• johned@aibi.ph

Baptism - Do I Need It?

by John Edmiston 


There are innumerable arguments over baptism and one article cannot encompass them all. This article will answer the question "Do Christians need to be baptized?". It will not answer questions about how or when they should be baptized or by whom. To nail my colors (and prejudices) to the mast I come from a Baptist background and believe in believers baptism by immersion after salvation and that baptism may be administered by any believer. However I am aware that many of you will believe and practice differently and I will respect that. There is good theology on both sides of the fence.

Why Baptism Is Not Part Of The Gospel Or Necessary For Salvation

The key verse for my argument is found in Paul's letter to the Corinthians:

(1 Corinthians 1:17 NKJV) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

Here Paul makes a contrast between "baptizing" and "preaching the gospel". To Paul they were not the same. He is not sent to baptize - but he is sent to preach the gospel. Thus baptism cannot be an essential part of the gospel message. If the gospel included baptism then if Christ sent him to preach the gospel it would also automatically mean Paul was sent to baptize also. For instance the resurrection is "part of" the gospel message. If you are sent to preach the gospel you are automatically sent to proclaim the resurrection. The one job includes the other. However while Paul was sent to preach the gospel he was not sent to baptize..."Christ did not send me to baptize...". Quite clearly then the task of proclaiming the gospel does NOT automatically include the task of baptizing others.

If baptism was essential for salvation Paul would have included it in his salvation appeals (such as Romans 10:9-13) yet he does not do so. In the eleven references Paul makes to baptism not one of them asserts or implies that Christians need to be baptized in order to be saved. Paul's deep understanding of the gospel emphasizes repentance, faith, trust in the Lord Jesus, belief in the resurrection and calling on God as necessary for salvation. The New Covenant is one that is written on the heart by grace. It requires no externals - no New Moons, feasts, Sabbath's or even baptism. There are many born-again believers who are fully in the Kingdom of God who have not been baptized at all.

Then Why Get Baptized?

There are a number of good reasons why you should get baptized even though baptism is not absolutely necessary for you in order to go to heaven.

  1. Jesus was baptized even though He did not need it. He said it was in order to fulfill all righteousness.(Matthew 3:14-15 NIV) But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" {15} Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.This gives us a powerful example of humility. Christians are baptized first of all as a way of following in the footsteps of the Lord.

  2. It is part of the basics of the Christian life that are to be transmitted from one generation to the next. Baptism is a part of the foundational truths of Scripture. We see this in two references. Firstly when he issues the apostles with the Great Commission and outlines the basics of their task - baptism was included:(Matthew 28:19-20 NIV) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, {20} and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."And later in Hebrews when the foundations of the faith are being discussed baptism is included along with repentance, faith and the resurrection.(Hebrews 6:1-3 NIV) Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, {2} instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. {3} And God permitting, we will do so.

  3. New converts were always baptized as a sign of their entrance into the Kingdom of God and their identification with the community of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism is a ceremony that celebrates the believer entering into God's family. Jesus and the apostles were baptized as was Paul as were the 3000 on the day of Pentecost and Cornelius's household and that of the Philippian jailer and the Ethiopian eunuch even though he was on a journey at the time.

  4. Baptism illustrates the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ and when we are baptized we identify with this in some way.(Romans 6:3-4 NIV) 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.

So we see that baptism, though not essential for salvation is a fundamental practice of the church with important theological underpinnings. It is definitely a good idea to be baptized.

Err..Um...What Is Baptism Anyway?

