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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

Is Baptism Required for Discipleship?

Updated: Apr 24

Baptism is a necessary part of discipleship

Discipleship refers to the process of getting to know Jesus in order to obey him and become completely like him.

The example of Jesus.

If discipleship is following and imitating Jesus, then we ought to imitate him in his baptism as well. This means that baptism is required for discipleship.

The baptism of Jesus is recorded in Matthew 3:13-17: "Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' Jesus replied, 'Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.' Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.'"

The baptism of Jesus is also recorded in Mark and Luke.

The Command of Jesus to be baptized:

Jesus indicates baptism is part of following him.

  • Mark 16:16: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." Jesus, in this passage, links belief and baptism with salvation. It suggests that baptism is an essential step for those who have come to believe in Jesus Christ as a demonstration of their faith and as a means of entering into a saved relationship with Him.

Jesus also commanded his followers to baptize:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)

Here, Jesus explicitly connects discipleship with baptizing.

Scriptures that show that baptism is required for discipleship

Other Scriptures indicate the value that the Bible places upon baptism. Here are some:

  • Acts 2:38: "Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"

  • Romans 6:3-4: "Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."

  • Acts 22:16: "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name."

  • Galatians 3:27: "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."

  • Colossians 2:12: "Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead."

Misunderstandings of Baptism and Discipleship

Unbelievers or immature Christians can misunderstand baptism in various ways.

Billy Ray Cyrus, the father of Miley Cyrus (formerly Hannah Montana) once said that he didn’t understand how she had drifted so far from her upbringing. He said he was shocked because “she had been baptized before they left Nashville.” (paraphrase)

Interesting, isn't it? It's as though he thought it was some sort of magical protection, some kind of spiritual amulet to protect against bad spiritual outcomes. This illustrates how uninformed people (both believers and unbelievers) can misunderstand baptism.

What are some ways that people could misunderstand baptism?

Is Baptism just a Superficial Ritual?

One common misunderstanding of baptism among non-Christians is perceiving it as a mere symbolic ritual with no real significance. They may view it as a religious tradition without understanding its deeper spiritual meaning. Without a proper understanding of baptism as a public declaration of faith, the significance of dying to one's old self and being raised to new life in Christ may be missed.

Is Baptism just a Magical Cleansing?

Some non-Christians may misunderstand baptism as a magical or automatic cleansing that guarantees forgiveness of all sins. They may perceive it as a ritual that automatically washes away past wrongdoings, without recognizing the necessity of genuine repentance and faith in Christ for salvation. This misunderstanding can lead to an incomplete understanding of the transformative nature of baptism and its connection to a personal relationship with Jesus.

Is Baptism what saves us?

Another misunderstanding can arise when non-Christians view baptism as a requirement for salvation or as a means to earn God's favor. They may perceive it as a necessary work or a religious obligation that must be fulfilled to obtain salvation. This misconception overlooks the biblical teaching that salvation is a gift of God's grace received through faith in Jesus Christ, not something that can be earned or achieved through human effort.

If you want to teach your new believers how to understand baptism, please check out this resource, a baptism Bible study for new Christians.

Can someone go to heaven without being baptized?

The short answer is yes. Salvation is not by works, but by faith.

But here’s the longer answer as well:

While baptism isn't "immediately necessary" for salvation, it is necessary as a follow-up, a demonstration of what God has done for the sinner.

It's like asking "is it necessary for my car to be putting out exhaust to go down the road?" Well... not technically. (You could roll it down the hill.) But if the engine is running, the car will go down the road, and it will put off exhaust.

In the same way, works are necessary to accompany salvation. The thief on the cross was saved without any "works" except repentance and faith (which are not biblically considered works). But if he had by some miracle gotten down from the cross, he would have most certainly done good things.

How did the Early Church view baptism?

The concept of "baptism of blood" or "baptism of martyrdom" was present in the early Church. It refers to the belief that individuals who died as martyrs for their faith before they had the opportunity to receive water baptism were still considered to have undergone a spiritual baptism through their sacrificial death.

The early Church placed a strong emphasis on the importance of baptism for salvation and the forgiveness of sins. However, the reality of persecution and martyrdom meant that some believers were killed for their faith before they could be formally baptized with water. In light of this, the idea of "baptism of blood" emerged as a way to acknowledge the spiritual significance of their martyrdom.

The concept of "baptism of blood" was rooted in the belief that martyrdom itself, particularly the shedding of one's blood for Christ, had a salvific effect. It was seen as an act of supreme faith and devotion to Christ, and it was believed that through their martyrdom, these individuals received the grace and forgiveness that baptism symbolizes.

Early Church Fathers such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Ambrose referred to the "baptism of blood" in their writings. For example, Tertullian, an influential early Christian writer from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, wrote, "If murderers, and those who commit adultery, and those who do not repent of their sins, nor do the works of righteousness, are condemned to eternal fire; not only he who commits adultery in act, but also an adulterer in thought, and not only he who is angry with his brother without a cause, but also he who has wounded the reputation of a brother, will be condemned to the everlasting fire; and not only he who has killed a man, but also he who has desired to kill one, even though he has been prevented from fulfilling his wish. But all these afterwards wash themselves in their own blood, each one desiring to pass over to the Lord Jesus, and so come through the law of suffering to the fullness of liberty." (Tertullian, Scorpiace, Chapter 15)

While the exact terminology may vary, the underlying concept of recognizing the spiritual significance of martyrdom as a form of baptism without water was present in the early Church. It acknowledged the faith and sacrifice of those who gave their lives for Christ, considering them as having received the blessings and benefits of baptism through their martyrdom.

What about those who believe baptism isn’t necessary?

There are Christian groups that hold varying beliefs about the requirement of baptism for discipleship. While the majority of Christian denominations and traditions affirm the importance of baptism in some form, there are certain groups that view it differently. Here are a few examples:

  • Quakers (Religious Society of Friends): Quakers generally do not practice water baptism. They emphasize the inward spiritual experience and believe that baptism is fulfilled through the direct inward experience of the Holy Spirit.

  • Salvation Army: The Salvation Army, a Christian denomination, practices dedication and dedication services instead of water baptism. They view dedication as a public commitment to following Christ and serving others, considering it more symbolic than sacramental.

  • Some Evangelical and Pentecostal groups: While many Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians do believe in water baptism, there are some who view it as an optional or non-essential practice for salvation. They may emphasize salvation by faith alone and prioritize the personal relationship with Jesus Christ over specific rituals.

As Larry Smith, my Church History teacher used to say, “There are those who disagree with us on baptism, but it is a mistake of the head, not of the heart.”

How Can I train my disciples on what Baptism means?

Let me introduce the Baptism Challenge.

The baptism challenge graphic

The Baptism Challenge is a 21 day challenge designed to prepare a new believer for for baptism. A 7 minutes per day, video guided experience focuses on teaching the meaning of baptism, how to put together a baptism testimony, and how to invite friends and family to a baptism service.

It includes a Baptism Sunday message for pastors, and artwork and video trailers for advertising your Baptism Sunday.

To get a printing license to print these notebooks at your church, you can visit and learn more!

Baptism Challenge Workbook

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