The Expository Files



 Baptism or Prayer: Which Work Leads to Salvation?

Is baptism necessary for salvation? Or are believers saved when they pray the sinner's prayer? These questions have provoked incredible confusion among those professing Christianity. Clearly, God is not the author of such confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33)!

Many argue that since baptism is a work, it is not necessary for salvation. Besides the fact that this position stems from a misinterpretation of passages like Romans 4:2-5 and Ephesians 2:8-9, it also suffers from some other critical problems. Even if these passages did not refer to works of The Law (of Moses), which they do, they would still not justify the man-made substitution of one work for another.

Those who reject baptism as necessary for salvation teach that a believer must "accept Jesus into his heart" by praying the sinner's prayer. According to their teaching, once a believer does this, he is saved. Nothing else is required. Baptism is merely optional (an outward sign of an inward grace).

The problem with this position is that prayer is as much of an individual work as baptism (even by their definition). Therefore, which work leads to salvation?

Epaphras was "laboring fervently ... in prayers" (Colossians 4:12). Paul asked that we "strive together with [him] in prayers" (Romans 15:30). Who can argue that prayer is a work of men?

Thus, could a believer not boast in his prayer? Is not his prayer a meritorious work? While these questions are rhetorical, the problem with this position is not.

Essentially, man has arbitrarily chosen which righteous work leads to salvation and which does not, in spite of the Bible's plain and unambiguous teaching.

There are numerous examples of believers coming to Christ. Each example includes the practice of baptism (Acts 2:38,41,47; Acts 8:12-13, 36-38; Acts 9:18; Acts 10:47-48; Acts 16:14-15, 31-34; Acts 18:8; Acts 19:3-5; Acts 22:16). The Lord's final instructions to His apostles included how to make disciples of every nation. They were to "baptize them" (Matthew 28:18; cf. Mark 16:15-16). Several other passages directly state and imply the significance of baptism for a believer who is coming to Christ for the first time (cf. Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6:1-7; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 2:11-12; 1 Peter 3:21; 1 Corinthians 1:13-14).

On the other hand, there is not a single example of any soul praying his way into Christ. As a matter of fact, Saul (later known as the apostle Paul) was told by the Lord to "go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:6). When the Lord sent Ananias to Saul, nothing was mentioned about prayer. Saul had already been praying for an extended period of time, but was told "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 9:9-18; Acts 22:16). In other words, his prayers did not save him, but baptism did (cf. 1 Peter 3:21). The problem and confusion with this position is not with what the Bible says, but with what man says!

Prayer or baptism? Both are clearly works, but only one leads to salvation "by grace through faith" (Ephesians 2:8-11; Romans 10:17; Hebrews 11:6). Both are clearly Biblical works, but only one is the act of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21). Both are clearly righteous Biblical works, but only one will take a first-time believer out of sin and bring him into Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). Both are clearly good, righteous Biblical works, but only one has been appointed by God to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Regarding your salvation, whose teaching will you follow-God's or man's?

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By Jonathan Perz
From Expository Files 15.6; June 2008