Lets look at what the Bible tells us is necessary for salvation. Then we will look at verses that people think teach you must be baptized in order to be saved.
1. Every person needs to be saved from their sins:
"For ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)
2. No one can save themselves:
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us." (Titus 3:5)
3. We all need to accept Jesus Christ as our own personal Savior:
"He that believeth on the Son hath (right now) everlasting life; and he that believeth not the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." (John 3:36)
4. You can know that you have eternal life:
"These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may believe on the Son of God." ( I John 5:13)
Jesus was on the cross between two thieves (Luke chapter 23). They both made fun of Him. Then one of the men got serious about eternal life and what Jesus was doing on the cross for the world. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. Jesus gave to this man eternal life. He didn't get baptized or go to a church service. He died before he could do any of these things. Can we be sure that the thief died after Christ? Yes we can. A person told me that we have no proof from the Bible that the thief died after Christ. We can only guess that he did by looking at the Bible accounts. Lets see if this is true.
Lets look at John 19:31-34 for a minute. The Jews didn't want their Holy day to be defiled by having men hang on the cross so they asked Pilate to have their legs broken so they would die sooner. Verse 32 tells us that the Romans broke the legs of both of the thieves crucified with Christ. This was a common practice in that day by the way so that they couldn't push themselves up to breath and they would suffocate faster and die. Death on the cross was actually by suffocation. They wouldn't break the legs of a person on the cross if they were already dead. This is why in verse 33 they didn't break Christ's legs. Christ definitely died before the thief.
I have had some people tell me that Jesus made an exception for this man because he couldn't get off the cross to be baptized. They will say that God understood the circumstances and let him into Heaven. If you have heard this, you need to know that God doesn't make exceptions to let people into Heaven. I do not believe that Jesus was teasing the man on the cross nor do I believe that Jesus was lying to him. I believe that Jesus gave him eternal life without baptism. Some people believe that since the thief on the cross was promised paradise before Jesus died, that he was under the Old Testament and didn't need to be baptized. If you look in your Bible, you will see that Christ died before the thief so the thief was under the New Testament. God has told us what it takes to be saved and it is etched in stone. If baptism were required for salvation, Jesus could not have promised the man eternal life.
If you believe that you must be baptized in order to be saved, what do you do with the person who accepts Jesus as his Savior on a Friday but dies in a car accident or heart attack before they can be baptized on Saturday or Sunday? Many soldiers have accepted Christ as their Savior on the battlefield but have died in battle before they could be baptizes. Do you think God will send these people to Hell because they couldn't be baptized? Do you take predestination so far as to say that God preplans who will be saved and who will not? If someone God has decided will not be saved accepts Christ as his Savior, does God then kill him off so he can't go to Heaven? My God is a loving God that doesn't want any to perish ( 2 Peter 3:9). Many people accept Christ as their Savior that die before they can be baptized. I have heard of many accepting Christ on their deathbed.
I also have read many verses in the Bible that tell us that God wants us to be baptized but I have not found any passages that tell us that if you are not baptized that you cannot be saved from your sins. Passages such as Mark16:16 would have been the perfect place to say it. But God has never told us that. The Bible tells us many times that if we don't believe in Christ (pisteu which means to put your trust in, to rely upon, or to depend upon) that we cannot be saved. Even the Churches that believe in baptism for salvation that I went to as a teenager with my girlfriend couldn't show me anything in the Bible like that.
In Acts chapter 16 we see another perfect opportunity to say that you must be baptized to be saved. Starting in verse 16 we see a situation where Paul and Silas were doing God's will and were thrown in prison for it. After being beaten and thrown into the most secure spot the captain of the guards could find for the two we see that God caused an earthquake to open all of the cell doors in the prison. The penalty for the Captain of the guards for this was death. He drew his sword to kill himself rather than face his superiors but Paul and Silas stopped him. The guard came to them trembling and humbled and asked them as plain as possible "What must I do to be saved?" Verse 31 tells us "And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." If baptism were necessary for salvation they would have told him so.