(Matthew 3:11-12 NIV) "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. {12} His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

The word "baptize" comes from the Greek "baptizo" and means "to immerse". There are two types of baptism that are definitely mentioned and which the vast majority of theologians and denominations agree on. The first is baptism with water which is a baptism of repentance, the second is a baptism with the Holy Spirit which is a baptism that admits us as functioning members of the body of Christ.(1 Corinthians 12:13 NIV) For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The two are sometimes separate. For instances the apostles were baptized in water right at the start of Jesus' ministry. They were baptized in the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. For quite some time it seems that groups of believers existed who had been baptized in water for repentance but had not been baptized in the Holy Spirit.(Acts 19:1-6 NIV) While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples {2} and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." {3} So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. {4} Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." {5} On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. {6} When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

At Cornelius's house the baptism with the Spirit came first.(Acts 10:44-48 NIV) While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. {45} 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. {46} For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, {47} "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." {48} So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

So we can see that baptism with water and baptism with the Spirit are related but not identical events. This is reflected in the great varieties of theology on the point:

  • Evangelicals generally see baptism with the Holy Spirit happening at conversion with baptism in water happening later.
  • Denominations that have infant baptism followed later by confirmation often teach that baptism with the Holy Spirit occurs at confirmation.
  • Pentecostals have them occurring in any order often simultaneously. A person may be converted, baptized in water and baptized in the Holy Spirit all on the same night. For most Pentecostals water baptism precedes baptism in the Holy Spirit (in experience).

All of them however teach that there is a baptism in water, there is a baptism in the Holy Spirit and the two are part of the basic Christian experience.

Baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit are different in one major point. Human beings (generally church leaders) baptize with water but Jesus is the only one who can baptize with the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit at Pentecost was not done by any man but was a divine event.(Acts 2:32-33 NIV) God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. {33} Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.The only claimant to the role of "baptiser in the Holy Spirit" was Jesus and it is a prerogative He retains because of his unique position in the heavenly realms.

Apart from baptism in the Holy Spirit there may also be the "baptism with fire" . This has three main interpretations: 1. As the tongues of fire associated with the Holy Spirit who is often portrayed as fire.(Revelation 4:5 NIV) From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Another two possibilities are: 2. The "baptism of fire" as the fiery trials the early Christians were to face(1 Peter 4:12 NKJV) Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;or 3. As the fire that would "baptize" the wicked and consume them.He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. {12} His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."This is not a major point of difference among Christians so I will just leave it there.

So then what is baptism? Baptism is the two-part immersion in God that involves baptism in water for the repentance of sins and baptism in the Holy Spirit for empowerment as a Christian believer. This empowerment is for service and places us as a gifted and valuable member of the body of Christ.

Two Difficult Bible Passages

(1 Peter 3:20-22 NIV) who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, {21} and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, {22} who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand--with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Baptism is here seen as "saving you". Then Peter quickly qualifies his statement by saying that the water has no salvation value - just dunking someone will not do them any good. There has to be an appeal to God for a good conscience and the saving power is the resurrection of Jesus Christ - not the baptistry or swimming pool! Baptism and believing were closely tied together then so that "when I was baptized" was the same as "when I believed". The word baptism thus, in time, became associated with the moment of faith as well as a washing with water. It is the moment of faith , not the washing with water, that Peter says that saves us.

The other difficult passage also involves the apostle Peter - this time on the day of Pentecost. Some people see the following passage teaching that baptism in the name of Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.

(Acts 2:38-39 NKJV) {38} Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. {39} "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."

I fail to see this passage teaching something like "you must be baptized in order to be saved, if you are not baptized then you are not saved." . To my mind Peter is just saying, in a very compressed way, that we need to repent of our sins and receive both the baptism of water and of the Holy Spirit. The fact that he tells them to be baptized does not mean that if they did not get baptized then they were not saved. Its like saying "Put on your shoes we are going for a walk". If someone does not put on their shoes does that mean that they cannot walk? The one simply does not follow from the other.


If you are a "not yet baptized Christian" then you should get baptized. Not for your salvation but because it is like putting your shoes on for the Christian walk. Its a great preparation for Christian living. See your pastor and don't put it off too long. For the rest of you - don't squabble over baptism. You were not baptized in order to argue but in order to show Christ's love.


© Copyright GlobalChristians.Org 1997

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.