Baptism and Obedience

That baptism was a part of original Christianity is beyond question. Today it is present in just about every Christ-believing religious tradition although not always in the same way as the Bible teaches. On August 15th, a preacher in Canada offered a sermon from Romans 6:1-6. Here is the text:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

This is one of several discussions of baptism in the Bible but it is one of the “classic” explanations of immersion. The preacher at the Peoples Church of Montreal, Brian Guinness, reached a couple of erroneous, but common conclusions. Let me address a few of them.

He lists two mistakes people make about baptism. The first mistake, he says, is that baptism is necessary for salvation. Shortly after that statement he says, “And while baptism isn’t necessary for salvation, it is necessary to obedience, and obedience is necessary to joy, fruitfulness, and happiness in the Christian life.”

We have addressed the first statement, that baptism is not essential for salvation, in four articles:

Is Baptism A Work?

Forgiveness of Sins Comes at Baptism – Not Before (Part One)

Forgiveness of Sins Comes at Baptism – Not Before (Part Two)

Baptism What-If’s

We have not yet directly addressed the second comment which is that baptism is “necessary to obedience.” Is it accurate to say that if preacher Guinness is correct that he must also conclude that obedience is not necessary to salvation? And can we go even further and say that even disobedience has no effect on salvation? Can I be disobedient and still be saved? This is the natural progression of his thinking.

This is a rather hardcore Calvinist position. Boice and Rykin in Doctrines of Grace quote Boettner approvingly when  he says, “God acts as a sovereign in saving some and passing by others who are left to the just recompense of their sins” (pg. 92). They say later than when a man is “called” by God, he cannot resist “effectively” (pg. 135). In other words he cannot be disobedient!

The idea that disobedience cannot happen is even more surprising than the idea that disobedience would have no impact in salvation. Indeed, this is  the crux of the debate. Does a man have a free choice or not?

Revelation 14:7 for your consideration:

“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. “

“The one who desires” seems to be a person with a choice.

John 1:7 speaks of John the Baptist and his mission:

“He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.”

Unless John was mistaken it is both possible and desirable that all might believe. Belief is not restricted to a few chosen but potentially to every person.

Acts 17:30 has Paul speaking in Athens to a crowd of pagan, unbelivers.

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…”

Are we to understand that God has given a command which is impossible for “all people” to keep? Certainly not.

Two verses for comparison. Romans 5:12

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Romans 5:18:

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

Both passages above reference “all men.” Calvinists that all men are dead because of sin but argue that all men cannot be justified. It’s rather convoluted and difficult to understand how the same phrase in the same context can mean two very different things.

Maybe a better conclusion here is that men do actually have a choice. Free will makes sense Biblically and in our understanding of every day life. Of course it does not fit the Calvinist model and is therefore rejected with great twists and turns. In reality all men make choices. Some choose to come to God through his divine offer of salvation and others reject it. But that choice to come to God and accept his call involves and is predicated upon obedience.

One cannot be saved unless one obeys.

Baptism does save but not alone. Faith, grace and mercy are all essentials in the beautiful story of redemption. Let’s simply take the Bible and obey the Lord’s commands. After all, Jesus himself linked out obedience to a love for him (John 14:15)

As always, your comments are welcomed. Please leave them below.

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