The necessity of water baptism is foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses…a new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you…and I will put My spirit within you…"
In the New Testament, we find passages that speak of the fulfillment of that Old Testament prophecy:
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins…".
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
The parallels between Ezekiel and the message preached in Acts could not be more clear. Notice also that baptism is the constant in the following passages:
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
So, whether the call is for *belief *and baptism or repentance and baptism, baptism is the constant, common element of the message of salvation – the message Paul repeated in his letter to Titus:
4But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Through baptism, we are included in the body of Christ:
1 Corinthians 12:13
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.
And being buried with Christ through baptism, we are also raised to new life in Him:
12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
As St. Peter said, baptism saves us:
1 Peter 3:20-21
when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 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 clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
Scripture simply does not support the non-Catholic notion that Baptism is symbolic. Scripture does very directly and very clearly support the Catholic teaching that Baptism saves us; that Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ; that Baptism washes away sin; and that through Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit…just as the Catholic Church teaches!