Jesus taught in the New Testament that baptism is an essential requirement for salvation. There are several examples of him speaking specifically about the need for baptism during his mortal ministry as well as when he appeared to his disciples after his death, burial, and resurrection.
As recorded in the book of John, Jesus explained to a man named Nicodemus, a Pharisee leader among the Jewish people, that “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.John 3:5
After his mortal ministry, on the third day after his crucifixion, as recorded in the book of Mark, chapter 16, Jesus appeared to his closest followers: eleven on the twelve apostles he had called and ordained to lead his church. He told them to go into all the world and “preach the gospel to every creature.”
The next words he spoke to them regarding the interaction they would have with those to whom they would share their message about Jesus, his life mission, and the requirements for having access to the gift of salvation offered to them, were these:
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.” – Mark 16:16
These statements from Jesus make clear the minimum requirements for a person seeking salvation:
- Believe in Jesus Christ and his gospel message
- Be baptized
These are not the only statements made by Jesus and others in the Bible about the concept that baptism is an essential requirement for salvation. I will share a few of the most explicit references to baptism in the Bible and explain how they fit with the other teachings of Jesus Christ about how to receive the gifts he offers to the faithful.
God’s Perfect Justice and Perfect Mercy
Before I go further in my explanation of why baptism is necessary for salvation, it’s likely that many who read this article have had or currently to have a conflict in their minds about how it is possible that God would require people to be baptized in order to receive salvation when there are so many people who have lived on this earth in areas and in situations where they, of no fault of their own, had no access to the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ and had no legitimate opportunity to be baptized.
That is a very legitimate question, especially considering the concern about the need for baptism comes from the fact that God has given his children a divine sense (similar to His) of what is just and right, and what is unfair and unjust. Fortunately, there is a very clear plan God has in place that exhibits His perfect attributes of being perfectly just and perfectly merciful. I will explain how this works later, but first, I’m going to share more about what the Bible teaches about baptism.
Bible Verses About Baptism
- Matthew 3:15 – As Jesus began his ministry, his first act was to receive baptism. He sought out his cousin, John the Baptist, who was hesitant to baptize Jesus. John the Baptist understood that Jesus was the Savior, a perfect man who he felt (incorrectly, as he found out) didn’t need to be baptized.
Jesus’ response to John the Baptist’s hesitation about baptizing him by saying, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.“
Jesus clear response to John the Baptist was that baptism is an ordinance required by everyone, including the perfect Messiah himself, in order to “fulfill all righteousness”
- Matthew 28:19: This is another version of the conversation Jesus had with his disciples, giving them instructions after his resurrection just before he leaves them to lead his church. He commands them to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:“
The instructions Jesus gives regarding sharing his gospel message is clear from this statement. Those who were taught his message were to be baptized.
- Acts 2:38: On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the people who were listening to Peter’s teachings and testimony about Jesus Christ, the audience believed the teachings and were converted to the message. In response to their question about what they should to do to act upon their conviction, Peter told them this: Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
This example shows that baptism is a top priority for those who have made the decision to follow Jesus Christ. This verse, along with others, make it clear that baptism allows the recipient to receive a remission of sins, which is required for salvation.
What is Baptism?
The word “baptism” comes from a Greek word that means to “dip” or to “immerse”. As taught and practiced by Jesus Christ and his prophets, the ordinance of baptism must be done by complete immersion, meaning that the person being baptized must be submersed completely under the water before being raised out of the water.
Baptism is the first ordinance associated with being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the gateway to the path that leads to salvation. In order to be baptized, a person needs to demonstrate faith in Jesus Christ and have a determined commitment to follow him. Those eligible for baptism should have begun the process of repentance, including forsaking major sins, including sexual sins and violent or criminal conduct.
Baptism by water is followed by what’s referred to as baptism by fire and by the Holy Ghost. This ordinance is also referred to as receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. The reception of the Holy Ghost cleanses a person’s soul and gives that person heightened sensitivity towards the Holy Ghost on a consistent basis.
These ordinances of baptism by water and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost officially set a disciple of Jesus Christ on the covenant path towards salvation.
