Born of Water: Is baptism a work?

BaptismofJesus2Those with a Southern Baptist or Calvinist background often argue that baptism can’t be essential for salvation or else it would be a “work,” and Paul is very clear that it’s error – even damning error – to add a work to faith as a requirement for salvation. For example, in Gal 5, Paul writes,

(Gal 5:2-4 ESV) Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

In other words, Paul argues that if you insist on any element of the law as a condition of salvation, you must apply the entirety of the law. We can’t pick and choose. And, obviously enough, no one can perfectly keep the entirety of the Law of Moses, and so adding any element of the Law of Moses creates a standard that cannot be met and which therefore damns.

Notice a couple of things. First, “law” is a reference to the Law of Moses. And, obviously enough, baptism is not part of the Law of Moses.

Second, baptism is a gift received, not a work done. It’s always spoken of in the passive voice in the NT. It’s never pictured as something that earns salvation.

However, both these arguments ultimately fail. Let’s start with the second point. Circumcision is even more of a gift received than a work done. Under the Law of Moses, infants are circumcised eight days after birth. Not only is it passive, the infant has no choice in the matter! And yet Paul plainly considers circumcision a “work” that leads to falling from grace.

As to the fact that baptism is not part of the Law of Moses, we need to keep reading in Gal 5 –

(Gal 5:5-6 ESV) For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.[1]

The reason adding works to faith damns is not that works are particularly awful. It’s that they are not faith. Paul declares that only “faith working through love” or “faith expressing itself through love” (NIV) “counts for anything.”[2] That is, only faith has the ability to accomplish what’s being discussed: justification.

The danger is not in adding works but in considering faith insufficient. In v. 4, Paul declares that our hope comes “by faith.” The problem with circumcision is not that it’s a “work” but that it’s not faith. Adding circumcision to faith as a condition of salvation makes faith insufficient – contrary to God’s covenant with Abraham and countlessly repeated promises over the centuries to save all with faith.

(Gal 2:16 NET) yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

(Gal 3:2 ESV) Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

(Gal 3:5-9 ESV) Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

(Gal 3:11-14 ESV) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” – 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

(Gal 3:22-26 ESV) But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

In chapters 2 and 3, Paul builds his case on the sufficiency of faith in Jesus to save. His point in chapter 5 is that only faith saves – and so adding anything to faith as a condition of salvation ultimately establishes a burden greater than anyone can bear – because whatever logic leads to adding the something extra will require you to pile on more and more until few people, if any, can be saved.

This is exactly the experience of the 20th Century Churches of Christ. Early on, even before the Civil War, many argued that baptism strictly in accordance with Church of Christ teaching was essential for salvation.

Soon other requirements were added. To faith in Jesus must be added not only an impeccable baptism but also a cappella worship, objection to missionary societies, rejection of located preachers, rejection of fund raising by any means other than a free will offering, no use of the church treasury for unauthorized purposes, no having only one elder, no having elders with only one child or a deceased child, etc., etc., etc. And the number of saved people declined with each issue of each editor-bishop’s periodical.

Paul saw the danger with the eyes of prophecy. He wrote,

(Gal 5:13-15 ESV) For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

When we add to faith as a requirement of salvation, we soon find ourselves biting and consuming each other. Love is the first casualty of a “gospel” that finds faith in Jesus insufficient to save.

In short, there’s no error in saying that baptism is the moment when God saves in the ordinary case. I think that’s exactly the case. But if we insist that those improperly baptized are damned, then haven’t we treated baptism just like circumcision? How would we not be guilty of the Galatian heresy?


[1] Some have objected to this line of reasoning on the basis that there is no “only” in the Greek. However, alla may be translated “only” or “but” or, as in the ESV, “but only.” See, for example, Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians (Word Bible Commentary 41; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 229, translating alla as “only” in 5:6.

Paul has already declared that faith, through the Spirit, provides our hope of salvation (v. 5). And so it’s hard to translate v. 6 without an “only” because Paul’s point is that faith, expressing itself through love, is what “counts” or “avails” (KJV) in contrast to any other possibility. If something has to be added to faith for it to count, then faith doesn’t avail (that is, suffice or accomplish its intended result).

Hence, many translations use “only” or “but only,” including the ESV, NAB, NET, NIB, NIRV, NIV, NJB, NRS, and TNIV. The translation hardly reflects a Calvinist or Baptist bias when the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible adds the “only”!

The Louw-Nida Greek lexicon notes that alla is —

a marker of more emphatic contrast (as compared with de 89.124) – ‘but, instead, on the contrary.’

Bryan Findlayson notes in the technical notes to his “Lectionary Bible Studies” that the alla is adversative, that is, meaning “but only,” citing the highly respected Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.

The combination oute/alla is parallel to Galatians 1:12 —

(Gal 1:12 ESV) For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s point in 1:12, of course, is that the gospel he received came only from revelation and not some blend of human and divine sources.

This meaning is clear from the context as well. Suppose Paul meant —

(Gal 5:6 ESV) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but … faith working through love [as well as some other unspecified things].

If that’s a proper translation, how does Paul’s logic flow? It doesn’t. If Paul admits that justification may be found in something other than faith working through love, then circumcision might be one of the other things essential for justification. He’s not made his point unless he is saying that circumcision and uncircumcision both fail to be essential for salvation because neither is faith working through love.


[2] The KJV “avails” and ESV “counts for anything” translate the Greek ischuō, meaning “to be able to, to have the strength to, to be very capable of,” Louw-Nida.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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46 Responses to Born of Water: Is baptism a work?

  1. David Himes says:

    I have a favorite analogy I use in discussions about “baptism as a work.” It is Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon.

    Ford issued the pardon to Nixon, but the pardon was not effective until Nixon accepted it. He physically had to sign the document accepting the pardon.

    Was signing the pardon an “act” which entitled Nixon to the pardon? No, of course not. But in order for the pardon to take effect, Nixon had to accept it, by signing it.

    No analogy is perfect — but I like the parallel to baptism.

  2. Ray Downen says:

    James very clearly points out that faith ALONE is dead. I seem to hear in this essay a promise that salvation is based on faith ALONE. What is made clear in apostolic writing is that faith is essential for salvation. Not once in the many times where faith is spoken of as necessary is an “alone” added as Jay Guin feels free to add. Jay, aren’t you implying that salvation is based on faith alone?

    Jesus told an inquirer in private conversation that entry to His Kingdom would be by way of “new birth of water and spirit.” Should He have said it was by means of faith alone?

    When apostles were asked by seekers what they should do in order to be saved, their answer was not “Just believe.” In fact, they assumed the inquirers believed, for their answer picks up after believing in Jesus. The apostles invited seekers to TURN to Jesus as LORD and accept the baptism commanded by Him. They obviously thought more than faith was required for becoming a follower of Jesus.

