When it comes to the subject of faith driven water baptism and its role in God’s redemptive plan, a bible verse is often quoted to suggest it plays no role in salvation. That text is Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” I find great comfort in these two verses, for it reveals that my hope rests securely in that amazing gift given to sinful man which is Jesus Christ. The use of these verses to suggest the idea that water baptism is not a necessary act of faith in God’s redemptive plan centers around the words “not of works.” Although this is not the text I wish to focus on today, it does bring forth a question I wish to consider. What is meant by works? Some understand it to mean it as a “work of merit.” Thus, because one is baptized God is obligated to save. As though somehow through the obedient act, one earns their salvation. It then becomes imperative to answer this question, “Is the act of water baptism a work of merit or an act of faith?”
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized
in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins… (Acts 2:38)
So many questions, I can understand the turmoil in all this. So, let’s re-frame these questions with one more question, “How Lord, because of Your wonderful gift of grace found in Jesus Christ, do I respond to Your invitation to save me?” Once again, as I was watching the TV this past week, another Franklin Graham advertisement came on encouraging people to place their trust in Jesus. In that ad, the need for repentance; that is, the necessary change of mind and direction, away from sin, was stressed and the fact that God will help one accomplish it. We can’t get around it, when it comes to salvation there is some level of involvement we contribute. But does obedience, also known as an act of faith, necessitate merit? Was it grace that healed the blind man in John 9:7, or was it that he listened to Jesus by going to wash in the pool of Siloam? Prior to Jesus healing the man with the withered hand in Luke 6, He invited the man to “Arise and stand here” (Luke 6:8). What healed him? What caused the walls to fall in Jericho? What caused God’s people to win the battle in Exodus 17:8-16? Was it because the rod remained lifted or because God brought them victory? Over and over again, faith is seen not merely a conviction, but a thought that is accompanied by an action that places confidence in God’s promise.
So, where does this bring us? It is the words all those who believe in Christ want to be confident in; that is, the remission (i.e., forgiveness) of sins. Salvation! Peter invitation to the crowd on Pentecost was to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin.” By the authority and work of Christ, forgiveness is possible. I think of 1st Peter 3:21, “There is also an anti-type which now saves us-baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” In days past, I would use this verse to prove baptism’s essentialness in God’s plan of salvation, to the point of neglecting was it has any effect in the first place. The difference is in the power of Christ’s resurrection! It is His work that makes repentance and water baptism a life changer. It is why Paul would say, “I thank God-through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25). It is why he said, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1st Corinthians 15:57). Acts of faith do not save in and of themselves. It is only because of Christ that they matter!
What if water baptism was seen through the lens, like repentance, as an invitation? God inviting sinful man to come and receive the abundance of His grace found only in Christ Jesus. What if the act is simply a sign of someone who fully trust that God will fulfill His promise to forgive? What if water baptism was simply viewed as nothing other than an act of faith? Taking God at His word. No merit! No earning! Just someone incapable of paying the debt of their sin and accepting the invitation to find grace in Christ. Truth be told, Jesus is the One that did all the work necessary.