Recently on The Breakdown Radio program, a listener by the name of Tim called in regarding baptism and its relationship to salvation. He challenged the orthodox belief of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone – to the glory of God alone. These are otherwise known as the Five Solas of the reformation.
Since this was challenged and requires more explanation, there will be multiple posts on this topic to cover all of the nuances at hand which are conjured up during the discussion. This post is going to be focused on the grounds of our justification, and the next several will focus on the purpose and nature of baptism, proper interpretation of proof texts and commonly asked questions.
Many have pondered the difficult question: how can God declare guilty sinners just before Him? Especially when Proverbs 17:15 declares, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” Would not God, by His own standard, be an abomination to Himself? This is absurd. So we ask ourselves how we, as sinful, unrighteous men and women be declared “not guilty” by the Judge of the universe?
This is the real question behind all attacks on the Gospel, especially those who attempt to add works into the equation. The answer is simple: The basis of our justification (or God declaring us “not guilty”) is Jesus Christ.
If you hear the gospel, you can respond to it either positively or negatively. When a penitent sinner is regenerated (made alive) by the Holy Spirit, the respond with “repentance toward God and…faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,” Acts 20:21. At that moment, God declares applies the righteousness of Christ to our lives, He credits to our account, if you will, the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ and the merit He earned on the cross for our sins – and by doing that He can declare us not guilty. Because now, when God sees us He doesn’t see our checkered past, our old sins or transgression – He sees the perfect account of Christ, totally credited to us by faith.
Abraham heard this gospel preached to him in his day and God counted it to him as righteousness as well(Genesis 15:16). Paul then brings that up in the New Testament and shows us that, in fact, it is the very same gospel by which we are saved.
So now, we move on to a touchy issue. What is required of a person when they respond in faith to the gospel?
Brace yourselves…absolutely nothing. Hang with me, we’ll get there.
Throughout scripture it is shown that these dissensions were anticipated by God. One such occurrence is in the book of Romans, round about chapter 4 when the Apostle Paul says this:
“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God,” (v. 1-2, emphasis mine).
What did Abraham gain by his works? Nothing at all. Some will attempt to say that repentance and faith are works of the flesh, but this is not so. Repentance and faith will inevitably happen in a person’s life that is truly regenerated by God as natural responses to the glorious Gospel of God revealed in their hearts. Much like a person who is awakened in the morning by the rising sun will wince and cover their eyes as a natural response to the sun’s rays, so a sinner freshly roused by the weight of their sin before a holy God will cry out in repentance and faith and cling to the cross of Christ and worship Him for His great kindness and love in which He atoned for their transgressions.
“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness,” Romans 4:3 emphasis mine). If faith were a work then this passage would contradict itself, for the reason that following it the Apostle says,
“now to the one who works his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin,” (verses 4-8 emphasis mine)
This whole passage is an indictment of anyone who attempts to bring any work of sinful humanity into the picture when discussing that matter of the application of the Gospel to our lives.
So what does all of this have to do with baptism? Very simple: if the basis of our justification is the completed work of Christ on the cross and the crediting of His righteousness to our lives then there is nothing we can do in addition to that to be saved.
By saying that you must be baptized you are saying that the grounds of your being declared not guilty is the righteousness of Christ AND…that is just not the case whatsoever.
The Bible makes it very clear time and again that we are justified by faith alone (Romans 3:22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30; 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:9, etc.).
The Apostles and early church never indicated in the slightest that baptism was a requirement of salvation. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul made it very clear that, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,” 1 Corinthians 1:17. Now if Paul were to remove an important aspect of the Gospel – baptism – stressing that Christ didn’t send him to do that, wouldn’t he be guilty of taking away from the words of God’s law, and thereby condemning himself (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32; Revelation 22:18)? Not only would Paul be condemning himself but his hearers that were not being baptized for the remission of sins causing them not to follow the Biblical gospel and in danger of bearing God’s wrath (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8)?
The Christian can rest assured that the same gospel which was preached to Abraham was preached all the way through the formation of the early church and continues on today and that is simply this: Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. The Christian whose heart has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit is saved apart from works. What a glorious gospel we have.
Until next time…make Christ supremely valuable.
Soli Deo Gloria