  3. Price Futrell says:

    Great post !!!

  4. S.A. native says:

    The faith only people say, all you have to DO is believe.

    Similar to Brother Himes excellent analogy: If you were lucky enough to have my wife knit you a sweater and give it to you — a free gift — and even if you accepted the gift, it would not protect you from the cold unless you put it on.

    Galatians 3:27.

  5. Christopher says:

    Jay wrote:

    In short, there’s no error in saying that baptism is the moment when God saves in the ordinary case. I think that’s exactly the case. But if we insist that those improperly baptized are damned, then haven’t we treated baptism just like circumcision? How would we not be guilty of the Galatian heresy?

    I am not sure why an article on the question of baptism being a work concludes like this. There is, we are told, one Lord, one faith and one baptism. What do you mean by “improperly baptized”, Jay? Or an “impeccable baptism”? Do you mean sprinkling of water on an infant? Do you mean sprinkling of water on an adult? Do you mean baptism as a symbolic act?

  6. laymond says:

    Luke 6:46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

    (Salvation is dependent on faith alone. Faith is more than just saying I have faith in God. )

    Jas 1:6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
    Jas 1:7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
    Jas 1:8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

    Jas 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

  7. Dwight says:

    I hear about improper baptism, but this is only a human perspective, but in reality there is no such thing. The baptism of John wasn’t an improper baptism, even though it could not save and even though one who was baptized into John would have to be re-baptized into Christ.
    If there is improper baptism, there is also improper faith, but even faith is never talked about like that. You either have faith in Christ or you don’t, and if you have faith you act on that faith.
    Baptism is so fool proof, in water…out of water or covered in water by another. Immersed.
    Improper implies not going with the plan or directions and messing it up.
    I guess we could argue that Nadab and Abihu did an improper work, but this would have been led to by an improper faith. Cain did an improper sacrifice, but according to the NT Able had faith, while Cain did not.

  8. laymond says:

    Christopher asked ” What do you mean by “improperly baptized”, ? Let me tell a story my favorite elder told more than once , he was seventeen years old and going off to war (wwII ) his mother was crying and asked him to be baptized before he left, so he was baptized. he admitted he only did it to please his mother, to ease her mind. (that is a good thing but is not the reason for being baptized) He was baptized after the war.
    There are many reasons for “improper baptisms” being baptized to please your parents in just one.
    That is a reason I object to baptizing innocent children, for sins they don’t have. I believe it makes a mockery of the power of baptism.

  9. Dwight says:

    Laymond, So what you mean is that he had an improper faith, but the baptism was just a dip in water and wasn’t done improperly? This seems to be where your story is headed. He did it for the wrong reason, but it was still done in the right way. So his faith was the problem, not the baptism.

    This kind of goes back to I Cor.13 where Paul talks about love and although you might do good, but have not love, then it is unprofitable, but that still doesn’t mean you haven’t done good.
    “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” The argument is that good was still done and if benefited another, but the person doing the good was not benefitted. The good was not improper, but rather the faith or intent or reason.

  10. Jeff Richardson says:

    What is faith?. Hebrews 11;1 ” Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So true biblical faith has substance and it has evidence. Biblical faith is not blind, It is based upon the word of God. In Acts 8:12 “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.” We must conclude that baptism is essential and was part of the message by Philip, because they responded by being baptized. In Acts 13:46, Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, because you have rejected the word of God, you have judged yourselves unworthy of everlasting life. Philip was preaching faith in Christ in Acts 8. Those in Acts 2, gladly received Peters message. They trusted enough to ask “what must we do”? Believing that Jesus is the son of God, that alone is not faith. It’s nothing more than a simple acknowledgement, Satan believes as much. ” yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” Romans 6:17. So to have faith, you must respond to the message preached. Where there is a failure to respond there is no faith.

  11. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Jay wrote:

    Those with a Southern Baptist or Calvinist background often argue that baptism can’t be essential for salvation or else it would be a “work,” and Paul is very clear that it’s error – even damning error – to add a work to faith as a requirement for salvation. For example, in Gal 5, Paul writes,

    (Gal 5:2-4 ESV) Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

    In other words, Paul argues that if you insist on any element of the law as a condition of salvation, you must apply the entirety of the law.


    I think there is a lot more here that you could unpack and clarify. For example, WHY would Christ be of no advantage? WHY is one obligated to keep the whole Law? What does the mean in light of Christ and the Cross? What does Paul mean given the context? Important questions, all.

    Ironically, both Calvinists and COCs significantly abuse this passage (along with Eph 2:8-9). I have been in both groups, so I have a bit of a perspective. On the one hand, COCs love to speak about “works excluded” and “works included” in relation to these passages – all the while trusting in their ability to crack the Biblical code of knowledge and discern the DOs and DON’Ts better than anyone else.

    On the one hand hand, Calvinists err when they hyper focus on redefining all divine requirements as something other than “work” – as if their compliance with any one thing actually merits something. They are so fixated on disavowing works that they have reduced God’s commands to mere suggestions.

    Dunn has an interesting perspective on this passage, particularly v3:

    3 The point is so important that Paul reaches instinctively for even more formal legal terminology and repeats his plea—I testify again (repeating verse 2, not a warning given during his time in Galatia) to everyone who is being circumcised (Paul evidently feared a large-scale falling away, perhaps more or less all of his converts, and perhaps already happening), that he is obligated to do the whole law. The play on words between verses 2 and 3 should be noted: Christ will not benefit them (ōphēlesei ), but, instead, they will be in debt (opheiletēs) to the law.

    The force of Paul’s argument here is often confused. Very unlikely is the suggestion that the ‘agitators’ in Galatia contented themselves merely with requiring circumcision (Lagrange 136), or played down its consequences (Schlier 232), or said nothing of other law-keeping (e.g. Burton 274; Mussner 347–8)—a policy which would have been hardly thinkable for a covenantal nomistic mind-set (contrast Lietzmann 37—‘a few ritual observances’), and quite at odds with the typical Jewish understanding of circumcision as the first act of full covenant membership and obligation. For most Jews the proselyte’s act of circumcision naturally entailed also commitment to ‘judaize’, to adopt the Jewish way of life as a whole (as in Esther 8:17 LXX; Eusebius, Praep.Evang. ix.22.5; Josephus, Ant. xiii.257; see also on 2:3 and 6:13). For most too, a policy of ‘gradualism’ (Sanders, Law 29) would usually have worked up to circumcision as the most challenging demand (for a Greek) rather than taking it as a starting point.

