Ask the Pastor: Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?


(Don’t forget to submit your Bible questions to us – or in the “Question Box” outside the sanctuary.)

A gentlemen at our church submitted the following questions for the blog:

  1. Is baptism necessary for salvation?
  2. Did Jesus have the Holy Spirit before His baptism?
  3. Has the Holy Spirit always been involved in the world?

We will answer the first question today and answer the other two through the next two weeks.


Short answer: no.  We are not saved by our works or baptism.  We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone for His glory alone.  That is the Gospel message.  Check out these verses!

(A detailed argument from John McArthur is here.)

The mere mechanical act of baptism doesn’t save. Cornelius and his friends received the Spirit before baptism (Acts 10:44-48), showing that they were saved before baptism. Paul makes it clear in 1 Cor. 1:14-17 that baptism must be understood in light of the Gospel of grace, not vice-versa.

If baptism isn’t necessary for salvation, why get baptized?

Believers should be baptized (Matthew 28:18-20, etc.).  This is commanded and expected of believers in Scripture, specifically the Great Commission.  In Romans 6, Paul assumes the baptism of believers.  In Acts, baptism of believers is universal from the Apostles to Lydia to Corinth to Ephesus.  The New Testament speaks with one voice on this issue—be baptized and be members of a local church.

Baptism is important because it is associated in the New Testament with the saving events of Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-10, for instance). It is “the” initiation rite into the Christian church, and, therefore, it is not “optional” or “insignificant.”

The Bible is clear that baptism in and of itself DOESN’T save, and someone may be a Christian and not undergo baptism because he or she misunderstands what Christ requires. In any case, believer’s baptism is important because it relates to our understanding of the nature of the church. The church is composed of regenerate church members (or at least it should be).

For a great article about the importance of baptism, see John Piper’s detailed sermon.

What is justification by faith?

What this debate comes down to is what we call justification by faith alone. And the book of Romans speaks of this well.

Romans is Paul’s longest letter, written around 57 AD. Paul had never visited the church he was writing to, which was made up of Jewish and Gentile believers.

Why did he write it? It does provide a kind of systematic theology, but it is not simply a list of unconnected propositions. There is an argument and a center. If the book were to be summed up in one word, that word would be “justification.”

Popularly, “justification” is explaining the reason why something is the way it is, and today often has negative connotations. But in Paul’s writing, it is more simply and neutrally explanation.

“Justification” in a Christian context is the answer to the question, “If we are all sinners and unholy, how can one be declared holy in the eyes of God, who is Himself holy?”

Paul makes the following 6 basic statements on justification in the Book of Romans:

1. All need to be justified because all sin (ex., 1:18-19, end of ch. 1, end of ch. 2, 3:9). Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. If we are all sinners but our God is righteous, how can we be justified?

2. No one will be justified by anything he or she does (3:20). We see in Romans that perfect obedience to the law is theoretically a way, but not actually possible for any one of us. If not this way, then how?

3. Sinners will only be justified by the actions of Jesus Christ, not their own works. God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement for sin (3:24, 3:25, 4:25, 5:6, 5:9). Paul is teaching that Christ, who was perfect and infinite, bore the wrath of God for us because we never could bear it or satisfy it. God’s wrath would never be exhausted. Yet through Christ our sins have been counted as dealt with. How will Christ’s death be made effective for us? Is there a ritual or something we need to perform?

4. Sinners will only be justified through faith in Christ (4:10). Note that righteousness was credited to Abraham through faith, before circumcision was even established (4:3), because he believed God’s promised and trusted in His Word. This salvation is for everyone who believes (3:22, 3:25).

5. Therefore, all kinds of sinners can be justified (3:30). God has made a way of salvation through Christ for everyone, because it is not tied to any particular ritual but to faith in Christ. All of us are Abraham’s children because we follow His footsteps of faith (4:12, 4:17). This makes sense because all die as a result of sin, and all need justification, Jews as well as Gentiles (ch. 15, 5:12, 5:19).

6. None of this means that you can’t live any way you want or be totally free from the law (See chapters 6-8, 6:18). We’re free from sin and slaves to righteousness. Just because our works can’t save us doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter what we do. Just because we can’t keep all the law doesn’t make the law bad—sin is the problem, not the law (7:13). Though we struggle in this life (8:3), there is liberation. Glory will be revealed in us (8:30-32), a great encouragement. For all who sin and are at odds with God, there is now a wonderful way made through Christ, and God does care how you live.

Have you truly believed?

Your greatest need is for God to declare you righteous, and Paul declares that need can be met.  God’s throne is built on righteousness and justice; this demands our sin to be dealt with.  How can He show mercy to the guilty?

God showed mercy and provided Christ to prove His commitment to justice (Romans 3:25).  We often act on a presupposition that we deserve to be forgiven, to have our sins taken away.  But if you understand who God is, you know this is not the case; God owes you nothing.

Christ’s death was an atoning sacrifice; Jesus took God’s wrath on our behalf, and God punished all our iniquities.  This means the justice that demanded our death now pleads our case.  God’s sword is no longer raised to strike us, but rather, to defend us.

This salvation is for all who will come (Romans 3:26).  It’s not something you work for or earn; it is a free gift by grace.  You must reject any notion that you play a role in your salvation.

All these “problems” are solved perfectly in the Gospel.  Because of the Gospel, justice no longer accuses us; it speaks for us.  Mercy is a cause of praise to God in heaven and on earth.  And through faith we have been given the means of changing our status before Him.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God is just and man is radically depraved and worthy of all condemnation.  In order to forgive men, God’s justice had to be satisfied and that was done on the cross. Christ stood in the law-place of His people, bore their sin, and was crushed under  the full weight of God’s wrath against them.   The price was paid in full.  And now all men everywhere may be saved through faith in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  The evidence of that faith and repentance will be the continuing work of God leading to holiness.

Do you know Him? Have you repented and believed?