013-Baptism is a Work!

Baptism is a Work
Baptism is a work.

As you know, there are two proponents in the argument about whether baptism is necessary for salvation. One camp argues that baptism is necessary for salvation and the other camp argues that it is not. Both camps have well thought out reasons for their positions. In my view, the most common objection to water baptism for the remission of sin seems to be the belief that baptism is a work of man… in other words… it is a human work and as such, can have nothing to do with salvation. This is a widely held belief in the evangelical world, so when the debate comes up… it is primarily to this objection the argument turns as a defense… baptism is a work.

Easy to Spot

You can spot this defensive position referenced when you hear a preacher use the familiar phrase, “We are saved by grace through faith plus nothing.” This, and other similar phrases, are commonly called upon when arguing against baptism for the remission of sin… this is what the, “plus nothing” phrase is referencing. The “nothing” they are referring to is typically baptism.

This “Faith Alone” group has a strong opposition to anything which seems like a work and they feel like water baptism fits into that category because baptism is an act a person performs. Now, in responding to these assertions, I want to quickly review the things we discussed in our last podcast.

Commands Can’t Be Works

Remember, we agreed, water baptism is a command of God and we concluded that baptism can not be both a work of man and a command of God at the same time. The two concepts are mutually exclusive. Commands are something we must obey, we have no choice in the matter. So, baptism is something we obey in response to a command. It is something we submit to and… in reality; it’s not really something we do. It’s something which is done “to” us, it’s not something we do to ourselves or by ourselves. We must humbly accept the experience and allow ourselves to be baptized.

We learn that baptism is a command in the Great Commission. Because the Great Commission tells us to baptize a disciple, we must conclude that baptism is a requirement for all disciples. Jesus told us to “Go make disciples and to baptize them.”

Now, if I am making disciples of Jesus, I have no choice but to baptize someone who wants to be a disciple of Christ.

Now, listen carefully.

If the person I am teaching will not allow me to complete the commands Jesus gave me, they are rejecting Jesus’ plan for their life. Remember, Jesus also said, “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” They must obey what Jesus has commanded me to teach them, including all he just finished saying in The Great Commission!

When we are disobedient to the command to be baptized, we are disobedient to Jesus. This is a serious issue. Disobedience to Christ surely has some impact on our relationship with Christ. I’ve said it before… “If we won’t have a Lord, we can’t have a savior.”

The idea that “baptism is a work” is the foundation stone on which the entire Evangelical argument is built. So, let’s discuss how people often come to the conclusion that baptism is a work of man.

In our podcast, “009 – Who Told You That?” We spoke a little bit about this issue but let’s review.

Who Taught You That?

When someone tells me that baptism is a work, I’ve gotta ask them, “Who taught you that? Who taught you that water baptism is a work?”

I can ask this question and, be pretty confident they might remember a specific person who told them that baptism is a human work. Let me explain why.

I’ve studied the Bible with dozens of people including church leaders and elders who, when we arrive at the baptism issue in our discussions, they balk. They see clearly… from the scriptures… baptism universally precedes the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. They see baptism is a command… and sins are wiped away when a person obeys the Gospel by being baptized. However…

They struggle with this because, they believe they were saved, or their sins were forgiven at some point in time before they were baptized. They believe salvation happened when they accepted Christ. When they clearly see, from the scriptures, baptism associated with the forgiveness of sins and realize they have been wrong… and have been teaching other people the error, it’s really disturbing. The scriptural evidence is very convicting. The scriptures have powerfully moved in their heart bringing a deep spiritual conviction, and it’s frightening.

In an attempt to regain their footing, they meet quickly with their pastor or some other leader and ask the question, “Is baptism necessary for salvation?” This person assures them that baptism is not necessary because it is a human work and the Bible teaches us that we are not saved by works.

Instead of embracing those convicting feelings they experienced as they let the scriptures speak to their heart and taking the scriptures at face value, they look for reassurance from a person. They place human wisdom above the authority of the scripture and that person becomes their authority on this issue of baptism.

It’s frightening to watch this happen. They were convicted by the scriptures, which, as we know, have the power to penetrate, even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart… they dismiss this powerful spiritual event, and run to the shelter of their closest theologian. It is the job of the scriptures to convict our hearts. When we feel those convictions we must never ignore them. Dig into the issue. God is trying to tell us something. He is trying to peel the scales from our eyes and you can bet there will be a little bit of pain with that process!

