What role does water baptism play in your salvation? To answer that question, we must study the Bible to see what God has to say on the subject. As a point of fact, whether or not water baptism saves is not a matter of what you and I think, but what God says. Let's think about the words of Jesus.
Note particularly that Jesus did not say...
What did Jesus actually say?
Notice carefully the words of Jesus: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved." Jesus said that salvation comes when one believes in God and His Son Jesus, and this faith compels him to obey the command of God uttered here by His Son to be baptized. Those who are saved are those who believe and are baptized.
All of these are essential for salvation. When you study the Bible, you will find that water baptism is also just as essential to salvation.
What about the second part of this verse?
Let’s not forget what it means to believe. It is accepting the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, trusting in God as the source of that fact, and then being moved to do what Jesus said we are to do. Jesus said that he who does not believe will be condemned.
What does Jesus say in Mark 16.16? Think of it like eating. If I were to say that he who eats and swallows his food will have sustenance. Would I have to also say that he who does not eat and swallow his food will not have sustenance? Would it not be enough to say that he who does not eat his food will sustenance? Yes, but why? If you don't eat, then naturally you are not going to swallow. It goes without saying.
In the same way, Jesus said that those who believe and are baptized will be saved. He does not have to say that he who does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned. Why? If you don't have belief as it is defined in the Bible, then naturally you will not be baptized. It goes without saying.
When you study the subject of water baptism in the Bible, you want to begin by examining the words themselves.
The word "baptism" and "baptize" are transliterations. That means that scholars took the original Greek words and just converted the Greek letters into English letters.
There is a reason why the translators decided to transliterate the words "baptize" and "baptism" rather than translating them into the English equivalent.
In 1611, the King James Version of the Bible was written by order of King James. When the scholars and translators would translate the Bible they would take the Greek word and use whatever word was equivalent in the English.
When these scholars and translators came upon the word “baptisma” or “baptizo” they found themselves in a dilemma. They knew what the word meant. Baptisma means immersion and baptizo means to be immersed. So if translated, Mark 16.16 would read "He who believes and is immersed shall be saved." The problem was that King James believed in sprinkling with water instead of immersion into water.
So what were they to do? Should they be true to the truth and translate the word correctly or should they, out of loyalty to and fear of the king, translate it as "sprinkle." Someone came up with the idea and decided not to translate the word at all. Instead, they would just transliterate the Greek word into English. So now our English translations have the words "baptize" and "baptism."
Baptism always means immersion.
The word baptism means being immersed. You don’t have to be a scholar to know that. You don’t have to know etymology and the history of water baptism to know that. You just have to have a little bit of common sense. For example, take a look at the following verse.
Baptism in the Bible always means immersion. In every passage that you study in the Bible that uses the word "baptism" it always refers to an immersion of some kind. When you do a water baptism Bible study, you find that in every case, the word baptism or baptize refers to an immersion of some kind.
In 1 Corinthians 10.1,2, Paul wrote, "Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Cor. 10.1,2). Paul described a different kind of baptism, but it still means immersion.
If you go all the way back to the Old Testament, you will read about Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. As they were being chased by the Egyptian army, they came to the Red Sea. Through Moses, God parted the Red Sea. It is also important to note that God was with them by appearing in the form of a cloud.
Now watch how this works: The children of Israel had God above them in the form of a cloud. As they passed through the Red Sea, they had a wall of water to the right of them and a wall of water to the left of them. So you had water above them in the form of a cloud and water on either side of them. They were surrounded, immersed in water. The Bible called that baptism.
Though some do not agree, when you study the Bible and examine closely those passages that address water baptism, you will begin to see clearly the purpose of water baptism. In the case of Mark 1.4,5, we read that John came immersing in the wilderness and preaching immersion and repentance for the remission of sins.
The Greek word translated as “for” is "eis". It is a word that always looks forward to obtaining something and never looks back at something already obtained. The reason why that is important is because so many claim that the Bible teaches water baptism as a demonstration of already having obtained the remission of sins. The Bible does not teach that.
The Bible says that one is baptized in order to obtain something that you have not yet obtained. Water baptism is for (in order to obtain) the remission of sins. But that is not the way most interpret these passages. They read it as if an arrow is pointing backward. Be baptized because your sins have already been remitted. That’s not what it says. When the word "eis" is used, the arrow always points forward.
Baptism is identified as being immersed for the purpose of obtaining the remission of sins. If you have been immersed for the purpose of joining a group of religious people who teach that you have already been saved, you have not been baptized. If you have had water poured or sprinkled on your head for the purpose of obtaining the remission of sins, you have not been baptized. Baptism is being immersed in order to obtain the remission of sins. That is what I find when I study the Bible in reference to water baptism.
The conversion of Paul is documented three times in the book of Acts. You will find the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch once in Acts 8. But you read about the conversion of a man that was a great persecutor of the church as he sought to destroy it three times. For the purpose of our water baptism Bible study, let’s give attention to Acts 22 where we can read about the details of his conversion.
The details of Paul's conversion can be taken from Acts 22.
In your Bible, you can turn to Acts 22 and study what it says about water baptism by examining the details of Paul's conversion. In this passage, you will find Saul (later known as Paul) defending himself against those who were accusing him of violating their Jewish Law. In his defense, he recounts his conversion.
In Acts 22, Paul is recounting his own conversion which is recorded in Acts 9. If you go back to Acts 9, you find that Jesus appeared to him said to "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9.6).
When you go back to Acts 22, you come to Acts 22.16. Paul has recounted how he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus. He tells how he went into the city and meets up with a man named Ananias. Ananias tells Paul what he must do. In Acts 9, he was on his way to Damascus where he sees Jesus. He asks, “Lord, what do You want me to do” (Acts 9.6)? Jesus says to go to Damascus and you will be told what you must do. When he comes to Damascus he meets up with Ananias and is told what he must do.
What did Ananias tell him he must do?
Notice that he was commanded to “arise and be baptized.” The word “baptized” comes in the form of a Greek imperative. An imperative is a command. This is what he must do.
If you study this passage carefully in your Bible, you will learn that water baptism accomplishes something. Saul (Paul) was to be baptized “and wash away your sins” (Acts 22.16). Ananias not only tells him what he must do, but tells him why he must do it. Baptism is immersion in water for the purpose of obtaining the remission of sins.
He wasn't commanded to be baptized in water because his sins had already been washed away. He was commanded to be baptized in water so that his sins could be washed away.
Studying this Bible passage about water baptism, you will notice that there was an order to things. Saul did not accept Jesus as his personal Savior, and call on Him as Lord to be saved, only then to be baptized in water as an outward sign of his conversion. That is not what he was told to do.
He was told to arise and be baptized, and the result of his water baptism was the washing away of his sins, calling on the name of the Lord. That’s how you call on Him. You don’t call out the name of the Lord inviting Him into your heart and thus you are saved. Calling on the name of the Lord is when you are immersed into water washing away your sins so that when you come up out of the water, you are saved. That’s what Paul was told to do, and that is what Paul did.
If you have not been baptized for the remission of your sins, ask yourself two questions:
1) Acts 22.16: "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord."
2) Acts 8.36: "See? Here is water, what hinders me from being baptized?"