Question: Is baptism necessary for salvation?
Answer: According to the Bible, the only requirement for salvation is faith in Jesus Christ. And there are many Scriptures to which we could appeal. For example, when Paul was witnessing to the Philippian jailer, the only requirement the apostle gave for salvation was faith in Christ. The jailer asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" The answer that was given: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:30-31).
Question: What about Mark 16:16, where it says: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned"?
Answer: Yes, that verse is often used to teach the necessity of water baptism for salvation. Every believer in Christ should desire to obediently follow the Lord in baptism. This verse states: "He that believeth and is baptized" that is, "he who believes and is baptized as proof of his salvation," "shall be saved." To refuse the Lord's command to be baptized is a serious matter. But notice, the verse does not continue and say, "he that believeth not, and is not baptized, shall not be saved." Unbelief condemns. Not unbelief and not being baptized.
A good principle to remember is to interpret difficult passages in the light of plain passages, and there are just so many plain passages in Scripture teaching that faith in Christ is the only necessary requirement for salvation.
If one believes that water baptism is necessary for salvation, that contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture that we are saved by faith in Christ alone. Jesus said, "Verily, verily I say unto you, He that heareth my word and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life" (John 5:24). It is hearing and believing that delivers one from condemnation. We know that the Bible does not contradict itself. It has only One Divine Author, God the Holy Spirit.
Question: What is your understanding of John 3:5: "Verily, verily I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God"?
Answer: Some take the words "of water" to mean "the waters of baptism," but it doesn't mean that. "Water" is used in a variety of ways in Scripture. Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and said, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst" (John 4:14). He was not speaking about drinking water but of the spiritual refreshment that eternal life brings.
In John 3 "water" is a symbol of something else. But what does "water" symbolize? According to John 3:5 it is a symbol of something that works with the Holy Spirit in bringing about the new birth. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit uses the WORD OF GOD in bringing about the new birth. "Being born again," we read in First Peter 1:23, "not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, BY THE WORD OF GOD, which liveth and abideth for ever." We are born again by the Word and by the Spirit, not by the waters of baptism and the Spirit.