Water Baptism of new believers in the name of Jesus Christ is a vital and important part of the Christian faith. And it is commanded in the New Testament:
“And Peter said to them, “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.” (Acts 2:38, ESV).
Also in the book of Acts, the Bible says,
“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Acts 22:1 (ESV)
Many people ask what’s so important about baptism. Why does God’s word command it?
This leads to the obvious question: Do you have to be baptized in water to go to heaven?
The truth is that baptism is not the way to heaven. Confessing with your mouth and believing that Jesus was raised from the dead is the way to salvation.
But guess what? True believers also get baptized, because true believers follow the commands of their Lord and not another.
So baptism is really, really important. It is evidence that a believer is…a believer.
Water baptism has become one of the highly misunderstood doctrines in the body of Christ. And that’s sad, because at the heart, it’s a pretty simple doctrine that we too often overanalyze.
While some have overemphasized it as the way to salvation, others do not see any relevance in it, hence they downgrade it or even ignore it altogether. The Biblical view is sensible and straightforward.
So let’s focus on this vital Christian doctrine and get the right understanding from God’s Word.
Does Baptism Guarantee Heaven?
In the New Testament, the disciples of Jesus preached about the kingdom of God and the salvation we have through the name of Jesus Christ. They aimed to make the people receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal life.
Everything they did was in obedience to the instructions given by Jesus before He departed from them to heaven. As Jesus foretold, signs and wonders became a common occurrence in their ministries.
One of the teachings featured in their ministry was water baptism. They did not preach it as a mere religious ceremony that must be observed to please God.
They showed the people that it is what followed genuine repentance and that every new believer must partake in it. As Apostle Peter told the Jews:
“Repent ye and be baptized that the times of refreshing might come upon you.” Acts 3:19-20, ESV
Forgiveness of sins is very crucial in our relationship with God, without it we cannot receive justification from God. The forgiveness of your sins brings a new life that you have to live by the power of Jesus Christ.
It is what makes you become a genuine member of a Christian community recognized by God.
Many questions have arisen about water baptism, with people “asking does baptism guarantee heaven, and what is the right way to go about it?”
Many Christian bodies have added their variations to what was described in the Bible as baptism.
For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church supports water baptism. It also supports infant baptism which many consider a wrong doctrine. No infant baptism was recorded in the Bible.
If we all agree that an individual must repent of their sins before they are baptized, how can little children obtain forgiveness from God, what do infants know about remission of sins?
The importance of baptism is illustrated in the instructions of the Lord Jesus Christ to His followers to make disciples of all nations.
He told them not only to baptize them in the name of the Father but also in the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit. He promised that as long as they continue to preach the word of God and abide by it, He will be with them always, even to the end of the age.
The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the central message of salvation in the Bible.
Not only does it tell us about what Christ Jesus went through to obtain eternal redemption for us, but it also tells us about how God values genuine repentance from sin.
Jesus was nailed to the cross between two condemned thieves.
While the one on His left side spoke against Him the other decided to use the opportunity to ask Jesus for forgiveness. Jesus promptly forgave him and told him “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
What Jesus did may sound very strange to people and even many children of God.
The repentant thief did not go to church or get baptized, yet he was able to enter into the kingdom of heaven. That event alone confirms that baptism is not a guarantee to getting to heaven.
The good news is that the Spirit of God is available to help as many people as they are determined to seek salvation in God’s way.
Like on the day of Pentecost, He will empower them to meet God’s requirements and sustain them till the end as long as they continue to rely on Him.
Can You Go to Heaven Without Being Baptized?
We can be saved without being baptized, but this doesn’t mean we should take baptism lightly. It’s still very, very important.
The act of baptism comes after genuine repentance as recorded in the gospels and the Book of Acts.
John the Baptist the forerunner of Jesus Christ, and Peter and other early church fathers encouraged people to get baptized as a sign that they have repented from their sins.
(see my post on John the Baptist -including the amazing back story you seldom hear in church)
Unfortunately, many churches that claim to uphold the Christian faith have chosen to equate or elevate Christian baptism above salvation which comes from the remission of sins.
For many years the Roman Catholic tradition has been doing this and it has made others wrongly believe that without baptism we cannot make heaven.
Right from the beginning God had shown that no one who wants to relate with Him should toy with sin.
Unfortunately, we saw that the first set of humans He placed in the Garden of Eden disobeyed Him and chose to follow their ways. From that time God put the measures in place to reconcile man back to Himself.
Ultimately the blood of Jesus was required to seal the deal. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from death opens the door for humanity to be fully reconciled to God.
So God’s grace covers all people born into the world. It also covers all manner of sins man has ever committed.
