Not an Easy Question to Answer
Yesterday we discovered that answering the question, “What must I do to be saved,” can get complicated, especially as we seek to apply it to an evangelistic situation.
I described a situation in which a person in a Bible study I was conducting while I was in college expressed interest in being saved, and so I led him in the sinners prayer, an approach almost universally used by evangelicals today. The plot thickened when this apparently sincere person soon fell away, no longer expressing spiritual interests. This response suggested that he lacked spiritual life and consequently had not actually been saved.
This development prompted the question of whether the prayer in which I led him, telling God he was a sinner, acknowledging that Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for his sins, and inviting Jesus into his heart, had failed to capture the essence of saving faith.
In reflecting on this outcome, and the procedure leading to it, it comes to mind that nowhere does Scripture indicate that praying a prayer is something we need to do to be saved. In fact, I can’t think of any place in Scripture where someone who desires to be saved is led in a prayer.
We all know, rather, that the scriptural response to the gospel is to go forward in a meeting. Oh, that’s right, that’s not in the Bible either.
What then does the Bible call us to do. The great commission calls us to baptize people wanting to be saved. That’s what Jesus did, and that’s what we see done in the Book of Acts, beginning on the day of Pentecost. The Church of Christ denomination believes that people must be baptized to be saved.
Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
Most evangelicals view this requirement as comprising works salvation, making the point that it is not baptism but faith that saves us. It is interesting that if the work we designate, praying a prayer or going forward in a meeting is required, that is not works. However, if the work prescribed by Scripture is required, that is unscriptural.
I’m not suggesting that a person needs to be baptized in order to be saved. Anybody taking this position is quickly directed to the thief on the cross as one person who got to Paradise without baptism.
Using the thief on the cross to argue against the necessity of baptism for salvation is bogus in that his situation did not allow him to get baptized before death. What does this say about people who can be baptized but are not, or people who lead someone to the Lord and don’t stress the necessity of baptism? This question is meaningful since Scripture does connote that those wanting to be saved should be baptized, and since every baptism in the Book of Acts took place immediately when the person believed, which underscores the close connection between the two seen by New Testament evangelists.
Why the Connection between Baptism and Salvation?
This connection calls us to ask why Scripture so closely links baptism with salvation, in many passages at least making it appear that baptism and salvation are inseparable. It seems that baptism constitutes a symbol of saving faith, an act by which one communicates his belief. Therefore, the person expresses his faith through baptism.
I wonder about the outcome if I would have stressed the need for my college friend to be baptized in connection with salvation. One result may have been that he would have concluded that if baptism was connected with salvation he did not want any part of it. That probably would have been a better outcome since it would not have left him with a false sense of security. Or he might have agreed to be baptized, and it might have been that this experience would have solidified his faith, resulting in genuine spiritual life.
Let’s Not Be Legalistic
Don’t you think those people are rather legalistic and judgmental who require some kind of marriage ceremony, whether it be at a church or a Justice of the Peace? After all, it’s what’s in your heart that counts. If a couple love each other and are committed to each other, why do they have to bother with some formal ceremony? I think it’s okay under those circumstances for them just to live together, don’t you?
My guess is that you don’t agree with that conclusion, and neither do I. But isn’t it strange that we are so strongly committed to a marriage ceremony and can be so indifferent about the ceremony related to salvation that God prescribes time and again in His Word?
What does all that have to say about saving faith? Something important, which I plan to discuss tomorrow.