The Scriptures clearly teach that baptism is something one must do in order to be saved and have sins forgiven (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). Yet many disagree with this for several reasons. One such objection stems from a very understandable line of thought, mainly this. The Bible says we are not saved by works in Ephesians 2:8-9. Baptism is a work. Therefore, baptism is not necessary for salvation.
Certainly baptism is something one does, and therefore is a “work.” However, is it a work of merit (by which one earns salvation)…or is it a work of faith (by which one receives salvation)? Furthermore, who is the one doing the work? Is it the man or woman who submits to being immersed…or is it God who forgives and regenerates them through the blood of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit?
In answering these legitimate questions, it must first be pointed out that there are different kinds of works. There are works of merit which are done to earn something. Those who have done such works believe they deserve something; they believe they will be saved because they did good deeds and went to church, or read their Bibles, or something to that effect. Yet all the good we might do cannot outweigh even one sin (James 2:10). That’s why we need God’s grace and our faith in order to be saved (Rom. 3:27-28; Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-5).
There are also works of faith which are done to receive something. Those who do works of faith believe that they deserve nothing because they understand that their obedience does not earn or merit their salvation. They know their salvation rests upon God’s grace and mercy, not because God owes them anything.
This is why works of faith could also be called works of God. In fact, Jesus calls faith exactly that (John 6:28-29). Other works of faith which God commands are repentance (Acts 17:30) and confession (Rom. 10:9-10). Jesus Himself will specifically state on the day of judgment that those who enter Heaven do so because of the benevolent deeds done by them in their lives, while those condemned to hell are in that terrible state because of the lack of benevolent deeds done in their lives (Matt. 25:31-46).
To those who say one does not have to be baptized in order to be saved because baptism is a work, I ask this. Does one have to have faith in order to be saved? Jesus said so (John 3:16; Mark 16:16). Does faith require works, something done by you? Yes (James 2:14-26). Does one have to repent of sins in order to be saved? Jesus said so (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30). Is repentance a work, a deed done by you? Yes. Does one have to confess their faith in Christ before men in order to be saved? Jesus said so (Matt. 10:32-33; Rom. 10:9-10). Is confession a work, an action done by you? Yes. Does one have to do good to all men at every opportunity in order to go to heaven? Jesus thinks so (Matt. 25:31-46; Gal. 6:10). Are benevolent deeds works, deeds done by you? Yes.
So what’s the difference between obeying God’s commands to have faith, repent of sins, confess one’s faith before men, and do good to all men at every opportunity in order to be saved…and obeying God’s command to be baptized in order to be saved? To ask is to answer. Would one say that one does not have to have faith, repent of sins, confess faith, and do good to others in order to go to heaven? Such notions blatantly contradict what the Bible teaches. Yet if faith, repentance, confession, and doing good are required of us in order to be saved…why not baptism also, since it also is commanded by God?
What’s hard for some to understand is that even though works such as faith, repentance, confession and benevolent deeds are commanded by God, they are not meritorious works; we do not earn salvation through them (Luke 17:10). Instead, they are works God has ordained we do in order to receive His salvation. When all is said and done, salvation is still by God’s grace and mercy.
Baptism, therefore, is a work of faith. It requires faith (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37), and is an act of faith by which one receives (not earns) forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Through it one receives (not earns) union with Christ in His death and is raised with Him to a new life (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27). The fact that baptism is not a work of merit is emphasized by Paul when he wrote that God saves us “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit. 3:4-5). This alludes to baptism, especially when we compare this phrase to John 3:5, 23 and Acts 8:36-39 and 10:47-48. Yet Paul still says that baptism does not save us by “works of righteousness” (i.e., works of merit). God does not owe us salvation because we were baptized.
Baptism, like faith, repentance, confession and benevolent deeds, is simply an act of faith by which we receive salvation. This is so because baptism involves the working of God (Col. 2:11-13). God does the work, not us! It’s God who makes us alive through baptism, praise His name!