    Nor is it likely that Paul reasoned as follows: (1) to accept circumcision, is (2) to accept the need to do the whole law, is (3) to assume that the whole law can be kept, is (4) to make acceptance by God dependent on keeping the whole law = legalism (see particularly Hübner 18–9, 36–9; ‘the bookkeeping God of legalism’—Burton 277). The reasoning starts well (cf. after all Rom. 2:25), but begins to veer off course at (3). No more than in 3:10 is there any implication here that the logic under attack assumed the possibility (or necessity) of keeping the law in a complete, that is, perfect sense (so rightly Sanders, Law 27–9; see on 3:10). The mistake, once again, has been to individualize the teaching, as though Paul had in mind simply a sequence of individuals confronting each other, Jews and Gentiles, without any sense of the corporate dimension of a tradition which saw salvation in terms of membership of a people.

    What is in view, rather, was the typical Jewish mind-set which understood ‘doing the law’ as the obligation of those within the covenant people, as that which marked out the covenant people, as the way to live within the covenant, (3:12—Lev. 18:5). ‘To do the whole law’ was ‘to abide by everything which has been written in the book of the law to do them’ (3:10—Deut. 27:26); that is, (in Paul’s perspective not least) to adopt a Jewish way of life through and through. In other words, ‘the Jewish way of life’ was a complete package (this is the force also of passages like Matt. 5:18–19, James 2:10 and m. Abot iv.2); though its integrated wholeness (‘works of the law’, covenantal nomism) could, as we have seen, be focused in a single issue like food laws (as in 2:11–14 and 4 Macc. 5:20–1). To confuse this with the striving of an individual for (in effect) an attainable sinless perfection is the very denigration of Judaism which has caused so much pain in Jewish and Christian attempts to understand each other (see e.g. those cited by Sanders, Paul 5–6 and Longenecker 227). No Jew that we know of thought of the Jewish way of life as a perfect life, that is, without any sin or failure. Rather, it was a total way of life which, through the cult, its sacrifices and atonement, provided a means of dealing with sin and failure. That, no doubt, is what Paul meant in Phil. 3:6 when he described his previous way of life ‘within Judaism’ as ‘without blemish’—without blemish, because all blemishes were covered by the offering of unblemished animals in sacrifice (see again on 3:10).

    It is this total way of life to which Paul refers here. He reminds his would-be Gentile judaizers that what was being demanded of them was not simply a matter of a single act of circumcision, but a whole way of life, a complete assimilation and absorption of any distinctively Gentile identity into the status of Jewish proselyte. He must have been aware that it was just this completeness of identification with God’s people Israel which no doubt was attractive to many of the Gentiles involved. But presumably he wanted them to be in no doubt that such a degree of assimilation allowed of no continuing residual Gentile identity, and that it made their previous commitment to Christ (in baptism) a pointless rite (5:4). He will also shortly make the point that once the focus of God’s promise is seen to have shifted from law to Christ, it will also be seen that ‘the whole law is fulfilled’ by loving one’s neighbour (see on 5:14), not by living as a Jew.

    Dunn, James D. G. The Epistle to the Galatians. London: Continuum, 1993. Print. Black’s New Testament Commentary.

  12. dwight says:

    Kevin, I believe this is true in regards to doing the law as an immersion in everything as a Jews concept. This wasn’t against doing the things of the Jews, but rather accepting the Jewish system as the way to God. After all Paul had Timothy circumcised and the apostles all still lived as Jews, they just didn’t rely on their Jewishness and the system to get them to heaven. There are sides where one side almost condemns works, but is eager to do them, then the other side who calls for them and doesn’t do much of them (coC). The irony of it is thick. The coC gets bogged down in the works aspects to the point of adding more works and making them points of division and not doing the primary works of giving to the needy, etc. A horrible example are the narrowing down of acts of worship, five of them, despite there not being a list and despite many of those acts not being really worship in nature and ignoring worship as a way of life.

  13. laymond says:

    Is baptism a work ? Is making love to your wife a work? Is it a work if it is done out of love and devotion. Maybe both are a work of love and desire.

  14. Jeff Richardson says:

    John 6:29 ” Jesus answered and said to them, “this is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” So to believe in Jesus Christ is a “work” of God. belief, repentance, confession and baptism are all works of God. Works that God requires man to follow in order to be in a covenant relationship with Him. These are “works” that are not devised by man, so we cannot boast in them. If we were to decide that faith only saves us, which by the way, “faith without works is dead” James 2:17 then that would be a “work” devised by man. As well as the sinners prayer, and asking Jesus into our hearts, both devised by man and they do indeed boast in them. “Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God” Rom 10:17. So when we fail to see the sinners prayer and faith only taught in scripture, by faith we cannot believe such, because we did not hear that in God’s word.

  15. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Jeff wrote:

    “Works that God requires man to follow in order to be in a covenant relationship with Him. These are “works” that are not devised by man, so we cannot boast in them.”

    I understand what you are saying, Jeff. I just think you are saying it poorly. The fact is, we can’t boast in any works, regardless of whether they are divinely implemented or devised by man. The presence of sin in our lives prohibits us from boasting about any works at all.

  16. Dwight says:

    Paul boasted of his works and efforts, but not unto salvation, but that they were productive towards Christ and God’s goal.
    John 6:29 ” Jesus answered and said to them, “this is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” So it appears that faith is the work of God, but it is also a work of man, but how can this be? The work if God is creating the situation where we can believe. When Jesus healed many he would often say, “your faith has made you whole” or something to that effect indicating that they had faith and it was active in healing them.
    The work of God is Jesus who we believe in.

  17. David says:

    Is baptism a work? I really apologize for this answer, but I think it is true and Biblical. It depends on what you mean by “is”. Peter said baptism is not the washing of dirt from the body. Was Peter correct? It depends on what he meant by “is”. Sorry (again). Of course, Peter meant that God saves us by baptism, but not because we have washed the dirt form our body. The act of baptism may be considered a work, but God doesn’t save us through baptism because we have done a work of law or work of righteousness, or an act of obedience, or demonstrated our faith. (They all mean about the same thing to me.) God saves us when we are baptized because we have faith.

    Years ago, I was puzzled that the Bible had not explained such a fine distinction as that expressed above. But actually it is such a familiar and common distinction that it needs no explaining. Does anyone need lessons on how a marriage ceremony puts one in a state of matrimony, but is not the reason for the marriage? Or how a graduation ceremony makes one a graduate, but is not the reason he receives his degree? Or how a coronation makes one a king, or an inauguration makes one a president, etc.?

