Baptism is the expected initial outward response to the gospel, but it is not a part of the gospel itself (1 Cor. 1:17, 1 Peter 3:21). To put it in basic terms, baptism doesn’t save you – but once saved you will get baptized. For example, look at a baby being born. When a baby first enters the world it receives a name. However, if the baby does not receive a name there is no basis to believe the child was not born – of course it was! Now, the infant surely will acquire a name, because that is what happens when someone is born – they receive a name. Likewise, if we are Christians (born again) then we should be baptized (receiving a name)! If we are not baptized it does not negate the justifying work God has done. We should however, be baptized.
The Apostle Peter was a participant in what is the greatest proof that baptism is not necessary for salvation. In the Bible, Acts 10 tells us of when Peter was preaching and continues, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” The Holy Spirit comes upon these people as a sign of salvation without them being baptized (Eph. 1:14)! How do we know? Because the verse continues, “Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized.” The implications are obvious – salvation comes before baptism, and baptism is a response to salvation.
When one studies many texts closely that are offered as proof of baptism being necessary for salvation it becomes clear that baptism is not a prerequisite. Verses such as Mark 16:16 are cited: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” This is not arguing that salvation is dependant upon baptism. Rather, it is showing the intricate link between our inner convictions and outer responses. What’s more, the second half of the verse continues, “but whoever does not believe will be condemned” – showing that it is not the lack of baptism that condemns you, but rather unbelief!
The Bible Knowledge Commentary says it well:
“Though the New Testament writers generally assume that under normal circumstances each believer will be baptized, 16:16 does not mean that baptism is a necessary requirement for personal salvation. The second half of the verse indicates by contrast that one who does not believe the gospel will be condemned by God (implied) in the day of final judgment (cf. 9:43-48). The basis for condemnation is unbelief, not the lack of any ritual observance. Baptism is not mentioned because unbelief precludes one’s giving a confession of faith while being baptized by water. Thus the only requirement for personally appropriating God’s salvation is faith in Him (cf. Rom 3:21-28; Eph 2:8-10).”
So we know baptism is not necessary to salvation, but why would a Christian NOT be baptized? Jesus Christ commanded that we baptize those who believe in Matthew 28:19 so we know it is an intricate part of our faith! To sum up I’ll quote the Christian Research Journal: “baptism is necessary in that Christ commands it, and all genuine Christians who understand this fact must either be baptized or be considered to be in a state of disobedience and rebellion against Christ. But baptism is not prerequisite to being born again or forgiven of one’s sins, and it is possible, however irregular, for persons who have not been baptized to be saved nevertheless through faith in Jesus Christ.”
1. CRI STATEMENT DB045
2. Bible Knowledge Commentary/Old Testament (c) 1983, 2000 Cook Communications Ministries; Bible Knowledge Commentary/New Testament (c) 1983, 2000 Cook Communications Ministries