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 he has not. The question is simple: Is baptism a work?
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
So, is baptism 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 (which cannot happen), 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 are “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, John baptizes Jesus. 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 by John. The New Testament repeatedly uses this passive language.
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. Luke records baptism 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 Peter carried the Gospel message 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 baptism. 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
Is baptism a work? 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. Luke 7:50 and Luke 18:42 it is faith that saves. Christ that saves (John 3:17). The teachings of Christ save according to John 5:34. John 10:9 says it is by entering into Christ that we are saved.
Salvation comes in Acts 2:21 by calling on the name of the Lord. In Acts 4:12 we are saved by the name of Jesus. In Acts 15:11 we are saved through grace. 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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