QA: Does the Bible Teach Works Based Salvation like Water Baptismal Regeneration?

Short answer, no it does not. But what about Scripture like:
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:16

“And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38

Doesn’t that teach that water baptism is a prerequisite to salvation?

coc-doctrineAgain, no, the Bible does not teach that we need to do anything more that believing in Christ in order to receive salvation. I know, there are denominations out there like the Church of Christ1, who will preach differently. But their teaching is unbiblical. They will accuse anyone who teaches in accordance to Ephesians 2:8 to be teaching that good works are not important. Good works are certainly important! But they are not the means to salvation, but only the evidence of it.

In Scripture we see “believe and confess”, “believe and be baptized”, or “believe” by itself. Why is that? Why don’t we just see “believe, confess, be baptized…” always listed together if the sum of salvation is equal to the total of “man’s” parts? You will see as you follow below.

When the Bible says believe in Jesus and ye shall be saved, it is talking about a belief that acts. The new believer is expected to produce fruit in accordance with their repentance. Otherwise, the so-called believer’s “belief” or faith would be dead and similar to the belief of demons.

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” – James 2:19-20

Understanding the differences

That doesn’t explain why Acts 2:38 is written that way you may say. But when Scripture appears to conflict, the solution is simple, find other passages in Scripture to explain the “troubling” passage.

“To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” – Acts 10:43

So which is it, is baptism or believing the cause of remission of sins? How do we reconcile Acts 2:38 and Acts 10:43?

There is no problem at all really when we think about what baptism represents.

“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 6:4.

Baptism is symbolic of Christ’s work for us. We are not physically killed with Christ, obviously. Baptism is simply a public expression by the believer of where he/she chooses to put their faith in for salvation from their sins; baptism represents the person’s belief. So Acts 2:38 and Acts 10:43, are in fact saying the same thing.

Advocates of baptismal regeneration may ask, where do we get that wording from. If you are asked this, you can simply respond to them that they too must use phrases to express what they understand which are not verbatim in Scripture. Take for example the doctrine found on the Church of Christ website. Notice they say: “Though God’s part is the big part, man’s part is also necessary if man is to reach heaven.”. Where in the Bible is there this wording? There isn’t. They just believe that Scripture teaches like this, they believe this teaching is supported. So if you are ever presented this objection, remind the supporter that they too do the same.

“And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 3:21

Advocates of water baptismal regeneration will just take the first clause and say: “see, water baptism saves you”! But will ignore the rest of the verse, which explains what the verse is saying fully. It’s not saying the act of being immersed in water saves, notice “not by removing dirt from your body”, but “as a response to God from a clean conscience”. One can see that baptism is being connected with belief. In the Old Testament, we know that the blood of bulls and goats didn’t actually save (Hebrews 10:4).

The Old Testament Jew was saved before he brought the offering. That offering was only his outward testimony that he was placing faith in the Lamb of God of whom these sacrifices were a type…Water baptism is the outward testimony of the believer’s inward faith.2

Looking at the verse differences logically we see:
“They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.” – Acts 16:31
Here belief = TRUE, therefore salvation = TRUE
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9
Here confession = TRUE, belief = TRUE, therefore salvation = TRUE
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:16
Here belief = TRUE, baptized = TRUE, therefore salvation = TRUE
In all cases, salvation is the result/sure/true. We see belief appearing on its own, and salvation is still true.

In Mark 16:16, notice even the next part of the verse says:
“but he who does not believe will be condemned”
Emphasis is on belief. Assuming Mark 16:16, is referring to water baptism, if it was necessary unto salvation, then the clause would have been:
“but he who does not believe and is not baptized will be condemned” Yet, we know that’s not what Scripture says.

Advocates of baptismal regeneration and works based salvation for the matter, simply add the works together to produce salvation. They view the works as supplements to produce the whole salvation. But it seems the Bible teaches about a kind of belief with by-products or belief that produces fruit in keeping with repentance.

If water baptism and other works were necessary prior to salvation status being reached, then someone who only ever heard or read verses like John 3:16 would be in trouble. Soldiers who believed in Christ on the battle field and died there without getting baptized with water, or confessing publicly with their mouth to others about their faith, would still go to hell.

Again, when the Bible says believe and you will be saved (Acts 16:31), it is talking about a special kind of belief. Just like Galatians 5:22-23 is speaking of a special kind of fruit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Notice it says “fruit”, singular. That suggests the items in the list are things that encompass one another. For lack of better words, they are one in the same or by-products of one another.

If salvation is the sum of parts as stipulated by doctrines like from Church of Christ, then such supporters can never claim to be saved or be a Christian. By their own false doctrine, their salvation is not sure and Jesus is a liar because He said whoever believes has eternal life (John 3:36). For works based salvationists, it is only after they have lived out their total lifespan and completed all parts (hear the Gospel + believe + repent + confess + get baptized with water + live out a Christian life = salvation) will the sum of the parts make the whole salvation. Otherwise, if such supporters can claim that they are saved at the time of any just 1 or some of those parts, then salvation cannot be equal to the sum of all the parts as listed in the doctrine of denominations like Church of Christ. Again, what about people who die soon after believing in the Lord? What if they never got to share their new faith with others, or never got the opportunity to be water baptized?

