Despite salvation and baptism being core beliefs for most Christians there are still many who do not understand them and why they are so important. God’s plan for salvation should not be confusing or difficult to understand and with a careful study of His book (The Bible) we can know and understand the truth. And once we know and understand the truth, we can walk in it.
Salvation is many things. Primarily it is the way in which God redeems or “saves” sinful man from death and hell and unto life eternal. But salvation is also the way in which we who were once spiritually dead are made alive in Christ. When we are saved we receive the Holy Spirit who in turn regenerates our spirits so that we can commune with God Almighty. (1 Peter 4:6) We have instant and forever access to the very throne room of God in prayer because of the sacrifice on the cross by Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 4:14-16) And we are changed day by day in a process called sanctification to be more like Christ. (Romans 6:22). This is just a small overview of what salvation does in the life of a human being. Words alone are not sufficient; salvation must be experienced and lived. Only when you have been changed from the inside out through God’s continued presence in your life can you really begin to understand salvation.
Baptism is the act of immersion in water which is often found in scripture at or near the time of salvation. The first recorded baptism in scripture is when John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the river Jordan. At Jesus’ ascension after his resurrection he commanded his disciples to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Baptism is a picture of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. The act of going under the water for a few moments and then being raised out of the water is a way we show that our old life has been put to death and our new life in Christ is beginning.
It is important to note that in the New Testament whenever someone was baptized it was always after they had expressed belief and thus had experienced salvation. In other words, salvation is God’s gift to us when we believe and baptism is how we show others that we have started a new life in faith. Baptism does not save and being immersed in water by a ritual will do no more than get you wet if you have not believed in your heart and confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord. Here are some example scriptures showing the order of salvation and baptism: Acts 2:41, Acts 8:35-38, Acts 10:47-48 and Acts 16:31-33. Notice that in all cases, belief and confession occurred before baptism was was carried out.
Finally, it is also important to point out that baptism is not required for salvation to occur. Romans 10:9-10 gives the complete process for salvation:
“if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
Baptism is important to God. He instituted the practice through his Son Jesus Christ. We are baptized to show our faith in Him and to identify ourselves with His death, burial and resurrection. I would never downplay or minimize the importance of baptism in the life of a believer. But according to God’s own Word baptism is not salvation and is not required for a person to be saved. Furthermore, baptism always follows belief and confession in the New Testament and that is the order that God would have us to follow as well.