Is Baptism A Work?

by Bryant Evans on September 15, 2008

Today we reach the end of the questions posed by a denominational preacher in Tennessee. He had charged that no “church of Christ preacher” could answer his questions. We know we have although we doubt he would admit it.  We asked him to comment here and have been met with silence.

The writer asked:

If salvation is not by works of righteousness which we have done, and baptism is a work of “righteousness,” then how can water baptism be a part of salvation? (Titus 3:5; Matt. 3:16) In the Bible, we are SAVED BY GRACE, and grace does not involve human effort or merit grace is grace and work is work! (Just read Ephesians 2:8,9 and Romans 11:6.)

As before, our friend has asked a question in a way that demonstrates his confusion. We will seek to correct his misunderstandings.

Baptism Is Not A Work

Those who argue that baptism is a work fail to understand the Biblical difference between works of merit, i.e. works that put God in debt to us, and obedience.

Man cannot put God in debt. Man cannot, in any way, earn his salvation. Consider Luke 17:10 and the teaching from Jesus that we remain “unworthy.” The idea is also echoed in Ephesians 2:8-9, especially in vs. 9 when Paul by inspiration declares that we are saved “not as a result of works.” The question we must answer is whether baptism is indeed a work?

In Matthew 3:16, Jesus himself is baptized. The form of the underlying Greek word is passive in voice meaning that the baptism was something done to him. This fits nicely with Matthew 3:13 where text tells us that Jesus came to be baptized. This passive language here is repeated throughout the New Testament.

Twice in Acts 2 we find forms of the word baptize. On each occasion, the word is passive in Greek (Acts 2:38, Acts 2:41. It is not something the believer does but something done to him.

In Acts 8 we read of the discussion of the conversions in Samaria. In Acts 8:12, Acts 8:13 and Acts 8:16, again the form is passive. in the second half of the chapter we find baptism mentioned twice. When the Ethiopian man asks to be baptized (Acts 8:36) he used the passive voice but in Acts 8:38, when speaking of what Phillip did, the word is active. Baptism is not something the believer does but something done to him.

Acts 9:18 records the conversion of Saul, later known as Paul. And, you guessed it! The word form is again passive. Baptism is not something the believer does but something done to him.

Acts 10:47 tells us of the grand moment when the Gospel message was carried to the Gentiles. Again the word is passive as it is in the very next verse, Acts 10:48. Baptism is not something the believer does but something done to him.

This same passive use of the word continues through the remainder of Acts. Note Acts 11:16, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, Acts 19:3, Acts 19:4 is active in describing what Paul did while Acts 19:5 is passive describing what was done to the believers. Acts 22:16 alone uses the aorist middle voice which signifies Paul taking action upon himself at a point in time. Indeed, complying with the instruction of Ananias brought Paul to the point of baptism which, as recorded in Act 9:18 was a passive act. Baptism is not something the believer does but something done to him.

One final Scripture reference on this idea of the passive nature of baptism. Acts 18:8 tell us that when Crispus, his household and many of the Corinthians heard the truth they were “believing and being baptized.” The Bible uses the active voice for believing and the passive voice for baptism. Baptism is not something the believer does but something done to him.

If baptism can be considered a work of any kind, it is a work of the person doing the baptizing not a work of the person seeking salvation.

Most denominations I am aware of argue that a man must be willing to confess the Jesus is the Son of God. Is that confession a work? How might it differ from the alleged “work” of baptism? Confession is not work for it is a part of obedience – just like baptism.

Grace Saves – But Not Alone

Our Baptist friend argues that we are saved by grace and we heartily agree! However, we are not saved by grace alone! Contrary to what some denominations would have you believe, grace is but one essential part of salvation but it is not the only part.

In Matthew 10:22 and Matthew 24:13 we are saved by endurance. In Mark 16:16 we are saved through belief and baptism. In Luke 7:50 and Luke 18:42 it is faith that saves. In John 3:17 it is Christ that saves. In John 5:34 it is through the teachings of Christ we are saved. In John 10:9 it is by entering into Christ that we are saved. In Acts 2:21 it is by calling on the name of the Lord that we are saved. In Acts 4:12 it is by the name of Jesus we are saved. In Acts 15:11 we are saved through grace. In Romans 5:10 we are saved by the death of Christ. In Romans 8:24, by hope, Romans 10:9 by confession. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 says we are saved by the gospel. In Ephesians 2:5 and Ephesians 2:8 we are saved by grace through faith. In 1 Peter 3:21 we are saved by baptism.

It is intellectually dishonest to argue that anyone is saved by grace alone. Apart from grace, no man can be saved but there is a component of obedience too.

