Baptism and Works


by Wayne S. Walker

     I recently received an e-mail message with a question from someone who I assume had gone to Steve Rudd’s website, for which I was serving as a local contact. Here is the query, followed by my response.

     Question: "I am interested in joining the Church of Christ, but somehow, I have come to an impasse when I came to their doctrine of Baptism. I am of the the belief that we are saved by grace or faith and not by works, and that baptism is classified as ‘works.’

     "I have read the section titled, ‘Click onto your objection and learn why it is invalid.’ Well, I looked up the word ‘FOR’ in Strong’s exhaustive concordance and found the Greek word to be GAR. ‘For’ is Greek word 1063, 1063 is GAR which means ‘because.’ EIS means ‘to’ or ‘into,’ page 27 of the Greek section. EIS is not the Greek used in Acts.2:38 but GAR is, and GAR is translated ‘Because.’

     "From my understanding from Strong’s concordance, the meaning of these two words are just the opposite in which this article claims.

     "Could you please comment on this discreption?"

     Response: I don’t know how you determined that "eis" is not the Greek word used in Acts 2.38 (perhaps you misread or misunderstood Strong’s–I checked #1063 in Strongs and it does give "for" as one possible meaning for "eis"), but you are simply mistaken. I am looking at my Greek text right now, and the Greek word "gar" is not there at all. The word translated "for" in the phrase "for the remission of sins" is "eis," which, as you note, means "to" or "into," although it is often translated "for."

     Our English word "for" can have several different meanings depending on the context. We sometimes us it to mean "because of," as in "he was punished for his misbehavior." However, we sometimes use it to mean "in order to obtain," as in "I am going to the store for a quart of milk." The Greek language has different prepositions for those different meanings. As you indicate, "gar" means "because of" and is NOT used in Acts 2.38.

     Although some scholars dispute this, most agree that the word "eis" carries the idea of "into, with a view towards, in order to." In fact, different translations read "that you may have your sins forgiven" or "into the remission of your sins" or "in order to have your sins forgiven." None that I checked read "because of the remission of sins." It is the exact same construction in the Greek as Matthew 26.28 where Jesus said, "For (here it is "gar"="because") this is my blood of the new testament which is shed for (here it is "peri"="concerning") many for (here it is "eis" just as in Acts 2.38) the remission of sins."

     The basic same construction in the original "eis aphesin hamartion" (Acts 2.38 does add "ton" or "the" before sins, but that doesn’t substantially change the meaning since it is part of the construction "the sins of you" meaning "your sins" since Peter was speaking to a specific group of people, whereas Jesus was speaking generally of all mankind) is used in both passages. Did Jesus shed His blood "because of" remission of sins, which would mean that man already had remission before His blood was shed? No, He shed His blood "in order to" make remission of sins possible and available.

     Therefore, we are not baptized "because of" remission of sins, meaning that we already had remission before we were baptized, but we are baptized "in order to" receive remission of sins. Jesus explains what He did "for remission of sins"–shed His blood; Peter explains what mankind must do "for remission of sins"–repent and be baptized.

     This brings me to your statement that "we are saved by grace or faith and not by works, and that baptism is classified as ‘works.’" Truly, the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2.8-9–I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean by "grace or faith," but if you mean what Eph. 2.8-9 says, then that is fine). However, Paul doesn’t say by grace and/or faith alone.

     Also, Paul doesn’t say, "not by works" period. He identifies the nature of the works of which he speaks. He says, "Not of works, lest any man should boast." It is works of which man can boast. Fallible man has set up the claim that salvation is either by grace or faith (alone) or by works (period). The Bible does not teach either extreme. Yes, we are justified by grace (Rom. 3.24). Yes, we are justified by faith (Rom. 5.1). And it is true that "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us" (Tit. 3.5).

     You say that "baptism is classified as ‘works.’" By whom? Can you find a single passage of scripture where baptism is called "a work," especially a work "of righteousness which we have done"? I know that baptism is the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself–Matthew 28.18-20, Mark 16.16. I know that it is a command given by an inspired apostle guided by the Holy Spirit–Acts 2.38, 10.47-48. And I know that baptism is identified in the New Testament as that which puts us into Christ (Romans 6.3-4, Galatians 3.26-27). However, I cannot find any passage which teaches, or even implies, that baptism is a work of righteousness which we have done.

     I think the problem lies in how we define works. If you define works as anything that mankind does in the process of being saved, then I would deny that we are not saved by works, because that is not what either Eph. 2.8-9 or Tit. 3.5 is talking about. These passages are talking about works of goodness as determined by human thinking by which we seek to merit God’s favor. We are definitely NOT saved by those kinds of works. But baptism is not that kind of work. It was taught by Jesus, commanded by the apostles, and revealed as the condition of our obedience which puts us into Christ.

     If the definition of "works" is anything that a person does in the process of being saved, then what about faith? You admit that we are saved by faith or believing (exact same word in the original Greek). In Jn. 6.28-29 we read, "Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." They asked what they needed to do to work the works of God. Jesus didn’t say there’s nothing to do. What did Jesus say is the work of God, that is, the work that God wanted them to do? It is to believe on Christ. Having faith or believing on Christ is something that WE do (Jn. 20.39-31, Acts 16.30-32, Rom. 10.17). Jesus Himself said that it is a work. Now, are we saved without works, period?

     This helps to explain Jas. 2.14-26, where James argues, "You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (v. 24). James is NOT talking about works of righteousness which we have done or works of which we can boast. He’s simply talking about obeying the commands that God has revealed for us to do. Because God, through His Son by Holy Spirit inspired apostles, commanded us to be baptized for remission of sins, it’s not a work of righteousness which we have done and of which we can boast. It is simply a condition that we must obey to receive the pardon that He offers by His grace through the blood of Christ.

     I hope that these thoughts have been helpful to you. (—in Faith and Facts; Jan., 2008; Vol. 36, No. 1; pp. 78-82.)


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