Throughout the history of Christianity, the question of whether one must be baptized, or undergo the sacrament of baptizo, to enter heaven has puzzled the minds of Christians. Some believe that it is essential to undergo baptism to attain salvation and be united with the Messiah, while others argue that it is one’s faith in Jesus Christ that ultimately determines this. As a Charismatic Christian community, it is crucial to look to the Bible for guidance on this matter. Let’s dive deeper into the Scriptures, comprehend God’s intention through the Holy Spirit, and find clarity on the importance of baptism and its role in our salvation!
Being washed by the waters of baptism, or “baptizo,” symbolizes our spiritual awakening and the beginning of our journey with Christ. It is an outward expression of an inward change, a declaration of our commitment to follow the teachings of Jesus and become His disciples. As we analyze and reflect on what the Bible teaches us about baptism and other sacraments, we will also explore the broader context of salvation and the relationship between grace, faith, and works. Immersion in this spiritual journey is essential for deepening our connection with Christ.
Baptism, derived from the Greek word “baptizo,” symbolizes a believer’s identification with the Messiah, Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, as described in the Bible. This immersion represents a profound connection to Jesus and his teachings.
Salvation in Christianity, as described in the Bible, is fundamentally a result of God’s grace, messiah’s righteousness, and forgiveness, not human works.
The thief on the cross next to Jesus received salvation without undergoing Christian baptism, spirit baptism, infant baptism, or water baptism.
Faith in Jesus Christ, as described in the Bible, rather than baptism, is pivotal to receive eternal life, righteousness, and fellowship through the Holy Spirit.
Baptism: A Biblical Overview
The concept of baptism is derived from the ritual purity laws in the Old Testament, where washing with water signified purification, cleansing, and righteousness. Early Jewish-Christian communities adapted this practice into the baptism of repentance and the receiving of the Holy Spirit in anticipation of the coming Messiah. John the Baptist’s ministry gained significant recognition, as he urgently called people to repent, undergo a spiritual circumcision of their hearts, and prepare themselves for the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, following in the footsteps of Abraham (John 1:19-28).
Jesus Himself highlighted the significance of baptism, even though He had no sin that required repentance. When approached by John to be baptized, Jesus stated that it was necessary to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). This act publicly demonstrated Jesus’ divine authority and mission, and it also connected His ministry to John’s message of repentance, forgiveness, and anticipation. Just as circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, baptism symbolizes the believer’s union with Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Moreover, Jesus commissioned His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The practice of baptism, similar to Abraham’s circumcision, became an essential component of Christian discipleship, symbolizing the believer’s identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptism also marked a believer’s entry into the body of Christ and the community of faith. Through water baptism, as practiced by John the Baptist, followers are cleansed and welcomed into their new spiritual journey.
Salvation: Grace, Faith, and Works
Salvation is the ultimate gift from God to reconcile humanity to Himself, restoring the broken relationship caused by sin and granting forgiveness. In His infinite wisdom and love, God chose to provide a means of salvation that required nothing more than simple, childlike faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, following the example of Abraham’s faith. This faith is not self-generated, but rather a gift from God and the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s heart (Ephesians 2:8; John 6:44). Through this faith, we receive righteousness and participate in water baptism as an outward expression of our inward transformation.
The New Testament consistently emphasizes that salvation is not based on human effort or achievement, but solely on the grace of God and the righteousness imparted by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul articulates this truth powerfully in Ephesians 2:8-9, stating, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” This declaration reveals that even our noblest intentions and actions cannot attain salvation, as they are tainted by our sinful nature and far below God’s required standard of perfection (Isaiah 64:6).
The example of Abraham further demonstrates the importance of faith in attaining salvation. His faith was credited to him as righteousness, showing that it is not through works, but through faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we can be saved. The experience of Spirit baptism serves as a powerful reminder that it
While works cannot save us, they do play a vital role in the life of a believer. Genuine faith in Jesus Christ will naturally overflow into a transformed life that seeks to honor God through our actions, attitudes, and acts of righteousness (James 2:14-26). Works become the outward expression of the faith and love within us, serving as tangible evidence of an authentic spiritual transformation and growth. These works are crucial in fulfilling our God-given purpose, glorifying our Heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16), and striving to live a holy life, much like Abraham’s faith was shown through his actions.
Jesus and the Thief on the Cross
The narrative of the crucifixion found in Luke 23:39-43 exemplifies the centrality of faith in obtaining salvation, much like the faith of Abraham. Jesus was crucified between two criminals, both facing the consequences of their actions. While one of the criminals continued to mock and ridicule Jesus, the other recognized Jesus’ innocence and divinity, as well as His righteousness, and humbly expressed his faith, saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). This act of faith is reminiscent of John’s teachings on the Holy Spirit’s role in guiding believers towards salvation.
In response to the thief’s act of faith, Jesus assured him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). This statement demonstrates not only the gracious nature of God, who forgives even the most heinous sins upon true repentance, but also the fact that salvation is attainable through faith alone. Despite the thief not having the opportunity to undergo baptism, his heartfelt faith in Jesus Christ secured his place in eternal paradise, where righteousness and the Holy Spirit abound. As John and other people have witnessed, it is this unwavering faith that leads to salvation.
The story of the penitent thief also provides a clear testament to Jesus’ divine authority, through the holy spirit, to grant salvation and righteousness. As both fully God and fully human, Jesus displayed the power to forgive sins and provide eternal life to those who placed their faith in Him, just as John had taught people. His resurrection from the dead further solidifies His claim to this power, demonstrating His victory over sin and death on humanity’s behalf.