  18. Dwight says:

    It took me awhile to come around to the concept that baptism is not a work, at least not a work we do while it is being done and if so then what is the work in question. Is it showing up for baptism or walking down into the water? Maybe. But once we do that we actually stop working. We allow another to take us in their arms and let us down and raise us up. IF this sounds familiar it is what happened to Jesus. Jesus was laid down by man and raised by God.
    But you are correct with your examples.
    I find when I think about “for the remission of your sins” as the reason to be baptized, I now believe that this that isn’t why they asked, but this is what they got. Put it this way, “Jesus came down and sacrificed himself because of God’s love for us” and we respond to this because we want to be saved? So God’s love for us is met with our desire for us? Or are they realizing that they cannot get to God due to the sins that are before them, meaning that they must get the sins out of the way so they can get to God. Yes, they are lost, but primarily they want to be with God. They aren’t meeting God’s love with selfishness, but are meeting God’s love for us with love for God.
    It now seems strange to me to answer God’s love with a reply of selfishness, unless the remission of sins isn’t about us, but about God. We in faith are baptized and then we get something that allows us to approach God, a cleansing. IT is more than just than just the remission of sins, but being delivered to God through the Son of God. So the people aren’t really asking how to be saved, but they are asking how can they approach God in “What must we do?”

  19. David says:

    That is a good point about those on Pentecost not asking how to be forgiven of their sins. They most likely were not personally responsible for killing the Messiah, but were good moral people who sincerely wanted to please God. They were probably asking how they as a nation could get on board with God in His new Kingdom.

  20. Dwight says:

    Personally I think their convition was because they understood that they had initially rejected God, in the forms of Jesus and thus were far from God. The argument of killing Jesus was probably hyperbole and meant to invoke a strong reaction.

  21. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    David and Dwight,

    Whether baptism is a work is nearly an irrelevant question. Paul’s logic is not that we aren’t saved by works. Rather, he argues that we’re saved by faith in Jesus, and so not by works (or anything else not faith). The fundamental teaching is salvation by faith, which Paul traces to the covenant with Abraham (we’ll get there in Rom 4).

    By ‘works’ Paul almost always means “works of the Torah.” And baptism is not a work of the Torah, not in the sense of something that is salvific or atoning. There were plenty of cleansings with water under the Torah. And none of that matters.

    Now, 20th Century Church of Christ rhetoric would argue that “faith” requires obedience and obedience requires baptism — and a cappella singing, and weekly communion, and and and and — which utterly destroys the point of salvation by faith.

    So, to me, the hard question isn’t whether baptism is a work. Don’t much care. But is baptism faith? And the argument made is that “We’re saved by faith.” “Baptism is essential to salvation.” Therefore, “baptism is a part of faith” — which is circular and badly contrary to the grammar and language of the Scriptures. “Faith” includes trust and faithfulness. It does not — grammatically — include baptism or else Abraham would have been baptized because he was saved by faith. And he wasn’t baptized.

    So a clear-headed understanding of covenant theology re-casts the question. Paul’s entire argument in Rom 3 – 4 is that we’re saved by faith thanks to God’s covenant with Abraham, and hence not by works of the Torah under the Law of Moses. You don’t have to become a Jew to be saved. You do have to have faith in Jesus.

    Hence, Paul doesn’t even mention water baptism until chapter 6, and even then, as illustrative of how to live as a Christian. But he doesn’t bring up baptism in his sections on atonement and covenant. Baptism doesn’t come up until he lays a foundation of faith based on Abraham’s covenant and God’s invitation to the Gentiles to enter the covenant community through FAITH in JESUS — Rom 3 – 5.

    So this leaves us wondering just what role baptism plays, but there’s no intelligent answer outside the Abrahamic covenant. I mean, if we refuse to think in Paul’s terms, we aren’t going to understand Paul. And Paul goes from the Creation to salvation by faith in Jesus in chapters 1 – 5 without one single mention of baptism. He will get to baptism, but it’s not as the fifth step in a Five-Step plan.

    I’ve not written the posts on chapter 6 yet, but I’m not planning on pretending that chapters 1 – 5 weren’t written.

    So it’s a difficult task, but you really have to ask where in Paul’s elaborate arguments in chapters 1 – 5 baptism fits. And in chapters 1 – 5 Paul never once says that “works are something that you do.” Rather, “works” is short for “works of the Torah” and hence an effort to argue that one must become a Jewish proselyte in order to be saved by faith in Jesus. And in that context, the Reformation era arguments about faith vs. works and baptism miss the point entirely.

    It’s simple. We just don’t like that it’s simple. Simply put: We Gentiles are saved by faith in Jesus — see all of Romans, esp. chapters 3-5 and 10. Given that this is unquestionably true, where does baptism fit? All proof texting that ignores the entire book of Romans is a waste of time and forces a difficult question that we Westerners struggle to deal with but which didn’t seem to be a hard question for the early Christians.

    I mean, if I were to stand in most CoC pulpits and preach Rom 1 – 5 and not once mention water baptism — just like Paul — I’d be declared a heretic. And that proves that our usual understanding is erroneous. When we can’t read and teach Paul as he wrote and thought without being thought heretics, something is deeply wrong with our own understanding.

  22. Dwight says:

    The reason baptism isn’t mentioned is that Paul is speaking to saints who are in Christ, so this isn’t a book of conversion, but of staying the course in Christ. I would however argue that baptism is faith, just all a Christian does should be faith. We were born in faith to live in faith. But as we are told, baptism is the “answer of a good conscious towards God”, born out of faith.

  23. Larry Cheek says:

    In light of this comment to Dwight and David, are you attempting to confirm that the church in Rome had members who were not baptized? If so can you identify which portions of the text leads you to believe that?
    Paul’s address to Rome.
    Rom 1:7 ESV To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
    Thinking in terms different than I have in the past. Is Paul really addressing the whole city of Rome rather than the church which is established there? If that was true then we could easily assume that there were persons in the city who had faith but were not baptized yet. But, would Christ consider them as being in him before baptism? In NT terms, OT is not applicable here, where do we ever see anyone being in Christ before being baptized into him? If we do then, baptizing them into Christ would be an oxymoron.
    In searching for a message as to the definition of “into Christ” from Gen-Rev. That phrase is only found in these verses, all written by, Paul.
    (Rom 6:3 ESV) Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
    (Gal 3:27 ESV) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
    (Eph 4:15 ESV) Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
    In two of these Paul added “baptized” in front of “in Christ” as the how to accomplish that fact.
    Have you found text that places a believer who has faith “into Christ”?

    You mentioned, “Abraham would have been baptized because he was saved by faith. And he wasn’t baptized.”
    Should we understand that “baptism” would have to be made retroactive back to the time of Abraham for it to be a valid for the duty God has designed it for in the New Covenant? Did God not make a New Covenant with the offspring of Abraham? I believe that you mentioned in some of the posts of the past that God really did not ask man to contribute input into the creation of his Covenants, he just dictated the demands or promises, based upon his own authority.

