If one maintains that baptism is essential to salvation, is he not therefore affirming that men are saved by something they do themselves rather than by the grace of God?
This query fails to acknowledge the many aspects of God’s salvation plan and twists complementary elements into a false antithesis, overlooking the fact that man does have a part to play in his own salvation. Otherwise, since God desires all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), why will everyone not be saved? (cf. Matthew 7:13-23). The Bible teaches that we are saved by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:5, 8), God’s mercy (Titus 3:5), God’s longsuffering (2 Peter 3:15), God’s word (James 1:21), Jesus (Matthew 1:21; 18:11), Jesus’ name (Acts 4:12), Jesus’ blood (Romans 5:9), Jesus’ life (Romans 5:10), apostolic teaching (1 Corinthians 1:21; 9:22), the gospel (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2), faith (Luke 7:50; 18:42), confession of faith (Romans 10:9), repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10), obedience (Hebrews 5:9), belief and baptism (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21), works [of God] (James 2:14, 24), ourselves [as we comply with God’s directives] (Philippians 2:12; 1 Timothy 4:16), calling on the Lord’s name (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13), endurance (Matthew 10:22), and hope (Romans 8:24). Because all of these things work together, it is a mistake to isolate just one of them and suggest that it somehow excludes any of the others. Since the Bible says that baptism saves us (1 Peter 3:21), would it be reasonable to affirm that baptism must therefore eliminate faith? If not, why do some contend that God’s grace eliminates gospel obedience? When a person submits to baptism, he is simply doing what the Lord has commanded him to do and is not negating the grace of God but is rather appropriating it. The Corinthians received God's grace (2 Corinthians 6:1) when they received the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-2) and submitted to its condition of baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13; Acts 18:8).
Since the Bible says that all one must do to be saved is ‘call on the name of the Lord’ (Romans 10:13), and since a person on his deathbed who can’t get up to be baptized can still accept Jesus into his heart, how can anyone say that baptism is essential to salvation?
Yes, the Bible does say that “calling on the Lord’s name” is necessary for salvation, but that’s not all the Bible says. To reach the conclusion implied in the above question one must do at least two things: (1) disregard everything else the Bible has to say on this subject, and (2) ignore how the Bible itself defines “calling on the name of the Lord.” However, when all of the biblical information is taken into account, including the context of Romans 10, the gospel requirements for salvation are clear. To “call on the name of the Lord,” in the biblical sense, certainly includes a verbal acknowledgement of one’s faith (Romans 10:9-10), but it is by no means limited to this (cf. Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46; James 1:22; 2:17-26). The scriptural pattern, as set forth in Romans 10, is as follows: the gospel is to be (a) preached, (b) heard, and (c) believed, then one must (d) “call on the name of the Lord” to be saved (vv. 12-17). Yet to exclude baptism from this process is to disregard what Paul had just stated four chapters earlier in Romans 6, and is to ignore how this same pattern is laid out in the book of Acts, and is to overlook other relevant passages of scripture. Paul had just written that baptism is necessary to have new life in Christ and freedom from sin (Romans 6:3-5, 17-18), and the book of Acts shows that in apostolic times when the gospel was (a) preached, (b) heard, and (c) believed, (d) baptism immediately followed (Acts 2:37-41; 8:12, 38; 9:18; et al.). As a matter of fact, baptism is explicitly included in the summary act of “calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 2:21, 38; 22:16). If the Bible says that baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins and consequent salvation (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:15-16; 1 Peter 3:21), how can any professing Bible-believer say that it is not necessary?
What about someone on his deathbed? Does this scenario cancel out what the Bible says? If the person on his deathbed is in a coma and is therefore incapable of developing faith in Jesus, does this mean, therefore, that faith in Jesus in unnecessary? If not, why do some contend that this situation somehow nullifies baptism or any other requirement of God? This person has had his whole life to seek after God and to learn and obey the truth (Matthew 7:7; John 7:17). One’s waiting until the last moment or until it is too late cannot be blamed on God (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2) and it does not change the requirements that God has set forth in his word. Do our fallible emotions and desires carry more weight than the infallible word of God? Even though some wish to argue that a “deathbed conversion” is valid, this is an emotional (not a biblical) appeal and still does not alter or eliminate what is necessary for the multitudes who are not on their deathbeds.
--Kevin L. Moore