The Rich Young Ruler: A Counterexample
The Gospel of Matthew, also known as the Gospel according to John, provides another instructive account regarding the core elements of salvation and righteousness with the story of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22). When the young man approached Jesus, inquiring about what good deed he must perform to inherit eternal life, Jesus challenged him to go beyond mere external obedience to the law and focus on the ultimate issue of trusting in Him and surrendering his earthly treasure. In doing so, Jesus emphasized the importance of people being led by the Holy Spirit in their pursuit of holiness and eternal life.
Although the rich young ruler, like John, had meticulously adhered to the commandments throughout his life in pursuit of righteousness, his heart was bound to his material wealth and status. Jesus’ command, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to sell everything, give to the poor, and follow Him was an invitation to prioritize a relationship with the Savior over temporary, earthly possessions. Tragically, as recorded in the Acts, the young ruler could not let go of his wealth, ultimately choosing to reject Jesus’ call to discipleship and salvation.
The story highlights the insufficiency of good works and moral obedience to secure eternal life. It underscores the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ, water baptism, and an authentic, surrendered relationship with Him as the primary requirement for entering the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ radical invitation to follow Him above all else, as seen in the acts of John and the presence of the Holy Spirit, challenges us to examine our own priorities, ensuring we place our faith and trust in Christ alone.
Peter’s Sermon in Acts
Peter’s powerful sermon at Pentecost, which included the call for water baptism, is a pivotal moment in the development of the early church (Acts 2:14-41). This event marked the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit upon His followers, empowering them to be His witnesses and spread the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). As Peter boldly proclaimed the gospel message, following in the footsteps of John, he urged his listeners to recognize the extent of their sins and to repent with genuine remorse and humility.
When asked what they must do to be saved, Peter responded with the command to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Peter’s words emphasize the powerful connection between repentance, faith, water baptism, and the spirit. Repentance and faith are the first crucial steps towards salvation, followed by water baptism as a public proclamation of that inward transformation. John also preached the importance of repentance and baptism in the spirit.
It is important to consider the transformative nature of Peter’s sermon, as it drove many to acknowledge Jesus as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Consequently, the call for baptism, like John’s baptism with water, was not an empty ritual, but an outward display of an internal, Holy Spirit-inspired change. In this context, baptism played an integral role in solidifying and confirming a believer’s newfound faith in Christ.
Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addressed division and disarray plaguing the church as a result of factionalism and misplaced priorities. Paul, along with John and others, focused on establishing unity in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and refocusing on the centrality of the gospel message—both its proclamation and reception (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). Through the acts of the apostles and the guidance of the Spirit, they sought to bring harmony to the church community.
Paul’s assertion, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17), demonstrates his understanding of the primary importance of the gospel message itself. He underscores that it is the power and truth of the gospel that provides salvation, not merely the external act of baptism, such as John’s baptism with water (Acts 1:5). Paul’s statement does not negate the significance of baptism; rather, it highlights the need to place greater emphasis on the gospel message and its life-changing implications, beyond acts like water baptism.
By focusing on the essential nature of preaching the gospel, Paul aimed to correct misunderstandings and prevent divisions in the church. He then exhorted the Corinthians to embrace the core tenets of the faith, which include the importance of water baptism, as practiced by John in Acts, as an outward expression of an inward change brought about by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Ethiopian Eunuch: Baptism as a Result of Faith
The Acts of the Apostles records the unique and divinely orchestrated encounter between the evangelist Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). As the eunuch sought understanding while reading the prophet Isaiah, Philip guided him towards a revelation of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. This episode clearly demonstrates the impact of hearing the gospel message, as the eunuch eagerly responded in faith upon comprehending the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, just as John had baptized with water for repentance.
Notably, the Ethiopian eunuch himself expressed the desire to be baptized with water as a direct result of his newfound faith (Acts 8:36-38). Phillip, following the example of John, agreed, but only if the eunuch genuinely believed with all his heart (Acts 8:37). This exchange highlights the essential prerequisite of personal faith in Jesus as necessary for authentic baptism, reiterating the importance of an inward conversion preceding the outward act of water baptism.
Furthermore, the account of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts exemplifies the role of faith and baptism in the life of a believer, as water baptism serves to affirm, consolidate, and publicly express their commitment to Christ. The fruitful outcome of this divine encounter, which involved John, was the establishment of a strong foundation for the spread of the gospel message in Ethiopia, demonstrating the powerful impact of faith, baptism, and an unwavering commitment to Christ.
Conclusion: Faith Precedes and Informs Baptism
The biblical evidence discussed in this article, including the acts of John and the use of water in baptism, yields the resounding conclusion that baptism, while an essential component of the Christian faith, is not a requirement for entrance into heaven. It is personal faith in Jesus Christ that ultimately secures salvation and the promise of eternal life. This faith manifests in a transformed life, displaying the fruits of the Spirit, genuine repentance, and a deep-rooted relationship with Jesus Christ.
Despite its non-essential status for salvation, water baptism remains a crucial element in a believer’s walk with Christ. It serves as an indispensable symbol of the individual’s identification with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, as well as a public declaration of their faith. By being baptized, as John did in the book of Acts, believers commit themselves to the teachings of Christ and the mission of sharing His gospel with the world.
In light of these biblical insights, let us always acknowledge that our salvation is the precious gift of God’s grace, obtained through a heartfelt faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. As we pursue a transformative relationship with Him, let us embrace the practice of water baptism with obedience and gratitude, affirming and expressing our faith and glorifying our Heavenly Father. Following the example of John and the teachings in Acts, let us commit to this sacred act as a vital part of our spiritual journey.