Baptism is an act that Christians have been doing for nearly two thousand years. I have always thought that baptism was something you did after you were saved. But, in Acts 2:38, Peter said to “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” From the sounds of this baptism is necessary for salvation. So this begs the question: is baptism truly necessary for salvation.
There are several verses in the New Testament that seemingly contradict what Acts 2:38 says. “First, it is quite clear from such passages as Acts 15 and Romans 4 that no external act is necessary for salvation. Salvation is by divine grace through faith alone (Romans 3:22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30; 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:9, etc.).” (http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/qa79) Every one of these verses pretty much state that through Christ comes salvation.
Another thing to consider is that in Acts 3 Paul never mentions anything about baptism in his ministry in the chapter. (http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/qa79) Let’s also look at the teachings of Jesus. “If Peter, in Acts 2:38, was saying one has to be baptized in order to be saved he would have violated the clear teaching of Ephesians 2:8-9 and the preaching of Jesus Christ.” (http://bible-truth.org/BaptismNotNecessary.html) The biggest example of this is John 3:16, where Jesus was teaching Nicodemus about how one gets into Heaven. Not once in this discussion did Jesus mention baptism.
So then, from this perspective, what exactly is the purpose of baptism? For most it is a religious ceremony that one does after one is saved. Typically, the idea is that baptism “is also a ceremony where one person performs a religious rite on another person; but, we are saved by faith alone, and anything else we do, including ceremonies, will not help.” (https://carm.org/is-baptism-necessary-salvation)
But what about those who believe that baptism is necessary? Surely there is a reason for this? Let’s first examine the viewpoint of a major sect of Christianity who believes it is: the Catholics. The Catholics tend to take the Bible extremely literally. They cite John 3:5 and Mark 16:16, among other verses, which pretty much say that those who believe and are baptized will be saved. (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/apologetics/sacraments/baptism-infants-and-salvation/) “Christians [Catholics] have always interpreted the Bible literally when it declares, “Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21; cf. Acts 2:38, 22:16, Rom. 6:3–4, Col. 2:11–12).” (http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-necessity-of-baptism)
In conclusion, I personally believe that baptism is a way of outwardly showing that you are committing your life to God, but the only way to be saved is to accept Christ into your heart. However, I understand where those who interpret the Bible as saying that baptism is necessary since there are several verses that essentially says it is. It’s just a matter of interpretation.