The word baptism comes from the Greek baptizo. The word generally meant to dip something in water, usually totally immersing it.
While the early church in Scripture linked baptism with repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit , it did not espouse that baptism was required for Salvation.
The purpose and meaning of baptism is to identify the believer with Jesus Christ and with His Church, the Body of Christ.
Baptism Does Not Provide Salvation nor Complete Salvation
Scripture teaches that baptism does not provide salvation. Additionally, Scripture shows that baptism is not necessary to complete one’s salvation.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Paul makes it clear that we are “Saved through faith” in Jesus Christ. Notice that he calls this salvation a “Gift of God.” It is not based on any work (Baptism) that we do.
If baptism was a required part of salvation, certainly the Apostle Paul would have tried to baptize as many people as possible. In fact, Paul couldn’t even remember all of whom he baptized.
“I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”(1 Corinthians 1:14-17)
Baptism Always Followed Salvation in Jesus Christ
In the book of Acts we have the wonderful and exciting account of the Church exploding with new believers. In Jerusalem, the Church grew by about 3,000 people in just one day!
“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
What is important about this verse is that before the Jews were baptized, they “received” the word. In other words, they believed in Jesus Christ, and then they were baptized.
As the Gospel of Jesus Christ moved north to the area of Samaria many more people believed.
“Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ…. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”
(Acts 8: 5, 12)
In the same manner as the Jews, the Samaritans believed what Philip told them about Christ and they placed their faith in Jesus and were saved. “When” (Greek: hote, after or as soon as) they believed, they were baptized.
As the Gospel moved to the Gentiles we read:
“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.”
Here the people were baptized after they received the Holy Spirit. When does a person receive the Holy Spirit? They receive the Holy Spirit upon belief in Jesus.
Finally, we see one of the most convincing Scriptures:
“Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.”
This is the account of the Philippian Jailer. The complete story is exciting and can be found in its entirety in Acts 16. The jailer asked “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” After the jailer believed he took the time to wash the wounds of Paul and Silas, then he and his family were baptized.
Baptism is not a means of Salvation
Those who advocate that it is usually point to Acts 2:38, where the Apostle Peter said, “Repent and be baptized…for the forgiveness of sins.” The meaning of this verse gets somewhat lost in our English language. The verse literally means, “Repent and be baptized…because of (or as a result of) the forgiveness of sins.” It is because of our salvation that we are baptized – and by doing so we testify to Jesus Christ’s saving grace. Baptism is the symbol of what has already occurred in the heart and life of one who has trusted in Christ as Savior.
Pastor Brian Smith. Grace Community Church, Riverside, CA.
Walvoord and Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary . Victor Books. 1983.
Dorman, Ted M. A Faith For All Seasons. Broadman & Holman Publishers. Nashville, TN. 2001.