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Salvation by Faith Only (Alone) vs. Obedience/Works/Baptism

Salvation by Faith Only or Alone vs.
Believing plus Obedience, Works, and Baptism

Salvation by faith only or faith alone teaches that a sinner receives forgiveness by beliefe or believing without obedience, works, or baptism. What does the gospel of Christ teach?

The doctrine of salvation by faith only or faith alone teaches that a sinner receives forgiveness simply by belief in Jesus without obedience or works of any kind. In particular, water baptism is not a necessary condition to conversion or forgiveness of sin. What does the gospel of Jesus Christ teach? Are we saved just by believing or must we obey commands?

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Introduction:

The Bible clearly affirms that the only power that can forgive man's sins is the blood of Jesus. His death paid the penalty for our sins (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 5:6-9; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:18,19; Rev. 1:5).

The purpose of this study is to consider how and when this cleansing blood is applied to specific individuals.

Consider a sinner who has never been cleansed by Jesus' blood. If he is to be pardoned, there must be some point at which that cleansing power applies to him personally and forgives him. Something must happen in his life as an essential condition (or conditions) in order for God to grant him forgiveness. We seek to determine what these conditions are and at what point this forgiveness comes.

In order to cleanse dirt, soap must be applied to that which is unclean. For an electric lamp to give light, it must contact the source of power. So for the sinner to be forgiven, he must contact Jesus' blood. How and when does this happen?

A common religious doctrine is salvation by "faith only" or "faith alone."

This doctrine can be stated as follows:

"Wherefore, that we are justified by faith, only, is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort" - The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1972 Edition, p. 55.

"Baptism is not essential to salvation...; but it is essential to obedience, since Christ has commanded it. It is also essential to a public confession of Christ before the world, and to membership in the church..." - Standard Manual for Baptist Churches by Hiscox, p. 21 (via Handbook of Religious Quotations).

"...faith is the sole condition to experiencing the new birth ... Water baptism is ... administered only to those who have already been saved. ...faith alone, without the added step of baptism, assures the forgiveness of sin, the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the gift of everlasting life ... [B]aptism ... has nothing to do with washing away sin or with a person's justification" - Sermon by an advocate of "faith only."

So sin is believed to be forgiven "the moment the sinner trusts Christ as his Savior," and faith is the only condition one must meet. Obedience is not required, especially not water baptism; baptism comes after one has been forgiven.

Is this doctrine true? What does the Bible say about the conditions for salvation, and what difference does it make?


I. Faith Is Essential To Salvation.


A. Many Passages Teach We Are Saved by Faith.

John 3:16 - Whoever believes on Jesus should have eternal life.

Romans 1:16 - The gospel is God's power to save all who believe.

Romans 5:1,2 - By faith we are justified and have access to grace.

Ephesians 2:8 - By grace are you saved through faith.

(See also Acts 16:31; 10:43; 15:9; 13:39; John 8:24; 3:36; 5:24; 6:40; 20:30,31; Romans 3:22-28; 4:3,16; etc.)

We conclude that faith is essential to salvation, and without faith no man can be saved.

B. But No Passage Says We Are Saved by Faith Alone.

We are told that verses like those above prove that faith is necessary but not baptism, since faith is mentioned but baptism is not. But which passage says we are saved by "faith only," or that faith is the sole condition for salvation, or that we are saved without baptism or without obedience? None of them so state. They teach we are saved by faith, but they do not teach we are saved by faith alone without obedience.

By the same reasoning, many verses mention faith but do not mention repentance or confession. Shall we conclude these too are unnecessary? Someone says, "It's just understood that, to have saving faith, you must repent and confess." Yes, but how do you understand this? We know repentance and confession are essential, because other passages say so. But if there are also other verses that say baptism is essential, should we not likewise recognize the necessity of baptism?

We will soon see that many things are essential to salvation. People misuse Scripture when they conclude some things are essential because some verses mention them, but they ignore other verses that say other things are essential.

C. Other Verses Show That, by Itself, Inward Faith Will Not Save.

John 12:42,43 - People "believed" in Jesus but would not confess Him, because they loved the praises of men more than the praises of God. Were they saved? (Cf. Rom. 10:9,10; Matt. 10:32,33.)

James 2:19,20 - Even devils believe. Are they saved?

James 2:14,24 - Can faith save without obedience? No, that is a dead faith (v17,20,26). Man is not justified by "faith only." This is the only passage that mentions "faith only," and it says we are not justified by it! Men say justification by faith only is a wholesome, comforting doctrine; but the Bible flatly says we are not justified by faith only!

