Water Baptism: An Act of Faith or a Requirement for Salvation?

Benjamin Danler

Water Baptism

Table of Contents

Water baptism was very common among first-century believers and is still practiced by many churches today. Almost immediately following spiritual rebirth, one would undergo a physical baptism. Baptism is an early commandment in the Christian walk, but it should not be seen as a way to achieve salvation or a prerequisite for the Holy Spirit to work in one’s life.

Is there a difference in how God imparts righteousness in the Old and New Testaments, before and after the resurrection of Christ?

Salvation is by grace through faith, as we find in Ephesians 2:8-9. In the Old Testament, we find that God imparts righteousness to the believer as a result of the believer trusting in God’s promises. In (Genesis 15), Abraham believed God’s promise, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Romans 4:9-12, “Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.” Becoming righteous in the sight of God does not depend on water baptism or fulfilling the requirements of the law. It is only through the righteousness of Christ that one can attain this. Nonetheless, a believer who loves and obeys the Lord seeks to follow His commandments.

Throughout all generations, God made a promise that Abraham believed He would keep.

In the book of Galatians, the Judaizers claimed that salvation was only possible by grace through faith, but with one condition: practicing circumcision. However, Paul’s followers had already accepted Christ and the gospel, and the Holy Spirit had performed miracles among them. Paul reminds them that their faith had initiated this work, as God had promised Abraham in His covenant to him to bless all nations (Genesis 12). Nothing has changed since the old testament, as we continue to be saved by grace through faith. Abraham trusted God’s promise of offspring and land, which resulted in righteousness. Likewise, believers today are called to trust in God’s promise of salvation through Christ Alone, which leads to righteousness.

What is the role of baptism in salvation?

The term “Metanoeo” originates from Greek and refers to the act of repentance as mentioned in the New Testament. It involves a complete transformation of one’s mindset, actions, and emotions. The concept involves understanding and accepting God’s will, acknowledging that one has been living in rebellion against Him, and subsequently redirecting their life towards following His will instead of their own. Essentially, repentance involves a change of direction from the path that led to destruction and a love for self rather than a love for God. All of humanity has sinned and fallen short of His glory, breaking His laws, and sin leads to death which drags us before a Holy and Righteous Judge whom we all have to give an account and He will leave no sin unpunished. Therefore, it is crucial that we repent of our sinful ways and turn to Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior and live, (Romans 3:23, 5:8, 6:23, 10:9-13).

Through the grace provided by Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection, God’s promise to spare His children from wrath was fully accepted because He bore that wrath on our behalf. Christ’s sacrifice reconciled us back to God, even though we were undeserving (1 Peter 3:18; Romans 5:8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Thanks to the Holy Spirit, we have been brought to new life in God, and we can now approach Him with a clear conscience (Hebrews 4:16). When we, as believers, approach God in faith, we are symbolically and spiritually baptized into Christ, sharing in His death (represented by immersion in water) and resurrection (emerging from under the water). 

Paul makes a crucial point in Romans regarding the concept of being free from the law. He questions how one can attain this freedom without dying first. In Romans 7:1-6, he uses the analogy of marriage to elaborate on this idea. Essentially, Paul is asserting that there is an intangible spiritual death that occurs when one believes. Through dying with Christ, we place ourselves under Him as the wrath of God descends upon the Son. This results in a holy and acceptable sacrifice that shields, strengthens, and motivates us to pursue His commandments in loving obedience.

Is Water Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

Discussions surrounding salvation often lead to debates about the requirements for being saved. One of the most common debates is whether water baptism is necessary for salvation. But what does the Word say?

Those who support water regeneration often use 1 Peter 3:21 to argue that water baptism is necessary for salvation. However, they overlook the antitupon, or antitype, which begins the verse. This term in the New Testament refers to an earthly expression of a heavenly reality. Peter is stating that the experience of Noah and his family in the ark, passing through God’s judgment untouched, is analogous to the Christian experience in salvation. Just as Noah and his family were immersed in the ark, we too immerse ourselves in Christ and pass through God’s judgment.

Furthermore, the baptism referred to in this verse has nothing to do with water, as it is not ceremonial. Peter is talking about an appeal to God for a good conscience. If you read the verse without the dashes, it would read, “and corresponding to that, baptism now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The confusion about the word “baptism” arises because people automatically think of immersion in water.

