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Is Baptism Always the Right Argument?

We should want desperately to reach the lost for Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). Laying out the truth of salvation, we face ridicule and, at times, open hostility. The pervasive division in the religious world creates endless complications.

In matters of the gospel, this is also true. We must find a way to convince more people that Scripture is clear in its plan of salvation.

Salvation comes by grace because we cannot merit salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 5). We show from God’s Word that we must have faith that Christ is the Savior and Son of God (Hebrews 11:6). Having done so, we repent of our sins (Luke 13:3-5) and confess Jesus as the new Lord of our lives (Matthew 10:32).

Having submitted to Christ, we come and have our sins washed in the blood of Christ through the waters of baptism (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21).

With the mention of these clear passages comes the aforementioned ridicule and hostility. The argument that these teachings violate grace and constitute salvation by works quickly spills out of their mouths. They are wrong, however.

Experience and meditation lead us to wonder if baptism is the right point to begin the debate. We hasten to add that baptism for the remission of sins is true and should be taught vigorously. Instead, we may need to stop and realize that their stubborn attitudes on baptism are not because they refuse to hear or that they hate baptism.

In truth, almost every religious group teaches baptism in some form or another. However, they teach it erroneously because they have problems before they reach baptism.

Teaching the lost, the gospel must affect them at the point of their misunderstanding. Otherwise, it is just an academic argument. We must be wise and see the source of contention so we can reach their souls with the good news.

If the student perceives baptism as a violation of grace and constitutes salvation by works then we need to back up and address their misunderstanding. The debates that have occurred through the years on baptism have been useful, but thousands have left unimpressed. If we can help them see the truth on grace and works then we can possibly reach more souls for Christ.

Baptism for the remission of sins and the impossibility of salvation by meritorious works are both Scriptural doctrines. We must study to see how they coexist.

Meritorious works cannot save us (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet, Ephesians 2:10 teaches that good works must be existent in our lives if we wish to be saved. These works glorify God rather than force God to act on our part (Ephesians 3:20-21).

The process of being born again through water and the Spirit occurs because we have submitted ourselves completely to Christ (John 3:3-5; James 4:10). Christ’s blood saves us through the cleansing waters of baptism.

We do not force God because he owes us anything or because we have lived perfectly enough, because neither is possible. He cleanses our sins so we can enter his kingdom and become tools to glorify him through good works (Acts 2:47). It is all about Christ, not man’s goodness.

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Richard lives in Florence, Alabama and is married to Deirdre. They have three daughters. He is an avid reader, devoted writer and lover of history and research. He is the author of "The Most Important Question" and is working on more books.

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5 thoughts on “Is Baptism Always the Right Argument?

  1. In my opinion your article hits the bullseye. Excellent analysis.
    As to your final question, I anticipate that you already have planned a follow up article. I would suggest, as I’ve written elsewhere, that what is needed is to reclaim what the Bible means by justified by faith.

  2. Where one begins a Bible study with a person is always a question. For 30 years I have used a list of questions that I developed. The first session with the person is not with a Bible, but with the questions. This is so I know what the person believes about God, religion generally, the Bible. Included are questions about whether they believe they are saved, when how, why, etc and if baptism how and why. About 10 years ago, I asked a man (about 30) to study, but I would be gone for two months, so asked the preacher if he would conduct the study. We were together jointly when I asked the questions over a 45 minute period. When we left, the preacher remarked that he never believed that people had such far out views of God.
    In debates we define terms, each word of the proposition to ensure we have a common understanding of what is to be debated. Yet when we study with people, we sadly assume that everybody thinks as I do. Usually I do not mention baptism until the person wants to become a Christian. My intent is to teach so the person develops a faith in Jesus that causes the response (Acts 2:37).
    The idea of asking questions occurred over 30 years ago when a man came into our worship services two Sundays in a row, then responded to the invitation and was baptized. The preacher asked me to have weekly studies with him. After about six weeks or so, I concluded that he did not respond to the gospel call in his baptism. Even though he confessed Jesus as the Son of God, that is not why he was baptized. He had used LSD years before and had occasional flashbacks. He thought there was magic in the water that would cure him.
    After a couple weeks of teaching some teens in Russia, one young man said he wanted to be baptized ( I had not mentioned baptism til that time). I asked him why. He stood up and motioned with his arms from above his head to the floor and said “Because it will put a shell around me and protect me from the dark spirits.”
    On another occasion, I pleaded with a campaign to ask these questions and another set if the person decided to become a Christian. One guy said he had been preaching for 50 years and never heard of such. A few days later he and another man were going to baptize about 15 teens. I went to where the baptisms were to be done and arrived just as he was about to baptize the first person, about 16 years old. I inquired if he asked the questions. He said no and that he had taught him himself. So I pleaded to ask just one question. “Why are you being baptized? The fellow said he did not know. So these men questioned all of the teens and baptized only one.
    In the last 20 years I have baptized several , who were baptized years earlier and realized that they had done so for the wrong reason or did not respond with the attitude of repentance.
    When I baptize someone, I clarify that if they are submitting to baptism for any other reason than submitting to Jesus to become a Christian, forgiveness of sins, etc that they baptism has no meaning and is not acceptable to God.
    As those who teach the gospel, it is incumbent upon each of us that we are prepared. Part of that preparation is to know where the prospect is their spiritual thinking. I do not want to be part of a person thinking they are saved when in fact they are not.
    To show how sloppy we are in our teaching, I passed out a survey about faith to a congregation in preparation to preach on faith that evening. Fully 80 percent could not explain faith, although they could quote Hebrews 11:1, thsey could not explain it. This was an old, supposedly strong congregation. Of course I woul dnot challenge whetehr they had faith, but only they could not tell someone else what it is.
    Perhaps these experiences help expose some of the depth of James 3:1-2 “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many things….”

  3. Bro. Richard, baptism is the evidence of salvation, but not the means. Otherwise you’ve made it meritorious and by works instead of by grace.

  4. Cole, I’m not sure what you mean. Sorry.
    I did write in this article,
    “Salvation comes by grace because we cannot merit salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 5).”
    And on 8/21/07 I wrote,
    “Jesus built his church (Matthew 16:18). Entering this church requires a new birth through water and the spirit (John 3:5). In Acts, the apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, proclaim that we must have our sins remitted in the waters of baptism, so we can be added to the church (Acts 2:37-47). Later, Paul wrote that salvation occurs because of the grace of God, but he washes our sins away in baptism (Ephesians 2:8-9; cf. Acts 22:16).”
    Do you agree or disagree with these statements?

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