Any time the issue of baptism is brought up in religious circles there is inevitably discussion and differing points of view. The article run by Come Fill Your Cup this past fall entitled “What About Baptism?” was no exception. While there is certainly not room in this article to exhaust all arguments, or really even study any aspect of baptism in-depth, this article will briefly answer some of the specific questions and comments we received regarding that particular article. As always when considering a spiritual issue, we must strive to put away our own preconceptions and approach God’s Word openly and honestly. It doesn’t matter what you or I have been taught by our parents, ministers, elders or friends; on the day of judgment all that will matter is what God has said in His Word, and whether or not we have been obedient to it.
Comment 1: “To state that we are saved by baptism as a means makes it a work.”
First of all, we must be careful to let God’s Word do the talking on the issue. No person claimed that baptism saves us, but rather God’s word. In Mark 16:16 Jesus states, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (emphasis mine). 1 Peter 3:21, “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”.
The person who asked this question referenced Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The easiest way to answer this question is, “Yes, and yes.” Yes salvation is the free gift of God, Scripture makes that abundantly clear. If there were any possibility that we could “earn” our way into Heaven, Jesus would never have had to come in the first place. One of the primary purposes in God preserving the Old Testament Scriptures for us is to show us how woefully inadequate we are to keep a law without grace.
There is a stark contrast drawn in Scripture between an act of merit (trying to earn our salvation) and an act of obedience (simply obeying the commands found in Scripture). James 2:18, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works….vs. 20. Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?…vs. 22 [speaking of Abraham] You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works…vs. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Here is an analogy to explain: if you offer to mow a person’s yard for $20, then you have earned that $20. However, if that person were to simply walk up and hand you that $20, it was a free gift. You did not earn it, you did no physical work to deserve it, they simply offered it to you out of grace (undeserved merit). However, even though this person has graciously offered you money, it does not become yours until you physically reach out and take it. Baptism is the act of physically reaching out and accepting the grace God has given us through the sacrifice of His Son. It is not a work of merit, but rather one of submission and obedience. It is how we enter into a covenant relationship with God.
Scripture says repeatedly that baptism is necessary for salvation, and that it is directly tied to our faith. Mark 16:15, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” In this passage, Jesus Himself directly correlates the act of baptism with our belief. Frequently the religious world tells us to believe in Jesus by asking him into our heart, yet Jesus says that we are to believe by submitting to Him in baptism.
When dealing with this issue (baptism being a work of merit). We need to be very careful to maintain our consistency. People frequently claim that saying baptism is necessary for salvation makes it a work of merit, yet what is the difference in saying that baptism is necessary, or saying a prayer is necessary? Out of those two options, which do we do ourselves and which is done to us by another? Repentance is also mentioned in Acts 2:38, yet it is widely accepted as necessary for salvation and never referred to as a work of merit— what is the difference? Romans 10:9 tells us that we must confess Christ in order to be saved, and this is a widely accepted practice, yet it is never referred to by people today as a work of merit, even though it is just as physical in nature as baptism.
Comment #2: “Baptism is simply a sign that you have already been saved by the grace of God.”
Many claim that baptism is merely an outward showing of the fact that we have already been saved (through the Sinner’s Prayer and/or asking Jesus into our hearts) yet Acts 2:38 says, “Repent therefore and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (emphasis mine). The word “for” here is very important, it shows clearly that baptism is not an outward showing that we have already received the forgiveness of our sins, but rather it is for the purpose of receiving the forgiveness of our sins. How can we be saved if the blood of Christ does not yet cover our sins?
The unpopular, uncomfortable, bold truth of God’s word is that baptism is necessary for salvation. Not as an outward showing of an inward condition, but rather as the exact moment that we contact the blood of Christ and have our sins washed away. In correlation to this is the fact that, as Peter says, it is not simply the washing of the body but an appeal to the blood of Christ. If we “get wet,” but without a proper understanding of what baptism is and the fact that we are still guilty of our sins before God, all we are doing is taking a bath. In Acts 18:24-28 we read of an amazing man of God. He is described as being competent in the Scriptures…instructed in the Way of the Lord…and speaking and teaching accurately about Christ. Even still, Acts 18:25-26 tell us that he only knew the baptism (he was even already baptized!) of John, and therefore they had to teach him the way more perfectly. This is a sharp example of the fact that when it concerns salvation, doing the right things with an inaccurate understanding is not good enough.
In the next article (which will be posted tomorrow), we’ll discuss the scriptures some claim teach the “Sinner’s Prayer.”