009-Who Told You Baptism is a Work?

In Baptism, Who's Doing the Work?
Baptism is an act of faith.

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?

We really should be appealing to the scriptures first and foremost. After all, without solid scriptural support, we will fail to make a cogent case, a case our critics will respect. Using the scriptures as our main source of authority, we can establish our position clearly and powerfully, from the Bible.

So, the one rule we have, as we build our argument; it must be the scriptures speaking, not man. Our proof must be clear, concise and convincing… from the scriptures.

This should be a piece of cake. Armed with powerful Bible software, bursting with a multitude of digital translations, we begin our search.

Our goal? Find out where, in the scripture we learn, “Baptism is a work.”

We type that phrase on the keyboard, carefully placing quotes around the entire phrase so we may be as specific as we can be. We hit enter.


We retype the search, this time without the quotes. We hit enter.


We broaden the search by simply typing in the words “Baptism” and “Works” separated by an ampersand, which tells the software to find just these two words… not necessarily in that order but together in the same passage. We hit enter.


We search for Baptism & Work… without the “s.”


This is puzzling.

Undaunted, we turn to Google! Again, with quotes we search for the phrase “Scriptures that teach baptism is a work.”

Eureka! Tons of stuff!

Nothing relative… Just a bunch of people arguing their positions.

At this point, we have nothing scripturally supporting our side of the argument. We’re getting a little nervous!

And yet… we know… beyond a shadow of a doubt, baptism is a work! In fact, this is something we have known from the very early days, when we first believed in Christ and made our decision to follow Jesus. Remember?

Our First Doctrinal Crisis

As a brand new Christian, we eagerly read our Bible. We came across passages like Acts 2:38 and Mark 16:16, which appeared to be advocating baptism for the forgiveness of sins. It was our first real doctrinal question. We thought, “Does this mean what I think it means? Is baptism in water necessary for the forgiveness of sins?”

In those days, we didn’t know enough about the Bible or how to find things, so when an issue came up that was concerning or if we had a doctrinal question, the easiest thing to do was to ask our Pastor.

“Pastor, I’m looking at these scriptures and they appear to say that baptism is connected to the forgiveness of sins. Look here at 1 Peter 3:21, Peter says, ‘it saves you.’ Am I understanding this correctly?”

“That’s a good question. Many people misunderstand these passages.” Came the wise reply. “Man cannot be saved by the deeds he performs. Baptism is a work. It’s something we do.. Let me show you a couple of passages and you tell me what you think.”

He opens his bible to Ephesians 2:8-9 and you read it there for yourself. “For it is by grace 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.”

This is clear… very clear… unequivocally; we cannot be saved by works.

“Wow! That is obvious,” you exclaim.”

The pastor sends you on your way and the foundation is laid!

From this point forward you will never allow these scriptures to confuse you again. You are convinced. Baptism is a work and we are not saved by works. This is your new foundation and if you are ever asked about these scriptures or even about the subject of baptismal regeneration, you will have that strong foundation to support your position. Baptism is a work.

Picking Apart the Pastor’s Presentation

Now let’s go back just a little bit and consider carefully the Pastor’s presentation. He actually made two important claims. The first, “We are not saved by works,” and the second, “baptism is a work.”

His first assertion was easily and aptly supported by the scriptures. He used the Bible effectively to build his case and we were convinced. It’s hard to argue with such clear scriptural proof.

Then came the second claim, “Baptism is a work.”

But there is a massive problem here. With no scripture, no discussion, no questioning on our part, we blindly accept the second assertion. Why would we do that? What were we thinking? When we stop to analyze this, as we are doing right now, it becomes a little puzzling.

What just happened with the Pastor was a little bit of doctrinal sleight of hand. Let’s do a replay in slow motion. He showed us, from the Bible, that we are not saved by works. It was easy to see and it is obvious. Nobody can argue with that. It is clear and simple to understand.

Next, while we were impressed with the clarity of the Bible and the pastor’s scriptural prowess, he adds, “Baptism is a work.”

We are currently in an agreeable position so we take no issue with this second statement. We see that baptism is an action and we equate action with work.

Without realizing it, we have just connected two completely unrelated issues, biblical baptism and works of human merit, the result; a perfectly thought out wrong conclusion. Next, these two issues stay linked up in our mind as a legitimate, logical position and become the foundation on which we build our understanding of biblical baptism.

Baptism is an action but it has nothing to do with works. Our open mind makes the quick association and fools us.

Not convinced?

You need to understand something.

It is impossible for baptism to be a work because it is a command of Christ. Obedience to any Biblical command is an act of faith.

If we had not been so enamored with the proof of the first assertion, perhaps we would have had the wherewithal to dig a little deeper. Here’s what our next question to the pastor should have been.

“Can you please show me in the scripture where it says, ‘Baptism is a work?’”

With this one question, the entire foundation crumbles.

The Game of Telephone

This little parable of the Pastor and the curious new Christian is a common story with a predictable pattern… use the Bible to explain the dangers of a works salvation, then deem baptism as a work. This is a classic “guilt by association” fallacy and unfortunately, we just can’t see it for what it is when it first happens.

Baptism is never… even remotely referred to… as a work, in the Bible. In fact, the Bible consistently, clearly, without contradiction, and in a variety of ways, repeatedly presents baptism as a command of Christ which must be obeyed and relates it to the salvation process.

Now, let me extend a little grace to the pastor at this point. It’s not the pastor’s fault. It is simply what he has been taught. At some point he had the same question you had! He asked the question and received the same answer, “Baptism is a work.”

And just like everyone else, he never questioned the second assertion!

The only way anyone can develop the conviction that, “baptism is a work” is because someone told them it was. Nobody arrives at that conclusion, from the Bible… on their own.

This doctrine persists because of an unbroken chain of misunderstanding. It is a man made teaching. This is how the foundation was built; one man taught it to another man.

Who was your source? Who taught you, “Baptism is a work?”

I can ask that question and be completely confident that you got it from a human source and not the inspired source.

When we talk about the Biblical Plan of Salvation we are talking about a plan which is clearly outlined in the Bible. Just let the scriptures speak!

Can We Easily Find it in the Bible?

Listen. Reason this out with me…

Why do we think it is necessary to believe in Christ to be saved? Because we find it easily in the Bible.

Why do we think it is necessary to accept the message about Christ for salvation? Because we find it easily in the Bible.

Why do we think it is necessary to call on the name of the Lord to be saved? Because we find it easily in the Bible.

Why do we think it is necessary to repent of our sins before baptism? Because we find it easily in the Bible.

Why do we obey Christ’s command to be baptized? Because we find it easily in the Bible.

Why do we believe baptism is a work? Because someone told us it was.

So, here’s my challenge. This week, go to your pastor and say, “I’ve been studying water baptism and it seems like it might be connected to the forgiveness of sins, yet, I have been taught that baptism is a work. Can you please show me in the Bible where baptism is a work?”

At this point, you might want to be ready run. Or better yet… tell him about A Faith that Obeys.


Dana Haynes

Listen Now – Podcast 009 – Who Told You Baptism is a Work?