Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
The doctrines of “faith only” and “once-saved, always’ saved” have done so much to deceive religious people into believing things about the doctrine of salvation that are at odds with the Scripture, which teach that faith without works is dead (Js. 2:17,20,26) and that it is possible to fall from grace (Gal. 5:4; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). Therefore, many of our Bible classes and sermons have emphasized what the Bible teaches on these matters. We want to avoid an unscriptural position.
In the midst of emphasizing that a faith that saves is a faith that obeys, we rightly teach that repentance and baptism is part of saving faith (Ac. 2:38). We teach that baptism saves (1 Pet. 3:21). It washes away sins (Ac. 22:16). It clothes us with Christ (Gal. 3:27). These are just some of the Bible’s truths about the essentiality of baptism.
There is something we must guard against, however, in our properly emphasizing that baptism not only is part of God’s saving plan but is a pivotal part (1 Co. 12:13; Mk. 16:16; Rom. 6:3-4). We must not believe in “baptism only” or “once-baptized, always saved.” Is it possible to adhere to such a view? Perhaps.
- A rush to baptism without grasping why it must be done and what must accompany it is insufficient. We read of people being pierced to the heart by the gospel (Ac. 2:37), asking what they must do, being told to “repent and be baptized” (Ac. 2:38), and receiving that word and doing so (Ac. 2:41). Baptism cannot substitute for the total heart and directional change which the gospel calls for (Rom. 6:17).
- The thought that baptism is the end of one’s commitment rather than the beginning is incorrect. As thoughtfully and deliberately as we can, we must teach the totality of discipleship (Mt. 16:24-26) and the necessity of counting the cost of discipleship (Lk. 14:28). Sometimes, the newly baptized conclude that since they have done so everything is settled. While baptism coupled with a correct understanding of Scripture does forgive one’s sins, one must begin and continue a walk in the light of Christ (1 Jn. 1:7-10).
Christ’s Great Commission call to His disciples is to make disciples (Mt. 28:19). That includes baptizing them, but also teaching them (Mt. 28:19-20). In our teaching, we need to do all we can to paint Scripture’s complete picture not only of faith but also of baptism. There is no “magic” in the water (1 Pet. 3:21). Its saving ability comes when done by one who makes “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” We cannot leave babes in Christ to flounder without helping them form roots in Him. They need to know that baptism is not the end, but the beginning.
If someone in our directory has been baptized but shows no other sign of commitment, from attendance to involvement, we need to lovingly help them see that they are not spiritually OK (Gal. 6:1). When they die, we cannot preach them into heaven simply because they were properly taught and baptized years or decades ago. The life in Christ is about a “walk” (Eph. 4:1), not just about a moment when they got wet.