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Q. Does One Have To Be Baptized And Commit Themselves To A Discipleship Program In Order To Be Saved? Is Salvation Faith Plus Works?

Answer

Dear *****,

Thanks for your question.

The first thing I would say is that social media is probably not the best place for a Christian to go for help in the Christian life. There are far too many folks with their own agenda (and heresies). Without having any way to know them personally, or to get a sense of their own Christian walk (if they have one), it is far too risky. I’m thinking about texts like these:

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed-- God is witness-- 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; 11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. 13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:3-13; see also 2 Thessalonians 3:6-9).

16 Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:16-17).

I believe that it is vitally important to be an active participant in a solid, Bible believing, Bible teaching church, with godly leaders. It is such persons to whom we should listen when it comes to Bible doctrine (such as salvation).

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).

Having said that, it sounds pretty clear to me that the person that you have recently been talking with is seeking to add works to faith as a requirement for salvation. We are saved to good works, not by good works:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).

I would suggest that you read the book of Galatians several times. We are saved by trusting in what Jesus did for us when He took our place, paying the penalty for our sins. He saved us, not by what He has done plus our works, but by His work alone. When Paul and Barnabas came back from their first missionary journey, there were Judaizers who insisted that Gentiles must become Jewish converts and keep the law (symbolized by being circumcised):

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

The Jerusalem Council clearly rejected this claim, with the reminder that even the Jews could not keep the law:

6 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 “And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (Acts 15:6-11; see also verses 19-29).

The Jerusalem Council concluded that men – Jew or Gentile – are saved by faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, and not by works. As I read the Book of Galatians, it seems to me that what these legalists are now saying is something like this:

“O.K., a person is saved by faith in Christ, but when it comes to sanctification and living the Christian life, one must follow the law.”

This, too, is strongly rejected by Paul, because we are sanctified the same way we are saved, by grace, not by our works. Notice how Paul handles this new effort to put Gentiles under the Law in order to be sanctified:

1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal. 3:1-3)

Paul is insistent that we are sanctified the same way we are saved:

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him (Colossians 2:6).

Just think about the way that God saved the Gentiles who came to hear Peter preach the gospel in the home of Cornelius:

34 Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. 36 “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)-- 37 you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. 38 “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 “We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 “God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” 48 And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days (Acts 10:34-48).

Peter didn’t even have the opportunity to give an invitation to come to faith. They believed, the Holy Spirit came upon them (just as He had at Pentecost in Acts 2), and then, finally, they were baptized. They did absolutely nothing to add to their salvation. It was all of God’s work.

And that is exactly what Peter said when some of his Jewish (law-oriented) colleagues challenged him for taking the gospel to Gentiles (Acts 11:1-3). Peter told of how God had convinced him to go to the Gentiles (Acts 11:4-14). And then he made a point of telling these folks how the Spirit came upon these new believers:

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 “Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:15-18).

Peter’s words clearly declare the message of the gospel. It is all about Jesus, and the work HE DID on the cross, taking the sinner’s place, and suffering the punishment we deserve, and then rising from the dead. The moment those Gentile folks believed, the Holy Spirit came upon them, just like Pentecost, affirming that they were saved. Then, after the Holy Spirit confirmed their salvation, they were baptized, symbolizing their identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Works, and even “discipleship” is not mentioned here, just simple faith.

I might add that in the book of Acts the term “disciple (s)” is found 28 times, and in virtually in every case the word is simply used to refer to a Christian. Acts assumes that every Christian is a disciple, rather than to teach that you must commence some rigorous discipleship process in order to become a Christian. By the way, the word “disciple” disappears after the Book of Acts. I believe this is because the church is now the context for edification and growth, as a part of the body of our Lord (see Ephesians 4:4-16). Discipleship (by some other name) is important in the sense that every believer should continue to grow in Christ, but it is not a “work” we do in order to become a Christian.

Paul very strongly rejects the addition of any requirement other than faith to what is necessary for salvation. I believe the same is true for sanctification. We do not produce good works in order to be holy; we manifest good works because of what Jesus Christ has done, and through the Holy Spirit, Whom He has given to every believer. Romans 6 explains why sanctification is necessary. Romans 7 shows us why we cannot do this in our own strength. Romans 8 tells us how God has provided for salvation and sanctification at the cross:

22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 7:22-8:11).

Thus, good works is the intended result of salvation, rather than its cause (Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 5:22-23). There is a world of difference between the “root” of salvation, and the “fruit.”

Let us take note that Paul uses the strongest of words to pronounce condemnation on those who would seek to convince others that good works (including baptism) are necessary additions to what God has done to achieve our salvation:

6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! 10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ (Galatians 1:6-10).

Let me mention two other lines of evidence to underscore the fact that salvation is not by works, but by faith.

The annual Day of Atonement, described in Leviticus chapter 16, is a prototype, and anticipation of the coming of Christ, and His sacrificial death as the perfect “Lamb of God” to make a permanent atonement for our sins. The Book of Hebrews has much to say about this (see chapters 8-10). But what I want to call to your attention is the fact that the Day of Atonement was a Sabbath

27 "But the bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp, and they shall burn their hides, their flesh, and their refuse in the fire. 28 "Then the one who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water, then afterward he shall come into the camp. 29 "This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; 30 for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean [2 person plural] from all your sins before the LORD. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute” (Leviticus 16:27-31).

Atonement for the sins of the nation was the work of one person, the High Priest. He alone entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sacrificial animal. And what is most important to note is that this Day of Atonement was a Sabbath, when no work could be done. The Israelites did nothing to contribute to the atonement which would be accomplished for them by the High Priest.

This is exactly what happened when the Lord Jesus, our Great High Priest, made atonement through His blood, once for all. He did it all, for all time, and we add nothing to His work by adding our works. Indeed, our works would only serve to diminish our appreciation for His work.

Let me give one last line of evidence, which lays this whole matter to rest. Any work which we do, prior to salvation, must, by its very nature be a work of the flesh, since the Spirit has not yet possessed us. Look again at the latter part of Romans 7 and the first verses of chapter 8:

18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 7:18-8:11).

Without the Spirit of God dwelling in us, empowering us, sin dominates us, and we cannot please God. Any “work” which we do prior to salvation must be a work of the flesh, and not a work of the Spirit. Once we are saved through faith in the work of Christ, the Holy Spirit now indwells us, empowering us to do the things we could never do in the flesh. So our “good works” prior to salvation cannot contribute to salvation. It is Christ’s work alone that saves, and when His Spirit then indwells us, we are empowered to do the things that please God.

The evidence of these biblical texts is clear. No work of ours, prior to salvation, contributes to our salvation. Salvation is the work of God in us, through faith, which results in good works. Faith in Christ’s saving work is the “root” of our salvation; good works is the “fruit” of our salvation.

It is only this kind of salvation that gives the believer assurance of their salvation. If my salvation is contingent to some degree on my works, then I must always wonder if my works are good enough (and rightly so!). If my salvation is based solely on the work of Christ on my behalf, then I can be as confident in my salvation as I am in Christ, and His work. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.

I hope this helps,

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Baptism, Discipleship, Soteriology (Salvation)

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