Consider your automobile. It cannot run apart from the engine. The engine is essential but it is not the only essential item. Try driving your car without the transmission or without axles or without wheels and tires. Apart from the engine, no car can run but there is a component of other parts too,

The truth is that grace is essential and so is baptism. We never place God in our debt but we must obey him. Inasmuch as God has commanded us to be baptized (Matthew 28:18-19; Acts 2:38) and has given us an example in Jesus himself (Matthew 3:13-17), we may rest confidently in the fact that baptism is essential along with grace.

Other posts in this series:

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{ 10 comments }

Shane August 29, 2009 at 1:14 pm

I am a member of the Church of Christ (3 years). I agree that baptism is not a work of merrit and necessary unto salvation according to the plain teaching of scripture (Mark, Acts, John, Romans, Col, Gal, Heb, etc, etc).

Grace however is the power of Christ that saves us. It is Gods unmerrited favor given to us. It is the work of Jesus sacrafice on the cross and his righteousness imputed to us when we are baptised that alone saves us. On this basis alone we are saved.

Faith alone does not save save us, however we are saved by grace alone. The fact that Jesus righteousness needs to be imputed to us is evidence enough that we have no part in it, we are only required to recieve it. I therefore maintain that we are saved by grace alone.

In Christ
Shane

Bryant Evans September 12, 2009 at 10:40 am

Shane,
Thanks for visiting and commenting. You say, “we are saved by grace alone.” Let’s think about that for a moment, especially the alone part. If we are truly saved by grace alone then we must argue that nothing else at all is needed. That means belief is not needed, confession is irrelevant, repentance useless and baptism superfluous. The only end result of that reasoning is Universalism which almost no one would hold to. We cannot be saved apart from grace but grace alone just won’t work and it voids much of clear Bible teaching.

Lila Scott September 4, 2009 at 7:12 pm

I have to disagree with faith alone does not save us. It is the faith that the Father had in the Son, that He would do the work He gave Him to do, and He did.

Bryant Evans September 12, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Hi Lila, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your time and comments.
A recent guest commented at about the same time you did but on another post. He argues that we are saved by grace alone. You say faith alone saves. There is nothing “alone” that saves. Many characteristics of God come into play with our salvation. Likewise, many things impact our salvation. Belief, confession, repentance, faith, grace, mercy, baptism, obedience etc. all play a role in our salvation but none of them work by themselves. Now if by “faith alone” you mean a faith that is active and living and includes all of these other things then we might agree but I doubt that is what you have in mind.

Colin Lambert June 9, 2012 at 4:01 am

He who endures to the end is in reference to the love of many growing cold. There is nothing additional we have to do to receive our salvation. You can’t add to the work that Christ has already done. It is possible to throw away a gift and this verse simply encourages us to keep it.

Because someone says Grace only doesn’t mean that other factors don’t form part of that Grace. It’s only when people seek to add to it that the problems come. Like saying we have to be baptised to be saved. In saying this I respect your point of view, but not the process behind your assumptions.

Bryant Evans June 9, 2012 at 8:22 am

I agree with much. Nevertheless one must be obedient. Would you argue that one can be disobedient and be saved? I know some would but that is completely irrational to me. I cannot, nor do I attempt to, add to the work done by Christ. I only argue that a man must be obedient to the commands left by Jesus and his holy men.
I am curious, how does my faith form part of God’s grace?

Colin Lambert June 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Hi Bryant,
Thanks for your reply. Your faith is God’s gift to you through His grace Eph 2-8:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” I hope that helps the curiosity.
I can never repay even the interest of what Jesus has done for me. Not through any or all of the good things that I might do. Even if i don’t sin again for the rest of my life. I believe I can make a mistake and still be saved yes, because from glory to glory he is changing me. Sanctification is a process but not salvation. Obedience is an issue of the heart wanting to please but not appease. All my love in Him Colin

Ken August 20, 2012 at 8:29 am

I have noted alot of gramatical word games in this artical.
A dishonest peice that seeks to twist the scriptures.
Salvation in Christ, in following Him, in hearing etc does not negate that salvation is a gift of Grace.

Bryant Evans August 20, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Hi Ken,

If you disagree then you are free to say so. However unsubstantiated name calling will not be allowed. I invite you to make a Biblical argument and we will talk. I will say that salvation is a gift of God and none of us can earn our salvation by works of merit. Now, please substantiated your comments.

Colin Lambert August 20, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Hi Bryant,

I fully agree with you. If any part of what people write is deemed incorrect by any person, they should substantiate what they believe or say nothing. To do otherwise is really dishonouring and actually lacks integrity. I always believe you are trying to foster good discussion and that you never intentionally twist anything.

All my love,

Colin

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