Meaning, Understanding and Importance of Water Baptism by Immersion

The word "baptism" is from the Greek word "baptisma" and from a primary Greek verb "bapto," which is also the root of the word baptize. The word means to dip, to dye, to immerse, or to change the identification of. An example is when a piece of white cloth was immersed "bapto" into blue dye, it no longer white cloth because its identification was changed to blue cloth. This all demonstrates that the language is flexible and implies that the meaning must be determined by its context. The word meaning is never associated solely as with water, unless the context of the statement it is in, accompanies this meaning. Though it can be associated with water, this is not always true and quite often every reference in the Bible is mistakenly considered a reference to water baptism. We often get a mental picture of the word baptize to be connected with water and then want to transfer this idea to all references in scripture giving an incorrect understanding which has led some to erroneous teaching.

The word baptizo, is sometimes followed by “in”, as in water, in the desert, in Jordan; sometimes followed by “into” as, into the name, into Christ; among others. It has a number of figurative uses. Remember that the word “baptism” has two senses; the one referring to the application of water as a religious rite, and the other the sense of “dedicating, consecrating, initiating into,” or bringing under obligation to.

Baptism is just as necessary as any other act of faith and part of it if the reference of baptism in a particular portion of scripture is the immersing or indwelling of the Holy Spirit within you at conversion.

Baptism and the Lord's Supper are the two symbolical ordinances of the New Testament. As in the Lord’s Supper the bread and wine used are symbols of the great work of Christ, so in water baptism the work of the Holy Spirit is seen in the act of immersion in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Baptism signifies a confession of faith in Christ, a cleansing or washing of the soul from sin and a death to sin and a new life in righteousness. As the communion elements of bread and wine are called the sacrament of communion, water baptism is outward representation of an inward reality and a visible sign of an inward grace.

As condemnation rests on disbelief, salvation rests on belief. Baptism is merely the picture of the new life not the means of securing it. Saying that water baptism is necessary for salvation is dangerous because it is saying that there is something we must do to complete salvation. To maintain that water baptism is necessary for salvation, is adding a work, your own, to the finished work of Christ?

Historical data particularly in the book of Acts suggests that individuals who professed faith in Christ were immediately baptized. But because historical fact that many people in the book of Acts who placed their faith in Christ, were immediately baptized, does not make water baptism a necessary condition for salvation.

Throughout the scriptures, we read about the doctrine of salvation. Intangible things always encompass it: repenting from one's sins believing in your heart, trusting Christ, and accepting Him as Lord and Savior. None of those things accompanies a physical action. Baptism is a work because it is an action. Jesus Christ never said or implied anywhere that salvation wasn't given until you could be baptized with water? Christians know that they aren't saved by works. We see this in the scriptures and know that salvation is by grace through faith and faith alone. To say that water baptism is also necessary is saying that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not sufficient enough for salvation but we had to do something to help Him out. If this was true we would now be making this a works Gospel.

How can we know if one must be baptized in order to be saved? It is important to consider the full counsel of God’s word to establish what is meant and not to jump unto any single verse when all else are pointing in a different direction. We must remember that God’s word never contradicts itself and when we find a single verse or so that seemingly says something different than what the rest of scripture indicates then this has to be taken into account. To summarize the evidence against water baptism being required for salvation is there.

Matt. 3:11 John contrasted in a figurative use, his baptism” with water” and the "baptism by fire" that Jesus would bring. Figuratively pointing to the work of the Holy Spirit the scripture records in Acts 1:5 and 2:1 13 that this baptism took place at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given.

Romans 6: 1~14 baptism here teaches by its language that our old man doesn't die and the new man doesn't live until we are saved and baptized by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us.

Matt. 28:19 “Teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father”.
Here it means, being baptized unto his service; receiving him as Saviour. To be baptized into Christ is to accept the doctrine of Christ crucified. There is a difference between being baptized in water in the name of Christ, and being baptized into Christ.

Mark 16:16 And He said to them, “Go into all the world, proclaim the gospel to all the creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Does this verse teach that baptism is necessary for salvation? No, it very clearly establishes that belief is required for salvation, but does not prove or disprove whether baptism is a condition or requirement for salvation. Because baptism is not associated with ‘ does not believe’ it would seem to show that Jesus does not make baptism essential to salvation. As condemnation rests on disbelief, not on baptism; so salvation rests on belief. Baptism is merely the picture of the new life not the means of securing it.

When you consider the Gospel in 1 Cor. 15:1 4: "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."

The gospel is defined as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus for our sins. Baptism is not mentioned here.

Paul said that he came to preach the gospel, not to baptize: 1 Cor. 1:14 17. If baptism is necessary then Paul would not have downplayed it and left it out of the description of what is required for salvation.

If a person under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, believed in Jesus as his Savior , and has received Christ as Savior, is that person saved? Of course he is. Further if this person confesses his sinfulness, cries out in repentance to the Lord, and receives Jesus as Savior and then prepares to get baptized at a local church. Before this happens he is killed. Does he go to heaven or hell? If he goes to heaven then baptism isn't necessary for salvation. If He goes to hell, then trusting in Jesus, by faith, isn't enough for salvation. Doesn't that go against the Scriptures that say that salvation is a free gift received by faith?

Some verses that are commonly used to support the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.

It is said to figuratively represent the death of the person in Rom. 6:3 5, the union of that person with Christ Gal. 3:27, the cleansing of that person's sins Acts 22:16, the identification with the one "baptized into" as when the Israelites were baptized into Moses 1 Cor. When you understand that baptism is a covenant sign, then you can see that it is a representation of the reality of Christ circumcising our hearts. It is our outward proclamation of the inward spiritual blessing of regeneration. It comes after faith which is a gift of God.