  24. Dwight says:

    Yes Jay I am a little confused at where you are trying to go.
    It is impossible to argue against works and to argue for faith being salvic, simply because “faith is a work” according to Gal.5:6, Col.2:12, 1 Thess.1:3 and 1 Thess.1:11 and James 2:24 “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”
    What I see is a pendulum argument to where we write off works involved, because faith is involved, even though faith must be produced by man towards God and is thus a work of man. Works doesn’t save, but faith leading to and confirmed by works do.
    We see over and over again how God required an action of faith, even when he knew they had faith. I believe in Gen.22:12 “for now I know that you fear God” is that while God knows we have faith, he wants to see faith in action or faith willed towards God. I mean everyone has faith, but the question is faith towards who and is it enough to propel us. God wants to see the will of man bent to His will by action. God always required proof of faith by man.
    Even during the time before Christ, works didn’t save. Faith towards God had to be the thing that moved man.
    In regards to baptism, we might be guilty of what we do now in transposing our expectations on the people of the early saints, by transposing what was expected of the saints who followed Jesus under His new testament on those who followed the Law.
    Correct me if I am wrong, but baptism wasn’t a requirement of the Law and in fact it wasn’t even a command that saved until Acts 2. All those in the Romans letter would have been in Christ through baptism. Those in Ephesus had to be re-baptized…into Christ.
    Covenants take two to exist and bond between cannot exist with only one side without another. Man and wife is a bond. The church, or people in Christ, and Christ is a bond. The bond doesn’t start at the unsaid/undeclared desire for the agreement, but at the acted/voiced desire for the agreement. “the answer of a good conscience towards God”

  25. David says:

    I think I understand what you have been saying about Romans. You and Wright seem to be correct that “works” in Romans mean works of the Torah, and that Paul is saying we are saved based on the covenant of faith God made with Abraham. However; as you have said, the teaching on faith/works is still there. The teaching is there also in Titus 3:5 where Paul said we are are not saved because of works of righteousness we have done. “Works of righteousness” could be a reference to works of the Torah, but the only direct reference, in all the letter, to the Torah, is where Paul says to avoid foolish arguments based on the law.

    The teaching on faith/works is also in I Timothy 1: 19 where Paul reminds Timothy that we are not saved because of/according to works/anything we have done. I would find it hard to limit “anything we have done” to works of the Torah.

    So it seems to me that “works” in Romans would be a general reference to works as well as works of the Torah. My comments on baptism are mainly based on Titus 3:5 and I Tim 1:19 where the phrase “because of” is used. Baptism saves us, but not because we have done a work commanded by God. As A Campbell said, baptism is “instrumental”, meaning the act accomplishes salvation, but is not the cause of salvation. Sort of like a chain saw cuts down a tree, but is not the reason the tree is cut down.

  26. Monty says:

    Paul was writing a letter. As in any letter especially one where the writer is teaching doctrine to a group of believers he builds his case slowly and methodically. To study a letter one chapter at a time IMHO isn’t the best way to study a letter. You end up forming conclusions based only on the chapters you’ve already studied sometimes without looking to later chapters. IMHO when Paul gets to chapter 6 he’s simply building on what he has previously written. In chapter 5 he talks about how in Adam “all die” and “in Christ” (all) live, then that IMHO naturally flows to the nuts and bolts of how men are made alive in Christ , by faith to be sure, but it is faith expressing itself in this act of devotion to Christ where the old man dies and the new man “in Christ emerges” or better yet has emerged(speaking in the past tense to believers who have devoted themselves to Christ in their past baptism). Who are they that have been “made alive” in Christ? (All) Paul says who have been baptized into him.He certainly isn’t teaching a formula but discussing the natural progression of faith and it’s affect on the believer. Faith in Christ naturally flows to being baptized into him. Only in our world today(modern church) is this natural progression(that is generally swiftly enacted in scripture) dammed up and delayed, or sometimes not enacted at all.

    Christianity is a covenant based in faith. Not works(becoming a Jew and obeying the Torah). Paul after having denounced having to become a Jew in order to become a Christian in Galatians 3:26,states,”So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith (how so Paul?) for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Then vs. 29 “If you belong to Christ(how so Paul? faith only? faith that expresses itself in the devoting of self to Christ in baptism in order to put on Christ?) then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

    Baptism is not commitment to a legal system,( 5 step plan, plurality of elders, a capella singing, or even anything to do with the Torah), but is an act of devotion(a commitment) to the person of Jesus, by one who believes that Jesus has the power to save. It is not a hollow act that is only symbolic in meaning. It has substance, (a clothing oneself in Christ, a dead man being buried and a new man(in Christ) who arises. It has absolutely no meaning apart from the person being baptized’s faith in Jesus to forgive his sins. A life that trust in Jesus’ power to save and to wash him clean in the act.

  27. Dwight says:

    I too am resistant to tying every instance of the word “work” being used to the Torah, even though I am sure it largely was. The fact is that many Christians who were of Jewish heritage might have been under the impression that works save within the Christian context as well. Paul had to drive the people back to God’s grace in any and all accounts. Even those coming from the gentiles side probably had a task orientation thinking in that the deities they used to worship were supposed to be appeased by doing things for them.
    The fact though is that while works can’t save us, faith and works can justify us before God while under grace. The truth is that we will never be perfect, but are still asked to reach for perfection. We are asked to “be Holy”, which doesn’t come without effort, the effort should give way to naturalness the more we live in the Spirit under the Spirit. A Godly tree bears Godly fruit and is rewarded and is not cut up and cast away like a tree that bears nothing is.

    And Monty makes a valid point. There is what I call a “progression of thought” in Paul’s letter in that he builds on grace and faith towards response, making those that have been saved to recall why and what they went through to be there. In fact in his Corinthian letters they have a theme of love and unity in Christ running through them. In the case of Romans he is driving them towards the ultimate thought that they are saved in Jesus by being faithful.

    “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began 26 but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith— 27 to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.”

    All covenants were based in and on faith and a promise. When God made the covenant with Abraham, Abraham had to have faith in God, at least for the short term, but there has to be an initial faith in it. Covenants, like the one God made with Abraham, are not based upon works that haven’t happened yet, but faith. Now a lack of action, like what the Israelites did in turning to idols, can break the covenant and did. They stopped worshipping God as the one true God.

  28. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight wrote,

    The reason baptism isn’t mentioned is that Paul is speaking to saints who are in Christ, so this isn’t a book of conversion, but of staying the course in Christ. I would however argue that baptism is faith, just all a Christian does should be faith. We were born in faith to live in faith. But as we are told, baptism is the “answer of a good conscious towards God”, born out of faith.

    It’s true that Romans is written to Christians, but Paul is discussing how the lost are saved to build a foundation for understanding how Jews and Gentiles are to relate to each other in the Kingdom. I mean, the epistle speaks over and over about how someone is saved — even though written to saved people — because how we’re saved affects how we are to treat each other.

    And Romans does, of course, speak about baptism — but not until chapter 6 because the meaning of our baptism affects how we are to live as Christians. But Paul most certainly does not present baptism in chapter 6 as the fifth of 5 steps of salvation. In fact, he simply assumes that his audience has been baptized and he reminds them of the meaning of the rite. It’s considered something on which theological conclusions may be built rather than something that has to be defended. But then, the controversy over the meaning of baptism was 1500 years in the future.

