There is a lot of confusion about baptism today, and many end up at one of two extremes. At one end are people who exclaim, “Baptism is necessary for salvation.” At the other end are people who avoid baptism altogether. What do we do with this tension? For starters, realize that both extremes are extreme.
Baptism is not necessary for salvation. If it were, Paul the apostle never would have said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17a). Paul valued baptism, dearly, but preaching the gospel was his core concern because he knew that receiving the gospel by faith was the necessary ingredient for salvation.
However, Jesus did expect believers to be baptized. He commissioned his disciples, saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
But beyond the fact that baptism is commanded, it also provides a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate our faith in Jesus Christ publicly, to depict outwardly what took place inwardly. Going under the water of baptism shows that your identity with Christ’s death and burial, and coming out of the water demonstrates that you identity with His resurrection, which enables you to walk in newness of life.
Furthermore, in the early church, baptism was taken very seriously. It was seen as a necessary part of Christian discipleship, as it should be today. However, here’s something to consider. If baptism were necessary for salvation, the thief on the cross would’ve never been saved. That’s worth pondering. Therefore, as important as it is, baptism was never meant to be a salvation issue; it is a discipleship issue. Note the difference.