In the discussion of works-based Salvation, it’s important to note that there are many denominations of the Christian faith that teach a works-based Salvation. However, the Bible does not teach this. The proceeds of this short thesis are to refute works-based Salvation using the Bible as the only evidence. We have discussed part of this, including our beliefs about Salvation in Essential Doctrines.
Judaizers – ones that would try to make Moses equal to Jesus by insisting that only faith in Jesus Christ wasn’t the only way to get to Heaven, or gain or maintain salvation – and this frequently perverted the Gospel. In order to be saved, the Judaizers would require circumcision and the keeping of the Law. They wanted all Christians, even Gentiles, to live as Jews under the Law – basically they were legalists. Therefore, you will see gray areas in Peter’s teaching, but no gray areas in Paul’s teaching. Peter had so many gray areas in the book of Acts, so we see his argument resolved with Paul later in Peter’s writings (such as 1-2 Peter).
In Acts 15:1, 24 – “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment.”
Galatians 5:6, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” This states directly that works do not and are not commanded for Salvation, for it is faith alone that works by love – and we know that John says that God is Love. Therefore, God works out our Salvation and is the one who carries the right to baptize us with inward cleansing.
As we see in Galatians 2:16-19, a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. No flesh shall be justified by the works of the law. Thinking that man is justified by works of the law is calling Christ the minister of sin; therefore, we must realize that we are justified by faith!
Legalism adds many requirements on gaining or maintaining salvation through Jesus Christ. Faith says you believe, and you receive salvation through Jesus Christ. The Judaizers believed that true salvation came after observing the Law of Moses as well as faith in Jesus Christ. Judaizers were legalists, then. Paul and Barnabas disputed them, and Paul taught that one is saved by faith in Jesus Christ – that it is the only way. Legalism does not honor what God’s already done, and therefore leads us away from the Cross. However, faith in Jesus Christ completely honors what God has done, and leads us toward the Cross, where we see redemption, grace, and love!
The Jews were under the Law until Christ came and redeemed those under the Law, and gave both the Jews and Gentiles adoption as sons. Paul then rebukes the Galatians for returning to idolatry after (they had already been told their idols were not gods and after) they knew of God. He then expresses great concern for them and admonishes them not to return to their old ways of trouble. He describes the Jewish and Christian churches under the types of Agar and Sara – referring to the fact that we are free as them maybe.
We fall from grace before true grace in Christ Jesus is even a reality in our lives by attending to a works-based theology, instead of a Christ-centric theology – wherein, we believe that we must do something to get something. People fall from Grace all the time by following the Law of Moses, instead of Christ’s Law of Love. We are to follow the Law of Love, not the Love of the Law.
Key point: Our Salvation is dependent upon Salvation by Grace (borne out of Christ’s Work). It is entirely a work of the Holy Spirit; man is not required to do anything but accept Salvation.
Matthew 3:11-12, “11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
John the Baptist is making a prophecy for the coming of the sign of Elisha, for John the Baptist was the sign of Elijah. Elisha had done double of the miracles of Elijah, because Elisha was imparted a double portion of power upon him from Elijah. Therefore, John the Baptist was to eventually impart the power he was given unto Jesus Christ, who would eventually transform the baptismal system from water unto repentance to Holy Ghost with fire, which would not only take care of repentance, but also burn up the barrier in the hearts of men so that rivers of living water would come forth. (Reference John 7:37-39 for Holy Spirit rivers of living water; Mark 1:8 & Luke 3:16 & John 1:33 for same reference as above verse; Acts 1:5 where Jesus prophesies baptizing only with the Holy Ghost – yes, a command from God, not of works or fulfilling Salvation, but of Salvation alone that comes with the Fire of the Holy Ghost Baptism – which means no one has to do anything but have faith in Jesus Christ to be Saved). Jesus said the baptism getting ready to occur in Acts 2:38 would be done with the Holy Ghost, not water… Where are the false teachers and heretics getting the information that Acts 2:38 is done with water?
