What is God’s plan of salvation according to the Bible?
Is salvation by faith alone and by grace alone?
Must one pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” in order to be saved?
What is the purpose of baptism? Must one be baptized in order to be saved?
If baptism is necessary does one still need grace and faith?
Why didn’t the thief on the cross have to be baptized?
The doctrine of salvation by faith only must be rejected because it contradicts the Bible. The Bible uses term "faith only" once and specifically states, "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only." (James 2:24). It is a sad day when men read such a simple clear statement, yet willfully teach the exact opposite. May we heed the warning of Paul in Galatians 1:6-7, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." The terms "grace only" and "grace alone" are not found in the Scriptures and therefore the doctrine of salvation by "grace alone" must also be rejected. It is undeniable that grace plays a major role in salvation, but it is not by "grace alone" that men are saved. The term "grace alone" limits salvation to grace and grace only, thereby negating the need for faith (John 3:16), repentance (Acts 2:38), confession (Matthew 10:32), and baptism (Acts 22:16). It is a contradiction of terms to teach salvation by "faith only" and "grace only" for "faith only" excludes "grace only" and "grace only" excludes "faith only", yet both doctrines are frequently taught by the same people. Both faith and grace are necessary in bringing about salvation, but neither one excludes the other or any other requirement placed by God on salvation.
The “grace alone” doctrine teaches that salvation is wholly dependent upon God, while Scripture teach salvation is partially dependent upon man. In Acts 2:40 Peter urged those present on the day of Pentecost to, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” Again, in Mark 16:16 Jesus required that men believe and be baptized in order to be saved. In short, there are things men must do in order to be saved; salvation is not wholly dependent upon God.
As for the “Sinner’s Prayer”, it was invented by Dwight Moody in the late 1800’s, popularized by Billy Graham in the mid 1900’s (this can be confirmed/discovered through Wikipedia and other historical sources), and is also never found in the Bible. Neither the Lord nor the apostles ever told a sinner to “believe in your heart and pray the Sinner’s Prayer” in order to be saved. In a poor attempt to justify the Sinner’s Prayer many quote Paul in Romans 10:13, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The question is not “if” calling on the name of the Lord is necessary, but rather “how” does one call on the name of the Lord? In the book of Acts Paul clarifies how he called on the Lord by recounting the story of his own conversion. When Jesus appeared to Paul he told him to, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6) Though Paul had seen Jesus, and prayed and fasted for three days (Acts 9:9/11), he still had sins that needed to be forgiven when Ananias the preacher arrived (Acts 22:16). Finally, Ananias tells Paul what he must do in order to be saved, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16) According to Paul, calling on the name of the Lord took place when he did what he “must do” by being baptized and having his sins washed away. Paul’s prayers as a sinner did not save him and neither will the prayers of sinner’s today save them.
Just as “faith only” and “grace only” will not save, “baptism only” will not save either. Infant baptism has been practiced for centuries under the delusion that “baptism only” will save, yet Jesus taught that belief must precede baptism in Mark 16:16. Thus to teach “baptism alone” saves is just as much an error as teaching “faith alone” saves.
The question is not whether baptism alone can save (clearly it cannot), but rather “Is baptism necessary for salvation?” In answering this question, please consider the following points:
1- If baptism is not necessary for salvation, why is it mentioned more times in the New Testament than belief, repentance, confession, or prayer and almost always connected with salvation? If baptism has nothing to do with salvation, why did the inspired writers have so much to say about it?
2- Most people who object to baptism do so because of Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:8-9, “ For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
People define “works” in this passage to mean “anything that takes human effort” and thus reject baptism as necessary for salvation because baptism takes human effort. However, if “works” always means “anything that takes human effort” how can faith be required for salvation since faith takes effort, and how could Peter command his listeners on the day of Pentecost to “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” (Acts 2:40) since that also would take effort?
What people fail to realize is that the Bible speaks of two different kinds of works: There are works of merit and works of humble obedience. The Jewish leaders felt they could keep the Law perfectly and thus earn their salvation through their own merit. They did not view salvation as a gift from God; rather they viewed salvation as what God owed them. On the other hand, when Jesus healed the paralytic in John 5:8 and commanded him to “pick up your bed and walk”, the healed man rose and did what the Master commanded him to do in faithful obedience. Ephesians 2:8-9 is teaching that salvation is by grace, through faith, and not through works of merit. The condemnation of meritorious works does not negate the necessity of humble obedience.
When quoting Ephesians 2:8-9 as a reason to reject baptism as necessary for salvation, people are attempting to classify baptism as a meritorious work. If baptism is a meritorious work, then it is wrong for a person to ever get baptized since it is always wrong to perform works of merit. Why then do denominations encourage or even allow their members to be baptized (regardless of the reason) if baptism is a work of merit? Denominations are inconsistent in condemning baptism for the remission of sins as (on the grounds that it is meritorious), and yet allow/require it as an expression of one’s “new life”. If baptism is a work of merit in one case, it is a work of merit in the other case as well.
3- Mark 16:16 teaches, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Jesus statement can be easily expressed in a mathematical formula: Belief + Baptism = Salvation. Notice, Jesus’ formula was not Baptism = Salvation nor Belief = Salvation + Baptism but rather Belief + Baptism = Salvation.
