There has been much debate as to whether or not baptism is necessary for salvation. The short “technical” answer is no, because one could not possibly be baptized if they called on the Lord while in the throes of death as was the cause with the thief on the cross.
However, I think we miss the real meaning of baptism when we argue away its importance because of we single out thief on the cross.
Way too many Christians have never been baptized, and unfortunately, some feel no urgency to be baptized. We have people who claim to follow Jesus who have never been baptized 6 months, a year, or even two years after conversion. This is not good!
In the Bible, baptism was part of the conversion experience, even though there are rare exceptions such as the thief on the cross. That the thief on the cross was never baptized is not a valid excuse for a person to put off being baptized for months or even years.
If you are reading this and you claim to be a Christian, but you have never been baptized, make it you priority to do so as soon as possible. All throughout the book of Acts, baptism held a place of great importance and was the first act of obedience for those who received the forgiveness of sins through the Lord Jesus Christ. If the Lord Jesus commanded it, and the apostles in the book of Acts made it a priority, then who are you not to obey?
Consider the words of the apostle Peter:
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 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: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. 1 Peter 3:18-22
The Amplified Bible translates verse 21 (in bold print in the text above) as follows:
Corresponding to that [rescue through the flood], baptism [which is an expression of a believer’s new life in Christ] now saves you, not by removing dirt from the body, but by an appeal to God for a good (clear) conscience, [demonstrating what you believe to be yours] through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
The ESV says, Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
Baptism is a command of God for all who believe in Jesus, and when anyone who claims to be a Christian delays, or makes excuses, rather than just obeying the Lord and following his command, something wrong with their understanding of what it means to be a Christian. When the gospel is rightly appropriated, there is repentance of sin which is a turning away for the old life, and obedience to the command to be baptized which identifies you with the new life you receive in Christ Jesus – a life that is marked by obedience and surrender to the Savior.
If you haven’t been baptized, and you claim to be a Christian, or a follower of Jesus Christ, make it your priority to be baptized as soon as possible.
And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. ~ Acts 22:16