You probably hear the debate a lot about being baptized to be saved. I'm a Christian and I love the Lord dearly. Now I have not been baptized, I will probably do it on day as my walk with the Lord progresses. I don't believe that you need to be baptized to be saved. My church doesn't believe it either, we believe its a choice to be baptized (an expression of your love for Christ). So how do we determine this debate? You see if you believe that the Bible says we must be baptized to be saved then I'm going to hell, and so are a lot of Christians who have not been baptized.
So my answer to this debate would be that many Christians have different views on topics regarding life and the Bible, so we should respect each other's opinions and serve God wholeheartedly! Please write back if you can and comment on this.
I agree with you that we should serve God wholeheartedly. I am also willing to respect anyone's opinions. However, when it comes to what is required for salvation, while I respect other people's opinions I can only rely on God's word. So the only way we can "determine this debate" is to see what the Bible says. Not what I say, or you say, but what God says. Since He is the authority on salvation, we should listen to him.
First off, let me clarify one thing. If I emphasize baptism, it is only because so many don't. I don't intend to say that faith is not necessary. It is vital. If one is baptized without faith, he just gets wet. Likewise, just as James says that faith without action is dead, so faith without obedience to God is useless.
So, what does the Bible say? There are quite a number of passages we should look at.
First I think we should see what baptism (immersion in water) meant to the Jewish people in the Old Testament. Leviticus, chapters 14-17, discuss the procedure by which people who are unclean for various reasons (leprosy, eating non-kosher meat, touching the bed or chair of a menstruating woman, etc.) shall be made clean. One of the requirements is that he immerse himself in water. This is not to wash the actual dirt off his body, but a response to a spiritual uncleanness. It is in this same way that Peter says (1 Peter 3:21), "In the same way [like Moses was saved by water] baptism now saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not the putting away of filth from the body, but the answer of a good conscience toward Christ." One who refused immersion remained unclean. Incidentally, immersion was the last step for a non-Jew to convert to Judaism. This was carried over into Christianity in baptism as the last step in converting to Christianity. Without it, one could not become a Jew before Christ (or since), and without it one could not become a Christian.
What does the New Testament say? I've already looked at 1 Peter 3:21, the passage that clearly and specifically states that baptism saves us. There are many more passages.
Jesus told his disciples that baptism was necessary. Matthew 28:19-20 (the Great Commission) says, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Mark's version of the same teaching makes it even clearer that without baptism one can not be saved. "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:15-16) There he makes it as much a condition of salvation as faith. And when Jesus talked to Nicodemus (John 3), he told him, "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." A birth by water is essential before one can enter the kingdom of God.
Others, most notably Paul also emphasized the importance of baptism. In Acts 2, when Peter was asked what they must do to be saved, he replied (verse 38), "Every one of you repent and be baptized by the authority of Jesus Christ FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (This is the same person who later said "baptism saves you.") When Annanias came to deliver God's word to Paul, he told him, "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16) He says here that Paul could not lose his sins except through baptism.
Because Paul was told that the only way to wash away his sins was through immersion in water, he emphasized that in his writings as well. The whole sixth chapter of Romans is about the importance of being buried in baptism so that we can begin a new life. Paul says that the new life in Christ is not possible without the burial in water. (Note especially verses 3 and 4.) In 1 Corinthians 12:13 he says that is how we got into "one body"-the body of Christ. Galatians 3:27 says that it is by being baptized that we "put on Christ." Without immersion in water in response to God's word, then, we can not "put on Christ." If we have not put him on, we are not in him. In Colossians 2:12, Paul says we are buried with Christ in baptism, and are also raised with him through faith in God who raised him from the dead. Paul considered baptism to be essential before one could be raised to walk the new life of a Christian. How, then, can so many say it is unimportant or a matter of personal choice? Paul says it is a matter of personal choice: be baptized or stay in sin outside of Christ. The choice is to be saved or remain lost.
If one looks at the book of Acts, one sees baptism frequently. I already mentioned Acts 2. In Acts 8, the Samaritans were baptized when they heard the gospel. In that same chapter, the Ethiopian was taught by Phillip, and immediately understood that he had to be immersed in water. In Acts 10, Paul insisted that Cornelius and his family be baptized in water. In Acts 16:15 Lydia was baptized. Later in the same chapter, the jailer of Philippi was baptized. In Acts 18:8 the people of Corinth who wanted to become Christians were baptized. Almost every instance in Acts of someone becoming a Christian involves baptism.
The following people thought baptism was essential: Jews, Jesus, Peter, Paul. The stated purposes of baptism are: remission of sins, washing away sins, putting on Christ, burial so you can begin a new life. If the Bible says it is so important, and without it one is still in his sins, then who has the authority to say that it is not essential for salvation? To do so would be to deny everything the Bible teaches on the subject.
You say that one has to be baptized to be saved. What about infants? People that didn't have the opportunity to be baptized? I do not believe that God is that unjust. This type of statement that you HAVE to be baptized gives cults like Mormons the explanation for their baptism of the dead. Do you justify that also?
While I have said that one has to be baptized to be saved, I was only repeating what Jesus, Peter, Paul, and others said in the scriptures. It is they who say that baptism is necessary for forgiveness of sins, to be "in Christ," and to begin the new life of a Christian.
What about infants? There are certain prerequisites for taking advantage of the sacrifice of Jesus for sin. One of those prerequisites is that one have sinned. Infants are incapable of sin, so they don't need to be baptized. Nor are some others capable of understanding right from wrong, and they will probably not be held liable. For a more complete answer on this point, see my answer at retarded.html.
What about those who have not had the opportunity to be baptized? I don't know. God will judge them on whatever standards he chooses. This would only include those who never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul said the gospel was the death, burial, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). When Philip preached this gospel (Acts 8:26-39) the Ethiopian understood that to include baptism. Anyone who has heard the gospel and has chosen not to be baptized will be judged based on his response to God's word. If God chooses to be unjust and save even those who have heard his word but have chosen not to obey it, that is His choice. But, as you say, I don't believe God is that unjust. That would be like a referee in a basketball game telling the coaches that he will not call fouls against one team, but that he will against the other.
Does agreeing with the scriptures that everyone must be baptized justify baptism for the dead, as the Mormons do? Not in any way! I can not be baptized for anyone but myself. I can get wet in the hope of saving someone else, but according to the scriptures it would do no good. Ezekiel chapter 18 makes it very clear that each individual is responsible for his own sin, and not the sins of others. Paul told the Philippians (2:12) to "work out your own salvation." When Jesus, Peter, Paul, and others taught that baptism saves through the removal of sin they never stated or implied that it would remove the sins of anyone except the one being baptized. Repentance and baptism were the answer to the question, "What must I/we do to be saved." They never used it to answer a question about "what must I do so that someone else can be saved." Under the Law of Moses a leper couldn't claim to be clean because someone else was immersed for him; he had to do it himself. The same applies to the sinner. Each person is responsible for his own response to the word of God. I can teach others, but I can not be baptized for them; they have to do that for themselves.