Answering Common Sense Questions – #12

I am winding down my series of blogs answering the questions posed by Mr. David Martin of the Solid Rock Baptist Church in his article “Common Sense Questions A Church Of Christ Preacher Cannot Answer”.  So far few of Mr. Martin’s questions have been simple common sense nor have they been particularly difficult to answer clearly and rationally. This week the question that I will be looking at is:

If salvation is not by works of righteousness which we have done, and baptism is a work of “righteousness,” then how can water baptism be a part of salvation? (Titus 3:5; Matt. 3:16) In the Bible, we are SAVED BY GRACE, and grace does not involve human effort or merit – grace is grace and work is work! (Just read Ephesians 2:8,9 and Romans 11:6.)

The first thing that I notice about this question is that Mr. Martin simply assumes that baptism is a “work of righteousness”.   No where in the Bible is baptism ever referred to as a work or work of righteousness.  When Jesus was asked by the people what they needed to do in order to be doing the work of God he replied that believing in him was doing the work of God(John 6:29) yet Mr. Martin does not believe that the work of faith negates grace.  It is absolutely true that we are saved by grace and not by any work of righteousness or merit on our part.   However, baptism is not a work of righteousness that we have done it is a work of obedience and submission to Christ’s righteousness. Baptism joins us to Christ’s work (Romans 6:3-7) and saves us through his resurrection (1 Peter 3:21). 

If you look up the word grace in a dictionary you will find that it simply means favor.  Biblical grace is simply undeserved favor from God.  In other words salvation is an undeserved and unearned favour that God bestows upon us.  There is no work that we can do that will earn salvation but this does not mitigate the fact that there is work that we must do.  For example suppose I told my son that I would buy him a used car on his 16th birthday on the condition that whatever car he picked he had to first have it checked out by a qualified mechanic. If he has it checked out by the mechanic is that a work that would earn him the car? Of course not, it is still by my grace that he receives the car.  Without my grace he could have a million cars checked by a mechanic but would never own any of them.

The first thing to note about Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 11:6 is that the word work is translated from the Greek word “ergon” which means toil or labor.  Paul is explaining that if salvation earned by our labor then it would not be undeserved but instead we would merely have received what we are owed.  However, if it is received by grace, which by definition means undeserved favor, then our labors do not earn salvation.  That said notice that Paul states that we are saved by grace through faith, which we have already seen is a work.  We are also told that faith without action is dead (James 2:17-20) and Mr. Martin freely admits that repentance is essential for salvation.  So we are saved by grace through a faith accompanied by obedience in the form of repentance and identification with the work of Christ in baptism (Romans 6:3-7 & 17-18).

In this question we see that Mr. Martin’s problem is that he is unable to distinguish between works of righteousness that we have done (Titus 3:5) and works of submission to Christ’s righteousness.  When we understand that difference and realize the point that Paul was trying to make there is no difficulty in harmonizing salvation by grace with the requirement that we believe, repent, confess our faith, and submit to him in baptism.

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