In Mark 16:16 Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned,” which at first glance seems to drop a very strong hint, that “Yes, a person needs to be baptized to be saved.” No baptism equals no salvation. Could it be any more clear than that?
So, if I don’t take the necessary step of believing and being baptized I won’t be saved, right? But isn’t that basing my salvation on things that I do? Or put another way, doesn’t it mean my salvation depends on me – on my belief, first of all, and then on me being baptized too? And does that mean I won’t be saved until those two conditions are met?
No, it doesn’t mean that, because God sent his Son to save us by his death on the cross – meaning we were all saved long before we believed – or even knew anything about – God or baptism. So it can’t be our belief or baptism that saves us, because only Jesus’ death has the power to save.
And at some point in our lives that dawned on us, didn’t it? It suddenly became clear that when Jesus yelled out on the cross, “It is finished,” it meant his death had saved the world from the eternal death hanging over us, caused by human disobedience to God and lack of trust in him. In his death it had all been forgiven and buried. That job was done.
The big question then becomes: “Do I believe it?” Do I believe that the job of my salvation from eternal death – caused by my ignorance, disobedience and lack of trust – was completed by Jesus’ death on the cross? Or as Romans 3:24 phrases it – do I believe that I’m “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”?
I was “justified freely by his grace,” take note, not by my obedience, my works, my faith, or anything I do or did, including believing and being baptized. “For it’s by grace you have been saved, through faith – and (even that faith) not from yourselves (too); it is the gift of God, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9), so that no one can boast.” So even my belief was a gift from God. And God didn’t wait for me to believe and be baptized to save me either. He made me “alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions,” verse 6.
I came “alive with Christ” – meaning my life was altered to the very depths of my being – when I grasped what Jesus had done for me. And it happened without me adding one stitch of belief on my part, or baptism. But the sign that proved this had happened to me was my belief. I grasped what Jesus had done for me. I acknowledged that it was only because of him that such a salvation had been made possible. It was a clear sign that the salvation Jesus had won for humanity on the cross had, and would, continue in its fullness, in me. And if I’d also come across those verses on baptism, and I wanted to be baptized, that too would be an acknowledgement and a sign that I’d been gifted by God with a grasp of his salvation through Christ alone, and the fullness of his salvation would continue in me.
But baptism would be a sign of that, not a requirement. Not being baptized would not damage or affect my salvation at all, because my salvation had already been secured in Jesus’ death. But there’s more salvation to come, where Jesus now lives his life in me, and belief and baptism become lovely signs, therefore, that this salvation would be happening to me as well.