Anyone who is saved, will be saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). No principle is more fundamental to New Testament teaching, yet few principles are less understood. In the minds of many people, faith stands as an isolated entity completely separate from its effect on people’s lives. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to see folks who readily claim “faith” in Jesus, yet live like the Devil.
Real faith, as portrayed in scripture, isn’t just an abstract concept that occupies one small corner of a disciple’s life. Rather, one’s faith is his life. His conviction is to shape every action he takes. As Paul states so eloquently, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). To view faith apart from its effect on one’s life, is to misunderstand the nature of saving faith.
If the Bible’s great chapter on faith, Hebrews 11, teaches us anything, it’s that genuine faith is an abiding trust and confidence in God that compels one to do His will. Consider Abel, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Although none was perfect, each had a heart for God. Each one had a faith that was inextricably linked to his conduct. Real faith obeys God, and obedience serves as the only valid evidence of faith. Talk is cheap and lip-service to God is easy, as too many of us know. But changing one’s life to conform to God’s will declares a faith that is genuine. It’s always a mistake to sever faith and obedience.
Which brings us to our discussion of baptism. Hebrews 5:9 says of Jesus, “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Now, can anyone rightly contend that obedience has nothing to do with salvation? Remember that faith and obedience are not mutually exclusive principles, but that they go hand in hand. What God wants is the obedience that comes from faith! (See Romans 1:5). Any attempt at “obedience,” simply for the purpose of boasting of one’s works, is not Bible obedience. It is a presumptuous counterfeit. Acceptable obedience is that which is born of faith in God. And such is the nature of baptism.
On the surface of it, there’s no inherent benefit from being dunked under water. Yet the apostle Peter clearly states, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us “ (1 Peter 3:21). Now if we’re saved by faith as Paul says (Ephesians 2:8) and if baptism has something to do with it as Peter says, then there must be some logical connection between faith and baptism.
The answer lies with Jesus. Before ascending to His Father, He instructed the apostles to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). In this simple statement, Jesus links belief to baptism. At the risk of taking a passage out of context, “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Christ’s commission teaches that His condition for salvation is two-fold. Belief and baptism. To omit either element is to deny the Lord’s command. Belief without baptism is an empty claim without proof. And baptism without belief is a ritualistic waste of time. It’s belief and baptism the Lord wants. But remember, obedience is not something “tacked on” to faith; obedience is the logical result of a faith that trusts God and takes Him at His word. No act speaks louder of our absolute faith in the grace and mercy of God, than baptism, for baptism is an act of faith. Two passages bear this out.
When some Christians in Rome felt that freedom from Mosaic Law afforded them the liberty to sin freely, Paul soundly denounced such thinking as nonsense. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). The question is, how have the saved “died to sin?” Paul continues:
“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (6:3). When did Jesus shed his saving blood for our sins? At His death. When do we come in contact with His death? Paul says it’s in baptism.
“Therefore, we were buried with Him by 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” (6:4). Baptism is not a mere “sacrament,” so designated by men. Neither is it a work that “earns” salvation as some seem to think. Baptism is a statement of our faith in the saving blood of Jesus Christ, and the hopelessness of being saved without it. Baptism is an act of faith that emulates the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. But Paul teaches the same principle elsewhere in even clearer terms.
The ancient city of Colossae was noted for its influential schools of pagan philosophy and religion. Paul warns gentile Christians of the dangers of seeking some “deeper enlightenment” when, in fact, they were “complete” in Christ (Colossians 2:10). They had also been subjected to the influence of Judaizers who sought to bind the Old Law, especially the rite of circumcision, on gentile converts. Paul tells them they have already been circumcised spiritually - “without hands” - and have put off “the body of the sins of the flesh” (2:11). How had their sins been put off?
“Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who has raised Him from the dead” (2:12). When had their sins been put off? When they were buried with Christ in baptism. Not because of the physical act itself, but because it was an expression of faith! They were “raised” with Christ through faith in God’s power to raise them from spiritual death, just as He had raised His own Son from the grave. That’s what baptism is about - not a “meritorious work,” but a declaration of faith in God! And Paul explains the result of this spiritual circumcision. “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (2:13). It is by faith that we’re saved, and that faith is declared when we submit ourselves to the emulation of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, relying on God’s power to raise us up! Any separation of faith from baptism is foreign to the Bible’s teaching of salvation, and is an arbitrary distinction promoted in the theologies of men.
For one to claim faith in Jesus, yet to argue against baptism, as taught by Jesus, is incomprehensible. And to rely on the physical act of baptism alone, as a ritual rather than a statement of faith, is equally foolish. Real faith always seek to do God’s will (see Romans 3:31). Men have erected a wall of division where God never built one: between faith and obedience. Let’s not further aggravate the confusion by mistakenly portraying baptism for the remission of sins as a “work,” entire of itself. Instead, let’s speak in Bible language, showing that baptism is a logical act of faith, and that baptism without faith is useless.