Vol. 5, No. 7
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Question: "Why do you teach that baptism is necessary for salvation when the Scriptures clearly teach that a person cannot earn or merit his salvation (cf. Eph. 2:8-9?)? Baptism is a work, and works cannot save. Faith alone is the means by which a sinner is redeemed."
Answer: There are at least three different kinds of works mentioned in the Bible: 1) works of merit, 2) works of the Law of Moses, and 3) works of obedience. It is important that we distinguish between them. Let me encourage you to read the following passages in your Bible, then carefully study the following questions:
Case study #1: The gift of Jericho -- Joshua 6. Did the Lord make any requirements of Israel (vv. 3-5)? Did any of these commands have to be carried out before Israel could receive Jericho? [If Israel had not followed the Lord's instructions, would she have still received the city?] According to the text, were any works of obedience necessary before the blessing could be bestowed? Exactly when did Israel receive Jericho -- the moment she believed, or after faith brought her to obedience?
Consider: Israel's obedience in no way entitled her to the city of Jericho. She did not earn Jericho by virtue of her meritorious endeavors, nor could she have boasted that her victory was due to her own military prowess. But the fact remains that until Israel obeyed [worked] she did not receive Jericho.
Cast study #2: The gift of cleansing -- 2 Kings 5. Did Elisha (the Lord's prophet) make any requirements of Naaman (vv. 10, 14)? Did any of these works have to be fulfilled before Naaman could receive cleansing from his leprosy (vv. 9-14)? [If Naaman had not dipped in the Jordan seven times as the Lord commanded, would he still have been cleansed?] According to the text, was obedience necessary before the blessing could be bestowed? Exactly when did Naaman receive his cleansing -- the moment he believed, or after faith brought him to obedience?
Consider: Naaman's obedience did not entitle him to be cleansed from his disease. He did not merit his cleansing by virtue of dipping in the river. But the fact remains that until Naaman obeyed [worked] he could not be clean.
Case study #3: The gift of sight -- John 9. Did the Lord make any requirements of the blind man (v. 7)? Did any works have to be carried out before the blind man could receive his sight? [If the blind man had not gone to the pool of Siloam and washed, would he still have received his sight?] According to the text, was obedience necessary before the blessing could be bestowed? Exactly when did the blind man receive his sight -- the moment he believed, or after faith brought him to obedience?
Consider: The Lord was in no way obligated to grant sight to the blind man because he went to Siloam and washed. But the fact remains that until the blind man obeyed [worked] he could not see.
Case study #4: The gift of salvation -- Acts 10. Did Peter make any requirements of Cornelius and his household (v. 48)? Did any works have to be carried out before the family could enjoy the forgiveness of sins (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21)? "Then Peter opened his mouth and said: 'In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him'" (Acts 10:34-35; cf. James 2:20-24; Matthew 7:21.)
Consider: Did obeying Peter's command to be baptized mean that Cornelius and his family had somehow earned their salvation? Certainly not. But the fact remains that until the family worked righteousness [obeyed] they could not receive the forgiveness of sins.
God offers the free gift of salvation (Romans 6:23) to all who will accept it, but certain conditions [i.e., works of obedience/righteousness] still have to be carried out before one can receive it. The Bible teaches that the faith that saves is the faith that works/obeys. "By faith Abel offered..." (Hebrews 11:4), "by faith Noah prepared..." (Hebrews 11:7), "by faith Abraham obeyed..." (Hebrews 11:8). "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). See also 2 John 8; Galatians 5:6; Philippians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 2:10 and Colossians 1:10.
You are correct: A person can in no way merit his salvation, but his faith must be followed by humble obedience (Hebrews 5:9) in order to receive the promised blessing. "He who believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16; cf. Galatians 3:27-28). Incidentally, to exclude all works from the plan of salvation is to exclude faith itself, for Jesus affirmed that faith is a work (John 6:29).