Another common claim the evangelical community makes in rejecting the requirement of obedience for salvation is the assertion that baptism is like circumcision, it is a work of human effort.
Three Passages to Evaluate
Let’s carefully examine three passages of scripture commonly used to demonstrate that circumcision and baptism are related and both are works. The general argument may be summed up like this: “Old Testament circumcision is a foreshadowing of New Testament baptism. It is a symbol of one’s obedience to God’s commands but it is only a symbol. Abraham was declared righteous before he was circumcised and so are we the instant we put our faith in Christ. Baptism, like circumcision is simply a sign and symbol of our salvation.”
Here’s the first support passage. It is in Galatians. In it, we learn that circumcision has no value for the Christian because it is a work and that faith is the only thing which is important.
Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Let’s put everything in context. In Galatians, we are talking about physical circumcisions as practiced under the Old Covenant. Jews were required to obey that command and it was performed on infant males the eighth day after birth. When we erroneously compare baptism to circumcision, we get a glimpse of how the church might have begun the practice of infant baptism. When one equates Old Testament requirements with New Testament requirements some strange things can happen.
Paul tells us circumcision is of no value, it is worthless. There is only thing which is important: “faith expressing itself through love.”
The evangelical world claims, “Salvation is by Faith Alone.” This statement is oft’ times invoked when arguing that baptism is not necessary for salvation. As this anti-baptism position has grown and flourished in modern evangelicalism, it developed its own unique language and phraseology. Grammar, in any discussion is important. But there is an amazing aspect to language and grammar you may not be aware of.
The Power of Language
A common language is the glue which holds like-minded believers together. A common language has amazing power! Think about the Biblical examples of the Tower of Babel and the Day of Pentecost; language played a stunningly powerful role in uniting people.
In the evangelical world’s vernacular, three common phrases come to mind which are frequently used to articulate and argue the position that water baptism has nothing to do with the salvation experience, meaning the remission of sin. The first phrase is, “We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.” A second phrase is similar… just a shortened version of the previous phrase… “We are saved by faith alone.” In our last podcast, I mentioned the third phrase, “We are saved by grace, through faith, plus nothing.”
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.
The issue of whether baptism is necessary for salvation is really not about baptism at all. The issue we are dealing with is whether or not a person is willing to obey the Gospel, which just happens to included baptism. Let’s talk, for a few minutes, about this age old argument and see if we might be able to make a little progress.
In order to define and understand the arguments, it may help to know a little bit about the proponents.
The first group are those who believe that water baptism is not necessary for salvation. They say baptism has absolutely no connection to the remission of sin.
This would be the position of most of the evangelical world today. Their position states that when someone makes a heartfelt and sincere commitment to Jesus Christ, sins are forgiven and we are saved. This salvation experience happens at some point in time before water baptism. Many of these same people are baptized later… but not for the forgiveness of sins.
In the other camp, are those people who believe that baptism IS necessary for salvation and it has an incontrovertible connection to the forgiveness of sins. They teach that someone who is not baptized is not saved. They believe that baptism is the exact point in time salvation occurs.
Few people have enough time to dive into a complete series of video lessons or plough through a bunch of podcasts so, I wanted to record one short podcast to provide a brief, concentrated “executive summary” of what “A Faith that Obeys” is all about.
At “A Faith that Obeys,” we believe the Bible presents a clearly defined plan of salvation. This plan, God’s Plan, was established in 33 AD and has not changed nor can it change. The plan is still alive today and we should still be following that plan if we want to follow Jesus scripturally. I call this plan, “The Biblical Plan of Salvation.”
Now, there is a problem. A new plan developed over the last few hundred years which has become what I call, “The Modern Plan” or “The Traditional Plan of Salvation.” This plan is taught in almost every evangelical church today. When people hear about Jesus and are willing to make a life-long commitment to Him, it is at this critical point in their spiritual journey, the traditional plan is promoted as “the way” to be saved.
I created “A Faith that Obeys” to help people spot the difference between these two plans, and explain how the Biblical Plan of Salvation differs so greatly from a plan they may have followed. I want to challenge people to dig into the scriptures, so they can decide, for themselves which plan makes sense. I do this through a series of 11 short video lessons which can be watched at www.afaiththatobyes.org.
I can’t tell you how many times I have presented the Biblical Plan of Salvation to a friend or family member who, even though the take the time to patiently listen to me and even study the plan out… they reject it because they believe baptism is a work.”
The argument always comes down to those four words, and those four words constitute the firm foundation on which the entire argument rests!
“Baptism is a work.”
But guess what, there is a huge flaw in the reasoning. Let’s work through this together using logic and the scriptures.
Building Our Case
For the sake of our argument, let’s agree; baptism IS a work. This is our position. From this position we naturally and logically conclude, since baptism is a work, it cannot be necessary for salvation.
Sooner or later, someone will step forward to challenge our position. We need to mount a defense How should we begin?