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Does a person need to be water baptized to be saved?

Quick Answer: Does a person need to be water baptized to be saved? What exactly is the purpose of baptism? While some teach that water baptism is necessary for salvation, Scripture makes the opposite claim – that it is not water baptism but spiritual baptism into the resurrection of Christ that actually saves (1 Peter 3:23). Furthermore, the Apostle Paul states that Christ did not send him to baptize but to preach the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17) – an odd statement to make if water baptism were necessary for salvation. So, water baptism is not necessary for salvation, and much like the Lord’s Supper, it is an outward reminder of what occurred inwardly when we believed.

Diving Deeper: Some erroneously teach that water baptism is necessary for salvation. But Scripture is clear this is not the case.

In 1 Peter 3:21, the Apostle Peter speaks of two types of baptism: a baptism for salvation and a physical baptism. The baptism for salvation is associated with “an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” This baptism is into Christ’s resurrection. This first form of baptism is what happens spiritually when we believe in Jesus. We are spiritually baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. We see this same sentiment expressed in Romans 6:3-5 and Colossians 2:12.

The second form of baptism referenced by 1 Peter 3:21 (“the removal of dirt from the flesh”) is a physical one. Peter is clear this baptism does not save! Instead, this baptism is presented as the symbolic representation of what occurred spiritually when we believed in Christ. This is the form of baptism we see Peter address in Acts 10:46-48. The Gentiles had already received the Spirit (without being water baptized), and Peter encourages a physical baptism in light of their salvation.

Additionally, the Apostle Paul did not view baptism as necessary for salvation. He made it clear to the church in Corinth that he came to preach Christ, not baptize people in water (1 Corinthians 1:17). This is quite an odd statement to make if baptism were necessary for salvation.

But what about John 3:5-6 which speaks of the necessity of being born of both water and the Spirit if one wants to enter the Kingdom? Here, “born of water” means physical birth. This is seen in verse 6 when John refers to being born of “flesh.” John’s point is that one cannot be only born physically and enter the Kingdom. One must be born physically and be born a second time – spiritually. This was especially important for the Jews to know, since they believed they were God’s people simply based on their birthright (their first birth).

In Acts 2:38, Peter associates repentance and baptism with the forgiveness of sins. Some claim the verse should be read as “repent and be baptized in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins.” From there, they argue that water baptism causes forgiveness. However, we know from the whole of Scripture (Old and New Testaments) that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Blood is what brought our forgiveness, not water.

In Acts 2:38, Peter is simply portraying the big picture of salvation. Water baptism was a common public announcement one made to associate themselves with a teaching, movement, or group. In the days of the early church, water baptism and faith in Jesus were closely linked, though they were not inseparable.

In conclusion, Scripture is clear that water baptism doesn’t save anyone. Rather, it is a symbolic act designed to publicly declare we’ve been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Let’s Make It a Conversation!
1. Have you ever heard the false teaching that water baptism is required for salvation? Do you agree or disagree?
2. React to Paul’s declaration: God did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel.
3. React to this statement: The thief on the cross was never baptized in water but went to heaven with Jesus that day.
4. Why do you think water baptism was so intrinsically linked to salvation in the early church? (Consider the followers of John the Baptist, the historical meaning of baptism before Christianity, and the Jewish religion that pressured the early church from all sides.)

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