There are many issues on which the churches of Christ are often criticized about. “You think you are the only ones going to Heaven!” “You don’t respect the Old Testament!” and others are often thrown our way. Perhaps the most well known criticism is the one that people give about water baptism. They will say to you, “You believe that you are saved by water!” Peter tells us to always be ready to give an answer to everyone that asks of us concerning the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). As a Christian, my hope is in Heaven and I want people to go there with me. Therefore, it is very important that we teach people how to be saved. That includes the avenue of baptism. Let’s consider some points that we can share with people concerning baptism for salvation.
We do not believe we are saved by water. Nobody whom I know of in churches of Christ teaches that we are saved by water. However, God has used water on several occasions as a tool for salvation purposes. For example, consider Noah and his family. Noah was told to prepare an ark and to take his family and both clean and unclean animals aboard (Gen. 6). Peter mentions that “eight souls were saved through water” (1 Pet. 3:20). Noah and his family were saved through water because that water separated them from the wicked generation that had grieved the heart of God. Water itself has no saving power for the believer, but it is a vehicle God has chosen on multiple occasions to use in saving people.
It is the blood of Jesus Christ rather than water which saves us. The day Jesus died and His blood was shed is the most important date in all of human history. We have redemption through the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:4). How does one receive forgiveness of sins? Is it by saying “the sinner’s prayer”? Is it by “asking Jesus into your heart”? The people on the day of Pentecost were told to repent of their sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). The word “remission” is a word that means a lot to many people. For a cancer patient, the word “remission” brings much happiness and hope for a future full of health. While surgery and medicine can take away cancer or at least slow the progression down, only the blood of Jesus can take away or remit sin. The only way to come into contact with the blood of Jesus is through baptism for the remission of sins.
We do not believe we can save ourselves. Many are opposed to water baptism being required for salvation because they view it as a work of man. They would say we are trying to save ourselves through baptism by being baptized and viewing it as a requirement. Baptism is not a work of man. It is a work of God. I heard Phil Sanders say in a sermon that those who oppose baptism for the remission of sins are interfering with the work of God. Paul talked about how we are “buried with him through baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God” (Col. 2:12, ESV, emp. added). No member of the church ought to believe he is entitled to salvation or has earned his salvation. However, there are some, even within the brotherhood, who are so afraid to admit that there are works of obedience which are required to please God. One very prominent minister and author in the churches of Christ was quoted in the early 1990’s as saying that we “do not contribute one whit to our salvation,” that our salvation depends solely on God’s grace. Certainly we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), but faith requires us to act upon it through works of obedience. Another prominent minister and author who at one time was associated closely with churches of Christ no longer teaches baptism as being essential to salvation. He has long since adopted a “faith only” stance. Christians do not believe in salvation by meritorious works, but we do believe in salvation by faith in Christ, demonstrated through works of obedience.
We do not believe that only baptism saves. Simply being baptized is not enough to save. If a man does not have faith in Jesus Christ, all he has done by being baptized is get wet. If a man refuses to repent of sin in his life, all he has done is get wet. Baptism is just part of God’s plan of salvation for man. Baptism is the culmination of one hearing the Word of God which produces faith in Christ leading to repentance and confession. Upon one’s baptism, the Lord adds that soul to His church (Acts 2:47). Baptism is not the end, however. It is only the beginning as the one immersed is now a Christian who has vowed to live faithfully to God and Jesus.
We do not believe in “once baptized, always saved.” We rightly speak out against the Calvinistic, denominational idea of “once saved, always saved.” The Bible strongly shows us in many passages that a child of God can go off into apostasy (Heb. 2:1-3; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). However, we must remember that one is not immune from falling from grace just because they have been baptized for the remission of their sins. The church also has an obligation to new converts to make sure they are being nurtured after their baptism, since they are truly a new babe in Christ.
Drew is the preacher at the Corinth Church of Christ in Rock Island, TN. He also teaches History, Government, and Middle & High School Bible at Boyd Christian School in McMinnville, TN.