Questions about Baptism

HomeChristianity and the BibleQuestions about Baptism

An awful lot of GodWords readers ask me this question: do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven? They ask it in a thousand different ways, but it’s still the same question.

I’m a stat junkie. I don’t obsess over the traffic info for GodWords, but I do keep an eye on things. As a web designer and former search engine consultant, it’s kind of my job. Anyway, I spent a couple of minutes looking through my stats today. I have a bet with Andy Williamson from TheWordslinger.com over who will get more traffic, so I always check on the first of the month. Here’s what I found: an awful lot of you are worried about baptism.

So far this year, more than 4000 people have searched for a phrase like “do I have to be baptized” and come to GodWords to read what I’ve written. While that’s gratifying, it’s also a bit disheartening: a lot of people have no idea about what the Bible says, or about whether they, themselves, will end up in Heaven. Sometimes, it’s a bit depressing to see that. Still, that’s why GodWords exists: to make available the kinds of things I learn while studying Scripture.

This post isn’t at all intended to be the final word on baptism…but I thought I’d pull together a handful of questions and link to some info, just for your convenience.

Q: Do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven?
Yes and no. You do NOT have to be dunked in water in a public ceremony to go to Heaven. You DO, however, have to be baptised by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5). That’s what happens when you trust God with your life: the Holy Spirit comes to live in you (John 14:16-17, Romans 8:9) and makes you a new person (2 Corinthians 5:17). You can’t do this by yourself, you can’t make it happen on your own. This is God’s gift to every believer.

Q: Can an unbaptized person go to Heaven?
This seems like the same question, but it comes from a different angle. Jesus told the thief on the cross next to Him that they would be together in Paradise that day. That thief, of course, was never baptized as a believer in Christ…yet Jesus gave him that promise. From that example alone, it’s clear that an unbaptized person CAN go to Heaven. To make the point even more clearly, anybody who claims that you have to be baptized in Jesus’ name to go to Heaven must also make the claim that Abraham MUST end up in Hell, because he wasn’t baptized. As you can see, that’s nonsense.

Q: Will unbaptized babies end up in Heaven?
While Scripture doesn’t address this specifically, it does address it indirectly. People don’t go to Hell because they’ve never heard about Jesus Christ, or because they never got baptized, or because they were too young to become a Christian. People go to Hell because they reject God. Unless you can back up the claim that babies can reject God, you’ll have a hard time making a case that God will send babies to Hell. God is just…and being eternally separated from God due to no fault of your own would be unjust. We can rest assured that babies go to Heaven.

Baptism is not a spiritual act. Baptism is a public ritual where a new believer is immersed in water to show that he or she is ready to join the community of believers. In the New Testament, baptism went hand in hand with being “born again”…first you believed, then you were baptized as a natural result of your new faith. Being baptised is an act of obedience, which IS a spiritual act…but the part about getting wet does nothing more than express your desire to join with other believers, make your t-shirt temporarily see-through, and mess up your hair. I heartily recommend baptism for Christians…it’s a powerful testimony of your new life in Christ. I also heartily recommend Bible study, so believers will know that it is not baptism that saves them, but that God graciously saves those who have faith in Him. As it is written:

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3)

You can trust God with your life. I hope you will. If you haven’t, but you’d like to learn more, please feel free to contact me for more information.


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19 responses to “Questions about Baptism”

  1. william barnes says:

    John 3:16 is the ticket

  2. maria says:

    I want to learn more about trusting god with your life.

  3. Elaina says:

    Lately the fact that I’m not baptized has been haunting me. I was wondering if you could help me find some ways to embrace the love of God. I would appreciate if we could continue the discussion privately via email. Thank you so much!

  4. Edna Pereira says:

    My 10 year old granddaughter is wanting to get baptized, with a push from her other Grandmother. I truly don’t believe she knows what it is all about. Can you give any advice.
    Edna Pereira

    • Tony Scialdone says:

      Edna:

      Thanks for writing!

      You seem concerned, since you’re asking for advice. You seem concerned that your granddaughter might be baptized without completely understanding baptism. I would like to ask you: WHY are you concerned? People have been dunked for centuries without understanding the nature and meaning of baptism. What bad thing do you think will happen to her?

      Now…if you’re concerned that she’s going to be baptized “into” a theological tradition of which you don’t approve, I understand. I wouldn’t want my granddaughter baptized into the Mormon church, for example. If you’re concerned that she will begin to identify with the church that baptizes her, I understand. The real question is “what is the worst that could happen?”. I look forward to hearing from you.

  5. Brittney says:

    I’m like the girl up top. The fact that I haven’t been baptized haunts me. I believe in Jesus Christ 100%. I pray to him daily, several times a day. I’ve asked him to come into my heart & take control of my life. But I still feel as if I’m not 100% I’m going to heaven & it bothers me so much. I need guidance and words of wisdom please..

    • Tony says:

      Brittney:

      If you’re a Christian, and if you’re able, you should be baptized. If you need help finding a community of believers in your area, please don’t hesitate to write to me personally. Tell me where you live and I’ll look for some mature, responsible believers who can help you.

      However: it’s a good idea to understand what baptism is, and is not. Baptism is not a method of salvation. Believers get baptized…non-believers just get wet. Baptism does nothing with regard to you going to Heaven. If you’re a Christian, you’re already going to Heaven. What is baptism, then? It’s a public statement to the community of believers that you intend to join them. Baptism says, “I believe what you believe, and want to be a part of the community of faith.” This is what the ancient Jews did when a foreigner converted to Judaism, which is why nobody had to explain to them what it meant to be baptized in Jesus’ name…they already understood that this is what you did when someone came to faith. They baptized the convert publicly, so everyone in the community would know of their intentions.

