The myth that you must be baptized to get in to heaven is less common today than it was a few decades ago.
Even now my grandparents would maintain the belief that baptism ‘is a very important part’ of salvation.
In a way, this is kind of true, but Jesus explains that the act of baptism is not a prerequisite to the kingdom of heaven.
Take the passage about The Criminal as a perfect example. When Jesus was horrifically pinned to the cross there were two other criminals whose sentences were being carried out at the same time.
One of the criminals that was nailed to a cross next to Jesus was making fun of Jesus by saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself. Save us.”
The other criminal was facing his fate differently and decided to rebuke the criminal that was making fun of Jesus…
But the other criminal scolded him. “Don’t you have any respect for God?” he said. “Remember, you are under the same sentence of death. We are being punished fairly. We are getting just what our actions call for. But this man (Jesus) hasn’t done anything wrong.”Luke 23:40-41
These are the words of a man who has regret. He also finds Jesus to be innocent and therefore he defends Jesus against the other man who was making fun of Jesus.
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”Luke 23:42
After realizing that he was a sinner who committed a crime worthy of the punishment he was enduring, he asks Jesus to ‘remember’ him.
He is asking Jesus, who lived a perfect life and died on a cross for all our sins, to forgive him.
He believes in Jesus, he repents, and has faith that Jesus has the power to extend grace to him in an eternal way.
And Jesus gives the repentant criminal the answer to the question I asked at the beginning of this post…
Jesus answered him, “What I’m about to tell you is true. Today you will be with me in paradise.”Luke 23:43
Please note, Jesus did not say, “Oh, sorry it’s too late. You should have repented and been baptized first.”
Our acknowledgement of sin, true repentance, and faith in Jesus alone is what saves.
No act of baptism or any other amount of good deeds can earn us a ticket to heaven.
I say all this with Jesus providing the main defense, but I would also point out the significance of what baptism means as a symbol of our community with Christ.
What I mean is that we, as believers, should all be baptized after confessing our faith in Jesus.
Baptism doesn’t save us, but it is a symbol of God’s power to forgive and grant salvation.
In essence, a new believer in Christ should yearn for this practice. Baptism is a declaration of our faith which displays that the power of God’s love for us is a gift.
One myth that is still relevant today is the misunderstanding that if a person, whether as an infant or as an adult, is baptized, then they must be going to heaven.
Even though it is less common for people to believe that baptism is required for salvation, some people still believe that if baptism did occur at some point, then a person must be saved.
This is not true.
It is frustrating to me to see churches use baptism as a score or some sort of measure for success.
Baptism is certainly a celebration, but just because a person was baptized doesn’t mean they are saved.
What I mean by this is illustrated by the example my family and I witnessed in a local church a few weeks ago.
The lead pastor at a local church started the service by announcing that 8 adults were ready to be baptized during the service.
He was excited and he went on to boast about how the church had performed over 30 baptisms in the last few months.
This isn’t bad, but what troubled me the most was the fact that I knew one of the participants very well and she was not at all in a place to be ready to publicly declare her faith in Jesus.
As the leader of a church I would feel a high sense of urgency to spread the word of Christ, but to push the beautiful gift of baptism onto an individual who clearly hasn’t repented would be demeaning to the purpose of what God intends it to be.
I also have mixed feelings about infant baptism, but rather than argue one way or another, I will say simply that it is not a ‘deal breaker’.
I can say that because of the evidence Jesus presents with The Criminal, baptism is not a requirement for salvation.
In modern terms… If I am married but I don’t wear a wedding ring, does that mean I am not married?
I am still married whether I wear a ring or not.
The ring I proudly wear is a symbol of my love and commitment to my beautiful wife.
As a believer in Christ, I want to be baptized because it is a symbol of my faith as well as a demonstration of my inclusion in the community of Christ.
My parents baptized me as an infant and I am grateful that they committed themselves in that ceremony to raising me in a Christian household.
I don’t believe that my infant baptism provided any sort of salvation and neither did my baptism as an adult.
I chose to be baptized as an adult via full submersion and now I can use my experiences in baptism as a tool for sharing God’s grace with others.
What do I mean by that?
Well, even though I treasure my baptisms as an infant and as an adult, and I don’t diminish their value as a symbol of my faith, I am able to say that “I am a really good donut because I was sprinkled and dunked…!”
You may not get it, but I think it is humorous and it is at the very least a conversation starter.
Peter puts it best when he refers to Jesus’ instructions (Matthew 28:19) and he says:
Peter replied, “All of you must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then your sins will be forgiven. You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”Acts 2:38
If you want to learn more about what Peter means regarding forgiveness and salvation, feel free to check out What It Means To Be Saved.
Have a blessed day.