Some say these people were unsaved because they have the wrong kind of faith: They have intellectual conviction, but they do not trust Jesus to save them. We are making progress! We now agree that faith is essential to salvation, but there are different kinds of faith! Faith is necessary, but there are kinds of faith that do not save, even when people believe in God and Jesus.

The issue then is: What kind of faith saves, and what does that saving faith include? Does it include repentance, confession, obedience to Divine commands, and even baptism? Before answering, let us add more information.


II. Many Things Are Essential to Salvation.


A. Some Things that are Essential to Salvation

God's grace (Ephesians 2:4-10; 1:7; Titus 2:11,12; Acts 15:11)

Jesus' death and resurrection (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 5:6-10; 1 Peter 1:18,19; Revelation 1:5; 1 Corinthians 15:17; 1 Peter 3:21)

The gospel (Romans 1:16; 1 Peter 1:23-25; Acts 11:14; James 1:18,21; 1 Corinthians 15:1,2; John 8:31,32)

Learning God's will (Acts 11:14; John 6:44,45; Romans 10:17; 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:21)

Faith (see the verses listed above)

Love (1 Corinthians 16:22; 13:1-3; Galatians 5:6; 1 John 4:7,8)

Hope (Romans 8:24)

Repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; Luke 13:3,5; 2 Peter 3:9)

Obedience (Hebrews 5:9; Romans 6:17,18; 1 Peter 1:22; Acts 10:34,35; 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9; Galatians 5:6; James 2:14-26)

Confession of Christ (Romans 10:9,10; Matthew 10:32)

Baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:3-7; Galatians 3:26,27; Colossians 2:12,13)

Faithfulness (Matthew 10:22; Revelation 2:10; 1 Corinthians 15:58; Matthew 28:20; Titus 2:11,12; 1 John 2:1-6)

Church membership (Acts 2:47; 20:28; Ephesians 5:23,25)

Some of these are things God has done; others we must do. All are essential to our salvation. Later, we will study some of them further, but first this observation:

B. We Must Accept All that the Bible Requires.

Accepting some requirements, while ignoring others, leads to error and contradiction.

If a verse requires faith, that does not eliminate the other things that are required elsewhere. Likewise, many passages mention grace, blood, repentance, etc., but do not mention faith. Should we conclude this proves faith is unneeded? No, but that would be as reasonable as concluding we can be saved without obedience or without baptism, just because these are not mentioned in some passages about faith.

Salvation by "faith only" (excluding baptism and obedience) is as unreasonable and unscriptural as salvation by repentance only, hearing only, or baptism only. We are not saved by any one thing alone, to the exclusion of other things required elsewhere.

Instead, we should accept everything the Bible requires.

Acts 3:22,23 - We must hear all Jesus says, or we will be destroyed.

Revelation 22:18,19 - If we take away part of God's word, He takes away our reward.

Matthew 4:4,7 - Live by every word God speaks, not just part of it.

We must never isolate a passage from the overall teaching of the Bible (see also Acts 20:20,27; James 2:10; Matthew 28:20.)

If we follow only one part of a set of instructions, we will not achieve the desired result. Suppose, for example, a driver's manual says, "To drive a car, you must have the key." If we get a key, but ignore the rest of the instructions, will we automatically be driving the car? No.

So faith is a "key" to salvation - it gives us power to become children of God (John 1:12). But we are not automatically and immediately God's children just because we have the key or the power to become such. We must consider all the requirements that God's word teaches.


III. Obedience Is Essential To Salvation.


The "faith only" doctrine says that faith is the only prerequisite to forgiveness. Acts of obedience all come after forgiveness, and none are essential to receive forgiveness. But consider:

A. Many Passages Say Obedience Is Necessary.

1 Peter 1:22,23 - We purify our souls in obeying the truth.

Romans 6:17,18 - Servants of sin must obey from the heart in order to be made free from sin.

Hebrews 5:9 - Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

James 2:24 - Man is justified by works, not by "faith only."

Acts 11:14; 10:34,35 - Peter told Cornelius words whereby he would be saved. But the first words He said were that, to be accepted by God, people must work righteousness. This is true for all people, for God shows no partiality!

Matthew 7:21-27; Luke 6:46 - To accept Jesus as Lord (ruler, master) and enter the kingdom of heaven, we must do what He says. We may believe and confess Him yet be rejected, because we did not obey.

2 Thessalonians 1:8,9; Romans 2:6-10 - Receiving eternal life requires us to do good. Those who do not obey will be destroyed.

1 John 5:3; John 14:15,21-24 - Loving God requires us to keep His commands. If we do not obey, we do not love Him. Can one be saved if he does not love God (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:22; Matthew 22:37-39)?