      Here’s my question to you, Brittney: do you intend to join the community of faith? You see, there’s no point in being baptized in private, or in being baptized in front of a group of non-believers. The point of baptism is community. We baptize new believers so everyone will know that they are believers, and that we should include them in our community. If you aren’t part of a congregation of believers, you should be…and you should be baptized in front of them.

      Stop letting this bother you, sister. Make a decision to be baptized as a sign that you’re joining the community of faith where you live. If you’re part of a church, ask to be baptized. If you’re not part of a church, look for one that preaches and teaches from the Bible. I can help, and would love to introduce you to some healthy, loving Jesus-followers near you.

      • Mart says:

        This whole baptism thing has me so confused. Mathew says this, James seems to say something else!

        I too were of the opinion that if you believe In Christ Jesus you will have eternal live(John 3:16, Acts 16:30, Rom 10:9)
        We are saved through Faith by Grace, ( Ephesians 2: 8-9, John 2:16, )

        However Romans 6:1-5 , from verse 3 says, ” Or don’t you know that all of us who where baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

        The example provided of the thief on the cross not being baptized, did baptism in the name of Jesus to forgive our sins (wash away if you will) begin after His death on the cross and Abraham lived as a Jew.

        Also what is the relevance if any of Noah and baptism, 1 Peter 3 :20-21? ………in it only 8 people in all, were save through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you ….not the removal of dirt but the pledge of good conscience towards God.

        Thank you for your interesting blog, look forward to hearing from you

        • Tony says:

          Mart:

          Thanks for writing. There’s no reason to be confused. The key to understanding is to keep in mind that all of what we read in Scripture is true.

          There are verses that seem to say that you can’t be saved without being baptized. Anyone who has studied the subject knows this. They’re used all the time by those who believe baptism is a requirement for salvation. The problem is that they give more weight to those verses, and less to the ones that don’t include baptism. Here’s their usual argument:

          1. Because some verses use the word baptize in relation to how one is saved, we must be baptized to go to Heaven.
          2. Those other verses – the ones that don’t have baptism in them – should be understood to include baptism anyway.

          This isn’t a responsible way to handle Scripture. To show that this isn’t responsible, let’s look at Acts 16. Paul and Silas were in prison, and a jailer asked them how to be saved:

          The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”

          Paul and Silas told the jailer that, to be saved, he must believe in Jesus. Was Paul wrong? Of course not. Did Paul somehow imply that the jailer must be baptized to be saved? That’s not in the text. We must conclude that they told the jailer everything he needed to know: that he would be saved if he believed in Jesus. We can’t conclude that Paul and Silas gave the jailer an incomplete answer, can we?

          Those who claim we must be baptized to be saved run into the same trouble in Romans 10:9-10

          If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

          Paul explains how we can be saved, yet he doesn’t mention baptism. Was Paul wrong? Of course not. Did Paul only give part of the answer? Of course not. This is exactly how one is saved. We can draw no other conclusion.

          The verses that include baptism do so because baptism was an integral part of coming to faith…but it’s not a necessary part of salvation. You don’t get wet to get saved. You get wet because you are saved, and wish to make a public declaration of your faith to the community of faith. They go hand in hand, which is why so many salvation passages include a mention of baptism. Faith and baptism are so closely connected that, in passages like Acts 2 and 1 Peter 3, they sound like one thing. Don’t be confused: every verse that does not mention baptism is 100% true, and 100% complete.

          Every Christian should be baptized…but baptism comes after salvation. Does that make sense?

          • Mart says:

            Tony, thanks for your prompt reply.

            “Every Christian should be baptized…but baptism comes after salvation.”

            am I correct then in saying if one never gets baptized but declare that Jesus is Lord, and truly believe, you will receive eternal life?

          • Tony says:

            Mart:

            Yes.

  6. Vincent Paul says:

    Is an unbaptized person an enemy of God who will not be saved?

  7. Wayne says:

    I can’t find in the Bible that your sins are forgiven until AFTER you are baptized. Logically thinking, you would think if your sins aren’t forgiven, then you’re not saved from your sins and you won’t be in heaven. But you say different. Please reconcile this dilemma if you will. Thank you.

    • Tony says:

      Thanks for writing, Wayne.

      We have plenty of evidence that sins can be forgiven before, or even without, baptism. We might look at Matthew 9:2 (also Mark 2:5 and Luke 5:20), where Jesus forgives the sins of a paralyzed man, or at Luke 7:48, where Jesus forgives the sins of the woman who anointed His feet.

      Our sins were forgiven on the cross, which is why Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that God reconciled the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them. John wrote in 1 John 2:2 that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice…for the sins of the whole world. Right before that, John wrote (in 1 John 1:9) that if we confess our sins, [God] will forgive them…and there’s no mention of baptism in that passage or any other I’ve mentioned.

      In the New Testament, repentance and baptism are connected. One follows the other, like putting on socks and shoes. There are plenty of passages about salvation, and about forgiveness, that do not include baptism. Acts 10:44-48 are particularly clear on the order of events: Peter preached, they believed, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and then they were baptized. Unless you believe that the unregenerate can be filled with the Spirit, you must conclude that Acts 10 is proof that baptism is not required for forgiveness, let alone for salvation.

      There’s no dilemma, Wayne…there’s only Scripture, which – when taken in full, and in context – is abundantly clear. How will you respond to this?

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