Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “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.” And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. (Acts 2:37-41)
Baptism Is Not Essential To Salvation, But It Is Essential To Obedience
Fifty days after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, twelve men were assembled in a great hall in Jerusalem with thousands of devout Jews from every nation under heaven. It was an unremarkable day until suddenly, a sound from heaven, like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, filled the house where they were sitting. The men began to speak in foreign languages telling the good news of a risen Christ. Peter stood up with the eleven and began to explain what the great event meant. He showed from the Old Testament prophecy of Joel the events of the day were in fulfillment of God’s word. He explained the man who had been crucified a little over a month before, called Jesus, was the Son of God, the Christ. Weaving King David’s prophecies into his sermon, Peter astonished the multitude with the clarity of Old Testament scripture to conclude that God has made this Jesus, whom they crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!
As the crowd listened intently to Peter’s sermon, they felt compelled to respond to the news of the Messiah’s death. It seemed incredulous the Chosen One of God had been this Jesus of Nazareth, and they had rejected the Son of God. Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they pleaded with the apostles to tell them what they could do to be saved from the wrath of God. Realizing that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the men feared for their salvation. What could they do to be saved? Their pleas came from broken and contrite hearts burdened with the guilt of sin. They were not asking a question to Peter and the eleven; they were seeking the path of obedience to the grace of God as they stood condemned.
Peter does not hesitate to tell the men gathered what they must do to be saved. The apostle tells them to repent and let every one of them be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s words are a promise to those gathered in Jerusalem and for all those who would walk on the face of the earth as long as time remains. Peter and the eleven continued to speak to the multitude to save themselves from a perverse generation. Those who gladly received the word of the apostles were baptized. Luke records on that day, three thousand souls were immersed for the remission of their sins as the Lord added them to the church as being saved.
If the story of the twelve apostles speaking in Jerusalem were reenacted today, there would be a very different response. Instead of Peter telling the crowd to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins, the apostle would say to the crowd to accept Christ as their personal savior, and they would be saved. Three thousand souls would accept salvation by faith only and believe they are saved. When baptism was brought up, the answer would be that baptism is not essential to salvation, but it is essential to obedience. This is the position of the Baptist church (by and large) as the Baptist Church “utterly repudiates the dogma of ‘baptismal regeneration.'” The Baptist Church’s teaching is that while baptism is not essential for salvation, it is essential to obedience since Christ has commanded it. What is found in the Baptist church is common in almost all the Protestant churches that deny the belief in water immersion for salvation. They will argue it is essential for obedience but not for salvation.
To define the word “essential” is to suggest something is absolutely necessary and extremely important. Baptism is not necessary to be saved, although Peter told those gathered at Pentecost that is what they needed to do (essential) to be saved. A contradiction is found in how man’s wisdom seeks to change the simple, direct, and easily understood command of God for a man to find salvation. Every story of conversion in the New Testament church includes the act of baptism. Paul frequently explained the purpose and design of baptism. Peter would later write that baptism saves. And yet we live in a world where multitudes of devout people believe they are saved by faith only, and baptism is not essential for salvation.
There must be a great deal of confusion about how baptism is not essential for salvation, but it is essential for obedience? The scriptures teach that salvation depends on doing the will of the Father. Jesus would pose the question of how a man can love Him and not do His commandments. Baptism is essential for salvation because God said so. When men deny the purpose of baptism, they deny the word of God. Denying the word of God will not bring joy but eternal wrath.