Let me be clear—Baptism is not essential to our eternal salvation.
The apostle Paul reminds us of the gospel’s power: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
In another passage, Paul writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17).
No two verses could make it any clearer that baptism is not part of the gospel message. The simple message of salvation, as Jesus declared, is: “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
That’s not to say though that baptism is not important. After all, Christ commanded it: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20).
It was also something that the early church practiced. For example, in Acts 18:8 “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.”
When you look into the historical significance of baptism, you discover it was a rite of passage into the Christian faith. In other words, it identified the person with the message they just received and initiated them into that community of people who likewise accepted that message.
Baptism functioned as a first step of discipleship, whereby a person publicly declared: “I have trusted Christ and consider myself one of His followers.” Through this public act of obedience, one tells others that he intends to live for Christ and is identifying with the community of believers.
Once we are saved, God wants us to become His disciple—a person who follows after Him and learns more about Him. The first step in that discipleship is to identify ourselves with Him through baptism. In so doing, we honor the One who died for us and are telling others of our salvation and our desire to follow Him.