Now, we jump into Acts… Acts 2:38 to be core reference here – since many Churches of Christ members reference this as the requirement for water baptism… Acts 2:34-41, “34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35 Until I make thy foes thy footstool. 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. 37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”
Were they baptized with Water? No they were not. They were baptized with the Holy Ghost, just as the Lord Jesus commanded of them. See just above those that received the gift of the Holy Ghost, they had received the baptism of the Holy Ghost after being commanded to repent, which repent means to change your mind. He had to convince the Jews to repent of their sin, because they were the ones who killed Jesus. The Jews killed Jesus, so if anyone needed baptized with water, it was they – but Jesus did not require that, because He already took care of it… Water and blood came out from the Cross. If baptism were with water, it would be incomplete, because we would need Jesus’ blood as well. However, since we’re not able to obtain one half of the baptismal ingredients, which Jesus knew would happen, we are not required to make incomplete baptism. They remembered also in Acts 11:16 that baptizing with water was incorrect and they trained others to recognize that Jesus said it is with the Holy Ghost that people are baptized. Because water baptism was not required, even Gentiles could come to Jesus Christ and be saved (Acts 11:18). This referenced back to Acts 1:5 of when the Lord said the Holy Spirit, not by water, does baptism.
The New Covenant would be nullified if we were to baptize with water and make blood sacrifices. However, some Jews still require a sign! Even some Gentiles require a sign. So, Jesus gave them examples to follow if they would like to do things in remembrance. We do Water Baptism as an outward sign of an inward work, which is exactly why we do Communion or anointings. They are not commanded, but when we do them, it is in remembrance of Him. Communion is the symbolic taking in of Jesus’ Body and Blood. The Jews will do such things as Communion during their Passover, even if they are converted, because as I said, the Jews still require a sign! Gentiles are grafted into Israel and have the right to take part in any Jewish Feast now and any “work” the Jews pose in. We have the right to be Water Baptized, but it’s only a sign, not a command of needing it for Salvation.
We do not want to nullify the New Covenant by creating a works-based Salvation. Let’s look at The Book of James, which is addressed to the Jews not the Gentiles. Please read the beginning of the first chapter… James 1:1, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greetings.” In 2:24, Jews were not able to be justified by faith alone, but by works, because works follow faith but faith is not a work. Faith is a spiritual gift and an ability of our mind, not a work! We can have a work of faith, which is faith in action, but faith is not a work. Please see then the following verses from James 2:14-26, “14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
To call faith a work is to negate the above Scriptures, and to say these to a Gentile is to confuse them, because Gentiles don’t know about Abraham except that which is in the Scriptures. We are now washed by the Word of God, not by Water Baptism, for Water Baptism is an outward and public testimony, identifies the believer with the Godhead (Matthew 28:18-20), identifies the believer with Christ in His death, burial, and Resurrection (Colossians 2:11-12; Romans 6:4-5). Such verses are placed upon emphasis toward Gentiles. We can freely receive what Paul has said in these Scriptures. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 is saying work of faith, not faith is a work. The name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God are what washes away our sin, not by works such as physical water baptism, but a spiritual work of baptism by the Holy Ghost and fire (1 Corinthians 6:11).Paul addresses the Romans about Salvation by faith, not works in Romans 4:1-16… “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. 9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: 12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. 13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: [YIKES!!!!] 15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. 16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.”
In the Bible, circumcision was a ceremony where one person performed a religious rite on another person. Likewise, water baptism is also a ceremony where one person performs a religious rite on another person; but, we are saved by faith alone, and nothing else we do, including ceremonies, will help us become saved. If we are saved by faith, then we are saved by faith when we believe and not when we are baptized by water – because water baptism would come after Salvation not during it. Otherwise, we are not saved by faith if we choose water baptism over something else for Salvation. Furthermore, if baptism is necessary for salvation, then anyone who receives Christ on his deathbed in a hospital and who also believes Jesus is God in the flesh, who died and rose from the dead for his sins, etc., would go to hell if he doesn’t get baptized before he died. This would mean that we were not justified by faith because if we were, then the person would be saved. In addition, if baptism is necessary for salvation, then all babies who die go to hell since they were not baptized. Remember, when someone says that baptism is necessary, there can be no exceptions–otherwise, it is not necessary.
