Question / Comment - Is Water Baptism necessary for Salvation?

I really enjoy your Christ centered studies. But why do you not believe in water baptism? If the Bible is a finished book of Gods instructions for us, why is the regeneration into Christ described by Peter on the day of Pentecost ie, Acts 2: 38 and other clear instructions throughout the early church in Acts of how believers came to Christ not still extant today? Some how it was the only way to salvation for the first 1500 years. What happened to change the Bible's message on this subject? What are the verses and the study I should use to understand when immersion baptism became unnecessary for salvation? I really believe this is an important question to a person's assurance that he/she is truly saved and in Christ? What say you?

JPN Reply:

thanks for the email and the question. Actually I do believe in water baptism. I believe it is commanded in God's word that believers in Jesus Christ should be baptised. But I do not believe as you do that this is a definite requirement for salvation. I believe it is an outward symbol of an inward reality.
I believe that it is very important on topics such as this to weight what the Bible teaches concerning salvation as a whole. If Acts 2:38 (and a couple of other verses) were all we had then possibly I would teach like you probably do that the forgiveness of sins is by repentance and baptism. But obviously this is only one of hundreds of verses on the topic and I believe that it is quite clear when the weight of scripture is viewed that salvation comes by grace through faith to those that believe and that water baptism is not a means of salvation. While I won't go into each point in much detail (and I have a feeling that if this is an important topic for you that you would have heard these points before anyway), here are some of the verses and thoughts that form the basis of my belief that it is not essential to be baptised to be saved. This is what I believe the Bible teaches...
Firstly, we have clear incidents of people in the Bible being 'saved' without being baptised. The thief on the cross was granted salvation without ever being baptised. Now you may say that he couldn't be baptised as he was dying on a cross so God must have made an exception. But does God bend the rules concerning salvation? We have other accounts of people being saved without being baptised. I am thinking specifically of Acts 10:40-48 where people listening to Peter preach obviously believed his message and were saved for they received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. Upon recognising that they had already received the Holy Spirit Peter then said they should be baptised. Clearly, baptism FOLLOWS salvation - they received the Holy Spirit by believing the message (which is what the weight of scripture consistently teaches). This verse alone shows the fallacy of thinking that a person CANNOT be saved if they have not been baptised.  The Bible in fact speaks of many others who had their sins forgiven WITHOUT any baptism such as the penitent woman (Luke 7:37-50), the paralytic man (Matthew 9:2), and the publican (Luke 18:13-14).

The weight of evidence is that salvation is by faith, not outward works. For example, here are a list of scriptures (there are obviously far more) that show salvation to those that believe... John 3:15-18, John 3:36, John 6:47, John 11:25-26, Acts 10:43, Acts 13:39, Rom 1:16, Rom 10:9-13, Gal 2:16, Eph 2:8, 1 Thes 4:14, 1 Tim 1:16, 1 Pet 2:6, 1 John 5:1 etc.

Clearly there are far more verses that teach that salvation is through believing in Jesus Christ. Obviously none of these mention water baptism. On top of this, consider the folowing:If water baptism was an essential requirement for salvation would Paul have not said so when the jailer asked in Acts 16:29-31?
"The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household."

It is true that upon believing he and his household went and were then baptised as baptism followed salvation closely but the answer is clear - salvation is through believing. If water baptism was an essential requirement for salvation then do you really think that Paul would say the following...
"I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor 1:14-17)
Now, we know that the gospel is the power of salvation for anyone who believes (Rom 1:16). And that is what God called Paul to do as he states - preach the gospel which is the power leading to the salvation of any who believe. Now with that in mind, WHY WOULD PAUL SAY THAT GOD DID NOT SEND ME TO BAPTISE if it is a essential requirement for salvation? Paul clearly differentiates giving the gospel and salvation from getting baptised. You would think that Paul was going mad if he didn't care to do something that was essential to their salvation!
The Gospel (which is the power of salvation) is briefly defined for us in 1 Cor 15:1-4 but again there is no mention of baptism.  

Now I know there are a few verses that people use to try and teach that baptism is required for salvation. Some of these are addressed briefly in the following site if you are interested.
Anyway, I hope that helps explain why I believe as I do (as you did ask!)
All the best,