In their recent book, Down to the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God’s Transforming Work, John Mark Hicks and Greg Taylor observe that in baptism it is God who transforms us, not we ourselves. However, they also claim that God has many ways to express his gift of grace, and we ought not to “limit” (in their words) the ways God offers it. Thus their ultimate conclusion is that baptism is not necessary for salvation.
The Blessings of Baptism
What are the blessings of baptism? What does the Bible say baptism does for us? Perhaps we are under the impression that baptism does only one thing — save. Make no mistake, it does, but submitting to baptism does many other things for us, too.
It Enables Us to Enter the Kingdom of God
So you want to have the privileges of citizenship in the kingdom of God? You long to live under God’s rule and as one of God’s people? You can gain this blessing by being born again. “No one,” Jesus declared flatly, “can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5).
Forgiveness of Sins
This is the prime blessing of baptism. On Pentecost the crowd had just been stunned to learn that rather than killing a fraud, they had put to death the son of God himself! This realization caused them to be “cut to the heart.” The one thing they wanted at that moment was forgiveness, and that is what Peter offered: “Repent and be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). They would not have swapped the offer Peter gave for blood or money!
The Holy Spirit as a Gift
The second blessing Peter offered at Pentecost was the Spirit as a gift — living within the Christian (Acts 2:38).
Washes Sins Away
“And now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). The imagery of baptism washing away sins is easy to follow if we understand baptism as immersion, a ritual bath that washes away moral filth. For the person who feels the load of his sin, the offer of having our sins simply washed away would be a great relief!
It Allows Us to Live a New Life
So you messed up, got yourself in a predicament from which you cannot extricate yourself? Baptism promises you a “new life” (Romans 6:3), an opportunity to untangle your life and start again.
It Frees Us from Sin’s Mastery
“In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its evil desires” (Romans 6:11, 12). When you think of the hold that sin has on most people — the addiction, the dependence — you understand the need to have strength to overcome the mastery sin has over them. This is offered at baptism, through Jesus Christ.
It Is a Source of Unity Amongst Christians
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Baptism is a great leveler. It reminds us that we were all in the same boat, sinners in need of God’s grace, and that there is, therefore, no cause to look down on someone else as a greater sinner than we. You were the recipient of grace just as surely as he!
We Are Adopted into God’s Family as Sons (and Daughters!)
According to Galatians 3:26-27, all of us “who were baptized into Christ” have clothed ourselves “with Christ.” Of course the term “adoption” reminds us that prior to baptism we were orphans. Consider the destiny of an orphan — unloved, without guidance and discipline — and in most countries, for most of history, looking directly into the face of hunger and death!
We Begin to Resemble Christ
Being “clothed with Christ” is the positive side to the negative idea that we needed to get rid of certain characteristics — sin, bad habits and so on (Galatians 3:26-27).
Baptism Saves Us
Baptism saves us. That’s the plain teaching of scripture (1 Peter 3:21). You knew that, of course, but perhaps you hadn’t thought of these other blessings!
Given this, it would be hard to suggest that baptism is not essential, considering all the advantages that are given to the one who submits to it!