In the “Curious?” seminar Sunday I mentioned how in the Christian church we consider baptism to be a part of faith, and not a work. I would like to be a little clearer on what I mean by that statement. Looking back I don’t believe I was very clear. I normally go through this chart shown below in class, and I forgot. Plus, I’ve added some thoughts on key scriptures why we see baptism as an act of faith, and not a work. In our essential beliefs statement we list it as such. Even though this is the position of the church, I want to emphasize we do not see other Christians who differ from this view with legalistic zeal. Rather, we search for unity. With all apologies to grammatarians, here is summary of thought.
The key verse to my thought is Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.”
First Paul is speaking about getting saved. This is the topic. Then Paul makes a distinctive difference between works and faith concerning the act of getting saved. Faith saves you, works doesn’t. Pretty clear, so what makes up a work and what makes up faith?
Most understand being saved involves believing on Jesus, confessing his name, repenting our sins, accept by faith the free gift of salvation, and then you are baptized as an act of obedience. I agree with that, but I believe, and the Christian Church’s assertion, that baptism is more than a mere act of obedience. I will show you what I mean and then bring in the scriptures that support this belief.
First most people would divide the steps of salvation into these two categories:
Accept by faith the free gift
In the Christian Church we place baptism under the column of faith along with the others. Now, here are some of the scriptures we believe supports this assertion. This is not an exhaustive list. I’m just going to list four.
Matthew 28:18-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
In our exegesis of the passage we notice how baptism is distinguished from “everything.” The term “everything” is a comprehensive word and baptism is separated from it. This is important because it separates baptism from just being another “good work.” The way the scripture is worded asserts that baptism has a unique importance in discipleship. It has an importance beyond mere good works.
The second part of the exegesis is the phrase “into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” One is baptized into the Trinity. What does this tell us about baptism? In Rabbinic usage, the phrase “into the name” was done for a certain end or intention relating to it. It also means to pass into an ownership relation with the person. God the Father paid the price by giving up his Son for us. The act of baptism signifies that we become God’s special possession in the act of baptism. How can baptism be a work if it signifies we have been possessed by God? It cannot. It is an act of faith.
Acts 2:38, “Peter 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.”
This refers to the double cure that takes place in salvation. The first part of the cure is Jesus forgiving us of our sins. The second part of the cure is the imparting of the Spirit to live a righteous life and continue in a relationship with Jesus Christ. The old hymn “Rock of Ages” refers to this double cure.
When Peter is asked what to do about this problem of sin he set out two actions- repentance and baptism. At the end of the actions he adds “for the forgiveness of your sins.” So he is talking about getting saved. Peter was merely acting out what Jesus instructed him to do in the Great Commission (MT 28:19-20.) Here we see baptism stand side by side with repentance, the forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Spirit. Why is there a need to separate it from these other acts as a work? In the Christian Church we do not separate baptism from these other acts of faith. We do not see any textual reason to do so. Throughout Acts and the New Testament you see baptism standing right next to the response to salvation (Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:26-27, Colossians 2:11-13, 1 Peter 3:21). Again, it has a special role in the life of the disciple.
Romans 6:3-4, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”
Again, what are we baptized into? Christ Jesus. It represents our union with Christ. Just as Christ died to the sins of the whole world in our union with him we die to our own sin. (Rom 6:6). Then just as Jesus rose from the dead, then in our union with him we are brought into a new life. The old is gone, the new has come! The question is how can being baptized into Christ be a work? It cannot because we are not saved by works, but by faith.
We have one final verse concerning this topic then some concluding thoughts. 1 Peter 3:20-21, “…Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
For me this is a significant verse because of the Christian Church’s exegesis of the earlier texts. Many people have said this interpretation of baptism says the literal water of baptism washes away sin. This passage in 1 Peter negates that thought. It is the pledge of good conscience (what I call faith) toward God in baptism, just as it is in repentance and in accepting the gift. It is the blood and resurrection of God that saves us, not the water of baptism. In fact, one could argue that we replace the sinners prayer, which has no example in scripture (and not invented until the 1800’s), with baptism (or should that be vice versa? A dangling thread for ya!).
With that said my argument is how can it be that baptism and the pledge of good conscience, which are set together, be regarded as a work? It is the Christian Church view that it can’t. We view baptism as an act of faith just as repentance, confession, and accepting the free gift of salvation is regarded. We also view it as act of obedience (since it is commanded), an outward expression of what is happening in your heart (as a pledge of good conscience).
Now, many times in a discussion like this the question is asked, “Then are you saying baptism is required for salvation?” The simple answer is yes. It is clear that baptism is part of our faith. It stands as part of repentance, confession, et. al.. But the correct answer is in the absolute sense is, no. Why? God is the judge, not me. God’s grace is bigger than our doctrine and if God chooses to save someone without baptism he certainly can. He can make the exception, like Jesus did with the thief on the cross. With that said I believe that if you have followed all the other steps then why not this one?
I understand this view is different from other churches and our intent is not to divide. I believe there is a place of unity on this issue. One point I make about this is there have been many have different views on this issue, but the practice is the same. We are baptized into one body and into one faith (Ephesians 4:5). On this step I believe we can find unity.