There is a great deal of confusion concerning baptism’s role in salvation.
Some argue that baptism cannot be a vital component in salvation because being baptized is a work. They may cite the second chapter of Ephesians as evidence for this view.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Certainly baptism is something that is done and – in that sense at least – it could be considered a “work”.
However, there are some important questions to answer in approaching this matter: Is baptism a work of merit, by which one earns salvation? Or is baptism a work of faith, by which one receives salvation?
When we consider the work involved in baptism, it has to be asked: Who is the one truly “at work”? Is it the man or woman who submits to being immersed? Or is it God who forgives and regenerates through the blood of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit?
As we address this misconception and look into the Word of God for the answers to these questions, I think that we will find that there is in fact no contradiction between the idea that we are saved by faith and not by works and that – at the same time – we are saved by baptism.
We must understand that there are different kinds of works.
Works of Merit versus Works of Faith
First, there are works of merit.
These works are done to “earn” something. Those that have done such works believe that they deserve something in return for what they have done.
Some people think that merely being a good person is a sufficient work to earn salvation. Others believe that how well they keep the Ten Commandments or benevolent works or even their church attendance somehow grants them the right to salvation. However, as we previously read in Ephesians, this is a mistake!
There is no way that we can earn salvation! All of the good that we might do cannot outweigh even one sin.
James 2:10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
Those that make this argument against baptism make the mistake of lumping baptism in with works of merit.
However, we must recognize that there are also works of faith.
While these works are done to receive something, those who do such works believe that they deserve nothing in return.
Works of faith are done by believers with the understanding that their obedience does not earn or merit salvation. Additionally, believers understand that their salvation rests upon the mercy of God and His grace.
These works could be called “works of God”. Take belief for example, which Jesus Himself calls a “work”.
John 6:28-29 Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
Other works of faith commanded by God include repentance (Acts 17:30) and confession (Romans 10:9-10).
Even though belief, repentance, and confession are commanded works we recognize that, like baptism, these are not meritorious works and we do not earn salvation through them. Instead, these are works that God Himself has ordained that we do to receive His salvation…
Therefore baptism is not a contradiction; When all is said and done, salvation is still through God’s grace and mercy!
Baptism is a Work of Faith, Not Merit
Another scripture that is often misused to discredit baptism is found in Mark.
Mark 16:16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
Some would argue that since baptism is not mentioned in the second part of this verse that belief is what is truly important. However, this verse actually further confirms the point that baptism is work of faith and is necessary for salvation!
No one would argue with the logic of a similarly worded statement such as: “He who eats and digests will live, but he who does not eat will die.” The two acts are jointly necessary for survival.
Thus, it is obvious that Jesus’ words clearly indicate that belief and baptism go hand in hand.
After all, if one does not believe, why would they bother going through baptism - or any other act of faith?
We understand that belief is prerequisite of baptism. Faith in God and His Word come first. We are compelled by that belief to be baptized!
Acts 8:36-37 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Continuing on we see that baptism is an act of faith by which one receives (not earns)…
The Forgiveness of Sins and the Gift of the Holy Spirit
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…”
A Union with Christ
Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Baptism not being a work of merit is further emphasized in Titus.
Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…
Notice that the allusion that Paul makes to baptism in this verse: “the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Notice also that Paul points out again that we are not saved by “works of righteousness” (works of merit), but it is God who saves us through this “washing”.
Clearly, baptism is not some work of righteousness done to earn salvation!
Who Does the Work in Baptism?
I suppose if we approach baptism from a purely physical standpoint, then the one performing the immersion is doing the “work”. However, as we have already established, baptism is more than just a physical action.
1 Peter 3:21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
No, baptism is a spiritual work of faith, but the question remains: Who actually does the work in baptism?
Colossians 2:12 …Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
It is God who is at work in baptism. Ultimately, it is God who does the work, not man!
Colossians 2:13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses…
As we just read, man is dead in his sins, but God makes him alive by forgiving him of his sins. Thus, it is God who saves us, not we ourselves. Baptism just happens to be the chosen mode through which God decided salvation would be offered to us.
Baptism: The Most Passive Act of Faith?
Baptism: The Most Passive Act of Faith?
Many people reject baptism because they see it as something you do. But if we truly think about it in the context of the Word of God, baptism is actually the most passive of the acts of faith.
Consider that belief, repentance and confession are all active acts of faith on our part. These are all things that we do.
However, we baptism is different. Baptism is something that is done to us. This makes baptism a passive, submissive act of faith in which we submit to the work of God in our lives.
If we were to object to baptism because it requires one to do something, then – by the same logic – we would have to object to belief, repentance, and confession!
Baptism According to Martin Luther
It was Martin Luther that coined the phrase, “salvation by faith only.” However, in spite of this doctrine he helped give birth to, it’s ironic to know that even Luther understood the role of baptism.
When presented with the question, “What gifts or benefits does Baptism bestow?” Luther responded, “It affects the forgiveness of sins.”
In regards to baptism’s impact on a sinner, Luther wrote, “To put it most simply: The power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of baptism is to save.”
Finally, in response to those who would call his view a salvation by works, Martin Luther wrote, “Yes it is true that our works are of no use for salvation. Baptism, however, is not our work, but God’s.”
Obviously, we should be more concerned with God’s Word than what any man says, but it’s interesting to see that the originator of this misconception had a firm understanding of baptism’s role in salvation.
Have you submitted to the working of God in baptism?
Acts 22:16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’.