Christ’s death is the permanent solution to the problems of sin. The Bible says the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sins.
Then what does baptism do?
The necessity of baptism comes in because we have to identify with Jesus in His death and resurrection if we must walk in a newness of life.
As Jesus was buried in the earth we too must be buried, though not physically but as signified by immersion in water.
The baptismal regeneration we get thereafter is supposed to help us live a new life in the Holy Ghost.
The water where people are baptized is not holy water as some people are made to believe. It does not leave an indelible spiritual mark nor bring about a removal of dirt.
The water is ordinary, nothing special. And this is what is so wonderful about it!
It is our faith in God and what He has commanded that makes baptism of repentance work for us.
Jesus was baptized in the same river Jordan that Naman claimed to be dirty -yet the glory of the Father came upon Him. The heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down to show God’s approval of Him.
Does the Bible Say You Have to be Baptized?
From a Christian perspective, a baptism is more than a symbolic act that signifies the newness of life and the fruits of salvation that come from being part of the Body of Christ.
It is evidence of the solid substance of the believer’s deep and abiding faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ in his death, burial and resurrection.
Nevertheless, many different Christian groups hold different opinions about the relevance and significance of the rite of baptism among Christian denominations and nontrinitarian religious groups.
In examining the Bible passage, we can see many references to water baptism as part of the doctrines children of God must observe.
It begins with the commandment Jesus gave to His disciples when He was leaving for heaven.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20
From this passage, belief in the believer’s baptism has been a longstanding tradition in the body of Christ and the Christian church from Biblical times till now.
This view emphasizes that a person should make a public statement of their profession of faith in Jesus Christ before being baptized.
This is contradictory to infant baptism, which is practiced in some Christian denominations such as the Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox churches, where a child is baptized soon after birth.
Why do Christians Get Baptized?
St. Paul also pointed out the importance of water baptism in, stating:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:3-4, ESV
The concept of the newness of life is further emphasized by St. Augustine, who viewed baptism as the means to wash away original sin and to receive eternal salvation.
In his view, baptism is necessary for salvation. It helps us to identify physically with Christ who died and took away our sins on the cross.
(See my post “Why do Christians Get Baptized? for more)
As God will not take us to heaven immediately after salvation, we need His assurance and power to live a new life that qualifies us for heaven. Water baptism helps us to see ourselves living in that realm, by faith and through the help of the Holy Spirit.
St. Peter also refers to baptism as a rite of passage, stating:
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:21 ESV
Despite these references, there are different views on the saving power of baptism among Christian denominations.
The United Church of God, for example, views baptism as necessary for salvation.
It’s also interesting to note the treatment of baptism among non-Christian polytheistic groups, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church).
Mormons believe that baptism is essential but not sufficient for salvation, as it must be accompanied by good works and other ordinances that go far beyond faith in Jesus Christ.
Mormons also hold the peculiar practice of Baptism for the Dead – a practice never taught by the Bible- you can read in this post I wrote about it.
-Also see my post on the Difference between Christian and Mormon.
Nontrinitarian religious groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Christadelphians reject the traditional view of the Trinity and baptism as necessary for salvation.
They argue that salvation is obtained by faith in Jesus Christ alone, but their Jesus is a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Bible.
Baptism is a very central part of the Christian faith, and it has been an integral part of the Christian church since the early days of Christianity.
The sacrament of baptism signifies the washing away of sins and the removal of the filth of the flesh.
However, some Protestant groups and oneness Pentecostals claim that baptism saves, and they emphasize the importance of baptism to the point of neglecting genuine salvation.
The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, believes that baptism is essential for salvation and has even developed a doctrine called the fate of unbaptized babies. The doctrine suggests that unbaptized babies are excluded from heaven but are not condemned to hell; rather, they are in a state called limbo, a sort of intermediate state or nether region.
This teaching is not based on the Bible, and it has been criticized by many theologians.
The Bible never encourages us to baptize infants for whatever reason. There is no single place in the Bible where children had been baptized.
Rather the Bible instructs us to teach our children in the way of the Lord so that when they are established in the way, they will not find it difficult to repent of their sins and give their lives to Jesus.
It is only then that they can seek to be baptized.
The great commission that Jesus gave to his disciples before his ascension was to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Salvation and discipleship must come before baptism can take place.
It is people who have been saved through repentance from sin that can be baptized and not sinners.
Half obedience is still the same as total disobedience. We cannot just focus on the doctrine of baptism and disregard other more significant doctrines attached to it.
We must do all things to bring glory to God and please Him. Nothing that God asks us to do is without significance.
When we do them right, we are bound to receive great blessings from God as a reward for our obedience.