Jesus put a question to Jewish leaders on the origin of John’s baptism: was it from heaven or men (Mark 11:27-33)? They refused to answer, but they knew if they admitted it was from heaven, then Jesus would have asked why they rejected it.
Back in that day, Satan got Jews to reject baptism by denying where it came from. Today, most who claim to believe the Bible admit where baptism comes from (i.e. heaven), but they deny it is essential to being saved. Is one mistake better than the other?
For the purpose of this piece, let’s grant the assumption of nearly every single denomination that claims affinity with Christ. In other words, let’s suppose they’re correct, and that baptism is not necessary to become a Christian. What conclusions would follow? [Note: By “baptism,” we mean “immersion,” which is what the Greek word means.]
First, if baptism isn’t necessary, then Jesus’ baptism is no example for us. He traveled all the way from Galilee to the Jordan River for the purpose of being baptized (Matt. 3:3). It was after he came out of the water that the Holy Spirit descended on him, and God publicly acknowledged being “well pleased” with Jesus as his “beloved Son” (Luke 3:21-22). True, Jesus was not baptized for forgiveness of sins (which he did not have). But, if even Jesus had to be baptized, why would any of us think we should be exempt? Was it optional or mandatory that Jesus be baptized?
Second, if baptism isn’t necessary, then we can reject God’s purpose with impunity. When Pharisees and Jewish lawyers refused to be baptized by John, they “rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him” (Luke 7:30, ESV). God’s “purpose” was tied to men submitting to baptism. Think of this. There’s not a single example of someone who embraced John’s teaching, while rejecting John’s baptism. But, today, there are millions of examples of people who claim to believe the gospel, while rejecting that they must be baptized. What changed?
Third, if baptism isn’t necessary, then we can separate what Jesus joined. As he put it, “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). Jesus connects belief, baptism, and salvation—in that order. Many years later, man comes along and completely changes it to this: “whoever believes is already saved, and may/should be baptized.” Jesus is the one who joined belief and baptism (with both preceding salvation). Man is the one who separated them and said belief, by itself, leads to salvation, while baptism is left flapping in the breeze as a nonessential. If you think it’s okay to rewrite Scripture to accommodate modern teaching, remind me not to stand next to you at Judgment.
Fourth, if baptism isn’t necessary, then Jesus misspoke. He said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Anyone wishing to remove baptism from “born of water” has a steep hill to climb. If “unless” means anything, then Jesus claimed that being “born of” both elements precedes admission into the kingdom. It also means that, without being “born of water,” you are not entering God’s kingdom. If Jesus thought of baptism as unnecessary, why did he state it as a requirement? Either (1) baptism is necessary, or (2) being in God’s kingdom is not necessary. Which is it?
Fifth, if baptism is unnecessary, then Saul of Tarsus was taught error. Ananias told him, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). And it was God who sent Ananias to Saul. Did God send a false teacher? Did God send a confused teacher? Did Ananias get it wrong? Clearly, according to Ananias, sins are not washed away until baptism. So, either (1) baptism is essential to salvation, or (2) you can be saved without having your sins washed away. Modern dogma says your sins can be washed without baptism. But, that teaching comes from somewhere outside the Bible. Had you rather live by what Scripture actually says, or by what a church of today teaches that is at variance with the language of Scripture?
Sixth, if baptism is unnecessary, then you can be sanctified and justified without being washed. Writing to former heathens, Paul said some of them used to be adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, etc. In becoming Christians, they had to give up all that sin. Paul wrote, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). What came first—being “washed” or being “justified”? Remember, Ananias told Saul, “be baptized and wash away your sins.” Baptism is a washing that results in the soul’s being cleaned up by God. Let those who deny baptism’s necessity explain how God could count people as “justified” in his sight while there had been no washing to make them spiritually clean? To discount baptism is to say that having sins washed away is not necessary to be saved. Who believes that?
Seventh, if baptism is unnecessary, then there’s another way “into” Christ’s spiritual body which is never mentioned. Notice: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Likewise: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3). Those people became connected to the Lord when they went “into.” The way “into” was baptism. Where is the verse saying anyone ever believed into Christ, or repented into Christ, or prayed his way into Christ? If any of that is possible, it should be somewhere in the New Testament at least once. It’s not there. Scripture is specific that the way “into” is through baptism. So, either (1) baptism is necessary to be saved, or (2) getting “into” Christ is not necessary to be saved.
Eighth, if baptism is unnecessary, then Peter overstated it. Drawing an analogy to Noah’s flood, Peter wrote, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21). Either baptism “saves you” or baptism does not save you. Which did Peter affirm? Do you feel free to disagree with Peter’s statement? We all understand there are various things involved in being saved. However, nothing that “saves you” can be classified as unnecessary. And, according to that apostle, “baptism…now saves you.”
Ninth, if baptism is unnecessary, then you can skip being buried with Christ. Paul said, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Becoming a Christian is not an uncertain or gradual process. It’s an event that happens at a specific moment in time. It’s all about a connection to Christ, and the connection is made in baptism. That event—baptism—is described as a burial that identifies you with Jesus and his own death. It is the moment you access the benefits of Jesus’ death. It always precedes “newness of life” because it is in that event that sins are washed away and the former sinner’s soul is renewed. To believe that baptism is unnecessary is to disbelieve Paul.
If you have a hard time believing these verses, is it possible you have drunk so long at the well of modern teaching that God’s teaching sounds foreign? If that’s the case, you have a choice to make. The problem with believing what God didn’t say is that, at the end of time, we still have to appear before God to be judged by what Jesus taught (John 12:48)—not by what today’s churches teach. The same plan that worked in the apostles’ day works in our day. “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘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’” (Acts 2:37-38).
– Weylan Deaver