Is It Necessary to be Baptised? – by Eliezer Gonzalez

Jun 14, 2016 3897

Baptism-with-ChristI have heard some people say that baptism is not necessary for a Christian. They say, “As long as I believe in my heart, that’s all I need.”

Those who believe that it is not necessary to be baptised will point out that baptism doesn’t save anybody. And in saying this, they are completely right, because we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8). These people go on to point to the thief on the cross, who was never baptised, because he was converted and died on the cross. Yet he had the promise of Christ that he would be with him in paradise (Luke 23:43).

While the record of this promise indicates in an absolute sense that baptism is not necessary in order to be saved, this does not mean that baptism is not necessary. So if it is necessary, then why?

Let’s seek to understand this issue in greater depth by exploring three important reasons for baptism:

  1. Because baptism is inextricably linked to the Gospel throughout the New Testament

Baptism is not some Jewish practice that has been done away with. The idea and practice of being baptised into Jesus Christ for the gift of the forgiveness of sin is an entirely Christian innovation, commanded by Christ, and practised and taught by every single one of the Apostles. In many ways, the practice of baptism has been a distinguishing feature of Christianity since the Christian faith began.

It is impossible to separate the meaning of baptism from the Gospel, as Paul shows us in the sixth chapter of Romans. And it is impossible to separate the practice of baptism from Christian belief and from the reality of being a Christian.[1] These truths are interwoven through the very DNA of the New Testament. Baptism is the external sign of a person’s acceptance of the work of Christ, and of the internal work of the Holy Spirit.

It is interesting that Jesus Christ abolished a whole myriad of rituals and ceremonies and traditions that the Jews observed – thousands of them! To replace them all, he instituted only two new rituals for Christians to practice: only two! One was the Lord’s Supper, and the other was baptism. Not too onerous, I think? And both of these rituals have their meaning centred squarely on the Cross and the Resurrection.

If you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel, since when did baptism become optional?

  1. Because Christ commanded all believers to be baptised

Was Christ wrong when he said,

He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16)?

Were the apostles and Peter wrong when they

commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 10:48)?

No, they weren’t wrong. Even though the emphasis in Mark 16:16 is on believing, it is still undeniable that Christ commands everyone who believes to be baptised. That’s how the apostles understood it, and that’s the only way in which the words of Christ can be understood.

Let me repeat that it is not baptism that saves. So if it is impossible for a person to be baptised, that has no impact on their salvation. That was the case for the thief on the cross.

In the Gospels, we find many commands from the lips of Christ. We are told to love our neighbour as ourselves, to be merciful to others, and not to commit murder or adultery. It is not obedience to any of these commands that saves us. But does that mean that we must not obey them because we are saved through other means? Of course not. Yet that is the logic some people apply to baptism.

  1. Because it is a sign of submission to Christ

To be a Christian and to not wish to be baptised is an interesting concept, since baptism is pre-eminently a sign of submission to Christ. Consider this verse in the context of the whole sixth chapter of Romans

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Rom. 6:3).

Remind me again, which parts of our lives do we not need to submit to Christ? Which parts do not need to be taken to Calvary? Which commandment of Christ should we postpone or reject outright?

For me, that is a clincher. How can I refuse to submit to the ritual which is the symbol of submission to Christ and to his Cross—given by Christ himself? Impossible!

Symbols and Their Meanings

Of course, baptism itself saves nobody. But it is the symbol that the One who saves has given to us as an external witness of his salvation.

Symbols are interesting things. It is true that they have no meaning in and of themselves. Take three reels of thread – the colours blue, red and white. They mean nothing, don’t they? But sew them together in a specific pattern and you have our flag: something people are prepared to die for, because others who died for what it means, and they have handed it down to us. People accept their flag as a gift that has been bestowed on them to hold safe and to treasure. They don’t burn it, spit on it, or ignore it. And it’s not optional: people can’t say, “Well, you have your flag if you like, but I’m going to live in this country and not accept it.” You accept it by default when you want to be a citizen.

It’s the same with baptism. Being dunked under the water itself means nothing. It doesn’t save you. But it is a gift that has been given to you by the One who gave his life for you.

Baptism is not necessary in order to be saved – that was never its purpose – but it is necessary. And if you haven’t been baptised yet and you can read this, then there’s still time.

– Eliezer Gonzalez

[1] The Christian meaning and practice of baptism is radically different from that of Jewish baptism in the first century. Think for a moment why it is that in Christianity a person is baptized usually only once, but the Jews would be baptized many times in their lifetimes, and sometimes many times in a single day! For the Jews, baptism essentially expressed a desire to be ritually clean, and they would be baptized as often as they felt unclean. New Testament baptism is an expression of the acceptance of the once-for-all-time sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of sin, acceptance of resurrection life, and entry into the Kingdom of God.

Tony Weathers

Aug 31, 2017


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