Isn't baptism a work? Since we aren't saved by works (Eph 2:8-9), baptism can't be part of salvation. What do you teach about this?—Anonymous

In the New Testament, baptism is never called a "work." In historic Christian doctrine—in the Creed—baptism is "for the forgiveness of sins." The relevant sentence: "I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins." (Ὁμολογῶ ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν.) This is the language of Acts 2:38. In the book of Acts, where the Christian church is birthed and there are many conversion accounts, there is no example of someone becoming a Christian by saying a prayer.

Most churches that reject baptism as an essential part of the salvation process embrace salvation by prayer—the Sinner's Prayer. One must verbally invite Jesus into one's heart. Now this is interesting. Whereas baptism is passive—an action undertaken by others, the Sinner's Prayer is active—something we must do. Baptism is done to us; the prayer is done by us.

So how is the prayer not a work? If by "work" we mean something meritorious—something we do in order to deserve God's forgiveness—then I am unaware of any faith group holding to such a position. To be clear, I am not suggesting that evangelicals have adopted works-salvation. But I am pointing out a widespread inconsistency.

The fundamental question concerns when and how God forgives our sin, makes us his sons and daughters, incorporates us into the body of Christ... Does this happen by mere prayer? Or does the new birth take place in the water?

A brief note about Ephesians 2:8-9. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." The passage is not about how one receives salvation, but about the basis of salvation. It's all grace!

The discussion should center not around whether we earn our salvation, since all parties concur that forgiveness of sins is by God's pure grace. The real question: What does the New Testament teach about conversion? Where is grace received?


Ron Clark (Portland, OR) weighs in:

I wanted to offer another verse for support. I usually use Titus 3:1-5 to suggest that baptism is not a work.

First, Paul uses the term “bath place of rebirth”—the word loutron is a noun, not a verb. Second, Paul made the distinction between “deeds done by us in righteousness” and “baptism,” which seems to suggest that he didn’t view baptism as a work. Third, Titus 3:1-5 parallels the language of Eph 2:1-8; in one passage, salvation is by faith, while in the other it is through God’s mercy in baptism.