Is Baptism required for Christians? Do I have to be baptized to be saved? Will I go to hell if I never get baptized? Is ‘Baptismal Regeneration’ Biblical?
These questions are asked frequently in Christian discussions. What one thinks or believes on this subject is not as important as what the Bible states, which is God’s truth. This article will look at the Biblical doctrines on baptism and its purpose. And while Christians are certainly commanded to be baptized, it is not required or necessary for salvation.
What Is Baptism?
The first mention of baptism in the Bible is in Matthew 3:
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight… Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. — Matthew 3:1-12
Baptism is immersion in water. At the time of John the Baptist’s ministry, he called for the Jewish people to repent in preparation for the arrival of the Messiah, Christ Jesus. What is important to note here is that John distinguishes between his baptism, which was done with water, and the Baptism done by Jesus Christ which is done “with the Holy Ghost, and with fire…” This is a very important distinction to understand. Baptism by water is an act a born again believer chooses to do as an outward sign of their salvation to the public. It symbolizes their “death to self” and rebirth in Jesus Christ. Baptism by the Holy Ghost is what takes place in the heart when one is saved and is a critical aspect of salvation. John The Baptist, obviously someone who was knowledgeable on this subject was well aware of what we he was doing and how what Jesus was going to do in His sacrifice on the cross, was far, far greater.
Baptism Is a Picture and Type of Your Salvation
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: — 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.
The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ in accordance with the Scriptures is The Gospel. It is the Good Tidings that if a person believes in, can receive forgiveness for their sins and eternal life. It is faith in the Gospel that saves, not in any action of our own. Baptism is symbolic of what Jesus Christ went through and symbolically displays our own “death and resurrection” in Christ:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. — Romans 5:3-4
Being immersed into water is a picture of Christ’s death and burial. When you become a born again Christian, your old spirit, which was evil, dies to sin. You receive a new spirit and are quickened or made alive, in its place. Thus emerging from the water is a type of Christ’s resurrection and the new born spirit in a new believer:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. — 2 Corinthians 5:17.
All these things are happening inside the believer. Baptism is just a symbolic act. It has no supernatural power and does nothing to affect a Christian or make them believe. There is a belief called “Baptismal regeneration” that states the water used in Baptism does indeed bring a supernatural change in a Christian and is required for salvation. And that this type of supernatural baptism was instituted by Jesus when He gave the command in the verse above. But does the Bible support this? Upon an examination of Scriptures about people in the Bible actually being saved, it becomes clear that baptismal regeneration is a false teaching.
Baptism Happens After One Is Born Again
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. — Matthew 28:18-20.
These beautiful parting words of instruction from Jesus to His Disciples before He ascended and returned to Heaven established baptism as an ordinance for the Christian church. The people were to be taught first and then baptized once they were born again believers. Nowhere in the Bible is it ever stated that baptism is required to be a born again believer. In fact, we see the exact opposite through scripture. The book of Acts provides many details instances of the Gospel being preached and new believers being born again. And from these accounts baptism plays no role in the conversion of the new Christian.
The Apostle Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost
In Acts chapter 2, Peter, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit preached at the Feast of Pentecost and thousands of new believers joined the church. At the end of his preaching he was asked what must be done for salvation:
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost…And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. — Acts 2:37-41.
Those hold the belief that baptism is necessary to be born again believe this passage is proof since Peter told them “repent and be baptized..” However when one looks at verse 41, it is clear that only those who “gladly received his word” ended up getting baptized. It was the belief in the Gospel that came first and then the baptism took place.
The Ethiopian Eunuch
Acts Chapter 8 provides another excellent example of the Gospel being shared and a new born again Christian joining the church. The Apostle Philip, once again under inspiration from the Holy Spirit, approached an Ethiopian Eunuch who was reading Isaiah 53 in the Old Testament but did not fully understand the Messianic prophecies. Philip helped him and shared the Gospel:
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. – Acts 8:35-38.
Again, notice that in order for the Eunuch to be baptized he first had to confirm that he believed that Jesus was indeed the Christ and the Son of God. He first believed the Gospel and was thus already saved. Baptism was fulfilling a command for Christians as their outward symbol of their belief. Once again, the baptism did nothing to affect the Eunuch’s belief. He was already a believer.