The doctrine of "faith only" denies the necessity for all obedience to commands. All the passages we have just studied show that such a view is false doctrine. (See also Rev. 20:12-15; John 5:28,29; 1 John 2:17.)

B. If Obedience Is Not Essential, Consider the Consequences.

Matthew 22:37-39 - Love is the greatest of all commands. If obeying commands is not necessary to salvation, then love is not necessary! Yet note 1 Corinthians 16:22.

Acts 17:30 - Repentance is a command. If keeping commands is not necessary, then repentance is not necessary to salvation! Yet note Acts 2:38; 3:19; Luke 13:3; 2 Peter 3:9.

Romans 10:9,10 - Confession with the mouth is a command. If obeying commands is not essential to salvation, then confession is not essential! Yet the Bible says it is essential. And it is not just an inner act; it is an outward act done with the mouth, in contrast to faith in the heart. Like baptism, here is an outward, physical action that is essential to salvation. (See also Matthew 10:32,33.)

1 John 3:23; John 6:28,29 - Faith itself is a command; it is a work God tells people to do. If works and obedience are not necessary, then faith itself is not necessary! But if faith is essential, then we must abandon the view that obedience and works are not essential!

Some claim that John 6:29 says faith is a work God does for us, not something we do. However: (1) 1 John 3:23 still says believing is a command to us (cf. Mark 16:15,16). (2) John 6:29 answers the question asked in v28: "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" So "works of God" here means works men do in obedience to God's commands. (3) 1 Corinthians 15:58 is parallel - the "work of the Lord" is work we abound in - our labor in the Lord (cf. "love of God" in 1 John 5:3). (4) If faith is entirely a work God does for us, then God is responsible for unbelievers. He causes some people to believe, but not others. This makes God a respecter of persons in contradiction to Acts 10:34,35 and Romans 2:11. Hence, John 6:29 says faith is something we do, which is essential to salvation.

Clearly, obedience is essential to forgiveness. So we must ask what commands we must obey, and is baptism one of them? But first, consider some objections.

C. The Bible Describes Different Kinds of Works.

But what about the passages where the Bible says we are not saved by works? Many passages say obedience is necessary, yet other verses say we are not saved by "works." Since God's word does not contradict itself, we must conclude that there are different kind of works, just as there are different kinds of faith. Faith saves, but there are kinds of faith that do not save. So obedience is essential, but there are kinds of works that do not save. Consider different kinds of works in the Bible:

1. Works of the flesh or of darkness

These are sins, which do not save but condemn. (See Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 13:12-14.)

2. Works of Old Testament law or of human righteousness by which one earns salvation

The Old Testament is not binding today (Gal. 3:23-25; Heb. 10:9,10; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:14-17; Rom. 7:1-7). However, it never could save, because it provided no lasting forgiveness (Hebrews 10:3,4).

The only way to be justified by that law, or any similar law, would be to live ones whole life without ever sinning (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10; Romans 3:20,23). Then one could boast that he had saved himself without needing forgiveness. He would earn his righteousness as a matter of debt, not grace.

But such works will save no one, because we all sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8,10; 3:4). Therefore, we all need a system of grace, whereby we can be forgiven, though we do not deserve it. This is the point of Romans 4:4; 3:27; 11:6; Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5; 2 Timothy 1:9; etc.

(See also Galatians 2:16; 3:11 - cf. 4:21-25; 5:3; Acts 13:39.)

3. Works of obedience to meet conditions of forgiveness.

These works of obedience are essential to salvation, as we have studied. But they are not works of human righteousness, whereby we earn eternal life by a sinless life. Instead, we admit we are sinners and come to God for forgiveness by His mercy and grace. Yet we must believe in Him enough to meet whatever conditions He lays down.

These conditions include faith, repentance, and confession. But baptism is not a work of human righteousness whereby we earn eternal life, any more than are these other acts. All are simply necessary conditions in order for God's grace to forgive unworthy sinners by Jesus' blood.

So when verses say we are not saved by "works," they are not referring to faith, repentance, confession, or baptism. These works are all included in the obedience that is essential to receive forgiveness.

Interestingly, even "faith only" advocates usually give people something to do, so they can identify a "point of contact" when they contact God's forgiving power. They say, "Pray the sinner's prayer," or "Put your hand on the radio," or "Tell Jesus that you are trusting Him to save you." In all these examples the sinner does something to receive forgiveness.

So even "faith only" advocates admit that one may do something to receive salvation yet not earn it. The problem is that they have eliminated the activity that God commands and have substituted other activities of their own human invention. This is clearly forbidden in Matthew 15:9; Galatians 1:8,9; 2 John 9; Revelation 22:18,19.


