In the early church, baptism was immediate. As soon as someone repented of their sin and put their faith in Christ, they were baptized.
However, nowadays, we are lackadaisical when it comes to baptism. Our baptisms will happen anywhere from a few weeks to even years after repentance. This is not the pattern laid out for us in the Bible and therefore should not be our practice if we desire to be Christians who truly follow Jesus.
Now, you may still be saying, “I get that, but even though it isn’t the Biblical pattern can you still be a Christian without being baptized?”
The short answer is you cannot be a Christian without first being baptized. Christianity is all about following Jesus. In fact, the word “Christian” literally means little Christ-like ones. If we claim to be “Christ like” and then never follow Christ’s commands and examples then our claim of being Christian is false.
As mentioned above, all throughout the scriptures there are commands to be baptized as soon as someone decides to repent and follow Jesus. Both the Lord and the apostles gave these commands.
Jesus told His apostles when He raised from the dead to preach the gospel to all creation and baptize people who are willing to become His disciples.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16: 15-16).
From these two verses we can see that Christ’s command is for His disciples to go and make more disciples, and as a result of these new converts becoming followers of Jesus, they get baptized.
So what did the apostles do with these commands?
“They went out and preached everywhere” and when someone decided to follow Jesus they would baptize them immediately. We see this happen time and time again throughout the book of Acts.
“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41).
“But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized” (Acts 8:12).
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, hereis water. What hinders me from being baptized?
“Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him (Acts 8:35-38).
“Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized” (Acts 9:18).
“Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47-48).
“When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5).
Now I know I quoted a lot of passages, but I had to be clear; as soon as someone decided to follow Jesus they got baptized immediately, or at the very least within a few days.
To the early Church, a “Christian” who is not baptized would be totally foreign.
In fact, they would probably set you aside and instruct you about water baptism and explain to you its purpose as they did with Apollos in Acts 18:24-26 and as Paul did with the Epesians Acts 19:1-7. And then after that, they would probably take you to some water and baptize you right on the spot.
Because the truth is, someone who has decided to put their faith in Jesus ought to get baptized as soon as they are able. This is the way Jesus commanded us to do it, it’s the way the early church apostles did it, and it is the way that we should do it.
If you want to know more about the Biblical pattern of water baptism I have an article titled Do you have to be Water Baptized to Receive Holy Spirit? you can check it out by clicking the link.
Do you have to be baptized to be saved?
Salvation comes through repentance and faith in Jesus. If someone has truly repented of their sin, and truly has faith in Christ, and for some reason are unable to get baptized before their death, they are saved. However, if someone claims to have repented and yet denies baptism, they are denying a command from Christ, and therefore their repentance is false.
I realize that what I am stating may sound contradictory to many people so let me state it again.
If someone claims to be a follower of Jesus, and yet is actively refusing to get baptized, they are therefore refusing a command from Christ and their claim of being a Christ follower is false.
It is no different than refusing to obey Christ’s command when it comes to loving our neighbor.
Now of course, we all may stumble at times when it comes to loving our neighbor perfectly, but we still acknowledge the command and seek God to assist us in accomplishing it.
But if you are someone that refuses to get baptized and you still claim to have repented – I’m so glad that you found this website – your repentance is not genuine.
Please repent, and decide to follow Jesus whole heartily. And not pick and choose which commands you want to follow, because if you do that Christ is not your Lord, you are.
Now I will address an extremely rare occurence because I know that someone is thinking it as they read this…
“What happens to those people that repent and put their faith in Jesus but then die before they are able to get baptized?”
If in the rare possible chance, someone decides to follow Jesus and then dies on the spot, and then never gets an opportunity to get baptized, then of course, that person is saved (as long as they were sincere).
The reason I know this is because we are saved by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross and resurrection, and we receive this salvation through repenting of our sin and placing our faith in Jesus (Mark 1:15).
Water baptism is simply the very next step we take to walk out the salvation that we received (Mark 16:16).
So, in short, water baptism is a command from the Lord Jesus Christ, and if we decide to actively refuse to obey this command, our repentance and our faith (the two things that allow us to receive salvation), will be revealed at the judgment day as false.
The reason for this is you cannot say that you are turning away from your sin to follow Christ (Repentance) and then openly, and decisively, disobey one of the first commands of Christ. And you cannot say that you are putting you whole trust in Jesus (Faith) if you are not willing to obey what He tells you to do.
What happens if you never get baptized?
If an individual claims to have repented of their sin and put their faith in Christ but then knowingly decides to never get baptized, they have voided their repentance and their faith by deliberately disobeying a simple and basic command of Christ. Therefore, that individual is not saved and should repent or be fearful of the judgement day.
I understand that my answer seems harsh, but I’d rather speak the truth in love now then allow someone to be deceived all the way into eternity.
Now I want to be clear. Water baptism is not what saves us. Jesus Chrsit’s work on the cross and resurrection is what saves us. And we receive this salvation through repentance and faith in His work.
So when I state that someone is not saved if they knowingly refuse to get baptized and that they should be fearful of Christ’s judgement day, I’m not stating that the work of baptism is what is saving.
Rather, I’m more addressing the attitude and heart motive of the individual who refuses to get baptized.
Think about it; why would someone claim to be a follower and lover of Jesus and then refuse to get dunked in some water? It sounds pretty rediculous to me. In fact it sounds like their claim is nothing more than an empty shell.
(By the way, water baptism is so much more than a dunk in water. It has a beautiful purpose behind it and I cover that purpose extensively in my article Water Baptism (A Complete Study) check it out by clicking the link).
I know that I have said it many times throughout this article, but I cannot stress it enough, our salvation is received by us when we put faith in Christ and when we repent to Christ. If we choose to knowingly not obey Christ’s first and most basic command of water baptism then we should take an extensive look at our heart and discover why we are so quick to disobey and ask ourselves if we truly have repented.