A reader of this blog recently brought up an interesting question: why was Christ baptized if baptism is not a necessary step in the path to eternal life? Their point was that Jesus said He was fulfilling all righteousness (Matthew 3:15), and that He was perfect, and yet seemingly in need of baptism. It seemed to that reader a contradiction that we could be saved by faith alone, as we are sinful and imperfect, and that it was prideful to think that we did not also need baptism and works to be saved.
Our pastor likes to say that baptism doesn't make you saved any more than wearing a wedding band makes you married. Both are symbols of a deeper union. In the case of baptism, it is usually one of the first, acts of obedience a Christian does once they are born again (John 3:3-7), as a symbol of their spiritual rebirth.
Baptism by immersion symbolizes the death and burial of Jesus as the believer is plunged under the water, and it also symbolizes the believer dying to his sin nature (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:2-7). When the believer is raised up out of the water, it symbolizes Christ's resurrection and also the believer becoming a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Baptism shows those present that we are not ashamed to be followers of Christ, and that we are obedient to His Great Commission which includes baptism (Matthew 28:19-20).
But baptism, or any works in general, are not necessary for salvation. To be saved, all we need is the freely given gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus' death, burial and resurrection as the only way to Heaven (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Corinthians 15).
Ephesians 2: 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
We cannot accomplish our own salvation, for we can add nothing to Christ’s completed work on the cross. However, once we are saved, obedience and good works, such as baptism, flow naturally out of our love for and gratitude to Him. Baptism and other good works are the fruit and evidence of our living faith (James 2:17-26).
When Philip preached about Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch, he asked what would prevent him from being baptized, and Philip replied “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
After this confession of faith by the eunuch, Philip baptized him right away (Acts 8:26-38). This shows the proper order of being saved by believing and verbally confessing faith in Christ, Whom God raised from the dead (Romans 10:9) and then being baptized as an act of obedience.
Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, who immersed Him in the river Jordan ((Matthew 3:13-17). Yet John protested before baptizing Jesus, for he clearly recognized long before that Jesus was far more powerful and holier than himself (Luke 3:16-17). Only Jesus would be able to baptize with the Holy Ghost, and only Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29,36). None of these powers were contingent on Jesus being baptized. In fact, John, Mary, and Elizabeth all recognized Jesus as their Savior before He was even born!
We cannot use Jesus’ example in being baptized to prove that we must be baptized in order to be saved, any more than we can use His example in being circumcised (Romans 2:25-28), or keeping the Jewish feasts, or other works of the law that He kept and fulfilled (Matthew 5:17), as works necessary for our own salvation. The law saves no one, for no one can keep it completely.
The law is only a mirror showing us the extent of our shortcomings and our need for a Savior. As sinners before a righteous and holy God, we deserve eternal punishment in hell, which would be our fate if Christ had not paid our sin debt in full to reconcile us to the Father (Romans 3:20-26).
If baptism or any other works were necessary for our salvation, then the thief who repented and recognized Jesus as Lord just before he died on the cross would not have been saved. He had no opportunity to be baptized or to do any good works, yet Jesus said to him, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:40-43).
In a way, it is pride and unbelief that makes some think that God's grace is not enough to save their souls, and that they need to add their own good works to the amazing love and self-sacrifice Christ showed by dying for our sins. The Mormons like to say "We do our best, and Jesus does the rest." But Jesus freely gave Himself for us, and that is enough.
It is as if someone offered you a brand new Mercedes Benz as a gift, no strings attached, and you said -- "No, I want to help pay for it, so here is a penny." Thinking that our penny would make a difference would not only be prideful; it would also be insulting to the giver and would belittle the immense value of his gift. It is prideful to think that we could save ourselves by our good works, because the Bible says that our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
Yes, we are all sinful and imperfect (Romans 3:10-23), before and after we are saved. We have no righteousness on our own, before or after baptism. But once we place our faith in Jesus, all His righteousness is imputed to our account, and all our sins are imputed to His account (Romans 4:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). So, praise God, when the Father looks at a believer, He no longer sees our sins, but only the perfect righteousness of His Son!
© 2012 Laurie Collett