    But the notion that Paul uses “faith” to include baptism is plainly untrue. Just go through the book and substitute “faith including baptism” everywhere “faith” is used. It will often clearly not work — such as in chapter four’s discussion of Abraham’s faith — which Paul says is the same faith that saves Christians today. Abraham was not baptized — and so therefore “faith” does not include “baptism.”

    In fairness to the readers, we’ve not yet covered chapter 4, much less chapter 6. Nonetheless, “faith” in Paul’s writings, esp. Gal and Rom, is built on the Abrahamic covenant of counting faith as righteousness. Take that argument out of Romans and the whole book collapses, as you’ll see when we get there.

    We are going to have to find another solution to the problem.

  29. David says:


    Your statement that a godly tree bears godly fruit is indeed true. I think this is relevant to the works/baptism controversy. When is the tree expected to began bearing fruit? Some people in Churches of Christ seem to be confused about this, suggesting that a tree must bear fruit in order to be planted in God’s orchard, that is he must demonstrate that he has faith by being baptized before he can be placed in the Kingdom. I think that completely misses the point of baptism. We are, rather, planted in the Kingdom by baptism so that we will bear fruit. Paul said,”Being made free from sin you became servants of righteousness” Rom 6:18. Some turn that around to say,” On becoming a servant of righteousness, you were freed from sin.

  30. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Larry asked,

    In light of this comment to Dwight and David, are you attempting to confirm that the church in Rome had members who were not baptized? If so can you identify which portions of the text leads you to believe that?

    I’m pretty sure that I said no such thing. What I did attempt to do is insist that we speak of baptism in terms that don’t flatly contradict Romans and Galatians. And that’s not easy. Nonetheless, we can’t distort the NT just to fit our preferred way of teaching salvation.

    The problem confronted in the Churches of Christ is that we are hard-wired to assume that either baptism is meaningless or else so essential that those who make any error in baptismal practice are damned. That is, we INSIST on the FALSE DICHOTOMY of either 20th Century Church of Christ baptismal theology taken from the works of Austin McGary (founder of the Firm Foundation and splitter of countless churches) or the Southern Baptist “Sinner’s Prayer” position (which many Baptists are seriously questioning). To us, it’s one or the other and no other possibilities are even imaginable.

    And yet it’s just a plain, bald, irrefutable fact that the Bible teaches that salvation is not only by faith but by faith because Abraham was saved by faith — and Abraham was not baptized. So Romans contradicts the Austin McGary position. But it also contradicts the Southern Baptist Sinner’s Prayer position. So BOTH ARE WRONG.

    But we really have to get to Rom 4 before we get to Rom 6. Paul seems to have thought so. So I’m laying off baptism as a topic until we get to chapter 6.

    If your questions aren’t answered when we get to chapter 4, remind me and I’ll come back to them.

  31. Dwight says:

    Jay, I’m not sure your statement “And yet it’s just a plain, bald, irrefutable fact that the Bible teaches that salvation is not only by faith but by faith because Abraham was saved by faith — and Abraham was not baptized.” this is the thought behind Romans “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.”
    First of all faith is a work as numerous scriptures tell us, so we cannot escape that.
    Second, faith is a behind the scenes thing, in other words Abraham probably didn’t think about his level of faith, he only thought in terms of worship and following God. Faith is showed in and by what we do towards God. Abraham, in his faith, wasn’t concerned about his faith or works, but rather pleasing God.
    I believe this is where in the coC we go wrong. We are concerned about what we must do to be saved, not what we do towards God in worship. We think if we don’t or do this we will be saved, instead of pleasing God. It is then self centered. Even faith is self centered if we focus on growing our faith instead of growing in God. We become salvation centered and not God centered.
    Third, “it was accounted to him for righteousness”, so God declared Abraham righteous due to his faith which was showed how…by him doing Godly things, thus James 2:21.
    Fourth, James 2:21 and Rom.4:2 cannot oppose one another, so we must not be thinking of faith and works right. Abraham must have been justified by the faith that worked and the works showed his faith. Abraham thus didn’t simply follow a step, but followed God. Faith is also trust in its truest sense. Abraham believed God to be true. He didn’t worship salvation, he worshipped God.
    Five, Abraham didn’t boast in what he did, he boasted in God’s deliverance. “walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.” Abraham didn’t walk in the steps of work, but of faith in God. Circumcision didn’t change his faith, but became an answer of his faith.
    Baptism is the answer of our faith.

    I believe we are just as guilty of separating God out of faith as we do Jesus out of baptism.
    Baptism doesn’t save, Jesus does, because Jesus is grace and when we meet Jesus we meet grace. We cannot meet grace, because grace is just a thing.
    So works and faith doesn’t save, God does. We cannot depend upon those two items together or apart to save us, we have to depend on God to save us and then this is faith and we will work.
    We can become guilty of isolating faith out of God and placing it on the same level as works and thus striving for faith instead of God.
    This was the beauty of David…David worshipped and sought God and the things of God and in doing this he had faith and did great works.
    This I think is how we miss identify Acts 2:38 in that we say they said, “What must we do…to be saved?” as I think they were probably saying instead “What must we be with God?”
    Sin hadn’t separated them from salvation, but from God.

  32. Larry Cheek says:

    As you mention, “We are going to have to find another solution to the problem.” The problem is that you are using the text as if it is written as stepping elements, exactly like your example of the five steps to salvation. Where as Paul is painting a picture a portion at a time and cannot fill in all the elements as the object is being constructed. In fact all scripture uses this same concept. Doubt that, as an exercise for proof, attempt to create a timeline through the Gospels, keeping all events in perfect chronology. I tried, and believe that it is impossible. You constantly refer to the fact that Paul did not bring up baptism until chapter 6 as an example of what, chronology? Yet, you have readily admitted that all whom he was writing to had already been baptized. Notice, each of these verses are written with reference to a past tense event, Paul is verifying that all whom he is speaking to have already subjected themselves to the action which he is describing. This is not teaching them how to evangelize to the lost, all here are saved and had been baptized and were baptized before he started his letter. In the first 5 chapters he is explaining concepts and attitudes which are required to be acceptable to validate that baptism can do what Jesus placed it here to fulfill.. Remember, Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, and our obedience to this fulfills all righteousness within the act of our baptism also.
    Rom 6:3 ESV Do you not know that all of us who HAVE BEEN baptized into Christ Jesus WERE baptized into his death?
    Rom 6:4 ESV 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.
    Rom 6:5 ESV 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.
    Rom 6:8 ESV Now if we HAVE died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
    Rom 6:11 ESV So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
    Rom 6:17 ESV But thanks be to God, that you who WERE once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you WERE committed,
    Rom 6:18 ESV and, HAVING been set free from sin, HAVE become slaves of righteousness.
    Rom 6:20 ESV For when you WERE slaves of sin, you WERE free in regard to righteousness.
    Rom 6:22 ESV But now that you HAVE BEEN set free from sin and HAVE BECOME slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