John 3:5 "Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.'

When Jesus told Nicodemus that he must “be born of water and the Spirit,” He was not referring to literal water but was referring to the need for spiritual cleansing or renewal. Water is often used figuratively of spiritual cleansing or regeneration that is brought forth by the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, at the moment of salvation.

Acts 2:38 "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.‘It seems to say that baptism is part of salvation. But from other scriptures it isn't, lest there be a contradiction. What is going on here is simply that repentance and forgiveness of sins are connected. In the Greek, "repent" is in the plural and so is "your" of "your sins." They are meant to be understood as being related to each other. It is like saying, "All of you repent, each of you get baptized, and all of you will receive forgiveness." Repentance is a mark of salvation because it is granted by God and is given to believers only.

1 Pet. 3:21 "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."

This is the only verse that seems to say that baptism saves. The key word in this section is “symbolizes” which in the Greek means antitupon, which means "copy," "type," corresponding to," "a thing resembling another," "its counterpart," etc. Baptism here then is a representation, a copy, a type of something else. So what does baptism correspond to ?". The answer is found in the previous verse, 1 Pet. 3:20: "who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

Was it the water or the ark that saved Noah and his family? Obviously, it was the Ark. Noah entered the ark by faith. Baptism here refers to the Ark, not the waters. That is why the rest of the verse says, "not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God" which is consistent with what Paul said in Col. 2:11 12.

Rom. 6:4, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." Because the believer is so closely united to Christ it is said that the symbol of baptism is our death, burial, and resurrection. Obviously we did not die unless, of course, it is a figurative usage.

Titus 3:5 "he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." The washing of rebirth can only be that washing of the blood of Christ that cleanses us. The reality is the blood of Christ.

Gal. 3:27 "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." This is speaking of the believer's union with Christ. It is an identification with, a joining to, a proclamation of loyalty to, etc.

Acts 10:43 Peter said, "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." Again no mention of baptism. The example of Cornelius is significant because Cornelius received the Holy Spirit before he was baptized. Peter responded Acts 10:43, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" Here we have clear evidence of a genuine believer who had not yet been baptized.

A Philippian jailer asked in Acts 16:30, 31 an important question to Paul and Silas: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" In response Paul and Silas said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved." Paul didn't include water baptism! After the jailer responded Paul baptized him. The consistent pattern therefore seems to be this. Unbelievers heard the gospel and responded. Then they were immediately baptized, immersed in water at moment of faith. The preaching of the apostles does not demonstrate that baptism is a necessary condition for salvation.

Paul in 1 Cor. 1:17 drew a clear distinction between the preaching of the gospel and baptism when he said "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect." If Paul wasn't even sent to baptize, then how can it possibly be a prerequisite for salvation? If it were, Paul surely would have been sent to preach the gospel and baptize. Passages that describe baptism may be referring to something other than water baptism or may be using baptism in a symbolic way. Consider I Cor. 12:13. Paul wrote, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...we were all made to drink of one Spirit." it is clear is that Paul used the word baptize figuratively. The Holy Spirit did not baptize us in water. Rather, this "baptism" involved our inauguration into the family of God.

Luke 23:39 43 Consider the thief on the cross. He said to Jesus, "Remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" In response Jesus didn't say, "Get baptized!" but rather (v. 43), "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise."

Finally consider Jesus' words to the thief on the cross, who more than likely was not taken off the cross and baptized before he died, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise." This brings us to ask, "What is the necessary and sufficient condition for salvation?”

In order to prove that baptism was necessary for salvation, we would need a direct statement. We would need Jesus to tell us that those who do not get baptized go to Hell. However, we don't see this here or anywhere else in the scriptures.

Here are some gospel messages that tell us how to be saved and none of them mention baptism.

Romans 10:9,10 "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has 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."

Luke 19:8 10 "Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

John 3:14 16 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Romans 1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek."

Romans 13:11 "And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed."

Acts 16:29 31 "Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' So they said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.'

Final Conclusions

To conclude the whole of scripture does not teach that ‘Water Baptism’ is required for salvation; but we are commanded to be baptized after becoming saved as an outward sign to the world of what we truly believe on the inside. The order is always, hear the word, believe and then be baptized as outward proof of an inward change. Baptism will not save you, or will any other good work for that matter.

Also baptism of infants as some do, has no saving merit. Baptism by water always follows conversion and an infant does not have the ability to understand they are a sinner in need of salvation. Once someone is old enough to have understanding and then give their life to Christ, then after that they can become baptized. If someone had been baptized as an infant and then later in life became saved then they should become baptized again to follow what scripture tells us.

Remember Eph. 2:8~9 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. You are saved solely and only by God’s grace and His grace alone. He is sufficient for all. Don’t be deluded into a false hope that baptism will save you by itself. If you are already saved then don’t think you need to be baptized to make that salvation effective. You should desire to be baptized to be obedient to god; but not required for your eternal salvation.

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How can we know if one must be baptized in order to be saved? It is important to consider the full counsel of God’s word to establish what is meant and not to jump unto any single verse when all else are pointing in a different direction. We must remember that God’s word never contradicts itself and when we find a single verse or so that seemingly says something different than what the rest of scripture indicates then this has to be taken into account. To summarize the evidence against water baptism being required for salvation is there.

The whole of scripture does not teach that ‘Water Baptism’ is required for salvation; but we are commanded to be baptized after becoming saved as an outward sign to the world of what we truly believe on the inside. The order is always, hear the word, believe and then be baptized as outward proof of an inward change. Baptism will not save you, or will any other good work for that matter.

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