You love Jesus dearly, believe in him with your whole heart, and have confessed that he is the Lord of your life. But there is one issue, you haven't been baptized yet. Are you still saved? Is that ok? Do you need to be baptized to be officially saved and on your way to heaven?
Some have stated that to be saved, you need to both believe and be baptized and will even go as far as to baptize infants just in case. This is a huge statement! So, if this is true, everyone who believed but didn't get baptized is in hell? We need some clarity.
So, what is baptism? Why is it important? Does it determine my salvation, and when should I be baptized? This article will cover all of these questions and provide clarity on this ancient tradition.
What Is Baptism?
In Greek, the word for baptism means "to dip a thing into an element or liquid, and to put an element or liquid over or on it." So, when you immerse something completely, that is considered a baptism of the object you submerged.
By definition, baptism is when a person is completely submerged underwater.
Why Is it Important?
The physical act of baptism is not what matters but the symbol it represents. If the physical act was what mattered, then it would be a holy moment every time you take a bath, jump into a pool, or anytime you go underwater.
So, what marks the difference between just going underwater in a jacuzzi versus a holy religious sacrament and ceremony? The holiness of the moment is determined by the heart of the individual.
Baptism is an outward expression of an inward reality. It is a public confession of an internal choice an individual has made. Think of it as a wedding ceremony. Do you need to have a public ceremony to be married legally?
No. You can go to a courthouse with a judge and one witness, sign some papers, make a vow, and you are good to go.
But the reason for thousands of years, people have spent an immense amount of time, energy, and money on a ceremony is because they want to declare the inward vow they have made publicly.
You get saved by Jesus alone, but baptism is the public ceremony when you declare to the entire world around you that you have married Jesus for all eternity!
What Does it Represent?
Baptism is a picture of the gospel. First, Jesus took your sins upon him at the cross and died. He was then fully submerged into the earth for three days in a grave, taking our sins away with him. Then, God the Father resurrected him and brought us into a new life with him.
In the same way, when you are above the water, you represent your old life without Christ. Then as you fall back, trusting another person to lower you into the water, you are symbolically dying with Christ, who trusted Father God to lower him into the grave.
Then, as you are underwater for a few moments, it represents how Jesus was under the earth for three whole days. It illustrates how you have died to yourself and died with Christ. Your sins have been buried with him.
Then, as you allow another person to pull you up, you symbolize how the Father raised Jesus back out of the grave. You show how you have been raised back to life in Christ Jesus and are now alive with him!
As Colossians 2:12 explains, “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead."
Baptism is a public declaration of the gospel story. It tells the public How you believe that you died with Christ, were buried with him, then rose again into a new resurrected life.
Do I Have to Be Baptized to Be Saved?
This is the big question that has caused a lot of confusion. Do I have to be baptized in water to be saved and go to heaven?
Let's take a look at the first man ever to get saved and die under the new covenant, the prisoner who was nailed to the cross next to Jesus.
Jesus was crucified amongst criminals. On the day he was nailed to the cross, two criminals were nailed on crosses on both sides of him. All three of these men were in their last moments of life and were not getting down from those crosses alive.
“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left" (Luke 23:32-33).
One of the criminals begins to mock Jesus and challenged him to save them if he truly was the Messiah. But the second criminal stepped in and defended Jesus.
“But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:40-42).
This is a big deal. This man, a criminal his entire life, recognized that Jesus was not only innocent but was the King of a heavenly kingdom. He said when you enter into "Your Kingdom." He called heaven Jesus' Kingdom! He was publicly confessing that Jesus was the Messiah!
He also admitted that he was a sinner and called upon Jesus solely to remember him when Jesus was glorified in heaven. Jesus' response was astounding.
“Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43).
Jesus promised this man that he would be in heaven that very day! This man then died and entered heaven as the first "Christian" to ever die under the new covenant.
This man could do absolutely nothing for Jesus except die on the cross. He could not do any good work, and he could not get baptized. He could only believe that Jesus was the Lord, and Jesus said that that was enough to get him into heaven.
This is the picture of grace and the model of our salvation. We can do nothing but believe and confess he is Lord to get saved!
Romans 10:9 says, "If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (NLT).
The criminal unknowingly followed this verse! He publicly declared Jesus as the Messiah, and he recognized that Jesus will live and that he would enter into his kingdom!
Many other people, like this criminal, died before getting a chance to be baptized. But, if they genuinely believed in Jesus and confessed, he is their Lord, then I believe Jesus gives them the same answer.
If you say that you can only be saved after you get baptized, you add works on top of faith. This now defeats the whole point of the cross.
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 (Ephesians 2:8-9).
What Does This Mean?
So, the answer, I firmly believe, is no; baptism does not determine your salvation. Salvation comes solely from faith in Jesus and confessing he is your Lord!
I believe that baptism is a powerful statement in your life, like a wedding ceremony that publicly declares you belong to Christ.
I think that, as Ananias said to the Apostle Paul in Acts 22:16, we should compel people who haven't been baptized and say, "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”
For further reading:
What Does Jesus’ Baptism Tell Us about Our Baptism?
What Is the Purpose of Baptism in the Christian Life?
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Josue Michel
Taylor Jensen is a missionary, pastor, and world traveler. His passion is to help equip believers with practical ways to ignite their faith and bring Jesus into the world around them. That is the goal of his personal blog Fireplace Faith. Want to Learn How to Hear God's Voice? Subscribe here to get his Free Ebook “8 Biblical Ways to Hear God's Voice.” Reach out to him any time through his blog or through his social media accounts @taylorcjensen.