Jesus’ Baptism by John the Baptist
Many people wonder why Jesus was baptized, considering that he lived a perfect life and didn’t have the need for sins to be remitted. Jesus’ baptism served multiple purposes. First of all, as our perfect Exemplar, Jesus showed us every step of the way to salvation by seeking out and receiving baptism. Secondly, as baptism is a requirement for ultimate perfection, Jesus also had to receive that ordinance to qualify himself as one who was in all ways perfect.as he began his ministry
A brilliant description of the purposes for Jesus’ baptism is given in 2 Nephi in the scriptures:
2 Nephi 31: 5-11
5 And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!
6 And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?
7 Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.
8 Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove.
9 And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.
10 And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?
11 And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.
Who Is Authorized to Perform Baptisms?
Baptisms must be performed by someone who has been given authority from Jesus Christ. That authority is called the priesthood. For a long time, the priesthood (or the authority to act in the name of God) did not exist on the earth because of what is referred to as the Apostasy, or the falling away and destruction of the church established by Jesus Christ.
In modern times, the authority to baptize has been restored. John the Baptist returned to the earth to give the Aaronic Priesthood, which provides the required authority to baptize, to the prophet who restored the true Church of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, along with Oliver Cowdery.
The video below tells the story of how the Aaronic Priesthood was restored in recent history.
Should Young Children Be Baptized?
In many churches, including the Catholic Church and several Protestant churches, babies and infants are baptized. This practice of baptizing young children is not consistent with the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Children are not accountable of their sins, nor do they have enough maturity and awareness to make the decision to be baptized (baptism must be a personal decision to be valid), until they are eight years old. This is referred to as the age of accountabilty.
In the ancient church, a prophet named Mormon strongly condemned the practice of baptizing young children when he was asked about how to address the situation where members of the church thought it was appropriate to baptize little children. Here is how Mormon described the reasons why little children should not be baptized.
Moroni 8: 8-15
8 Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.
9 And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children.
10 Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.
11 And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.
12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!
13 Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.
14 Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.
15 For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.
What About Those Who Don’t Have the Opportunity to Be Baptized?
We come now to a question that many Christians ask when they understand that baptism is required for salvation, then consider that there are millions of people who have never had the chance to be baptized. God is just and merciful, so it makes sense that there would have to be an equal opportunity for each of his billions of children to have access to salvation, right?
Well, there is a very clear way for that to happen. It makes use of proxies to do the work that others cannot do for themselves.
Understanding that baptism is an ordinance that must be administered here in the flesh during one’s mortal life, it makes sense that someone else can perform the ordinance on behalf of one who has not been provided that opportunity.
In the restored Church of Jesus Christ (the modern church is referred to as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), members of the church perform proxy baptisms for their deceased ancestors and others who were not baptized at all, or whose baptisms were not performed by someone holding the priesthood authority to do so.
Baptism for the Dead
In the New Testament, there are a few scripture passages that support the doctrinal and historical understanding that the ancient Christians performed baptisms for those who had departed the earth.
We will begin with 1 Peter 3:18-21
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
In these verses, Peter explains that after his death in the flesh Jesus went and preached to the spirits (people who lived much earlier than Jesus’ time, in the days of Noah) in prison. Spirit prison is a place where those who have departed this life without full access to the gospel await the opportunity to move forward with their progression towards salvation. Receiving an authorized baptism, even one done for them by proxy by another, gives them the opportunity to move on.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is speaking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the blessings and promises that are conveyed from the sacrifice made by the Savior. He then goes on to say (in 1 Corinthians 15:29) this:
29 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
In this verse, Paul refers to the practice of being baptized as evidence that Jesus’ death and resurrection paved the way for all mankind to be resurrected, making it necessary for those who came previous to his time to receive their own baptism. Being taught the principles of his gospel while dwelling as spirits in the eternal realm, those who missed the opportunity to physically make the covenant of baptism in their mortal lives can accept the proxy baptism provided for them by another, and then move on with their eternal progression.
How Can You Be Baptized?
If you have not been baptized by a priesthood holder, a male who has been ordained as a priest or elder in the Lord’s restored church, I invite you to consider taking that step. You can chat with a representative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here on this page, or you can call 888-537-6600.
In preparation for your baptism, you will be able to learn more about topics that include:
- The existence God and Jesus Christ
- The purpose of this life
- How to develop faith
- How to repent of your sins
- How to become part of the community of believers that will help you continue to develop your faith.