The Book of Hebrews was addressed primarily to the Jews (the Hebrew people), but also Gentiles could learn, especially about faith from this book. We must investigate Scripture closely and be sure that it applies to us as Gentiles, because since we are Gentiles by blood, we only become part of the Jewish Heritage by faith in Jesus Christ (the literal grafting into Israel). This does not tell us that we must be baptized, but that we should be baptized anyway, to reveal to everyone the inward work that He has done of washing away our sins – Testify! God already washes away our sins on the inside when we believe through the Holy Spirit’s work of renewal of the mind, to which we perform Water Baptism as an outward sign of that inward work. That is the basis of the Scripture truly addressed to Gentiles and converted Jews. It is our outward proclamation of the inward spiritual blessing of regeneration. It comes after faith which is a gift of God (Rom. 12:3) and the work of God (John 6:28). Bible says that it is the gospel that saves. “By this gospel you are saved . . . ” (1 Cor. 15:2). Also, Rom. 1:16 says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” Neither of these verses, which tell us what saves us, includes any mention of water baptism. Saying that water baptism is necessary for salvation is dangerous because it is saying something remains, in which we must do to complete salvation. That is wrong! See Galatians 2:21; 5:4. Is the washing away of sins done by baptism, the representation of the circumcised heart (Colossians 2:11-12) which means you are already saved; or is it by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:14; Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7)? Perceptibly, it is the blood of Jesus, and the washing here refers to the calling on Jesus’ name. Biblically, a work is a ritual, something that is Law. We know that Christ fulfilled the Law, and therefore, we are not required to the works of the Law anymore: circumcision, Passover, feasting, baptism, cleansing, etc. Salvation + works = Law. Salvation by grace through faith = in Christ alone.
Baptism is already done once we have placed faith in Jesus Christ part of our belief in God, by repentance + confession of belief. Repentance is not a work; it is an operation by the Holy Ghost and the believer. Once Salvation takes place, the person is actively baptized with the Holy Ghost with fire. Some people who have just been saved will show evidence immediately of Salvation, because of the baptism happening within (See Acts 10:44-48). Which is why we have verses that state the finished work: Romans 6:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 2:12; Titus 3:5 (washing done by the Holy Spirit is stated here).
Let’s take a final journey of exegesis here for this verse: 1 Peter 3:21, “21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” This verse refutes water baptism by saying the baptism that saves is not the kind that deals with the removal of dirt in the flesh (Water Baptism). That is, it is not the issue of water, which washes the body, but the baptism of the heart which is an appeal for a good conscience to God. Some think that the baptism resembles to the Ark because it was the Ark that saved them – not the floodwaters. This is a possibility, but one of the problems with it is that this interpretation does not seem to stand grammatically since the ancestor of Baptism is most probably in reference to the water – not the Ark. Nevertheless, water did not save Noah. This is why Peter excludes the issue of water baptism being the thing that saves us because he says, ‘not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.’ Therefore, baptism here most probably represents the breaking away of the old sinful life and entrance into the new life – the same way that the floodwaters in Noah’s time were the destruction of the sinful way and, once through it, entrance into his new life – which was why there was only one door on Noah’s Ark, not two or more. One way to Salvation, not by Water, but by a good conscience. Peter’s explanatory comment shows us that the act of physical baptism is not what saves – but the “baptism of appeal to God.” This appeal to God is by faith – the same as Noah’s faith in God led him to build the Ark, enter it, and remain in it – whereas the others who were not included in the Ark would need washed to cleanse them of sin: not by violent judgment, but by spiritual judgment by physical manifestation. Do not become wrapped up in semantics of reality in order to miss the spiritual basis of a thing.
To conclude: Baptism is a ceremony where a person is immersed in water. It is a public identification with Christ where the person proclaims his faith in Christ and commits to being a disciple of Jesus – an outward sign of an inward spiritual working. Baptism does not save a person from sins. It is a covenant sign only (Colossians 2:12-13).
