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Question #122

Baptism is a work and we are not saved by works, right?

On your web site, you state the salvation occurs only when baptism takes place. If that is true how do you deal with Eph. 2:8 -9? "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Salvation is either all Grace or no grace. You cannot mix grace and works. It has to be one or the other. The thief on the cross had no chance to do the work of baptism. Did Jesus lie to him when He promised that "today thou shall be with me in Paradise?" before you answer that, you may want to study Paradise to see what Jesus was referring to. I am anxiously waiting to here from you on this, the most crucial issue, the salvation of souls.

The Answer:

The following response also applies to Question 125 and Question 208.

These three questions all relate to whether baptism is essential to salvation. The inquirers are directed to our Lesson on Baptism, and to Questions and Answers, Nos. 4, 27, 60, 81, 84, 117, 141, 120, and 215. In addition to that information, the following comments may be made.

First, there is no serious dispute about the identity of Paradise -- it is the Hadean realm. See Luke 16:19-31. The question is not whether Jesus and the thief went to Paradise; the question is whether the thief was subject to the baptism of Jesus. Those who ask, “What about the thief,” ask that question because there is no record that the thief was ever baptized. Those who ask the question assume from the silence of the scripture that he was not baptized. They never offer any proof that he was not; they just ask all to believe that their unproved assumption is correct. Arguments from silence are always dangerous, especially if there is any evidence at all upon the issue.

Second, there is some evidence on the issue.

  1. The thief knew something about Jesus, about the kingdom, and that he needed Jesus. Where did he get that information? While the scripture does not speak directly to that question, it does suggest at least two possibilities -- the preaching of John the Baptist and the preaching of Jesus and His disciples.

  2. Both the preaching of John or of Jesus both included baptism. Mark 4:1 (John); John 4:1-2 (Jesus). John’s baptism was one of repentance for the remission of sins.

  3. Great multitudes went out to John to be baptized by him (Mark 1:4-5; Matthew 3:5-6; Luke 3:7; John 4:1-2).

  4. John baptized multitudes; Jesus through his disciples baptized even more (John 4:1-2).

Third, in light of this evidence it is more probable than not that the thief was among the multitudes who heard and were baptized. There is certainly more Biblical evidence in favor of the assumption that he was baptized than there is in favor of the assumption that he was not. The positive assumption has all of the circumstantial evidence; the negative assumption has none. The problem is that both are still assumptions.

But did the thief need the baptism of the great commission? Here the answer is clear. He did not. See Question 4 and Lesson 3. But someone has raised a question about when the thief died in relationship to the death of Christ and postulated that the thief died after Christ and thus was subject to the baptism of the great commission. Of course, this ignores that fact that he was pardoned before the death of Christ. Additionally, it ignores that the baptism of the Great Commission was no commanded until after the death of Christ and was not preached before Pentecost.

Finally, it is regrettable that the person who asked you the question is working so hard to find some way to avoid the clear teaching of scripture that baptism is for (in order to obtain) the remission of sins when the truth is that it is irrelevant to his condition. He did not die before the baptism of the great commission was commanded or before it was preached. Without dispute, he lives under and is governed by the great commission and that which by inspiration began to be preached on the day of Pentecost. Look at the chart on the purpose of baptism in response to Question 120 and Question 215. If, instead of asking how he could get around the command he asked what he must do, the answer of Peter and scripture would still be the same: “Repent ye, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Acts 2:38.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)