OceanSide church of Christ

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Essential Nature of Baptism, Romans 3:28

Victor M. Eskew

            For some reason, the denominational world has rejected the essential nature of baptism in God’s plan of salvation.  They do not believe and teach that one must be baptized in order to be saved.  This seems strange in light of Jesus’ words in Mark 16:16.  “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

            One of the arguments devised by man against baptism is centered upon its being a work.  This is interesting since the Bible nowhere declares that baptism is a work.  Once placed in the category of a work, it is then rejected as being necessary to salvation based upon Paul’s writings about works and deeds.  One of these passages is Romans 3:28.  “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”  Baptism is said to be a deed of the law.  Paul says that such deeds do not bring justification.  Therefore we are told, baptism does not save.  Salvation is solely and only by faith.

            There are at least three points that can be made in answer to this teaching.  We have already made the first one.  Where in the Bible is baptism ever referred to as a work?  This is an assumption and an assertion that comes from the minds of men.  It is interesting, on the other hand, that Jesus refers to belief as a work of God (John 6:29).

            A second point comes from the little book of James.  James notes that there are works that justify.  In James 2:24, he puts these works in contrast to faith only.  “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”  There are some works that justify mankind.  Which works are these?  Could these works be simple acts of obedience to the will of God?  Could these include the command to be baptized (Acts 22:16)?  Let’s listen to Peter’s words of Acts 10:34-35.  “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respector of persons:  but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”  To be accepted of God, one must work righteousness.  Psalm 119:172 tells us that all of God’s commands are righteousness.  This plainly affirms that the works that justify man are the works man does in obedience to God’s commands.

            This leads to our third point.  What does Paul mean in Romans 3:28.  The apostle plainly says that “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”  In the context of Romans 2 and 3, Paul was speaking to the Jews.  Many of the Jews believed that is was necessary to keep the law of Moses in addition to the words of Christ in order to be saved (See Acts 15:5).  In Romans, Paul makes a bold stand against this position.  The deeds of the law of Moses are not essential to salvation.  Both Jews and Gentiles are now under the new covenant of Jesus Christ.  It was this law, the law of Christ, that had the power to save.  This was Paul’s premise from the outset of the book of Romans.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:  for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also the Greek.  For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith:  as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17).  To apply Paul’s words about the deeds of the law of Moses to acts of obedience within the New Covenant is a wrong application of the text.