a complete picture of the Baptism of Jesus. It’s a great passage in and of itself showing the Trinity. God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s so clear.

The page I’m reading is https://bible.org/seriespage/5-baptism-jesus-matthew-313-17.

Actually in reference to the John 3:5 passage, I have found this article which shows two views on the verse - might be a good launching point for further study and reflection.

This is what’s so good about this forum, it provokes me to further read the Bible, and become deeper in the faith. :slight_smile:

Also, a google search for ‘what does denomination x believe about baptism’ might also be good for a full in depth study - I found a few doctrinal links. I’m writing from the perspective of a Baptist denomination, and have no in-depth knowledge of other denominations.
Presbyterian: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/what-presbyterians-believe-the-sacrament-of-baptism/
Baptist: https://www.baptistdistinctives.org/resources/articles/believers-baptism/
Pentecostal: http://pentecostallifechurch.com/baptism/

There are others of course, including the Catholic faith - I just search for a few Protestant ones I know off. :slight_smile:

(Terry Black) #11

Thanks Matthew! You are right there are a lot of online resources and these questions are a great way to deepen our faith. Various denominations do seem to differ on this issue. My brother and I have lengthy discussions on baptism and luke warm Christians and churches. I like that in James 2 he discusses at length the importance of faith with deeds. For me this indicates that if we truly have faith water baptism would follow as the natural next step. Thanks again for your kind insights!

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #17


No problem I just wanted to share how I personally answered this question for myself. Glad it helped. God bless!

(Micah Bush) #19

The necessity/non-necessity of baptism for salvation is an issue I’ve had to consider a couple times in the past few years. In the end, I believe that we need to consider what the ultimate purpose of baptism is in order to answer this question.

On its own, baptism, which is a physical act, cannot directly impact the immortal soul, so it must be symbolic. In my view (those of other faith traditions are free to disagree with me), baptism is basically an act of submission, a public display in which one leaves behind (by “washing away”) an old life in order to pursue a life of obedience to God alongside other believers (the Church). This is why Jesus was baptized, not because He had sins in need of forgiveness, but in order to stand before men to announce the beginning of His ministry, which was carried out in submission to the Father’s will through the empowerment of the Spirit.

Since baptism is a public declaration of submission to God’s will, I believe that while baptism is important (and often under-emphasized today), it is not absolutely necessary to enter God’s kingdom, provided the reasons are practical in nature and the believer’s life is otherwise reflective of heartfelt submission to God. By this I mean that if one was not able to be baptized before death, or else was not told that he/she ought to be baptized, it is probably not a salvation issue, whereas if one refuses to be baptized (say, out of some anti-works view of salvation that rejects baptism as “works-based” in defiance of the clear mandates of Scripture), then it may be a salvation issue because it betrays a refusal to submit to God’s stated will for believers. While I believe that baptism should shortly follow repentance whenever possible, I am not prepared to say that a sincere believer will be barred from Heaven because he/she was incapable of being baptized prior to death.

The way the thief on the cross fits into this view is that, while he was not physically baptized with water, he did, through public declaration, express faith in Christ at the very moment when such faith seemed most ridiculous. As Christ hung from the cross, naked, bloody, and dying the most torturous and humiliating of deaths ever devised, His claims to be the divine Son of God appeared more absurd than ever. And yet, the thief who knew the humiliation Christ was suffering better than anyone was prepared to sacrifice the only shred of dignity he had left and publicly profess the belief that Jesus, a crucified man, would still come into His kingdom. That is why Jesus could tell this unbaptized man, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” It’s a similar case with martyrs who, though never water-baptized, are prepared to die rather than renounce Christ; theirs is a “baptism of blood,” which is also a public declaration of faith and act of submission.

At any rate, that’s the perspective on baptism that I have found most persuasive to date. Ultimately, though, the question of how baptism/non-baptism impacts salvation is God’s issue to resolve.

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #21

i agree with you on that all the way. Baptism cannot directly impact the soul but it is nonetheless symbolic. In many ways it is like Communion. The act is symbolic (so thus sacred), where one’s will lines up with God’s (even though baptism is usually a one-time thing) and the Holy Spirit dwells within us.

I loved your perspective of the thief on the cross by the way.

(Bill Brander) #27

“This is what’s so good about this forum, it provokes me to further read the Bible, and become deeper in the faith.”
Absolutely Matthew. That’s what I enjoy about these forums. Make me a better disciple

(Jimmy Sellers) #44

I posted this to highlight the fact that this is not a settled issue but it sure is important enough to write about, 42 volumes. :grinning:

(Paul Yenor) #47

Hi guys. I am reading through everything that you guys have said so i dug a little bit for myself and i came across the verse in 1 Peter 3 when it says, “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” If baptism is not an essential act, then why does peter declare that it then saves you?

(Jimmy Sellers) #48

Would it be fair to ask if baptism saves you what then do we need Jesus for? I don’t mean this in a mean spirited way but if I where a skeptic that would cross my mind.

This is an after thought but I think that it will give you something to think about when you compare Paul’s use of Moses in

10 For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all went through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. (1 Co 10:1–4LEB)

As relating to the crossing of the Red Sea. Peter chose Noah, who in many 2nd Temple circle was a “Type” just as Moses was, to make his point that just as the Hebrew passed through the water so did Noah’s family pass through the water and in both cases from peril to safety.

20 who were formerly disobedient, when the patience of God waited in the days of Noah, while* an ark was being constructed, in which a few—that is, eight souls—were rescued through water. 21 And also, corresponding to this, baptism now saves you, not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, with angels and authorities and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Pe 3:20–22 LEB)

If this is true then in both cases we can see that water was not the saving action but the method that was used to bring a person for exile to freedom in Christ.

I hope this helps I know that it is not the definitive answer but it does help me.