The question of baptism has long plagued the minds of men as they sought to understand the importance of salvation and how to obtain the remission of sins. Many debates have been conducted arguing the necessity of baptism and its relation to the remission of sins. While many do not reject the act of baptism, most deny the importance of its role in salvation.
The apostle John records the visit of a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. (John 3) The lessons taught by Jesus this night clearly set forth the foundation of the entrance to the kingdom that was yet to come. The Son of God told Nicodemus that entrance into the kingdom of God could only be done by being born of water and of the Spirit. Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus meant and Jesus explained that this new birth was accomplished in believing in the death, burial and resurrection of the Christ (vv11-21).
Obedience is found in the same passage as those who will come to the Light and obey the commands of the Lord. The teaching of Jesus during His short ministry was characterized by the preparation of the coming Kingdom. The many lessons He taught were the shadows of the true Kingdom that would come on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
Following the discussion with Nicodemus, John records: “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized.” The work of Jesus and John the Baptist was characterized by teaching and baptism. Jesus had come into the land of Judea and in His teaching and the work of the disciples, baptized.
The ministry of John the Baptist was also characterized by baptism. Matthew reports the preaching of John as repentance and confession of sins: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:1,2,5,6). In both ministries, baptism was a focal point of their teaching and the obedience of those who came to them.
Following the story of Nicodemus in John 3, the apostle writes: “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee” (John 4:1-3). The ministry of Jesus was characterized by the importance of baptism although Jesus Himself did not baptize anyone. Baptism is not a dogma of the Church of Christ invented to establish some theological foundation of teaching. Baptism is a complete part of the ministry of Jesus, taught by Him, practiced by His disciples in the Gospels, commanded by Him (Mark 16:15,16; Matthew 28:19) and practiced by His disciples today. Many today reject the importance of baptism as being necessary for salvation as many did in the days of Jesus. “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him” (Luke 7:30).
To be a disciple of Jesus in the Gospels required baptism! To be a disciple of Jesus today requires baptism. To reject baptism as essential to salvation is not rejecting the counsel of men but rejecting the will of God. Jesus did not baptize anyone (for obvious reasons) but He commanded His disciples to do so as even today He commands all men to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38,39).