I once saw the following question on an outdoor sign, “Which came first, salvation or baptism?” Because the future of your soul depends upon the answer, it is a very good question. It is also a question that deserves an answer from the Bible. When we set aside all preconceived ideas and prejudices, all human creeds and all doctrines of men, we learn that the Bible teaches that for all those who live according to the New Testament, baptism comes first.
If salvation comes first, Jesus was mistaken when he said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). The word “and” is a conjunction that joins belief with baptism. Either belief or baptism, without the other, does not result in salvation.
If salvation comes first, then Peter was wrong when he preached his sermon on the day of Pentecost. When those present heard Peter’s preaching concerning Christ, they were pricked in their hearts and asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Listen to Peter’s answer. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). The word “for” is the translated from the same word Jesus used in Matthew 26:28, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Jesus did not shed his blood on the cross because man’s sins had already been forgiven, but in order that man’s sins could be forgiven. Likewise, Peter did not command those present on the day of Pentecost to be baptized because their sins had already been forgiven, but in order that their sins could be forgiven.
If salvation comes first, then we are saved outside of Christ. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3). But we know that no man can be saved outside of Christ.“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). We are baptized into Christ. Every time the phrase “into Christ” appears in your Bible, it is always preceded by the word “baptized”.
If salvation comes first, then a person is saved without being a member of Christ’s church. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have all been made to drink one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13). Because Christ’s church and Christ’s body are one and the same (Ephesians 1:22-23), we know we are baptized into Christ’s church. The only way a person can become a member of Christ’s church is through baptism. Because Christ is the savior of the body (Ephesians 5:23), only those persons who are in Christ’s church are saved.
If salvation comes first, then Saul (Paul) was saved before his sins were washed away. When the Lord appeared unto Saul on the road to Damascus, the Lord told him to go to Damascus where Ananias would tell him what he must do. Do you remember what Ananias told Saul? “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). No friends, Paul was not saved before his sins were washed away in baptism, and you and are not saved before our sins are washed away in baptism.
If salvation comes first, then Peter was wrong when he taught that we are saved by baptism. “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21). Just as the waters of the flood served as a dividing line between death and salvation in Noah’s day, water baptism serves as a dividing line between spiritual death and salvation today.
What must we do to be saved from our sins? We must hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, for faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). We must believe the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:16). We must repent of our sins (Acts 2:38). We must confess our faith in Jesus Christ (Matthew 10:32-33). We must be baptized in order to receive the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38).
Yes friends, baptism comes before salvation. A person who has not been baptized in order to receive the forgiveness of his sins is a person who is still lost in his sin.