What is salvation, and is water baptism essential for salvation?
Someone posed the question: The mantra of many believers in Christ is “Water baptism is important, however, it is not essential for any ones salvation.”
Can you envision Jesus saying that?
To answer the question properly one first have to determine the true nature of God, Man, Salvation and Baptism, in that order. I will try to use only Scripture to present best case, as I understand it.
First: Who is GOD?
Genesis 1:1-3 King James Version (KJV)
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
This tells about the triune nature of God. There was a beginning. God precedes the beginning of time, which means God existed before creation of time and space. Since we are bound in time and space we cannot comprehend anything outside time and space, so I leave it at that. God exists in three persons, God the Father and Creator, God the Son which is the Word (John 1:1), the Word of God being the active ingredient in Creation, and God the Holy Spirit that moved upon the face of the waters. This defines the triune nature of God.
Second, the nature of Man (male and female created He them).
Genesis 2: 7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
Man was formed out of the dust of the ground, and God breathed into him the breath of life, he became a living soul.
Man consists of three parts, they all work together to form the complete person, body soul and spirit. When God said in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die, what did He mean? Adam lived a long time after he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God referred to spiritual death. The day we eat of the forbidden fruit the Spirit dies, but the body and soul keeps on ticking until physical death.
Now we are ready to tackle the concept of Salvation.
Like God and Man, there are three aspects of Salvation, Salvation of the Body, Salvation of the Soul, and salvation of the Spirit. And there are the tenses: past, present and future.
John 3: 1-6 (KJV) tells about two births:
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
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.
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Born again is literally from Greek “born from above”, which signifies spiritual birth. Born of water and of the Spirit signifies natural birth after the water breaks and spiritual birth, which comes from God.
When does salvation come?
Past tense: Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Present tense: Philippians2:12 Terefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,
Future tense: Hebrews 1:14
Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Salvation of the Spirit from the penalty of Sin: 2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Salvation of the soul from the Power of Sin:1 Peter 1:8-9 (NIV)
8 Though you have not seen him (Jesus), you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Salvation of the body from the presence of sin: Romans 8:23
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
Now we are ready to tackle Baptism and its role in salvation.
Matthew 3:11 states: “I (John) baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Like God, man and salvation is threefold, so can baptism be seen as threefold as the previous verse states.
1 Corinthians 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spiritso as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Acts 10:47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
1 Corinthians 3:15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (As close to baptism by fire I can get)
The correspondence here is Holy Spirit Baptism corresponds to Salvation of the Spirit, eternally secure once enacted;
Water Baptism corresponds to Salvation of the Soul, an act of obedience to His command and a witness to the people.
Baptism by Fire then corresponds to the Salvation of the Body, yet to be performed for us living.
There is one more aspect of salvation: Luke 11:37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
The word translated wash here is the Greek word baptize so Jesus answered in a way that water baptism is not the important thing, it is the ceremonial aspect of cleansing, but it is the attitude towards God that counts.
To sum up: Ephesians 4:4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
To sum it up:
One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
One Man: Body, Soul and Spirit.
One Salvation: Salvation of the Spirit, Salvation of the Soul, and Salvation of the Body.
One Baptism: Baptism with the Holy Spirit, Baptism with Water, and Baptism with Fire.
And one more thing: Salvation is accepted by faith, executed in time by love, and our final redemption is our hope and anchor.
So to answer the question posed in the beginning: Jesus said to the repenting robber on the cross: “I tell you the truth: Today you shall be with me in paradise.” No time or need for water baptism there.