APPENDIX – Other exegeses for problematic/contradicted verses
Romans 10:1-4 – First, it helps to know that the situation in Rome was dire, so when Paul was speaking to them, he gave several anecdotes. These four verses are considered in the anecdotal references Paul made. Paul is making an appeal to God in prayer concerning Israel (the Jews) in hopes they would make it to Salvation. Keeping in mind that this context applies substantially to Jews should already exclude it from most teachings concerning Gentiles. In fact, Paul is giving a history lesson throughout chapter 10 on how the Jews have failed to see the Messiah for who He truly is, because they still had yet to believe the Messiah had come yet. They’re still awaiting the first Advent, while we Gentiles and converted Jews are awaiting the second Advent. Nonetheless, the underlying message here, which you have stated partially is fully correct: The Word (Jesus Christ) brings Salvation [to the Jews and Gentiles]. Salvation was offered to the Jews first, did you notice in Acts? Then, it was offered to the Gentiles, did you notice in Paul’s writings and some of Peter and John’s writings? In Romans 10, we see this very clearly: The Scripture shows the difference between the righteousness of the Law, and that of faith. It declares that the Law enslaves, but The Word (Jesus Christ) frees. Whatever God’s purposes may be, the Jews are still accountable for their own loss. They cannot say God has forbidden them. They have rejected God. Gentiles, however, who have no law, are justified by faith, and Jews can be too, if they will believe instead of trying to win God’s favor by keeping the law. They will not accept that the way of salvation for them is the same as for the Gentiles – through faith in Christ (look in Romans 10:30-33). Paul desires the Jews to be saved, but they cannot be saved while trying to create their own righteousness through Law-abiding legalism; rather they must admit they are helpless sinners and accept the righteousness of God through Christ.
Verse 3 of this chapter does not apply to Communion or Passover, because righteousness has never been attainable through good works. Judaism or Christianity does not have a “works system” for righteousness, because if that were true, then Baalism or idolatry would have been acceptable from the start. Nevertheless, since Man’s works are like filthy rags for righteousness, something proved to Jews (Isaiah 54:6). Patterns are not set for righteousness, for goodness sake, patterns are set because of piety and piety alone (practical religion). Many consider religion dead, but that is to be on a broad scope, because it looks like works. However, personal religion is between God and Man. When a Man makes his personal religion public, he becomes like a Pharisee (remember Matthew 6? Jesus gave a model for prayer, fasting, and giving – that it must be done in secret, so that we will be rewarded in secret).
To review: Righteousness only comes by Jesus Christ and is imputed upon us in Salvation; piety is personal religion; Phariseeism is professional or outward religion; personal and public religion or works do not bring, supply, enlarge, or preclude righteousness, because it is not possible for that to be done.
Passover, Baptism, circumcision, uncircumcision, etc. have never brought righteousness; rather, they only have brought glory to God. We must see it and believe it that it is truly based upon who we are in Christ, not who we are in our piety or who we are in the public eye.
Note on Hebrews: This is written primarily to Jews to convince them that Jesus Christ is the High Priest now after the order of Melchizedek, and that He is greater than all High Priests. Some Scripture here would confuse most Gentiles, since they are not after the order of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – except through Christ being grafted into the Jewish Heritage. They don’t understand this book for that reason.
Hebrews 6:6 – Christianity is not another word for Judaism: it completely replaces Judaism. If people are to just come in and taste & see, but then renounce Christ, then nothing is left for them but judgment. By disowning and shaming Christ, they are doing just as the Jews had done in slaying Christ on the Cross.
Remember: Hebrews is a message for Jews in hopes they may convert to Christianity. Although it helps Christians, and there are inklings that help, it is specifically for Jews much more than Gentiles.
Ephesians 5:26-27 (7-30-17) – This goes along with the study I did clear above on Water Baptism/works… Washing of water by the word does not mean water baptism… It simply details either one of two things: the Gospel or the sentence of justification. I compare this to John 15:2.
The following verses express Salvation message, but do not include water baptism as necessity:
John 1:12; 3:14-18; 3:36; 5:24; 6:29-40; 6:47; 6:69; 11:25-26; 12:46-50; 16:7-9; 17:20-22; 20:31 Acts 2:21; 2:33; 10:43-48; 13:38-39; 13:48; 15:8-11; 16:30-31; 26:18 Romans 1:16; 3:20-31; 4:1-11; 4:23-25; 5:1-21; 9:30-33; 10:4-13 Galatians 2:15-21; 3:1-28; 5:5-6 Ephesians 2:8-10 Philippians 3:4-14 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 Hebrews 4:2-3 1 Peter 2:6 1 John 1:5-10; 4:15; 5:1; 5:10-13
The following verses refuse works as a way to Salvation: Acts 13:39; Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:15-17; Ephesians 2:9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5; Philippians 3:8-9
The Spirit of God is the one who baptizes, sanctifies, washes, justifies: Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5; 2:4; 1 Corinthians 6:11
The Holy Spirit, not water baptism, seals a believer’s salvation: Ephesians 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Romans 8:9
The Holy Spirit, not water baptism, regenerates a person: Titus 3:3-8; 2 Timothy 1:9-14