Just How Important is Baptism?


Question: Just how important is baptism? Do we really need to be baptized today?

In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus’ central command is “make disciples.” All the rest—going, baptizing, and teaching—are means by which that central command is completed. The command itself is to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them. The necessary implication of this command is that those who are being made disciples must be baptized.

Those who are being made disciples must be baptized.

So, in answer to the question do we really need to be baptized, the answer is a definite “Yes.” If we are committed to obeying Jesus because we love him, then we will baptize our disciples. We will also teach them that they are to disciple others disciples and baptize them. In other words, Jesus views baptism as one of the essential components of fulfilling the Great Commission.

In both the Gospels and Acts, we find a consistent pattern. As soon as a person accepted Christ as their Messiah, they were baptized in His name (cf. John 3:22; Acts 8:12; 9:18; 10:47; 16:15; 18:8; 19:5). Their baptism was a sign of their renunciation of all other leaders, their identification with Jesus as their Savior and Master, and their incorporation into the Body of Christ.

Baptism functions in ways similar to circumcision. Abraham was saved by faith alone (Gen. 15:6) before he was circumcised (Gen. 17), but his circumcision was the external symbol of God’s ownership of his life. Abraham’s descents often confused relationship with God and the sign of that relationship. They thought if they were circumcised, they were right with God.

In the same way, people today think if they are baptized, then they are right with God. Both are wrong. Circumcision saved no one. Baptism saves no one. Only faith in Christ alone saved or saves anyone. But, as James points out, the faith that saves obeys. Saving faith in the OT obeyed God’s requirement that His covenant people be circumcised. Saving faith in the NT obeys God’s requirement that His covenant people be baptized.

Saving faith in the New Testament obeys God’s requirement that His covenant people be baptized.

In 1 Peter 3:21, the phrase “baptism now saves you” occurs. This has been taken out of its context and misinterpreted to mean that baptism itself is a necessary condition for salvation. In context, Peter is comparing Noah’s salvation in the ark through the flood waters to our salvation (1 Pet. 3:20). Notice that Peter’s whole statement is “baptism now saves us … through the resurrections of Jesus Christ.”

In other words, our union with Christ in his resurrection is what saves us (cf. Rom. 6:3-5). Baptism does not cause us to be united with Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Faith is the grounds of our union with Christ. Baptism visibly pictures our union with Christ.

If baptism is the necessary ground of our union with Christ, then neither the thief on the cross, nor Abraham, nor any unbaptized person can be saved. Just as it was not the flood waters but the ark that actually saved Noah, so it is Christ who is our “ark” that saves us, and not the waters of baptism. “Baptism saves us” means baptism as a representative symbol of our union with Christ in His resurrection saves us.

If you haven’t been baptized, then in obedience to Christ’s command you should be baptized if physically possible.

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Philip Brown
Philip Brownhttp://apbrown2.net
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).