I have recently seen discussions and have been asked questions about baptism. All of this has led me to look at scripture and try to answer questions regarding baptism. Questions concerning infant baptism, sprinkling verses immersion, and its correlation with salvation.
First I think it is important to distinguish the two types of baptism. There is water baptism and spiritual baptism. If water baptism is mistaken for spiritual baptism it is easily interpreted that baptism is necessary for salvation. A verse that depicts spiritual baptism is 1 Corinthians 12:13
"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free -- and have all made to drink into one Spirit."
Paul was not referring to water baptism here. He was referring to spiritual baptism which is experienced by all who believe at the moment of salvation.
Romans 8:9 "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His."
An additional verse in Matthew where John the Baptist describes the difference:
Matthew 3:11 "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Therefore when Romans 6:3-4 says "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." This surely describes the symbolism that takes place during water baptism (death, burial and resurrection).
Baptism is not necessary for salvation. A clear indication of this is the thief on the cross. Luke 23"42-43 "Then he said to Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.' And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.'" The thief was never baptized.
The main verse I have seen those who believe baptism is necessary for salvation use Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." Take note that the latter part of this verse list unbelief as condemnation not the lack of baptism. The belief that baptism in necessary for salvation conflicts with the rest of the Bible (Romans 3:21-28; Ephesians 2:8-10).
As I previously stated, believers are spiritually baptized upon salvation, so who participates in water baptism? The Bible indicates that believers are baptized.
Acts 2:41 "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them."
Acts 8:36-37 "Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, 'See here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?' Then Philip said, 'If you believe with all your heart, you may.' And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'"
As you may have notice, water baptism is something that takes place soon after conversion.
Acts 16:31-33 "So they said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.' Then they spoke the word of the lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized."
So this leads to why we should be baptized. Is it because of tradition or church policy? Absolutely NOT! Baptism is a divine command from Jesus.
Matthew 28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"
Something that is also discussed is how we are suppose to be baptized. There are many different methods that are practiced today: pouring, sprinkling and others. The word baptism comes from baptizo which means to plunge, submerge, or immerse. Going back to Philip and the eunuch scripture says "Philip and the eunuch went down into the water" Acts 8:38. In John 3:23 John was baptizing "because there was much water there." This goes back to the symbolism that takes place: Lowered = falling as in death, Immersed = as in burial, and Standing = as in the resurrection.
Christians are to be baptized because it is the command of Christ; only those who have accepted Jesus as their personal Savior and have experienced the new birth are to be baptized. Baptism is the first public step commanded that the believer is to accomplish soon after their salvation. Baptism is thus a an act of obedience to Christ and also an outward demonstration of identifying with Jesus Christ and His death at the cross, His burial, and His resurrection.