Saul on the Road to Damascus
The Apostle Paul had one of the most supernatural conversion experiences ever recorded. Then known as Saul, prior to being saved, he was an enemy of the Christian church, who hunted down Christians, persecuted them and arranged for their execution. Yet he became a believer after The Lord Jesus spoke to him directly from Heaven:
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. — Acts 9:4-6.
At this point, Saul, humbled and blinded by The Lord came to understand the truth, that Jesus is Lord. How do we know this? In verse 5 Saul says “Lord, what wilt thou have me do?” Not only did Saul realize that Jesus, whose believers he had been attacking, was in fact God, he was humbly willing to follow his commands. He was a believer. And yet it was not until days later, that he was baptized:
And [Saul] was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. — Acts 9:9-18.
Saul obeyed Jesus. He then waited and prayed. He was clearly a believer in Christ for 3 days before he was baptized. Again, baptism was not required for salvation.
Cornelius The Centurion
Acts chapter 10 is entirely devoted to the witnessing of the Gospel to one man and his family. The Apostle Peter, directed by God, went to the home of the Gentile Roman Centurion and preached the Gospel. This chapter shows clearly that salvation and receiving the Holy Ghost happens without being baptized.
The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly… To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. –Acts 10:34 -45.
Peter gives a Gospel presentation and not only did Cornelius believe, in verse 44, the Holy Ghost interrupts Peter’s sermon and fell on “all them which heard the word.” Without question, Cornelius and his family were born again believers, who received the Holy Spirit. And once they spoke in Biblical tongues, the others with Peter then urged them to be baptized. Why? Because they knew they were obviously born again and had received the Holy Spirit. In every believer, the Holy Spirit works to cleanse us from sin and lead us in our Christian life:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. – 2 Corinthians 5:17.
This is the essential baptism and it happens in the heart. It is the new spirit that is born in a new Christian. This is the baptism of the Holy Ghost that John the Baptist preached of.
The Thief on the Cross and Every Old Testament Believer
The thief on the cross next to Jesus was nailed at his hands and feet. He was completely unable to perform any action, much less be baptized. And yet he was saved:
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. — Luke 23:42-43.
It was his faith that saved him, with no other action. And Jesus Christ personally confirmed it. Now some who support the idea of baptismal regeneration say that the thief was “an exception” because Jesus had not yet given the command of baptism. What this idea ignores is that there is and was always just one way to Heaven: faith in Jesus Christ. From Genesis chapter 3, God told humanity of His plan of redemption through the “seed of the woman”, the child who would one day be born, destroy Satan and redeem the human race. And it is faith in the Messiah that saves. Hebrews chapter 11 lists many of the Old Testament saints who were saved for their faith in Christ, from Abel to Abraham, Moses to Rahab and others. None of these Old Testament saints were baptized and yet they are in Heaven. Hebrews 11, often called “the Hall of fame of faith”, describes many of the faithful people of the Old Testament and that they were saved:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. — Hebrews 11:13.
They were saved based on their faith in the promise of the coming Messiah just as all Christians today are saved by faith that the promise was fulfilled 2,000 years ago. It is no different. And baptism plays no role.
We Are Saved By Grace Through Faith
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. –Ephesians 2:8-9.
It is our faith in the work Jesus Christ did on the cross that saves us and not any action. Should a Christian be baptized? Absolutely. It is one of the few ordinances of the church given by Jesus. But Jesus also commands Christians to have the Lord’s Supper. By the same incorrect logic, shouldn’t the that also be required in order to be saved? Of course not. It too is just a symbolic act that Christians do to remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Our “common salvation” is a gift of God. It is only received through belief in the heart. There is no action we can add on to what Jesus did to save ourselves. So this is how we know that Baptismal regeneration is a heresy and false teaching. Jesus said: “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40).
It is faith in Jesus Christ that brings the gift of eternal life. Jesus said “whosoever believeth on Him [Jesus Christ] shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). There were no other stipulation. There is no fine print. We believe in Jesus Christ and we are saved. Water baptism is just our way of publicly identifying with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But it is not required to go to Heaven. We cannot do any act to earn our salvation and thank God in Heaven we do not have to. Jesus did it all.