Christian baptism is foundational to Christianity as one of the two primary instructions given by the risen Jesus Christ. These instructions are called the Great Commission:
"Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things which I commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20 WEB)
Christians are instructed to make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of God. However, there are two kinds of baptism mentioned in scripture: water baptism (performed by humans) and spiritual baptism (performed by God).
John the Baptist is recorded as saying, "I indeed baptize you in water for repentance, but he who comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry. He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 3:11 WEB; also Luke 3:16)
As seen by John's statement, the two types of baptism are water baptism and baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus agrees with this statement when he discusses being born again to Nicodemus, saying, "Most assuredly I tell you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he can't enter into the kingdom of God! That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:5-6 WEB)
Jesus makes it clear that baptism of the Holy Spirit is required to enter the kingdom of God. This means that water baptism alone does not equal salvation.
According to Luke, water baptism is not the same thing as baptism of the Holy Spirit, nor is it the same as salvation.
"They sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet he had fallen on none of them. They had only been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 8:14-16 WEB)
These believers had been baptized with water, but had not yet received God's Holy Spirit, which Jesus just explained in John 3 that "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he can't enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5-6 WEB)
Jesus further clarifies these facts when he speaks to the disciples after his resurrection, saying, "For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:5 WEB)
In order to be saved, we must be baptized by God's Holy Spirit.
Paul calls the Holy Spirit a down payment and seal on the saved, saying, "who also sealed us, and gave us the down payment of the Spirit in our hearts." (2 Corinthians 1:22 WEB)
This kind of event is never a mediocre occurrence. Every example in the Bible of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a dramatic event, such as in Acts 2 and Acts 8. In addition, Jesus says that God's power comes with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you." (Acts 1:8 WEB)
If water baptism does not equal salvation, then what is the purpose of it?
There are two reasons why water baptism is important. The first reason is because Jesus Christ instructed us to make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The second reason is explained by Peter, who says, "This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you - not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..." (1 Peter 3:21 WEB)
Water baptism is intended to represent our decision of repentance and a good conscience. This was also the reason it was used by John the Baptist, as John stated, "I indeed baptize you in water for repentance..." (Matthew 3:11 WEB)
So, is it possible to be a believer in Jesus Christ and not be saved?
Actually, according to Jesus, it is possible to be a "believer" and not be saved.
In Revelation, Jesus warns believers that they risk having their name removed from the book of life if they do not repent of their sins, saying, "Remember therefore how you have received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If therefore you won't watch, I will come as a thief, and you won't know what hour I will come on you...He who overcomes will be arrayed like this in white garments, and I will in no way blot his name out of the book of life..." (Revelation 3:3-5 WEB)
It is important to realize that Jesus is speaking to believers when he makes this statement, not unbelievers.
For further study, read Can a Christian Lose Salvation? and The Meaning of Repentance and Salvation.
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