When it comes to the question of what is required to go to Heaven, there are all kinds of opinions. Specifically in this article, we will answer, do you need to be baptized to go to Heaven? Or stated another way, must you be baptized to be saved? For this article, we are dealing with only water baptism, not any of the other types of baptism.
Can you go to heaven without being baptized?
A common argument in response to the question of “do you have to be baptized to go to Heaven” is this: Someone dies in a car wreck on the way to being baptized. Are they saved? This question is valid and points out the flaw in the hard line drawn with baptism as a requirement for salvation. But let’s dig deeper and see if we can answer this question.
The alternative to this question is the scenario of the one who is baptized but never follows Christ (Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, John 8:12). In this circumstance, are they saved? Rightfully so, even the most hardened conservative will usually answer, “no”. That’s because the Bible is very clear that there’s more to salvation than going under the water. Let’s look at one Biblical example before we answer this question.
Did the thief on the cross go to Heaven without being baptized?
Yes, the thief on the cross did go to heaven without receiving baptism (Luke 23:43). Actually, he went to paradise but that’s a question for another article. However, some are quick to point out, and rightly so, that Jesus’ covenant had not yet taken place as he was still living and had not raised from the dead. Therefore, this example cannot help us answer the question of “do I have to be baptized to go to Heaven”.
That said, I think the analysis of the thief on the cross is still very valid. You see, the question that we should be asking of this situation is not “did the thief go to Heaven without being baptized”. Rather, a better question is “would the thief had been baptized if he could have“? This question points to the true motivation for baptism. That is, a repentant heart that is convicted of its depravity leading to accepting Jesus in faith. I am convinced Jesus saved the thief because of his faith. Surely we can rightly judge that the thief would have followed Jesus anywhere if he had the opportunity, including baptism and other works.
About the Person Who Dies on the Way to Getting Baptized
What about our earlier example: the one who dies on the way to being baptized? Are they saved? It depends on their heart. More specifically, why were they going to be baptized? Was it from true faith and repentance (as was the thief) or just because someone told them they should? God judges the heart (1 Chronicles 28:9). If the former, I fully believe that God saved them.
So, is it technically possible to go to Heaven without being baptized? Yes, technically you can go to Heaven without being baptized, like the one who dies in a car wreck on the way. I am also 99% sure that is not your circumstance. If you know about baptism and truly had the opportunity to be baptized but chose not to, I’m not certain that Christ will save you. It’s as if you have never accepted the gracious gift of God’s salvation. Perhaps what that means is you don’t yet have a heart like the thief on the cross because you haven’t repented and made Christ your lord.
The same is true for the person who is baptized but does not commit to Christ.
How do you go to heaven?
We go to Heaven by God’s grace, not our works (Romans 9:14-16, Romans 11:5-6, Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Bible is very clear about this. None of us are “worthy” of going to Heaven. That is, we are all sinners and deserve only death and separation from God. There is nothing we can “do” to earn our way to Heaven. Instead, God’s offers the gracious gift of salvation to us through our faith in Christ. That’s because when we believe in Christ (turn our life to Him, make Him our Lord) we accept his gift of salvation.
Since works cannot save us, the logical conclusion is that baptism does not save us, because it’s a work. But is this true?
Is baptism a work?
Yes, baptism is a work. However, it is not a work that we do. Rather, it’s a work of God (Colossians 2:11-13). Baptism is simply received by the believer. In fact, every example we have of baptism involves a person who is baptized and a person doing the baptizing. See our article on can you baptize yourself.
In reality though, it doesn’t matter if baptism is a work or not. That’s because it’s not the only act that can be considered a work that will be necessary for you to go to Heaven. Others include caring for the fatherless (James 1:27, Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 82:3), caring for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:14-46), and loving one another (John 13:34-35). If I proclaim Christ as Lord, but don’t do any of these works, am I really His follower? Will he proclaim “well done good and faithful servant” on that day?
If I proclaim Christ as Lord, but don’t do any of His works, am I really His follower?
You see, it’s true that doing good works are not what save you. But it’s equally true that I won’t be saved if I don’t do good works. Does that make sense? That’s because God judges the heart and is seeking those who will follow Him. True followers naturally reproduce good fruit, whereas others do not. Should we submit to baptism or not?