  33. JohnF says:

    We often become “immersed” in problems that seemingly have no answer. After all, Everett Ferguson has a 1000 page book on baptism (have not read it). Consider a couple of possible parallels: the Israelite’s were told to put the blood of the lamb above the lintel to save from the death angel. Who saved? God They were told to be saved by walking through the Red Sea. Who saved? God. To reach the “promised land” they were told to walk through the desert. Who saved? God. Could the Israelite’s be saved without the placing of the blood or the walking? No. We are told (in no uncertain terms) to submit to baptism. Who saves? God. Is /was there anything meritorious in the placing of the blood or the walking or the baptism? No. Was the placing of the blood or the walking an “outward sign” of what had already been accomplished? No, and this is where our Baptist friends “outward sign of an inward grace” fails the test.

    By the way, Everett’s wife Nancy said that Everett has written four books even Everett cannot read — four volumes have been translated into Chinese. 🙂

  34. Dwight says:

    JF, While agree with “Was the placing of the blood or the walking an “outward sign” of what had already been accomplished? No, and this is where our Baptist friends “outward sign of an inward grace” fails the test.”. Baptism is the “answer of a good conscience towards God”, not a sign of it.

    However this doesn’t mean that they weren’t saved just the same if they believed they were ultimately saved by Jesus, just the same as many in the coC believe that baptism saves.
    In other words salvation is done by God to us, so if we believe and are baptized into Jesus, then it doesn’t really matter at what point we think we are saved, because we do not determine our salvation by what we do, but rather who we follow.

    Sometimes we confuse wrong thinking with being wrong or sinful. Many thought that God or Jesus was going to be coming back within their lifetime, but this didn’t happen, but this thinking didn’t make a large swath of believers sinful, just wrong in placement of time and happenings. We all make “theological mistakes”, but it is the other persons feet we want held to the fire.

    I believe David is right when he says, “Baptism saves us, but not because we have done a work commanded by God. As A Campbell said, baptism is “instrumental”, meaning the act accomplishes salvation, but is not the cause of salvation. Sort of like a chain saw cuts down a tree, but is not the reason the tree is cut down.”
    Many look at baptism as the savior, instead of Jesus. Jesus is the reason we are saved, baptism gets us to Jesus, thus the savior. Many on both sides of the aisle are subverting the point of faith and baptism by making it not about Jesus, but salvation.

  35. JohnF says:

    Follow up: Would the Israelite’s have been saved from the death angel if they had not marked the lintel of the door? Would they have been saved if they had not walked through the water?
    Were they “already saved” before the blood was placed on the door? Were they already saved before they walked through the water? Would they have been saved if they had refused to place the blood on the door? Would they have been saved if they had not walked through the water? The answers and parallelisms should be obvious enough.

  36. JohnF says:

    Also a quick comment on “Second, baptism is a gift received, not a work done. It’s always spoken of in the passive voice in the NT.” In Greek there is no difference in form between middle and passive — context rules. The middle voice considers “participation” in the action, it does not consider whether the action is always voluntary, but rather the middle voice denotes that
    the subject is in some special manner involved or interested in the action of the verb. (Gildersleeve, Greek Syntax, 1:64.)

    Seen in this light, baptism may have the idea of the middle voice, as we are certainly involved and interested in the action (more so certainly than an infant being circumcised. The same consideration may be inherent in the “moikatai” of divorce.

  37. Dwight says:

    JF, you said, ” Would the Israelite’s have been saved from the death angel if they had not marked the lintel of the door? Would they have been saved if they had not walked through the water?
    Were they “already saved” before the blood was placed on the door?”

    I think the moment we ask these questions is the moment we detract from God doing the saving.
    This back and forth of when salvation occurs is a debate fodder and not real life. I doubt they asked these kind of question when they were concerned about not dying in Egypt.

    The truth is that whether they didn’t understand what was going on and when the angel of death would fly by, they did understand enough to put blood on the door.
    Now let’s think about this.
    It is entirely possible that they thought as they placed the blood on the door that they were saved and yet the angel of death had yet to appear. And it is possible that some thought that they were saved after the angel of death flew by as they were still living. Both thoughts would be true.
    God gave the Israelites Canaan even before they actually were in Canaan.

    I go back to the “Scalpel or Forceps?” thinking in which we argue over the instruments and don’t focus on the surgeon. We wouldn’t do this in real life, but we do it with the scriptures.
    So if they placed their faith on the blood on the door, they were inherently wrong, because it was God who told them to do it and it was God who saved them.
    And yet they would have been saved none-the-less if they did it. I doubt the Jews questioned what did the saving, after all the Passover feast was to focus on who.

    I would agree with your second point in that we should be totally vested in the baptism enough to do it and be baptized, even though we are being let down and raised by others. “I’m not sure baptism is a gift received, Jesus and grace is a gift, baptism is an avenue to receive the gift.

  38. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I’m stepping away from the baptism topic until we get to Romans 6 — by which time we’ll have covered Romans 3 – 5 as well.

    But I repeat: I do not agree with the Baptist/Zwinglian position that baptism is mere symbol or mere obedience to an ordinance. Nor do I condone the Sinner’s Prayer. That is, I believe Paul means exactly what he says in Rom 6 but also in Rom 1 – 5. And if that seems contradictory, then the fault is ours, not Paul’s. We don’t fix Paul by just deciding to let Rom 6 override the rest of the book. If Paul says we’re saved by faith in Jesus, then so it is. And if we’re baptized into the death of Jesus, then so we are. Both are true.

    The work of the serious Bible student is not to pick but to understand. And I’ll address my efforts in that direction when we get to c. 6.

  39. Monty says:

    At the end of the day, after everything concerning baptism has been talked to death, the question that should simplify matters is this: is baptism something a saved person is supposed to do at some point post new birth experience or is baptism something a lost person does because of faith in Jesus as Messiah as part of the new birth experience? Is it because of salvation(looking backwards) or is it looking (towards) salvation, with salvation in view. We read is scripture that when people were taught about Jesus and the cross that they were immediately baptized(if water was present) if they believed the message. It was never purposely delayed(as is often is the case in modern church).

    In Acts 10 we have the case of Cornelius and his family who heard the message of Peter(not everything he planned to say-but enough to believe Jesus as Messiah and well before Peter could issue the command to be baptized) the Holy Spirit comes and fills these believers. The Holy Spirit fell on them as Peter’s last words were “all the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins (through his name). The Jewish brethren with Peter were astonished that the Holy Spirit had come on these Gentiles. The sign was they heard them speaking in tongues. What was Peter’s immediate response in that moment? “Surely. no one can stand in the way of their being baptized in water. They have received the Spirit just as we have.”