The best way to understand baptism in this text is immersion. Our appeal to God is through Jesus Christ and Peter is telling us there is a spiritual reality here you don’t want to miss. Our immersion into Christ is how we pass through the judgment of God and come before Him with a good conscience. Just as the wrath of God was poured out on the world and Noah passed through it by embracing the vessel God provided we too pass through the judgment of God by embracing Jesus Christ, the chosen vessel God has provided.

Another verse that is often taken out of context to support water regeneration is Acts 2:38. Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The word “for” is often interpreted as “in order that”, but that is not the way “εἰς” is used in this text. Matthew 12:41 is similar in that they repented BECAUSE of the preaching of Jonah, and in the same way, Peter is saying they must repent and be baptized BECAUSE of the forgiveness of sins. Baptism for early Christians was not a means of salvation, but a public demonstration of their new allegiance to the Christ they crucified. Their baptism was a practical way to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Jesus. Their decision to be publicly baptized would separate families, and close friends, and essentially make them outcasts. Not only was this a sincere commitment to follow Jesus, which had a cost associated with it, but when we get baptized, we should consider the cost others gave when showing their commitment to Christ.

It is worth considering that if water baptism is necessary for salvation, how do we explain the thief on the cross? Jesus promised the thief that he would be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:43). It appears that this man understood who Christ was and that his faith made him well. Some claim that this is a special circumstance and that Jesus saved differently in the old covenant than in the new covenant. However, there is nothing to support such an argument. As we have seen throughout this text, salvation has always been by grace through faith.

Paul was sent not to baptize but to preach the Gospel.

Furthermore, when Paul came to the Corinthians, he reminded them that he did not baptize most of them, except for a few individuals. Paul’s focus was on preaching the gospel of salvation, not on baptizing people (1 Cor 1:14-17). In 1 Cor 4:15, Paul states that in Christ Jesus, he has begotten them through the gospel. He became their spiritual father because they embraced the gospel and had a spiritual rebirth as a result.

What is the Water that Jesus Speaks of?

What is the water that Jesus speaks of in John 3:5? After all, if it is necessary to enter the kingdom of God, it is of utmost importance. Many interpretations have been given to this question, but Ezekiel 36:25 holds the most water (pun intended). Nicodemus, being an Old Testament scholar, would have been familiar with various texts pertaining to the gathering of God’s people, spiritual reformation, and the coming Messiah. In Ezekiel 36:25, the promise of new life associated with water and the Spirit is found, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.”

This reinforces what Jesus is claiming because throughout Ezekiel 36:24-26, the LORD makes multiple “I” statements indicating that this spiritual rebirth is dependent on Him and Him alone. This picture of new life and resurrection is illustrated in the dry bones coming back to life in Ezekiel 37:6-5. Jesus is not saying that you need water plus the Spirit to enter into the kingdom of heaven. He is telling Nicodemus that it is solely up to God to impart this new life into Him.

The Spiritual Rebirth is an Act of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

According to John’s account of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus, the act of spiritual rebirth leading to salvation depends entirely on the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus uses the analogy of birth to explain that one’s own effort is not enough to bring about spiritual rebirth. John 14:16-30 ,15:26, 16:5-11, etc.

Moreover, John’s purpose statement for his gospel in John 20:31 emphasizes faith and trust in Jesus Christ as the son of God, with no mention of water baptism. Even among the seven signs described in John’s gospel, water baptism is not emphasized. This suggests that if water baptism were necessary for salvation, John would have given it more attention.


In conclusion, water baptism is not necessary for salvation. Salvation is received through faith in Jesus Christ. Water baptism is a symbol of the spiritual rebirth that is solely an act of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Water baptism is important to the Christian faith as it is an act of obedience which  publicly demonstrates one’s commitment to Jesus Christ. 

Additional scriptural evidence that suggests water baptism is not a requirement for justification before God: Ezekiel 36:25-27; Mark 1:14-15; John 1:30-34, 3:16, 6:29, 11:25, 20:31; Acts 8:13-24, 10:42-48, 11:15-16; Romans 1:16, 3:22-24, 5:1; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 12:13; Galatians 2:1, 3:8; Ephesians 4:4-6, 5:26; Philippians 1:29

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