What happens if you never get baptized?
Hopefully by now you understand that baptism is the result of a heart that is turned toward God. If you truly want to go to heaven yet have not been baptized, the question you must answer is, why? You see, it’s not so much about “if” you get baptized. That’s because God judges the heart. If you choose not to get baptized, some day you will have to answer God’s question of “why”? Are you prepared to answer that? Therefore, I propose that a person who refuses baptism is not saved because they are not committed.
That’s because baptism is commitment.
If you never get baptized…
- You don’t fulfill the command of Jesus and the Apostles (Matthew 28:19–20, Acts 2:38).
- You’ve not made an appeal to God (1 Peter 3:21)
- You’re not part of Christ’s body (Acts 2:47, 1 Corinthians 12:12-20)
So, do you have to be baptized to go to heaven?
Yes, you do have to be baptized to go to heaven, assuming you are able and have the opportunity. Much in the same way that God wants to see fruits of your good heart produced through good works. Asking the question why should I get baptized is a good question.
However, just like any other work or command, if done for the wrong reason it is meaningless. That’s because baptism (the act of immersion) itself does not save you. The same is true for any other work. Rather, you are saved by your appeal to God, accepting his grace through your faith. If you understand and truly have the opportunity to be baptized, yet refuse, consider that your current state may not be right with God.
I urge you, repent and be baptized.
Other Baptism Questions:
- Who can baptize? Can anyone perform a baptism or does it need to be a priest or elder?
- Can you get baptized twice? Or is a second baptism unscriptural?
- What is baptism of the dead? Is this practice found in scripture? Who practices and why? Should we?
- Can you baptize yourself? Or is it always necessary that someone baptizes you?
3 thoughts on “Do you have to be baptized to go to Heaven?”
I notice that in this article you state that baptism is a “work”. So, in Acts 2:38-41, were the 3000 forgiven of their sins and added to the kingdom at the time of “cut to the heart” (faith only), or were they forgiven of their sins and added to the Kingdom through their faith in Jesus at the time and event of baptism (in water) into His Name?
If baptism is indeed a “work”, and a person cannot be saved by “works” then is it very important to know that on that day, for the 3000, baptism was defined as NOT a “work”?
Does the first sermon of the new covenant church in Acts 2:14-41 illustrate the example that for all whom the Lord our God will call must have all the components of “hear”, “believe”, “confess”, “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins” to be added to God’s Kingdom?
Did I fail my 11 year old son by not getting him baptized before he died suddenly? He had the faith of a child, but we had not committed to a church at that time. He believed in Jesus as his savior and had accepted Christ into his heart and he was taken so soon after that. He barely had time to explore his faith.
Hi Jolene, great question and thank you for coming forward with your comment. Ultimately, my best response to you is going to be this: I do not know. Such things are thankfully not in the realm of a fellow follower of Christ to judge. I am also thankful for all of the indicators that the grace of God exceeds much farther than any of us really know. I need this grace, and baptism (as hopefully I have pointed out in the article) itself does nothing without the commitment and repentance of the individual. In other words, I earn nothing through my own works because I am not worthy. None of us are worthy. For situations such as this, I think of the refrain that Paul said in 2 Timothy 2. That is, “The Lord knows who are his.”
Maybe it will help you to know of my decision with my boys. Currently, my 9 year old son is not baptized. He has actually asked me to be baptized, but I have not yet allowed him to do this. Why? Because I know my son does not yet fully understand a commitment to Christ. That means he cannot repent, as he doesn’t know what it means to “put his hand to the plow”. That will likely not change until he is quite a bit older. Certainly our gracious Lord who covers the sins of the man on the cross, and those who came before him under the law and all the way back to Adam can cover the sins of a child who does not yet understand what baptism means, or how to accept and commit to Jesus Christ. Just as his grace will assuredly cover the one who dies on the way to his baptism. Therefore, I am confident in the grace of God for my child who (God forbid) might die before they are able to understand repentance and commitment to Christ. I hope this helps, God bless you.