I know this pattern of rejection really well. So, that’s how I learned to ask, “Who taught you that?”

Someone must have taught you this concept because water baptism is never even remotely associated with human works in the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible, consistently presents water baptism, as a command and a normal part of the conversion process. So, it’s a good question, “Who taught you that?” Because you can not arrive at that conclusion on your own from the Bible.

The idea that Baptism is a work is one of those super entrenched traditions of the denominational world. It’s an invention!

There Are Other Works Besides Baptism

Now, as long as we are on the topic of works, there are other religious activities which could just as easily classify as works under our current definition. Remember, we have defined a work as an action we perform in order to be saved or receive the forgiveness of sins.

How about repentance? Is repentance a work? Peter told us in Acts 3:19 we had to repent before our sins were wiped out.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…”

What about confessing Jesus as Lord. Paul taught us in Romans 10:9 that we must confess with our mouth, and that confession and belief lead to salvation.

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Confession and repentance are both things I do. They are both actions I take. Why are these things not rejected as human works or works of merit and deemed unnecessary for salvation? Why the discrimination against baptism?

How about prayer. Like repentance, prayer is obviously something we do. Is prayer a work?

Salvation, as a result of prayer, is a well established practice in the Evangelical world. It would be difficult to find a TV preacher who does not offer this method to be saved at the end of their broadcast. It even has a well-known name, “The Sinner’s Prayer.” When preachers offer this prayer as way to be saved, it is often followed with a bold and confident statement like, “Now if you prayed that prayer, you are saved.” Saying a prayer to be saved is not a Biblical method for salvation, but how many times do we hear preachers say… “All you need to do is say this prayer or accept Jesus as your savior?” They tell us to do something… to take an action… which isn’t even in the Bible… in order to be saved. They confidently tell me that if I do not say the prayer or accept Christ, I will be lost. Why is the action of prayer or accepting Christ not seen as a work of man?

Here’s another common religious activity… something we do to be saved. This one will surprise you. It’s belief!

Jesus Defines “Belief” as a Work!

Now, before you say, “Belief is not a work.” You should know that Jesus himself defines belief as a work. Look at John 6:28-29.

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

All of these religious activities are things we do. They are acts we perform, but they never get labeled as a human works. Only baptism gets that label. Isn’t that curious?Maybe we’ve misunderstood something. Maybe we should clarify what we really mean by the word, “works.” Jesus gave us a better understanding in John 6:28-29. Let’s take a look at this again.

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

I’ll bet we missed something. Jesus calls belief a work, no doubt about that… but look what kind of work it is. It is a work of God, not of man. It’s no different with any of the things we have been talking about. They are all works of God, they not works of man or works of merit.

When we say we can not be saved by works, we are talking about works of merit or good deeds we think will earn us spiritual bonus points with God. We are not talking about Godly responses to Godly commands. We have no choice but to obey his commands since they define his plan of salvation. Let’s never confuse works of merit with acts of obedience. Works of merit are works of man. Acts of obedience are works of God.

Baptism is the final act of a condemned man. A man who has heard the gospel, accepted it, repented of his sins, confesses Jesus as his Lord and humbly obeys Jesus commands by laying down his old life in the death and burial of baptism. This dead man is then raised to a new life by God’s power, love and grace. It has nothing to do with the man’s good deeds or merit. Baptism is that exact moment when and where we are Born Again. It is a simple act of Godly obedience. We obey what Jesus asked us to do. We are not saved until we obey the Gospel.

RIP “Baptism is a Work”

Hopefully, we have laid to rest the objection, Baptism is a work. Baptism is a unique religious experience. Baptism is in obedience to Christ and if we are unwilling to obey Christ, on whatever issue, we have no hope of heaven. Baptism cannot be both a command to obey and a work of man.

On this fact alone, the entire argument that Baptism is not necessary for salvation should absolutely crumble. If we are unwilling to obey Jesus commands, how can we be saved? It just doesn’t make sense. Remember, the issue is not baptism, it’s obedience.

You know, I think the main reason this erroneous line of thinking has become so ingrained in modern evangelicalism is because it is so deeply connected to the another grossly misunderstood teaching, the “Faith Alone” doctrine. Let’s talk about that in our next podcast!


Dana Haynes

Listen Now – Podcast 013 – Baptism is a Work

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