Case of past historians/preachers

Advocates of works based salvation may even try to argue on another angle. They may ask you if you disagree with all the people from the past who taught works were necessary prior to salvation. Don’t get into that argument, because you must stand on their false premise when you answer. The answer to that objection is simple: since the idea is understood differently from Scripture initially from each party, then looking at the the teachings of others, we will continue to understand the idea the way in which we first understood if from Scripture. Say for example:
If A sees a particular colour as dark green and B sees the same colour as light green, then no matter when they see that colour again, they’ll continue to see it as they saw it initially. Basically, we do not need to get into the believe or believe not preachers from the past debate; it is irrelevant and advocates of works based salvation use it to trap you into making you feel that you are placing your understanding above great preachers from the past or making yourself out to be smarter than they are.

Case of the thief on the cross

You may be tempted to bring up the case of the thief on the cross. After all, only thing he did in regards to his salvation that we see from Scripture was believe in Jesus. Advocates of works based salvation may respond that the command of baptism came after, that the thief got saved by Old Testament terms3. However, Hebrews 11 doesn’t appear to draw any contrast between faith of believers after Jesus’ resurrection and before that time. Some may actually say that we don’t know if he didn’t do anything before that time; I say we don’t know that he did!

Case of Jesus’ Baptism

You may even be tempted to bring up the case of Jesus being baptized with water though He was/is sinless. Advocates of works based salvation will simply claim that Jesus was baptized for a different cause. And of course agreed (Matthew 3:13-17), but they are the ones claiming that water baptism is necessary for the remission of sins.

Case of Cornelius (and his household)

Also, you may be tempted to bring up the case of Cornelius; believing that he was already saved before getting baptized. They will claim that the Holy Spirit had not touched down and opened for Gentiles as yet. They don’t believe Cornelius was saved prior to being baptized, though there is better support for him being saved since Acts 10:1-3, rather than later after Peter’s preaching. The event in Acts 10:44, suggests the outpouring was for the Jews’ understanding, not that God hadn’t already accepted the Gentiles and was in that moment now accepting the Gentiles.

“Then Peter opened his mouth and said: In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” – Acts 10:34-35

Cornelius was already fasting and praying to God before the event in Acts 10:44, and God heard him. Which suggests some kind of proper communion with God.

“So Cornelius said, ‘Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing’, and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God’.” – Acts 10:30-31

“We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does His will.” – John 9:31

In this case, the deeper we go into studying works based salvation, we see how it makes man dependent on other man for salvation. What if Peter didn’t understand the vision, or worse didn’t go to meet Cornelius? Poor Cornelius would be doomed to wait on some other preacher. In order for this false teaching “to stand”, other Scripture must be twisted or ignored.

Works based salvationists cannot explain the reason for the differences in the verses throughout Scripture

Besides for the response of Jesus’ baptism, the other poor exegesis result because they started out falsely to begin with. And so they will jump around Scripture to “explain”, even appearing to make a different form of salvation for Old Testament believers. Yikes. Yet, in all this “explaining”, they cannot come up with a reason (even a false one) for the differences in Scripture; like when we see “believe” appear on its own and other times when it appears with “confess” or “be baptized”. Works based salvationists simply try to add works/parts/catalysts together and create their own standards for salvation. And some may be sincere, and some perhaps stubborn to change. God alone knows their motives. Yet we know:

Jesus replied, “This is the work of God: to believe in the One He has sent.” – John 6:29

There is only one kind of work we have to do in order to be saved, and this is not talking about any dead kind of belief or faith. Support of that is seen in James 2:19-20, Matthew 3:8, John 14:15 and other verses which makes it clear that true faith in Christ results in obedience.

Summary:

Argument by works based salvationists Response
If you don’t believe salvation is obtained by man having done these things, then you teach good works is not important. This is false, and a cop-out. Because even they will argue that water baptism etc are not works, but in the same breath, they will accuse you of teaching against good works. I think they very well know that many of us who disagree with their teaching, absolutely believe good works to be important, just that we believe good works are the result of true faith/belief.
The Bible does not teach water baptism, confession, repentance etc to be works. In order to harmonize their teaching with Ephesians 2:8, they will claim that water baptism etc are not works, and may say they are parts of the process or catalysts. Whatever wording we use, whether we say “work”, “catalyst”, “part” does not matter because even John 6:29 calls believing a work.
Are you making yourself out to be smarter than those from the past who taught this doctrine? Don’t get into that argument. It is based on a false presupposition, a false start. If they understand from Scripture the colour dark green, and we understand light green, then no matter who follows after we will see as we did initially.
You are not relying on the Bible alone. Lots of people when they don’t hear what they want to hear will say this. Particularly when you are trying to explain your understanding of what Scripture is teaching. But in reality, everyone when explaining themselves,
use words or phrases which are not verbatim in Scripture. You can always point the person back to their doctrine and point out words which are not found in the Bible but used in their doctrine. Obviously they believe what is written in their doctrine is supported by Scripture, and same for your own statements of faith. If they are honest, they won’t argue on this.

 

Disclaimer:
1. Not claiming that water baptism is not important, you should be baptized at the earliest opportunity. Baptism is very significant. Your faith should bear good fruit in keeping with repentance.
2. Times above we have just automatically assumed that when baptism is mentioned, it is referring to water baptism. But it really doesn’t have to be, and that is a discussion for another topic. Taking a deeper look and not automatically assuming water baptism when Scripture is silent, further irons out the clear teaching of faith alone salvation, that obviously is evidenced by good works.

References:
1. http://church-of-christ.org/how-does-one-become-a-member-of-the-church-of-christ.html
2. https://www.gotquestions.org/baptism-1Peter-3-21.html
3. https://www.gospelway.com/salvation/thief_cross.php

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