IV. Saving Faith Requires Obedience.


We now know that saving faith includes repentance and confession, and we know that obedience is essential. We will now proceed to show that the reason saving faith includes repentance and confession is that saving faith includes obedience. We are saved by faith when that faith leads us to obey God's required instructions - not before.

A. Hebrews 10:39 and Chapter 11

Hebrews 11 gives many examples of people who "by faith" pleased God and received His reward (11:6). But the purpose is to show us how to be among "them that believe to the saving of the soul" (10:39). Now, does the faith that God rewards include obedience? That is, was obedience necessary in order for God to reward the people, or did He reward them before they obeyed or even when they did not obey?

Noah (11:7) - By faith Noah prepared an ark to save his house and become heir of righteousness according to faith. Was he saved by faith before he obeyed, or did God save him from the flood only after he obeyed? Would he have been saved if he had not obeyed?

Abraham (11:8) - By faith he obeyed God and went to the place God eventually showed him. Did God reward him before he obeyed, or only after he obeyed?

Israel at Jericho (11:30) - By faith the walls of Jericho fell. Did they fall before the people did what God said, or afterwards? Would the walls have fallen had the people not obeyed? The verse says the walls fell "after they were compassed about." (See also 11:4,17,24, etc.)

In every case, God rewarded people for obedient faith. They received the blessing "by faith," not before they obeyed or without obedience, but only after or as a result of their obedience. Yet when faith led to obedience, they received the reward "by faith."

Saving faith is faith that obeys. If your faith says that obedience is not necessary or that God will "save your soul" before you obey, then you have a faith that will not save. Consider this chart:

Blessings Received "by Faith"

Noah built the ark then his house was saved
Abraham obeyed to go then received inheritance
Israel marched then the walls fell
We obey conditions then receive forgiveness
Obedience comes first, then comes the blessing!

B. James 2:14-26

Remembering that some kinds of faith do not save, we are here asked: Can we be saved by the kind of faith that does not have works (v14)? James does not discuss merely what we demonstrate before people, but whether or not we can be saved (v14) or justified (v24).

The answer is that faith that does not work is dead, like a body without a spirit (v17,20,26). We are justified by works, not by "faith only" (v24). Faith without works will not save, nor will works without faith. Both faith and works must operate together (v21-23). Only then do we have faith that saves!

Some say that Abraham pleased God before the event mentioned here (offering Isaac), but he also obeyed God long before this particular event. Hebrews 11:8-10,17-19 and James 2:21-23 make the same point: Abraham illustrates the kind of faith that God rewards. It is faith that obeys, and God rewards us only when we have obeyed. So both faith and works are needed in order to be saved (v14) or justified (v24).

The passage flatly denies that we can be saved or justified by a faith that does not obey. Such a faith is dead. Can a dead faith save us?

C. Galatians 5:6

In Jesus' view, the faith that avails is faith that works by love. So again, a working faith is required. (See also 2 Cor. 5:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; Galatians 2:20; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; Romans 1:5; 16:26.)

Observations

Faith can have different meanings.

"Faith" sometimes has a specific meaning, referring to inward conviction and trust, as distinguished from the acts of obedience that follow (cf. Romans 10:9,10). This "faith" is essential, but it will not save by itself, without the obedience. "Faith" can also have a more general or inclusive sense, so it includes all a person does to be forgiven of sins - including repentance, confession, and (we will soon see) baptism.

The same is true of the term "love." "Love" sometimes refers specifically to an attitude of good will toward others, as distinguished from acts people do (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; Galatians 5:6). In other cases "love" is said to be or to include the obedience that it produces (1 John 5:3).

We do similar things in everyday speech. We tell sick people, "You could get better if you would go to the doctor." Now "go to the doctor" could refer to the specific act of transporting yourself to where the doctor is. But in our illustration, it is understood that we mean all that is involved in being cured by the doctor, including what we do in response to his instructions (get a prescription filled, take medicine, etc.) Likewise "faith" can be used specifically or inclusively.

We have seen that some people admit saving faith includes repentance and confession, but they deny it includes baptism. But if faith includes repentance and confession, then that it must be true that faith includes obedience, since repentance and confession are acts of obedience. Confession is even an outward, physical act. So if "faith" can include these commands, then it could also include other commands such as baptism. So we need to determine whether or not there are other verses that say baptism is essential.

Some folks reply: "You're trusting your own works to save you, instead of trusting Jesus."

The truth is just the opposite. Noah was saved "by faith" when he obeyed God. Do you accuse him of trusting his own works instead of trusting God? When Abraham and Israel pleased God by faithful obedience, did they trust their own works or God (Hebrews 11)? When people repent and confess to be forgiven, are they trusting in works or in Jesus?

