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Jesus showed His love for all kinds of people by allowing a formerly demon-possessed woman to anoint His feet with oil; eating with tax collectors, who had nasty reputations for cheating people out of their money; and healing people when they hadn’t even asked. Will the same Jesus who did these things and even told people, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48), really refuse to admit someone into His heavenly kingdom because he or she chose to skip getting submerged underwater in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Have you ever been in a mall or grocery store and heard a parent tell a child, “If you do that one more time, I will . . .”? I’ve heard parents (and myself) say those words to their children. When the child does the same kind of behavior again, the parent repeats, “If you do that one more time, I will . . .” It does not take long for a child to figure out that the parent’s words are empty without accountability. The same goes for our relationship with Jesus.

Jesus taught that He will hold us accountable for our choices. When He returns, He promised to separate people into two groups—the sheep and the goats. The sheep will receive eternal life, but the goats will not (Matthew 25:32, 33, 41). Jesus also said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).* Jesus spoke and lived a message of love that included accountability.

How did Jesus describe our accountability to Him? He told people, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words” (John 14:23, 24). Jesus will hold people accountable for following His words. What did He say about baptism? “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

If we use the words of Jesus as our authority, will baptism be required for salvation? Simply put, yes. Might that seem harsh, even uncaring? We like people to pat us on the back and say, “Well done,” or, “That’s OK; you will do better next time.” But when accountability comes our way, we can often retreat and say, “It wasn’t my fault,” “I didn’t know,” or “That’s not fair.”

Jesus doesn’t hold us accountable in order to make our lives difficult or to create barriers in our relationship with Him. We can never forget that Jesus said He alone saves us, yet there are things He asks us to do that identify us as belonging to Him. He holds us accountable because baptism represents a reaction to His love, not some type of act we do to qualify for heaven.

For example, if you paid $300 for a prize-winning rosebush and you fertilized, watered, and provided everything the rosebush needed to flourish and it never even got a bud, much less a bloom, and all of the leaves fell off, would you keep the plant? As we hold a rosebush accountable for having roses, or an orange tree for having oranges, so Jesus holds us accountable for having fruit in our lives. His love in our hearts yields the fruit of desiring baptism.

Baptism, as a fruit, helps us in three ways.

First, for faith to grow, it must become more than a verbal acceptance that Jesus lived and walked on earth. Faith requires action. Can a man who would like to get married yet never takes a woman out for a date find a spouse? Or can a child learn to play the piano without sitting down to practice? Faith needs practice.

As believers, Jesus asked us to make a public proclamation of our intention to follow Him that is more than just words. Peter’s statement, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:28), tells us that our public proclamation includes the act of baptism. In the New Testament, the act of baptism follows believing the gospel.

Second, baptism creates a memorial day that becomes our second, or new, birthday. Each year our baptism date can become a time when we celebrate the new life we enjoy with Christ—a milestone of forgiveness, acceptance, and surrender. It can become a date in history that we can look back upon and say, “That’s when I took my stand for Jesus.”

Third, the Bible tells us in Romans 6:4 that when we choose to be baptized we are “buried with Him through baptism into death.” At first, reading that might sound confusing. Of course, this verse refers to a symbolic death, not our literal death. The second half of verse 4 makes this point clear: “That just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

To be “buried with Him through baptism into death” means we have chosen to die (be buried under the water in baptism) to our old selfish ways of life. We have also experienced the power of the resurrection to a new way of life, symbolized by coming up out of the water. Our self-centeredness no longer has complete control.

With our selfishness dethroned, yet still present, we can embrace the routine of letting Christ illuminate our selfish thinking and ask for the power of His love to help us make choices that honor Him. When we make a mistake by choosing our selfishness over His love, we can ask for forgiveness and maintain our relationship with Him.

While Jesus holds us accountable for baptism as we would hold an orange tree accountable for having oranges, the Bible makes an exception for situations that can make baptism impossible. After Roman soldiers drove nails through Jesus’ hands and feet, a thief who was also crucified accepted Him as his Savior. The Bible does not contain any record of the thief being baptized, yet Jesus said he would be in His kingdom when He returns. It’s reasonable to conclude that if we have a medical condition or other situation that makes baptism impossible, Jesus’ righteousness can still be imputed to us.

Children understand that words without accountability are empty. Without accountability, Jesus’ words would also be empty. Jesus said that He will hold believers accountable for choosing to go under the water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. However, it’s important that we not make the mistake of thinking that just because we have been baptized He must accept us in His kingdom. Jesus holds us accountable because baptism is the natural result of inviting Him to be the Lord of our lives, not because it’s on a checklist to qualify for heaven.

In baptism, we celebrate and affirm a change that has already happened. It’s like marriage. People don’t get married to fall in love. They get married to celebrate, affirm, and make a commitment to the love they already have for each other. We can never forget that Jesus said He alone saves us, yet there are things He asks us to do that identify us as His.

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this article are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation

by Keith Trumbo
From the May 2014 Signs