What’s the Role of Baptism?

This is part of a series of posts looking at your questions about theology.

Question: Is baptism a mandatory part of salvation? If it’s not, what role does it play for believers?

Jeremy Jernigan – Executive Pastor

Depending on your church tradition growing up you likely have all sorts of views on the role of baptism. Some traditions baptize infants, some religions baptize for the dead, while many Christian traditions today encourage baptism only as (living) adults. Much of the confusion about baptism stems from its perceived connection with salvation itself. The simplest way to ask this question is: do I have to be baptized to be saved?

My short answer is no. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

Some verses like Acts 2:38 appear to suggest baptism is mandatory:

“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Yet if you read the entire book of Acts and into the other letters in the New Testament you find other examples of the early church bringing others into salvation without an explicit mention of baptism. Here are a few examples:

  • “… everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21
  • “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Acts 15:11
  • “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Acts 16:31
  • If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10
  • “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10
  • And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13-14
  • “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—” Ephesians 2:8

Each of these passages talks about salvation without including baptism. Yet at a minimum, we see the early Church practice and recommend baptism, even if it wasn’t explicitly for salvation. What is its purpose then? For that answer, it’s helpful to look to Jesus’ example. After all, Jesus Himself was baptized. Here’ how Matthew records it:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17).

Jesus didn’t need salvation since He was the one who made that possible for us. He also didn’t need his sins forgiven. Thankfully, He explains a bit of what He’s doing. If you noticed it, He says He’s getting baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” That’s another way of saying that it’s part of right living with God. With this in mind, it might be more helpful to think of baptism as an act of obedience rather than an act of salvation. It’s a way for us to connect symbolically with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus modeled it for us and then asked us to do it ourselves.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore 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 28:18-19)

If you’ve never chosen to be baptized by your own choice, I would encourage you to explore this more and ask God about it. If you’ve already been baptized before there isn’t a need to repeat it over and over again. Email us at Discover@centralaz.com to talk through this more with someone. Here’s a video I made a few years ago that dives deeper into this subject if you are interested.

Disclaimer: I’m providing you with my answer to these questions and what makes the most sense to me Biblically. There are numerous other Christians who would provide different answers. If you disagree with me, there’s no need to email me or any other staff member. I’m not making sweeping statements that define all views of Central and its leadership. The point is to create an environment where we go deeper in our understanding and experience with God. At the very least I invite you to consider thoughtfully the answers I give, even if they differ from your views. If you would like to talk through this post with someone, please email us at blog@centralaz.com.

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What’s the Role of Baptism?

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