Skip to content

Do you have to be baptised to be saved?

Probably the best place to go to talk about the relationship between (water) baptism and salvation is 1 Peter 3:21-22:

21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

The point Peter is making about water baptism is that it is a sign of a greater reality that actually saves you: the appeal to God for a good conscience. That is, I am not saved by being baptised. But baptism is a sign, a symbol, of something that does save me: Jesus’ death and resurrection, which I appropriate to myself by asking God to cleanse my conscience.

Therefore, water baptism in the New Testament was the most common way that people were saved – not because the baptism itself did anything for them, but because in undergoing the sign of baptism they were asking God to save them. And in our day too, water baptism is still a very appropriate and helpful sign (or, to use a more old-fashioned term, a “sacrament”) of this reality.

The problem comes, though, if you start confusing the sign with the reality. Take a more modern example: a road sign. Let’s say you ask me for directions to the St Michael’s Night Church Getaway next year (27-29 April 2007, in case you were wondering). I tell you, “Go south along the Princes Highway, and when you see the sign that points to Camp Koloona, follow that sign and you’ll get to the camp site”. Now just suppose that I’m sitting there at the camp site and you turn up successfully. I say to you, “Good to see you at the Night Church getaway! You must have followed the sign! It was a good sign, wasn’t it? Big, bold letters, nice colours.” And you tell me, “Actually, no, I didn’t see the sign, and I had to drive a few extra km out of the way, but I got here anyway”. How should I react? I should be glad, of course, that you got to the camp site! But what if I said to you, “Well, mate, I’m sorry, but in fact you’re not actually at Camp Koloona. The way to get to Koloona is to follow the sign, and you didn’t follow the sign. Therefore you’re not here. Sorry, but I can’t talk to you because you’re not actually here. La la la la la…” That would, of course, be crazy.

But it’s the way people can sometimes talk about baptism (“You’re not baptised? Sorry, but you’re not saved!”). Baptism is a sign of salvation – but people can be saved without undergoing the sign (take, for example, the criminal on the cross next to Jesus in Luke 23:42-43). The may have missed out on the sign, but if somebody has appealed to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, then they are saved. It may still be a good idea to undergo the sign of baptism – since baptism is a good, appropriate sign of salvation. But what is wrong is to confuse the sign with the reality and insist that a person must be baptised with water otherwise they can’t possibly be saved.

Published in1 Peter

House of Windsor Editing Services

Bronwyn Windsor - House of Windsor Editing and Proofreading Services

Are you writing a thesis, book, academic article, resource, theological monograph, or anything else?

Bronwyn Windsor offers professional editing and proofreading services for writers. Press here to find out more: House of Windsor Editing Services

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

All posts

Recent blog posts

  • Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on UnsplashWhat’s wrong with the world? Is there hope? (Ephesians)
    Guilt, weakness, spiritual slavery, prejudice, arrogance, tribalism, conflict, war, victimhood, persecution, pain, suffering, futility, ignorance, lying, deceit, anger, theft, greed, pornography, sexual sin, darkness, fear, drunkenness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, workplace abuse, spiritual powers... In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says many things about the problems we face in this world. He also gives us wonderful reasons to find life, hope and healing in Jesus Christ. Along the way, he provides practical teachings about how to respond and live together.
  • What does Ephesians say about reconciliation?
    We humans are not very good at living up close with others. This is especially true when we have a history of conflict with those others. Reconciliation isn't easy. No matter how much you might want healing, it’s hardly ever a matter of just everybody getting on and pretending the hurts didn’t happen. In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says some very important, fundamental things about peace and reconciliation, and gives many other very practical teachings about how to live together in light of these truths.
  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on EphesiansLift Your Eyes – How it works
    Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians. Here's a video where I explain how the free online resource works.
  • Review: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman
    I need to understand the people around me, so I can live for the gospel among them and speak the gospel to them. To do that, I need to understand the people around me. That's where Carl Trueman's book is so incredibly valuable.
  • What does Ephesians say about church?
    There are so many ideas about what the church is should be. How do we navigate them all? Here are ten key reflections from Ephesians.
  • Reading Ephesians & Colossians After Supersessionism (Cover image)Supersessionism and the New Perspective
    Here are my views on the issue of the New Perspective and Supersessionism, in light of a debate in the Harvard Theological Review.
  • The powerful Christian life: according to Ephesians
    What do we do when we feel weak in the face of powerful people? Here are seven key reflections on power from Ephesians.
  • Liturgy Song – Moore College Revue 2020
    Here's a tribute to our online chapel experience in mid-2020 at Moore College, in the full spirit of parody. I wrote it for our Moore College Revue, and had much fun performing it with Jordan Smith and Monique New.
  • My grandfather’s part in a WWII mission over Modane
    A journey of discovery of some of my family history. My maternal grandfather, Allan Fisher DFC, flew a mission over a rail yard in Modane.
  • Youth praying, Finchale PrioryWhat can we learn about prayer from Ephesians?
    Prayer: What are you doing when you pray? Who are you praying to? Why does it matter? Here are three reflections on prayer from my series on Paul's letter to the Ephesians. #liftyoureyes

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor