Do I have to be baptized to go to heaven – Reasoning from the Bible
To find the biblical answer to this question, we will look at two stories in the New Testament that will enable us to "reason" from Scripture. We will find truth there that can be applied to this issue.
Do I have to be baptized to go to heaven – The Rich Man and Lazarus
The first story is found in Luke chapter 16 and it is the account of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried” (Luke 16:22). Notice that there was no rite of baptism that was necessary to open Abraham's bosom for this beggar. This is of course before the LORD Jesus' death and resurrection, but baptism was a rite practiced by the Jews long before Jesus came to earth. In fact, the baptism of John the Baptist was for the Jews and was not for salvation, but for repentance. Since this was a story that was told by Jesus, if it had been necessary for the beggar to be baptized to get in to the place of rest, would not Jesus have added that information to the story? The rite of baptism in the New Testament was to identify the believer and to set them apart as a part of the "way" of Christ.
Do I have to be baptized to go to heaven – The Criminal
The other story is found in the account of Jesus on the cross and it is the story of one of the malefactors who hung beside Jesus. One of the malefactors railed against Jesus but the other had a change of heart. "But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don't you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’" (Luke 23:40-43). Notice that Jesus does not say you will be with me after you are baptized. Rather there was affirmation of the thought "absent in the body and present with the LORD" (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Do I have to be baptized to go to heaven – The Conclusion
Baptism is a rite of identification and not salvation and therefore is not a requirement for entrance into heaven. What then is the requirement for entrance into heaven? The story of the malefactor will give us the answer. This man recognized that he was where he was because of his own actions and he repents and asks for grace. The grace of the cross is what instantly transformed a reviling sinner into one with the attitude of confession and saving faith. That faith is what saves and gives the sinner entrance into eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ three days later.
The repentant thief began to see that his own punishment was just, he also saw the sinless character of Christ and he recognized that only Christ was able to save him. The thief was saved because of his trust in God's grace through Christ. In like manner, the sinner today must recognize that God's judgment of us is just and that we cannot save ourselves and we then choose to receive the gift of grace that God has made possible through the LORD Jesus Christ and that is the only requirement for salvation and for entrance into eternal life in heaven. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). If baptism were necessary it would be "works" and we cannot add our works to His grace.
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