Consider the bronze serpent Moses made to spare Israel from death. The people had to do something to be saved - they had to look at the serpent (Num. 21:9). Yet John 3:14-16 uses this to illustrate salvation by faith through Jesus. So even John 3:16 shows that saving faith includes obedience, it does not exclude it.

The truth is that saving faith leads people to obey Jesus because they trust Him, and they are not saved until their faith has produced the required obedience. When people think they can be saved without obeying what Jesus says, those are the ones who have a faith that will not save.


V. Salvation "by Faith" Includes Baptism.


"Faith only" advocates say we are saved by faith before baptism, so a person is baptized after he has already been saved. But we have learned that salvation by faith includes the conditions that are necessary to receive forgiveness. Is baptism one of the conditions one must meet to receive forgiveness, or does baptism come after forgiveness?

A. Acts 22:16

This is the conversion of Paul, that apostle who preached so much about "salvation by faith." Surely he knew whether salvation by faith includes or excludes baptism. What about his own conversion? Was baptism essential to his forgiveness?

On the road to Damascus, he saw Jesus and believed in him (22:5-10). During the following three days he was praying (9:11). If people are saved by "faith alone," then surely he must have been saved. But was he?

Jesus instructed Paul that, in the city he would be told all things that he must do (22:10; 9:6). What was he told? Ananias said to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins (22:16). If salvation is by "faith alone" before baptism, then Paul would have had no sins at this point. But he did have sins, and he remained in sin till he was baptized.

The passage clearly places forgiveness, not before baptism, but as a result of it. Surely nothing Paul later taught should be taken to contradict what he himself did to be saved. He knew that salvation by faith includes and requires baptism; it does not exclude it.

B. Mark 16:15,16

He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.

Both faith and baptism are essential prerequisites to salvation. Salvation comes after or as a result of baptism, not before it. Just as 1+1=2, take away either of the "ones" and you no longer have two. So if you take away either faith or baptism, you no longer have salvation.

"Faith only" says: He that believes is saved and may then be baptized. Jesus said: He that believes and is baptized shall be saved. See the difference? Note this comparison

Romans 10:9 - if you confess...and believe...you will be saved
Mark 16:16 - He who believes and is baptized shall be saved

Clearly Romans 10:9 means that one must both believe and confess before he can be saved. Why does not the parallel language in Mark 16:16 likewise mean that one must both believe and be baptized before he can be saved?

Someone says: "But it says, 'He who disbelieves shall be condemned.' It doesn't say he who disbelieves and is not baptized shall be condemned."

So some conclude that only faith is essential. But we already agreed that baptism alone will not save. Both faith and baptism are required. A lack of faith is enough to condemn a person, whether he gets baptized or not. Baptizing such a person would accomplish nothing (cf. John 3:18).

Can you find a verse that says, "He who disbelieves and does not confess shall be condemned"? If not, does that prove confession is not essential? Faith is prerequisite to both confession and baptism; both are worthless without faith. But that does not prove we can be saved by faith alone without confession and baptism.

But look at the passage again. What is it that, if disbelieved, causes a person to be condemned? It is the gospel (v15; cf. Mark 1:15; Romans 1:16). What does the gospel say? It says right here (and elsewhere) that we must both believe and be baptized to be saved!

Now, do you believe people must be baptized to be saved? If not, you do not believe the true gospel! You do not believe what Jesus Himself says. What if you don't believe that gospel? Then, "He who disbelieves will be condemned"! You believe a different gospel, which leads one to be accursed (Galatians 1:8,9; 2 John 9).

Someone says: "It's like saying 'He who gets on a plane and sits down will arrive at California.' Getting on is essential, but sitting down is not."

Try this illustration on Romans 10:9: "If you confess ... and believe ... you will be saved." Is this like, "If you get on the plane and sit down, you will arrive at California"? If so, then on Romans 10:9 the illustration proves that faith is not essential! Why does the illustration work on Mark 16:16, but not on the parallel language in Rom. 10:9?

A better illustration would be: "If you buy a ticket and get on the plane, you shall go to California." Buying the ticket parallels faith (it gives the right to become a child of God - John 1:12), and getting on the plane parallels being baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3). Both are essential to arrive at the destination.

Any way you look at it, baptism comes before salvation in Mark 16:16, but "faith only" puts baptism after salvation.

C. Acts 2:38

As a result of the first gospel sermon, sinners asked what to do about their sins. Peter said to repent and be baptized "for the remission of sins." Again forgiveness does not precede baptism, but follows as a result of it. In fact, receiving remission is the purpose of baptism: baptism is for the remission of sins.

When God institutes a practice and a purpose for it, then we must respect the purpose as part of the act.