Many object to Jesus formula by arguing: “Jesus did not say, ‘He who does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned’; it only says that those who don’t believe will be condemned! Those who make such an argument miss the point of the Lord’s statement. What it takes for a person to be lost and what it takes for the same person to be saved are two different issues. A lack of faith will cause one to be lost, but faith alone cannot save (James 2:24). Mark says it takes faith and baptism to be saved. When the Lord places baptism into his formula for salvation, by what authority can man claim it is not necessary?
4- The Lord’s formula for salvation is brought to life and enacted in the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. In Acts 8, Philip the evangelist was asked to step up into a chariot and preach Jesus from Isaiah 53. The Bible recounts on this occasion, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.” The question the eunuch asked in response to hearing Jesus preached is more than a little telling: “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Here is the point: To preach Jesus means to preach baptism - the two cannot be separated. Note also that before the eunuch could be baptized he had to confess that Jesus was the Son of God (Acts 8:37) so that the preacher could know he believed (he did not confess that he was a sinner). The eunuch followed the Lord’s formula for salvation (Believe + Baptism= Salvation ) found in Mark 16:16 and in so doing received salvation.
5- In Acts 2, Peter preached a sermon to the very Jews who had crucified Christ. Toward the close of his sermon many were cut to the heart and cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). If faith alone is necessary for salvation, why did Peter reply, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins;"? Why did he not reassure them that they were already saved since they now believed in the Christ?
Acts 2:38 brings up another point: Is repentance necessary for salvation? Can a sinner merely confess Christ and keep on sinning? Certainly not! Jesus said, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3). Do we repent in order that our sins might be forgiven or because they have already been forgiven? Again, Luke 13:3 demands that repentance must take place before salvation occurs. In Acts 2:38 repentance was again placed as a condition prior to salvation as was baptism. Just as repentance is “for the remission of sins” (i.e. unto the remission of sins) so baptism is “for the remission of sins (i.e. unto the remission of sin).
6- According to Scripture, the blood of Christ is what cleanses us from all sin (Revelation 1:5). The question is therefor, “How can a person come into contact with the blood of Christ?
Paul answers, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). So, by getting in Christ we can have redemption through His blood. The question now becomes, “How does one get in Christ?”
Paul answers again, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) and again, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)
Thus, the only way to gain access to the blood of Christ is through baptism into Christ. Is baptism necessary for salvation? Indeed it is.
7- In John 3:3 Jesus states, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Two verses later Jesus goes on to say, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” In these two verses Jesus connects the concepts of a new life and entrance into the kingdom; he also has both occurring at the same time. It is thus impossible to be born again without entering the kingdom, and it is impossible to enter the kingdom without being born again. How is one born? Not by faith alone, but by obeying the message of the Spirit to be baptized in water (John 3:5/ Romans 6:3-4). On the day of Pentecost the Bible says, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them… And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:41,47) No one can enter into the kingdom without following God’s plan of salvation that culminates in baptism.
In closing, a final objection needs to be considered: “How could Christ forgive the sins of people while he was on the earth (such as the thief on the cross or the paralytic) and yet require all others to be baptized for the remission of sins?
I urge you to consider Brother Daniel A. Sommer’s reply:
“Some men say that the Bible teaches that baptism is necessary to the remission of the sins of an alien sinner. Others say that this cannot be true, inasmuch as Christ himself forgave people without baptism. Jesus said to the palsied man, "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven." He said to the sinful woman, "Thy sins are forgiven." To the thief on the cross he said, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." No doubt these people received the remission of their sins without baptism. How, then, do we reconcile this with the teaching elsewhere in the Book that baptism is for the remission of sins? (See Acts 2:38; 22:16.) The explanation of these verses is not difficult when we know the time when the kingdom was established. When Jesus was on the earth, he was preparing things for the establishment of his Church. While doing that, he could bestow the blessings of his kingdom just as he saw fit. Even at that time, however, people generally received the remission of their sins by baptism, for John preached the "baptism of repentance for the remission of sins". (Mark 1:4.) But when the Church was established on the day of Pentecost, the law of pardon was firmly fixed and all alien sinners must conform to that law.
Paul's comparison of a will with the law of Christ is applicable here. "Where a testament is," said he, "there must of necessity be the death of him that made it." While a man is living, he can dispose of his property as he pleases. He can give five dollars to this poor man, a hundred dollars to that destitute widow, and a thousand dollars to those orphan children, and no one can stop him, although his other expenditures are according to stipulations. When, however, the man dies, none of his property can be disposed of except according to his will. So Christ, when he was living, could say to the woman, "Thy sins be forgiven thee", and to the thief, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." But since Jesus has died, the blessings of the kingdom of heaven can be bestowed only according to the terms of the will of Christ as made known this side of his death. At no time after the death of Christ do we find Jesus from heaven or the apostles on earth saying to any one, "Thy sins be forgiven thee"; but rather do we hear them saying, "Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins", and, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Daniel A. Sommer, The Church of Christ, p.60-61)
A failure to consider the whole tenor of Scripture has lead to mass confusion regarding the topics of salvation and baptism. By plucking verses out of contexts and holding to one verse to the exclusion of all others, people have arrived at many contrived answers to the simple question, “What must I do to be saved?”
We urge all readers to do as the Bereans did in Acts 17:11 to search the Scriptures daily to see if the things presented herein are true. May God’s word be upheld and may we always conform our thoughts to the teachings found therein.