“We are saved only by grace.” “I believe in faith-only salvation.” “You cannot work your way into heaven.” “Obedience doesn’t save – Jesus saves.”
We’ve all heard blanket statements like these. While they may be partially true, left alone they are dangerously misleading.
Grace, faith, works of obedience, baptism – all of these things play a vital role in your salvation.
Look at what the Bible says:
We are saved 100% by grace
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)
We are guilty of sinning against an infinite God (Isa. 59:1-2). Therefore, we are “dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked” (Eph. 2:1-2). Dead people are helpless. If we are to be saved, it will be entirely by God’s great grace. My hope rests in God’s preemptive offer of salvation.
We are saved 100% by faith
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:1)
Because salvation is entirely due to God’s grace, God alone gets to set the terms and conditions. He has opted not save people willy-nilly. Instead, He saves people through their faith. But don’t confuse the means of our salvation (faith) with the occasion of our salvation (baptism). Nowhere in the Bible does it teach someone can be saved “as soon as” he/she believes – faith must be a working faith.
We are saved 100% by works of obedience
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (Rom. 2:13)
By “works” we aren’t talking about works of merit (none of us merit salvation, cf. Rom. 3:10). We are talking about works of obedience. The only time the Bible says “faith alone” it is preceded by the words “not by.” Faith cannot save you if it doesn’t move you to obey Him (Jas. 2:14). Yet God, by His grace, has given us the free gift of salvation – which we can have if we obey Him (Rom. 6:17-18). It is grace that God has even given us a way to Him to begin with!
To become a Christian, there is something we must do: we must submit to the Lord in repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). To remain a Christian, I must continue “walking not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, 4).
We are saved 100% by baptism
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:21)
Not just any baptism, but specifically baptism “for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Titus 3:5). When our faith drives us to obey the Lord in baptism, we are – at the point of immersion in water – fully and entirely saved (Heb. 10:22-23). Baptism is the exclusive means of entry into Christ (Gal. 3:26). Let us hold unwaveringly to this truth.
How are these not contradictions?
You are saved entirely by grace – entirely by faith – entirely by obedience – entirely at baptism – but you cannot be saved at the exclusion of any one of these.
A great host of Bible-believing people mistakenly believe that we are saved as soon as we have faith in Jesus. Similarly, a shocking number of Bible-believing people believe works have no part in our salvation.
This is why it is so important to believe the whole Bible, not just pick and choose the verses that seem to fit our pre-conceived theology.
Pay very close attention to what I’m about to say. (Much confusion could be avoided if people just explained what they meant when talking about salvation.) Grace, faith, obedience, and baptism are all essential legs to the chair.
The Bible says we can only be saved by God’s grace. Make no mistake: God has granted this salvation through faith, but that does not mean salvation is granted “as soon as one believes.” On the contrary, while salvation happens through faith, it occurs in baptism (Col. 2:12).
We don’t accomplish salvation simply by our own works or willpower. Salvation is not something we do – it is something done to us (Col. 2:13). But God doesn’t save anyone against their will. We must submit to the Lord in lifelong obedience motivated by our love for Him (Mark 12:30; John 14:15). Baptism is the point at which our faith comes in contact with God’s saving grace.
Nowhere in the New Covenant (Jesus’ last will & testament) do we read about someone being saved apart from their obedience to God.
To continue being saved by God’s grace, we must continue serving God in faithful obedience – not because this will somehow merit salvation (Luke 17:10), but because we love Him and our faithfulness to Him is God’s condition for our salvation. Thus, Christians are urged to remain faithful (Acts 11:23) and continue walking in His light (1 John 1:7).
Think of it this way:
We are justified by grace: Grace is the reason we can have salvation to begin with.
We are justified by faith: Faith is the means through which we are allowed access to God’s grace.
We are justified by works of obedience: Obedience is the way by which we exercise our faith.
We are justified by baptism: Baptism is the occasion at which God accomplishes our salvation.
Grace, faith, obedience, and baptism are all words describing the basis of our salvation from different perspectives. All must be kept in view of one another. Salvation is much too important not to get this right.
And now – those who believe that Jesus is Lord and that God wants to save you – why do you wait? “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).
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