Consider the Lord's Supper: we eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine (outer act) for the purpose of remembering Jesus' body and blood. Even if we do the right outer act, we are condemned if we do it for the wrong purpose (1 Corinthians 11:22ff).

Likewise, baptism is an action (immersion in water) and the purpose is "for the remission of sins." But if someone believes his sins were already remitted before baptism, then would he be baptized for remission? No, so such a baptism would be unscriptural in purpose. And since the purpose is to receive remission, if one does not do it for that purpose, then he does not receive remission at all! He may believe and be immersed, but since he does it for the wrong reasons, he never does receive remission. He is yet in sin! See why all this matters?

Someone says: "'For remission' means because you already have it - like a man receives a ticket 'for speeding.'"

However, no reputable translation ever translates Acts 2:38 "because of remission of sins." This is because, while the English "for" can look backward meaning "because of" a previous event, the Greek word used here (EIS) does not. Some translations show that the correct meaning is: "unto remission" (ASV), "so that your sins may be forgiven" (NIV), or "in order to have your sins forgiven" (Goodspeed).

Try the "because of" argument on these passages:

Matthew 26:28 - My blood ... is shed for many for (EIS) the remission of sins.

2 Corinthians 7:10 - Repentance to (EIS) salvation.

Romans 10:10 - ... confession is made to (EIS) salvation.

Hebrews 10:39 - ... believe to (EIS) the saving of the soul.

Do these verses mean that we should believe, repent, and confess - in fact, Jesus even died - because we already have remission?! Are all these things non-essential, coming after we have been forgiven? If not, then why should we believe that is what "for" means in Acts 2:38?

The arguments used against baptism, if consistently applied, would invariably prove that confession is not essential to salvation, and most of the arguments would prove faith and repentance are not essential! Surely such arguments are invalid.

To see what "for" in Acts 2:38 means, note the context.

Consider who is being addressed. These people had been convicted of sin (v23,36), and had just asked what to do as a result (v37). Peter told them to "repent and be baptized." Who needs to repent: people who have already been forgiven, or people who need to obtain it? Obviously people do not need to repent, unless they are in sin.

Clearly Peter is not telling saved people how to show they are saved. He is telling lost sinners how to receive remission. Therefore, baptism is necessary in order to receive remission of sins.

D. Romans 6:3,4; Galatians 3:26,27

How many people are "in Christ"? Just as many as have been baptized into Him.

Consider the following blessings in Christ:

Grace - 2 Timothy 2:1
Salvation - 2 Timothy 2:10
Forgiveness - Ephesians 1:7
Eternal life - 1 John 5:11,12
Freedom from condemnation - Romans 8:1

Can a person be saved if he has not come "into Christ" where these blessings are found? Are people saved outside Christ? Surely we must be in Christ to be saved, but God's word expressly states that one must be baptized into Christ.

Likewise we are baptized into Christ's death (Romans 6:3).

As a result the body of sin is destroyed (v6) and we are free from sin (v7). Can we be saved without contacting Jesus' death? No. But there must be some point at which we contact that death, and that point is baptism (preceded by believing, repenting, and confessing).

To illustrate, a wedding ceremony puts a couple into the marriage relationship. Prior to the ceremony, they may take essential steps toward marriage, but they do not yet enjoy the privileges of being in marriage. Only after the ceremony are they actually in marriage.

Likewise baptism is the point at which one comes into Christ, into His death. Prior to baptism, one may take essential steps toward Christ (believing, repenting, confessing), but he is not yet in Christ and does not have the blessings in Christ. Only after baptism is one "in Christ" where these blessings are available.

Baptism is also essential to the new birth.

Suppose I say, "You are a citizen of this country, because you have been born into it." Which came first: birth or citizenship? Now note the verb tenses in Galatians 3:26,27:

"ye ARE all the children of God by faith"
"for" (Greek GAR = because)
"as many of you as HAVE BEEN baptized into Christ..."

According to the verb tenses, which came first: baptism or being a child of God? "Faith only" says one is first a child of God, then he is baptized. But the Scripture clearly says one is first baptized "into Christ," then he is a child of God.

Likewise, Romans 6:4 shows one has "newness of life" (new birth, born again) after he is raised from baptism, not before (cf. Colossians 2:12,13; John 3:5). And all this happens "by faith." Becoming a child of God "by faith" includes baptism; it does not exclude it.

Some people say Gal. 3:26,27; Rom. 6:3,4; and Col. 2:12 refer, not to water baptism, but to Holy Spirit baptism.

They claim this baptism occurs the moment one believes. However:

(1) Where do the contexts of these verses say they refer to a baptism in the Spirit? What proof is there?

