Is Baptism Essential To Salvation?
There are many churches and individuals who believe that people must be baptized in water in order for them to be saved from their sins and go to Heaven when they die. Some churches teach that baptism is essential to salvation. Those churches generally believe that anyone who trusts Jesus, but does not also get baptized in water before they die, must then go to Hell, because they did not perform the "good work" of getting baptized that they might be saved thereby.
Churches believing that baptism is essential to salvation tend to de-emphasize the Blood of Christ as an all-sufficient payment for sin. Instead, they believe that the blood of Jesus is not really sufficient to "cleanse us from all sin". (See I John 1:9). Instead, they believe that salvation must be obtained through both the good work of Christ on the cross, and through the good work of man in baptism. People who hold to this false doctrine believe that Man therefore becomes a "co-redeemer" together with Christ. They believe in salvation by the grace of God plus the works of man. This is the erroneous belief that Jesus and man both work together to pay for sin, a doctrine also taught by the Popes of the Roman Catholic Church.
One of the most well-known churches teaching that baptism is essential to salvation is the "Church of Christ". I once heard a man say that he knew of a preacher who was raised in the Church of Christ and stayed in the Church of Christ all of his life. Nevertheless, even though he was a preacher in the Church of Christ, on his death bed he wanted to be baptized "once again", just to "be sure" that he would go to Heaven instead of going to Hell when he died.
Those churches believing that baptism is essential to salvation often use such verses as Acts 2:38 to support this point of view. This view of baptism held by the Church of Christ can be traced to its founder, Alexander Campbell. Alexander Campbell once said that, "Immersion is that act by which our state is changed" The idea that baptism itself saves, (instead of Jesus alone saving us from our sins through His own redeeming blood shed on the cross), is called "baptismal regeneration".
The act of baptism is actually a picture of what should have already happened in the lives of believers before they were baptized. Namely, that they have already been forgiven for their sins and therefore they have already been made ready for Heaven by trusting Jesus alone for salvation. This then brings up an interesting question: If all of their sins were already forgiven before they were baptized, then how can there be any sins left over for baptism itself to "forgive" or wash away? Also, which sin will they be sent to Hell for, if someone had trusted Jesus, but then died before getting baptized?
I was baptized a few times before I was actually saved. In fact, all that happened to me on those occasions was that I got wet. I was not saved by getting baptized. When I did get saved by trusting Jesus alone for my salvation, I was e again baptized -- but this time out of obedience to Christ! Since I had already been saved, I had no need to try to earn my own salvation by my own good work of baptism. Jesus had already saved me. Jesus did all the saving. It was all Christ.
I once knew of a lady who desired to be baptized. When she was baptized and came up out of the water, she praised God that she was now saved. What she meant, of course, was that she was lost in sin before going down into the water. She was trying to save herself by her own good work of baptism. Needless to say, this woman very quickly fell back into the world and back into sin, proving that she was never truly converted in the first place. Her baptism, (which was an act of "salvation by works"), did not save her from her sin.
The idea of salvation by works dates all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Cain, the son of Adam, brought an offering of vegetables to God - his attempt at "salvation by works". Nevertheless, God wanted blood, not the "good works" of fallen man. Cain's offering of works was therefore rejected by God. The fact is, men and women often want to give their "salvation by works" offerings to God, just as Cain once tried to do. They do not want to trust Jesus alone to save them by His blood. This "total depravity" of man in rejecting God's way of salvation by grace, helps to explain why there are hundreds of religions in the world today which provide various forms of "salvation by works". Jesus said:
"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:" (Matt. 7:13)
Most people try to be saved by their good works, such as by the good work of baptism. God's way for you to be saved is by His grace through faith in Jesus' blood alone, which Jesus shed outside Jerusalem at Calvary to pay for your sins. The Bible says:
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8-9)
"...the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." (I John 1:7)
Have you trusted Jesus alone to save you from your sins? If you are trusting Jesus plus anything else to save you, then this proves that you have never actually been converted. You are still on the road to Hell. Trust Jesus alone to save you before it is too late. Eternity is a very long time, and Hell is very, very hot. Trust Jesus today!