Baptism's Necessity

By: Rusty Miller

Baptism is not a denial of faith. We know the essentiality of faith (Heb. 11:6) and indeed, we submit that it is baptism which shows our faith, as we submit to the command of God. Nor is baptism a denial of God's grace. Baptism is not something we do to merit salvation, but rather the means of accepting His gift.

Baptism is also not ritual, for Jesus has proven that ritualistic religion will fail (Matt. 9:11-13). Nor is it simply an act by those who are already saved. Those in Acts 2 were clearly believers, yet they asked what was lacking, to which Peter answered repentance and baptism (verses 37-38). Baptism is not sprinkling or pouring. Any Greek scholar worth his salt will confirm that the word baptizo in the first century meant "to immerse." Finally, baptism is not the end of the matter. Having been baptized, we are still obligated to live for Christ (Gal. 2:20).

What then, is baptism? It is immersion (see Acts 8:38; Rom. 6:4). Paul's figure of baptism as a burial, along with Luke's account of Philip and the eunuch, confirm the New Testament usage of the term.

It is also a command of God (Acts 10:48) and as such, should be settled in the minds of all who are truly seeking to do His will. In addition, Paul gives baptism equal status with some of the weightier portions of Christian belief, stating, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph. 4:4-6).

What does baptism do? Jesus said it makes disciples (Matt. 28:19). Peter said it remits sin (Acts 2:38). Ananias, preaching to Saul (Paul), said it washes away sin (Acts 22:16). The Ryrie Study Bible, published by the Southwestern Theological Center in Dallas, has a footnote to Acts 22:16 which reads, "Baptism does not wash away sins." Read the verse for yourselves. Whether you side with Dr. Ryrie or with the physician Luke is up to you, but Acts 22:16 clearly teaches that which the Ryrie Study Bible denies.

In addition, Paul said baptism brings newness of life (Rom. 6:4). He said it allows us to "put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). And Peter said baptism saves us (1 Pet. 3:18-21). In the face of so much Biblical evidence for the necessity of baptism, how can there still be those who deny it?

It has been said by someone that a man is known by the company he keeps. If so, what does that say of those who preached baptism? Our Lord preached it (Matt. 28:19; Mk. 16:16), and if He were the only one, it would be enough. But He is not alone. Peter preached it (Acts 2:38). Philip preached it (Acts 8:35-38). Paul preached it (Rom. 6:3).

In addition, restoration preachers preached baptism. We are not followers of these men, but in their plea to return to being "Christians only," it is interesting to note the words of men like Alexander Campbell: "I say it is quite sufficient to show that the forgiveness of sins and Christian immersion were, in their first proclamations by the holy apostles, inseparably connected together."

Finally, a look at those who received baptism should be sufficient to show its necessity in the minds of first century Christians. There are those at Pentecost (Acts 2:41), Philip's audience in Samaria (Acts 8:12) and the eunuch (Acts 8:36-38). There is Paul (Acts 9:18) and Cornelius and his family (Acts 10:47-48). In Philippi, there is Lydia (Acts 16:14-15) and the jailer and his family (Acts 16:33). Finally, we are told "many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized" (Acts 18:8).

It is as clear as ever that baptism is essential to man's salvation. It is just as clear that we need to continue to hold the line against those who would now give up this great truth, for to give it up is to forfeit the gospel.