(2) Holy Spirit baptism was a promise made to a few individuals for special purposes. There are only two recorded cases in the Bible. When it occurred, it was always accompanied by miraculous tongue-speaking, and apostles were always involved. (Read Acts 1:1-8,21,22; chap. 2; 10:44-11:18.) It was never required of all people in order to be saved (as in Gal. 3, Rom. 6, etc.). Holy Spirit baptism pertained to the age of miraculous revelation, which ceased when the written word was completed (1 Corinthians 13:8-13; Jude 3; James 1:25).

(3) Folks say these verses refer to Spirit baptism, but they also practice water baptism. That makes two baptisms (cf. Matt. 3:11). But Ephesians 4:3-6 says there is only one baptism for today. You can no more have two baptisms (one essential and one not), than you can have two heavenly Fathers (one essential and one not).

(4) The baptism of Rom. 6:3,4 and Col. 2:12,13 involves a burial and a resurrection from the element, like Jesus. This fits water baptism. But if this is Spirit baptism, do people leave the Spirit after being immersed in Him? (Cf. Romans 8:9.)

(5) When arguing against sprinkling or pouring, "faith only" advocates often say Rom. 6:4 and Col. 2:12 refer to water baptism as an immersion. When arguing against the necessity of baptism, they say these verses refer to Spirit baptism. Which is it? It cannot be both ways!

Baptism in water is the baptism of the Great Commission. It is performed by human agents acting in the name of God, and is essential to salvation for all people (Mark 16:15,16; Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38; 8:36-39; 10:47,48). It is necessary to come into Christ, into His death, and thereby become a child of God.

E. 1 Peter 3:20,21

Noah's salvation illustrates ours.

Noah was saved by water (v20). This is a figure showing that "baptism doth also now save us" (KJV).

Water, of itself, has no power to remove sin (like removing dirt from the body). Rather, we rely on Jesus' resurrection to save us, so we can have a good conscience - "an appeal to God for a good conscience" (NASB). (See on Colossians 2:12 below for more about baptism and Jesus' resurrection.)

Again, the case of Noah connects faith (Hebrews 11:7) and baptism (1 Peter 3:20,21), showing that salvation by faith includes baptism. The power to forgive is in Jesus' death and resurrection, but we reach that power in baptism, by faith. Hence, baptism also now saves us.

Another Old Testament parallel is Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-14).

Naaman was told to dip 7 times in Jordan to be healed of leprosy. Clearly, water of itself has no power to heal leprosy. But dipping in water was a condition Naaman must meet if he really trusted God. Then God's power would heal the leprosy.

At first Naaman was like many people today. He refused to dip, because he did not believe dipping could cure leprosy. But he learned that he had to obey God, then God's power would heal him. He was healed only when he had dipped. So it is in baptism.

But some say that Noah was never in the water, so water did not save him.

Yet the Bible expressly says he was saved "by water" (KJV). No illustration is identical in every respect to that which it illustrates (else it would be the same thing, not an illustration).

Noah was saved by water in that the water destroyed the evil that surrounded him, while it lifted Noah separating him from that evil. Likewise, baptism saves us from evil. Remember, God's own explanation of His illustration is that "baptism doth also now save us."

Or someone says "Baptism is just a figure or picture of salvation; it is not necessary in order to receive it."

This flatly contradicts the passage. This would make baptism an illustration of something else, leaving Noah's salvation completely out of the illustration. What the passage says is that Noah's salvation is the figure, and the thing that it illustrates is the fact that "baptism doth also now save us."

Read other translations: "...eight souls were saved by water. There is also an antitype which now saves us, namely baptism..." (NKJV). "Antitype" means "something that is foreshadowed by a type or figure." So baptism is not the figure or the type; it is the thing being illustrated - the antitype. "In it [the ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also..." (NIV).

Salvation by faith includes baptism; it does not exclude it.

F. Colossians 2:12,13 (Ephesians 2:4-9)

People dead in trespasses and sins, were buried in baptism and raised with Christ through faith in God's working. Then He made them alive, having forgiven their sins. Again, baptism is an act of faith in God's power, not an act of faith in our own merit. Salvation by faith includes baptism; it does not exclude it.

Note the parallel to Ephesians 2:4-9.

Eph. 2 says we are saved by grace through faith, not of ourselves; it is God's gift, not of works lest man should boast. Some say this proves baptism is not essential. But note the parallel between Colossians 2 and Ephesians 2.

Ephesians 2:4-9 Colossians 2:12,13
Dead in sin
By God's grace
through faith
Made alive (quickened)
By being raised with Jesus
Not of self, not of works
Dead in sin
By God's operation
through faith
Made alive (quickened)
By being raised with Jesus
IN baptism

Both passages describe "salvation by grace through faith." A person is dead through sin, but is made alive with Christ by being raised (spiritually) from the dead. But where Ephesians 2 says it is not of self, not of works, Colossians adds other information. "Wherein" are we raised with Christ through faith and made alive by being forgiven of sin? In baptism! (Compare Romans 6:3-7.)

