protesters marching on a cold day

Is it necessary for a person to be baptized in order to be saved? What about the thief on the cross? He wasn't baptized and was saved.

Welcome to part 11 of my biblical baptism series. In this post, we'll tackle these important questions.

The posts in this series build on each other. If you need to catch up, here are links to the previous posts:

  1. Introduction
  2. Is Scripture Descriptive or Prescriptive?
  3. Defining 'baptism'
  4. The Baptism of John
  5. Why Was Jesus Baptized?
  6. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
  7. The Baptism that Jesus Commanded
  8. The Biblical Purpose of Water Baptism
  9. Is Baptism a Public Demonstration?
  10. Harmonizing Grace, Faith and Works

...

One of the more common questions people ask regarding the subject of baptism is:

"Does a person have to be baptized (in order to be saved)?"

Let's reason about this question together.

Heart check

You may find what I have to say challenging because it conflicts with your current beliefs.

Before we continue here, let's do a quick heart check. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a pure heart?
  • Am I seeking to know GOD's truth—even when it challenges or conflicts what I believe?
  • Do I care more about pleasing GOD and doing what's right than anything else?
  • If Scripture contradicts my beliefs, am I willing to change?

If you can't wholeheartedly say Yes to those questions, stop here. You're not ready.

If you're ready, let's dive in...

Did Jesus command water baptism?

Yes. (Read this post to see how we arrive at this conclusion.)

Do the Scriptures say that baptism is the point when the believer's sins are forgiven?

Yes.

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
(Acts 2:36-41 NIV)

Peter said repentance and baptism was needed in order to have sins forgiven.

Paul said that water baptism was the point at which the believing sinner is united with Jesus' death and that it is those who are baptized who would be resurrected to eternal life.

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

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
(Rom. 6:3-8 NIV)

Baptism is the point at which the old man of sin dies and new birth occurs.

The obvious and natural conclusion is that, without baptism, the old man ruled by sin still lives. That old man ruled by sin, while alive in the flesh, stands condemned by GOD because there has been no blood payment for their sins.

When baptized (for the right reason, that is, with the intention of having Jesus cleanse their sins), Jesus' innocent blood becomes the substitute payment that GOD demands for that life's sins. As a result, they arise from the water with a fresh start, no longer living under sin but having been set free by GOD's grace.

"What about the thief on the cross? He was saved without baptism."

This is the most common objection people have to the essentiality of baptism.

I understand it is often asked from a place of sincerity. Yet something about this question angers me to the core.

I think it's because it's like, by asking this, we're having this conversation with Jesus...

Jesus: I want you to be baptized in order to have your sins forgiven.

Us: What about that guy on the cross? He didn't have to do that, Lord. Why should I?

Jesus: I want you to be baptized.

Us: But that dude didn't have to, so I shouldn't have to.

If Jesus told you personally, "I want you to make a sign that says, 'I'm a sinner and asked Jesus to save me,' and go stand in the busiest intersection of town." would you do it?

Most of us would.

Yet, how much harder is this than simply obeying what Jesus asked of us?

Why are we trying to argue with GOD?

...

Back to the question...

What is it that forgives our sins?

The blood of Jesus.

Did Jesus live under the Law of Moses?

Yes.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, had He died yet (and thus shed all of His blood for man's sins)?

No.

When the thief asked Jesus to be remembered and Jesus promised his salvation, had Jesus given the command for new disciples to be baptized?

No.

THEN WHY THE HECK WOULD WE THINK THIS GUY SHOULD HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED?!?!

Okay, sorry for "shouting" at you. I mean no offense.

I get animated about this because, often, asking this question is a knee-jerk learned behavior taught by some pastor or Bible class teacher who hadn't thought through things.

Okay, I'm calm now.

The new covenant took effect after Jesus died and was resurrected. Jesus commanded baptism after this point.

Besides these things, Jesus has the right to choose who to save. If He chose to save any person today or in the future, that would be His right. Our role is to faithfully obey what He told us to do.

Remember these things...

Besides these points, remember the following:

Saul of Tarsus is the clearest example that disproves the idea that sins are forgiven prior to baptism.

  • Read Acts 9, 22 and 26.
  • Saul believed and confessed Jesus on the Damascus road (see Acts 9:5).
  • According to modern teaching, Saul would have been forgiven of his sins at that point. He had directly confessed Jesus as Lord and asked what he should do.
  • Jesus didn't say his sins were forgiven. Jesus sent him, blindedly, into Damascus and told him to wait there.
  • Ananias went to Saul and told him to get up and be baptized and wash away his sins (see Acts 22:16).
  • Saul was baptized and received forgiveness at that point.

If an apostle wasn't forgiven until baptism, what makes us think GOD would forgive one of us differently. That's not how GOD chose to work.

...

Baptism is the proper response of a good conscience towards GOD (see 1 Pet. 3:21).

Want a good conscience?

Want to obey GOD?

Then be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.

...

When Paul encountered some disciples at Ephesus who hadn't been baptized into Jesus, he told them to be baptized into Jesus, which they did promptly (see Acts 19:1-5).

This example shows the importance of baptism.

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The one baptism mentioned in Eph. 4:1-6 is a key cornerstone to maintaining unity.

Without it you can't be unified with GOD's children who have submitted to His will for them, being baptized.

...

Why not be baptized? What is the big deal? It isn't like it's difficult.

Just accept what the Scriptures say and submit to GOD's will.

I really like what Francis Chan says in the video below.

He asks the very questions we should all be asking:

Is what I believe based solely upon the Bible or is it something that was fed to me by someone else?

Download the series as a PDF ⬇️

download baptism series

Read Part 12 here:

Continue to part 12, "Is Sprinkling Baptism?"

Tim Harris
Author: Tim Harris

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