Now lets look at Acts 10:43-48
Peter and some other Jewish men had been sent to the house of Cornelius (A gentile) to preach the gospel to them. Up to this time the church had been basically Jewish only. No one went out of their way to preach to gentiles although we can see from scripture that there were gentiles that believed (For example the Samaritans). Verses 43 to 48 show us the end of Peters sermon to these people.
43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
Notice that when these people heard the word of God, they accepted Christ as their Savior and became Christians. The sign to the Jews present at Cornelius's house that they had been accepted into Heaven just like the Jews were was that they spoke in tongues just like the Jews had done. They were not yet baptized. Peter asked his fellow Jews if there was any reason that these people couldn't be baptized since they had also become Christians. In verse 43 we see that Peter stated that "whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." Peter did not say anything about being baptized to receive remission of sins.
Now I want for us to look at some of the verses that some people think teaches that a person must be baptized to be saved from their sins.
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
I used to date a girl when I was a teenager that was a member of a church that taught baptism was necessary for salvation. Every week the Pastor of the church would quote "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" when he was giving the gospel. He always left out the second part of the verse. It says "but he that believeth not shall be damned." The Bible never tells us that if we are not baptized we will not be saved. This verse would have been the perfect place for God to do that if baptism were necessary.
How about Acts 2:38?
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Peter was talking to people who had the Word of God, who had heard the message and who knew God's prophecies. They had rejected God's way of doing things and by this time were doing things according to man's traditions. Peter told them to repent. The word for "repent" in the Bible means to change your mind or to think differently. The Greek word is the word, metanoeo (met-an-o-eh'-o). They didn't believe that Jesus was the way to Heaven. Peter told them to change their minds about Christ and be baptized. Water baptism was a sign to the world that they had changed their minds about Christ and put their trust in Him for their salvation. Peter says to them, “Be baptized … in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.
I want us to look at the word "for" for a minute.
The Greek word used here is eis (ice); a primary preposition; to or into (indicating the point reached or entered), of place, time, or (figurative) purpose (result, etc.). A better way to translate this today to make it easier for us to understand might be "because of". Some words used in the translation of the Bible have changed in the way that we use them today. A couple of examples of this would be when Jesus says to "Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not." The word suffer used here means to permit. He is saying to permit the little children to come to me and forbid them not." There is also the word charity used in 1 Corinthians 13. It is the word for love. We now think of charity as giving to the poor or helping someone out.
Baptism can have no part in your salvation. To add this to accepting Christ as your Savior is to add a work to salvation. I know many people that are sincere in their belief that water baptism is necessary for salvation but the Bible does not teach that. The Bible clearly tells us that we are saved by God's grace through faith (Ephesians 2:-10) and that alone will get you to Heaven.
How about John 3:5?
5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
The part that gets some people confused is where Jesus says born of water and of the spirit. Some people think that Jesus is saying that you have to be baptized and then you will be saved. The great thing about the Bible is that usually if you read something that may be a little confusing to you, it will pay you to read the next verse. In this case Jesus explains what being born of water means. He says
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
When a person is born in the flesh, one of the things that happens is that moms water breaks. Many people in Jesus time referred to this as being born of water. In verse 6 Jesus lets us know that that which is born of the flesh (water) is flesh but he that is born of the spirit is spirit. This verse is not telling us to be baptized to be saved but that every person living must be born again (the spirit) or he can not even see the Kingdom of God. Then in one of the best gospels ever given in the Bible Jesus tells us in John 3:16-18 "whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." This would have been the perfect place for Jesus to tell us that one had to be baptized to be saved. In verse 18 Jesus says "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Notice that it does not tell us that if you are not baptized you will be condemned.
In 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 the Apostle Paul makes it very clear that he baptized only a handful of people during his ministry and that Christ sent him not to baptize but to preach. If baptism were part of the salvation process in order to get into Heaven Jesus would have also wanted Paul to baptize people coming to the Lord. Otherwise many people may have put off baptism until it was too late.
Baptism is important in a Christians life but it has no part in your salvation. I hope that this has helped clear up any confusion about baptism for you. If you have any other questions about baptism feel free to write me and I will do my best to answer you as soon as I can.