OceanSide church of Christ

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Faith and Works, Matthew 3:15

Victor M. Eskew


            It has been argued that the salvation of man has nothing to do with works.  Several “proof-texts” are set forth to substantiate this claim.  One of them is Titus 3:5.  “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”  Those who take this position include baptism in their list of works that do not save.  This is done because of what Jesus told John the Baptist at His baptism.  “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John to be baptized of him.  But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?  And Jesus answering said unto him, suffer it to be so now:  for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.  Then he suffered him” (Matt. 3:13-15).  Jesus links baptism with fulfilling righteousness.  Thus, since one is not saved by works of righteousness, we are told that he is not saved by baptism.

            In answer to this argument, let’s look at other passages of Scripture.  The first is 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.”  Notice that Peter asserts that those who work righteousness are accepted by God.  Does Peter contradict Paul?  Certainly not!

            Peter and Paul are referencing two different types of righteousness.  The Scriptures clearly delineate between the two.  In Psalm 119:172, we learn that all of the commandments of God are righteousness.  The working of this righteousness is absolutely necessary.  In order to be well-pleasing unto God, one must obey (Matt. 7:21, Heb. 5:8-9; Rev. 22:14).  Baptism falls into this category of righteousness.  It is a command of God to be obeyed (Acts 10:47-48).

            The second set of works of righteousness involves ways and means devised by man in an attempt to gain salvation.  These ways stand in opposition to God’s revealed plan.  An example of this is found in Romans 10:1-3.  The Jews rejected God’s righteousness and attempted to establish their own means of righteousness through the Law of Moses.  Paul, therefore, prayed for their salvation.  “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God”(Rom. 10:2).  Many are following in the footsteps of the Jews today.  They reject God’s plan of righteousness found in the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17) and seek to establish their own means of salvation.  Such works cannot save (Eph. 2:8-9).