Is Water Baptism Really Essential to Salvation?

By Ron Halbrook

We appreciate our readers appealing to Scripture, because the Bible is God’s inspired Word. It is the final and infallible standard in religion (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We must test all things by Scripture.

1. Does the gospel require immersion in water for salvation? Yes, water baptism for remission of sins is part of the gospel message! The sinner must be “born of water and the Spirit,” he must “believe and be baptized” “for the remission of sins” — this means going “down into the water” and coming “up out of the water” — “baptism doth also now save us” (John 3:5; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:35-38; 1 Pet. 3:20-21).

2. Are we teaching that baptism is our Savior? Water baptism is not the Savior any more than faith is. Christ offered the final and perfect sacrifice for sin and that alone is the basis for our salvation (Rom. 5:6-8). God’s provision of salvation is broad enough to save all men, but God does not force anyone to be saved. Therefore, our reception of salvation is conditional. 

If we wish to receive pardon from all past sins, we must believe the gospel (John 3:16 and many other passages), repent of our sins (Acts 3:19 and many other passages), confess Christ as God’s Son (Rom. 10:8-10 and many other passages), and be immersed in water (Mark 16:16 and many other passages). None of these conditions is the Savior Christ is, but we cannot receive forgiveness of sin through Christ until we meet these conditions. In this way we are born again, “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). 

3. But doesn’t the Bible say we are saved by faith? We are saved by faith, but “not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). Faith must lead to repentance (not repentance only), confession of Christ (not confession only), and immersion in water (not baptism only). Just as we are saved by faith, but not faith only, the Bible also says we are saved by baptism, but it does not say baptism only (1 Pet. 3:21). All of these steps or conditions are certainly tied to faith, they cannot occur except by faith but faith without these steps is not saving faith.  

Please note that the Ephesians believed the gospel and were baptized (Acts 19:5), and then Paul wrote to them later and said, “For by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). When were they saved by grace through faith? When they obeyed the gospel of Christ, being baptized! When the penitent believer is baptized in water for the remission of his sins, that is when he is saved by grace through his faith.

4. Doesn’t the Bible teach we are born in sin, born with a sin nature inherited from Adam? Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world, but God said we cannot inherit the guilt of any man’s sin (Ezek. 18:20). We become sinners when we transgress God’s law (Rom. 3:23; 1 John 3:4). The age when this occurs may vary according to each individual’s growth in understanding. When a person grows to the point of understanding God’s will and choosing to disobey, that person sins, which is how we all become sinners. We are not born with a “sin nature,” but rather we choose to sin and then repeat our sins until they become habitual. It is only in that sense that we have a sinful nature. The Bible shows that all responsible men choose to sin, so no one is going to heaven by his own perfect works (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, we must seek salvation as the gift of God’s grace, received on his conditions or terms.

As avenues of further study, we offer Bible tracts and literature, tapes of lessons discussing these matters in more detail, and a free Bible correspondence course. Many people are taking this course and learning from it in their own homes. We will be glad to study by phone, E-mail,  or personal visits. Questions, comments, and requests for further study will be honored with courtesy and kindness. We wish to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

After studying these matters further, if some of our readers believe we are misleading people and causing them to be lost in hell, we are willing to examine these Bible subjects in public debate where people can hear both sides presented. The following propositions may be used: “The Bible teaches that water baptism is essential to remission of sins for the alien sinner in the gospel age.”  “The Bible teaches that faith alone, before and without water baptism, is essential to remission of sins for the alien sinner in the gospel age.” When we speak of the alien sinner, we simply mean any person who has never come to Christ for salvation and who is, therefore, an alien sinner or one who is outside of Christ. 

Since these matters are vital to our understanding of God’s plan for our salvation, we should not hesitate to study them thoroughly through public debate. Let us be “set for the defense of the gospel,” and “earnestly contend for the faith” (Phil. 1:17; Jude 3). 

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Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 22  p9  November 16, 2000