Is it essential to be baptized in order to receive salvation? What do the Scriptures say about whether we have to be baptized to be saved?
What did Jesus Christ say about whether we have to be baptized to be saved?
Notice the commission given by Jesus Christ: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). These are the “marching orders” of the Church of God: to go, preach, teach and baptize.
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus states it even more decisively: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16, italics added throughout).
So the answer is yes, one must be baptized to be saved. Baptism is the term normally used to refer to a two-part ceremony: water baptism by complete immersion, followed by the laying on of hands for receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17; Acts 19:5-6). The ceremony takes place once a person has repented of his or her sins and determined to leave them behind and live a new life in Christ.
The teaching of the apostles
Notice Peter’s exhortation on the Day of Pentecost. After he preached a powerful sermon on that day of the founding of the New Testament Church, his listeners were impacted in their consciences and asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter’s response was decisive and immediate: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (verse 38).
Peter later wrote, in the context of how God saved Noah from the waters of the Flood, “There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
The apostle Paul also taught the importance of baptism, showing that it pictures the death and burial of our old man in a watery grave and being raised to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
Now notice Paul’s comments a little later in the book of Romans: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you [through the Holy Spirit], the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit [which] dwells in you” (Romans 8:9-11).
We see from the above that water baptism pictures a key step in the process of conversion that God commands Christians to practice to receive the Holy Spirit. God gives His Spirit to those who are His, and He will grant eternal life—salvation—to His people in whom the Spirit dwells when Jesus Christ returns to earth.