The plan of salvation is very simple and some try to make it very complicated. When Jesus described salvation as a new birth, He was describing it as a new beginning, only in a different dimension. A person is saved by admitting he or she is a sinner, deserving of Hell because of sin, but trusting the finished work of Christ on the cross as the payment for sin. Salvation is not of works, lest any of us should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-10) “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Notice what the above Scriptures say. We are saved without our working righteousness, but good works should follow our salvation. Jesus calls baptism a work of “righteousness,” at His baptism by John. Read Matthew 3: 15 “And Jesus answering said unto him, ‘Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he suffered him.” John had hesitated baptizing Jesus, but our Lord told him that it was needful to “fulfil all righteousness.” God imputes righteousness to us through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He does this through faith, and faith alone. Romans 4: 5-7 “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, ‘Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.’”
No one is ready for baptism until they have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Paul, in describing his gospel that he received from Jesus Christ, in First Corinthians 15:1-4, never mentions water baptism. Paul told these same Corinthians that he was glad that he had baptized only two of them. (First Corinthians 1:14) Was he saying that he was glad that he had only led two of them to Christ? When the Phillipian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he had to do to be saved, they answered: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Later, after each member of the family accepted Christ, they were baptized as a testimony of their salvation, not as a part of being saved.
Some would point to First Peter 3:21 “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.” Notice, though, that Peter is careful to point out that baptism does not put away the filth or sin of the flesh, but is an answer or a sign of the good conscience toward God. It is the symbol of identification with Jesus Christ or a confession of salvation.
Others would point to First John 5:6 “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.” They would say that the water is baptism and that it is added to the work of Christ on the cross to achieve salvation. However, John makes it clear that he did not mean to teach that by giving a clear teaching later in that chapter in verses 11-13 “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
A couple of favorites for those who teach “Baptismal Regeneration” are Mark 3:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, etc. In each case, the word baptism follows belief or repentance. It is a sign that the person has done what God has said to be saved, or in the case of the Jews, that they had repented of not receiving the Messiah that God had sent. John the Baptist was baptizing Jews who were repenting of their sins, preparing them for the coming of the Savior. Twelve men, who had been baptized by John, later met Paul in Ephesus and were asked about their salvation. They had repented of their sin, been baptized by John, but were not saved. Once they professed Jesus Christ, they were baptized as a sign of their salvation and received the gift of the Holy Ghost.
In summary, to be saved you need to admit you are a sinner in need of a Savior to pay for your sins. Ask Jesus Christ to be your Savior and your Lord and trust His finished work on the cross for you. When you have done that, you are saved! To be an obedient Christian, be baptized and live the Christian life.
For more on this topic visit the BBN Bible Institute and register to study the course #00100 Basics Doctrines