This is the second post in a series about baptism. You can read the first post here.
“Is baptism essential?” That question needs something added to it. But isn’t this how we sometimes view the question of baptism? I think we argue at times whether baptism is essential without asking the very important question of, “essential to what?” Let me ask this question in two distinct ways, and answer with a simple “yes” or “no.”
First, “Is baptism essential to the Christian life?” Answer: Yes.1 Second, “Is baptism essential to the salvation experience?” Answer: No. What’s the difference?
When I say that baptism is essential to the Christian life what I mean is that if you are a Christian, you will be baptized. Why? That is what Christians do. The Bible speaks often of baptism, “Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:” (Matthew 28:19), “Then Peter said unto them, repent, and be baptized…” (Acts 2:38), and “…Why do you tarry? Arise, and be baptized…” (Acts 22:16). The Bible stresses baptism, and it is simply something that Christians are supposed to do. Jesus Christ, our Lord, commanded us to. So in that sense, it is essential to the Christian life, similar to how love, praying, and forgiving others are all essential to the Christian life.
However, as important as baptism is, it is not part of the salvation experience nor does one have to wait till they’re baptized before they’re saved. This is an important distinction that we need to make. Though every Christian needs to be baptized, they are saved before they are baptized. So if you are a Christian and have not been baptized, you have to be. However, baptism in-and-of-itself does not save you. One may say, “If I can be saved without baptism then why get baptized at all?” An answer to this question is because our obedience to Christ is an evidence that we are saved. For one to confess to be a Christian, and then not be baptized when they ought to be, is a sign that they may not really be saved.
Baptism is essential to the Christian life, but not essential to the salvation experience. God willing, in our next post about baptism, we will begin to deal with verses that may appear to support that one must be baptized before he can be a Christian.
1 However, the Bible shows us that someone who is a true Christian, but unable to be baptized, will be saved, like the Thief on the cross.