So while Ephesians 2 says works do not save, the parallel in Colossians 2 shows this was never intended to eliminate the need for baptism. On the contrary it expressly includes baptism. Salvation by faith includes obedience. This is here shown to include baptism, and that in a passage that is clearly parallel to Eph. 2:8,9!

Gideon illustrates deliverance by grace through faith.

Gideon is an example of "faith" in Hebrews 11:32. God did not want Israel to boast that they had saved themselves (Judges 7:2). God said He delivered the people (v9,15). But the people still had to act (v3-7,16-25). Without obedience they would never have been saved. But God designed their action so that it was clearly not sufficient to earn or deserve deliverance. The action was simply a test of their faith.

Note the parallel to Ephesians 2:8,9. In salvation from sin we cannot boast that we save ourselves or deserve salvation. We are saved by grace through faith. But this nowhere disproves the need for obedience, any more than in Gideon's case.

The fall of Jericho in Joshua is also similar.

This too was an example of "faith," but Israel had to act to receive the blessing (Hebrews 11:30). Yet God said He gave Jericho to Israel (Joshua 6:2). If a thing is a "gift," some say there is nothing to do to receive it. But God's gifts are often conditional. We must act, but our actions are inadequate to earn or merit the result.

Israel received Jericho as a gift from God "by faith," but they still had to obey to receive it. So Ephesians 2:8,9 says salvation is a gift from God "by faith." This does not prove there is nothing to do. It just proves that our actions do not earn the gift, so we cannot boast.

Salvation by grace through faith does not exclude baptism. It requires it.

G. The Urgency of Baptism

In Bible examples, when people believed, repented, and understood baptism, they were always baptized on the same day or same hour, even in the middle of the night (Acts 2:41; 8:35-39; 16:25,33; 22:16). Instead, modern "faith only" churches usually tell candidates to wait for a baptismal service days or weeks in the future. Why don't they imitate the Biblical sense of urgency?

Clearly, they believe people are already saved before baptism, so they have no sense of urgency as in Bible cases. This further demonstrates how "faith only" doctrine conflicts with the Bible. Baptism in the Bible was urgent, because people are still in sin till they are baptized.

Salvation by faith includes baptism, just as it includes repentance and confession.

Conclusion

Please note the chart on the back of this booklet. It lists blessings that God's word says we receive when we are saved by faith. Then it shows that obedience to God's commands is necessary to receive these same blessings. This demonstrates again that saving faith includes obedience, particularly baptism. They go together, and cannot work apart from one another.

It is said that a man was once about to push a wheelbarrow across a tightrope over Niagara Falls. He asked the by-standers how many believed he could make it safely. Many raised their hands. Then he asked who believed enough to ride in the wheelbarrow! Do you trust God enough to obey Him, so He can carry you safely to salvation?

Salvation by "faith alone" is not the true gospel of Jesus. It is a perverted gospel of human invention (Galatians 1:8,9; 2 John 9-11; Matthew 15:9; Revelation 22:18,19).

What should you do if you were baptized believing you were saved before baptism or believing baptism is not necessary? You should do like the men in Acts 19:2-6, when they learned their baptism was not Scriptural. You should be baptized Scripturally. Then refuse to be part of any church that teaches the false doctrine of "faith only" (2 John 9-11; 2 Corinthians 6:17f; Ephesians 5:11).

Note: See the links below for Bible study articles on related topics, including the purpose of baptism, the importance of obedience, the thief on the cross, etc.

Note: If you would like help in finding a faithful local church in your area or a Christian in your area to study the Bible personally with you, please click on the link at the end of this message to email us. You will be given an opportunity to inform us of your desire. Depending on where you live, we may or may not be able to help in these ways.

(C) Copyright 1986, 2000, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale.  Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.

This material is available if you wish to purchase it in printed form. For a complete list of prices and other titles available, visit Light to My Path Publications.

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Topics for further Bible study

Why We Need Forgiveness
Things that Are Essential to Salvation
Is Obedience Essential to Salvation?
The Purpose of Baptism
Why Must We Be "In Christ"?
Individual Responsibility in Salvation
Calvinism and the Gospel
God's grace and mercy (law & works)
Importance of Repentance
Should Babies Be Baptized?
Is Baptism Sprinkling, Pouring, or Immersion?
What Must We Believe to Be Saved?
Should Alien Sinners Pray for Forgiveness
Pharisees: Who Were They Really?
What about the Thief on the Cross?

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