    IMO that is a strange statement for Peter to make at such a fantastic moment if…if baptism is some mere formality that can be accomplished at a believers convenience-later on. So he “ordered” that they be baptized. Older versions say he “commanded” them to be baptized. Did they have a choice? Well yes and no. For the believer no, for the unbeliever or those not thoroughly convinced then yes. That was not the case with Cornelius. Peter didn’t need to know if they believed on Jesus for the Holy Spirit would never have fallen on them if they hadn’t. So, what was left? Obviously in Peter’s mind, the act of baptism into (the name). Vs 43 and vs 48 seem to be tied together. “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through (his name).” “So he ordered that they be baptized in (the name) of Jesus. As awesome as the Holy Spirit coming upon these new believers was, Peter’s first thought upon witnessing such a great spectacle was ” we have to baptize these Gentiles, now, right now. There was no reason to debate the issue concerning baptism of Gentiles into the assembly for the Holy Spirit proved they were accepted believers. The Holy Spirit proved God’s acceptance of Gentile believers into the family of faith. That was Peter’s point “Surely no man can stand in the way of their being baptized.” Whatever debates those that came with Peter to the house of Cornelius may have had about baptism of Gentiles into the community of faith were headed off by the Holy Spirit in a decisive way. God had forced their hand in the matter. If the Holy Spirit had accepted Gentile believers then who were they to reject them?

    We can forever debate the exact moment of salvation for believers and the what ifs if baptism isn’t accomplished, but what seems obviously apparent in scripture is faith in Jesus leads one to be baptized into the name of Jesus” – ASAP. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Can you even be a disciple(at least one taught properly) and not be baptized? Most modern churches say yes. Scripture seems to say otherwise.

  40. Dwight says:

    Monty, I think you have the right of it. A lot of this has to with debating and separating along defining points, instead of just accepting and doing. An interesting thing about Romans is that Paul is writing to the Romans post conversion and baptism in order to tell them the depth of their deliverance by God through their faith so as to discourage them from moving towards the OT law as a savior. I would guess that not all churches got the letter to the Romans and so as long as they stayed in Christ, they were saved. They didn’t really have to know about the mechanics of their faith, they just had to live in Christ.
    It is good to be aware of something, but sometimes when we focus on the awareness we lose sight of the goal that the awareness is pointing to.
    It is rather easy…those that had faith in Christ repented and were baptized into Christ and then they were supposed to live in Christ in faith and often times more repentance.
    I don’t think they had a sense of the moment of salvation, but were looking forward to receiving the prize of heaven and God.

  41. Alabama John says:

    We have only had the English version (KJV) of the bible since 1611. Only 400 years and most Christians didn’t have one for most of that time and most couldn’t read it if they had access to one. For most of those 400 years. and during those early days of the reformation from the Catholic church, mainly four different beliefs emerged.
    Why did I post this? One of the four was the Baptist, so folks have been teaching, believing, debating baptism ever since in so many ways, and positions, that are believed to be acceptable to God. Main one was person kneeling with water poured over the head. Water on the head in many different ways has always been the popular majority. Putting completely under in water was in the minority and still is worldwide. Don’t know of anything more debated by Christians. This too will continue.

  42. Dwight says:

    AJ, I think is where we often part ways with a biblical understanding vs our understanding of a term that was used in the biblical days.
    Immersion- dipped under! Surely we must know what it means.
    And yet if we look at the examples of immersion i.e. baptism, we find that the Israelites were immersed in water as they crossed the Red Sea, that Noah was immersed in water during the flood, that we are immersed in Jesus burial of which he didn’t go under ground but was placed into a cave.
    The impetus of immersion was surrounded by in some way and if the case of the Israelites and Noah was true, then they didn’t have to be completely surrounded or dipped into.
    The concept of cleansing could involve dipping or the washing over to the Jews, but the purpose was to cleanse.
    Now I admit that they did go down into the water, but this doesn’t mean that everyone went under the water and there doesn’t appear to be a clear command in instructions for how to do baptism.
    The point was washed away…purification.
    So my point is that this should not be made a point of division. We don’t need to quibble over things that we don’t even understand completely and have no clear instruction.

  43. Alabama John says:

    Dwight, this and so many more things are made points of division and also of salvation. This is wrong in my eyes. WE need to raise our heads and look upward more and pay far more attention to the words of the songs we sing. Old Church of Christ song book “Songs of Praise” page 288 by Annie hawks is a good place to start.
    How the debating and condemning one another went on in the 1600’s but I bet we beat them at it in the 1940-50’s in our debates.
    Many prayers are going up for us to try our hardest to get closer to God and bring others to do the same and less on winning a debate.

  44. Monty says:


    I’m not anyone’s judge. Especially folks that had no access to scripture and were taught what to believe. I’m thankful we have scripture today that we often take for granted. I’m fine with whoever God accepts, baptized, not baptized, dunked or sprinkled. But if we are trying to understand what scripture teaches us then the mistakes of the past really have no bearing on our discerning the word today. In other words, if I believe scripture teaches baptism is a total submersion of the person then what the masses were taught 300-1500 years ago (if all were sprinkled) doesn’t change anything. Right now I will keep teaching and practicing baptism as immersion and with a view towards forgiveness, not because one is already saved. However, I won’t write other believers off who see it differently. We believe in the same God, worship the same Savior, teach salvation through faith and generally speaking most groups baptize believers. God is King and what he accepts his servant gladly accepts.

  45. Alabama John says:


    Great attitude to move forward toward God with. I appreciate you and your post.
    That thinking will cause you not to be surprised by all the souls you will see when you get to heaven.
    You remind me of Hebrews 4:16
    Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

  46. Dwight says:

    Monty, I think this is a good approach, but this isn’t conservative coC thinking.
    What I find sad is in the coC when it comes to something like the Lord’s Supper we read how they did it in its purest form (eating around a table, with cups in a supper setting), then we see how we do it and we see it is notably different and our argument is that it doesn’t have to be exactly the same as longs as the goal and spirit is the same.
    But then we get to things like baptism where we have no clear command or example of what they did except it involved going down into water and we press a certain way of going completely under as the only way to do it.
    We don’t apply our own rules equally to ourselves like we do others.
    This means that if we are in an area that is scarce on water that we must deny entry into heaven until we collect enough water into an area so as to immerse. Pouring water over a person in an act of cleansing surely can’t save any one. We kind of forget what water does and the practical application of it in our life. We ordinarily allow water to run over our hands when we wash them and don’t have to immerse under.
    True the form of going down and coming up does seem more like being buried and raised, but then again we don’t hold people under for three days either, or at least we shouldn’t.

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