[forthright] Do Works Have Any Role in Salvation?

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From: Forthright Magazine <forthrightmag@...>
Date: Thu, 14 Sep 2006 15:02:19 -0500
Forthright Magazine
Straight to the Cross

COLUMN: Fidelity

Do Works Have Any Role in Salvation?
by Mike Benson

It is frequently suggested that man cannot do
anything -- other than believe, in terms of his
salvation;/1 that "works" are the natural
consequence of salvation, but they do not have any
role in securing or receiving salvation. Is this
popular doctrine in harmony with the revealed will
of God? Consider what the Bible has to say:

Faith is a work. John recorded, "Then they said to
Him, 'What shall we do, that we may work the works
of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is
the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He
sent'" (John 6:28,29). The disciples asked, "What
shall we DO ...?" In his response, the Lord
neither corrected nor condemned them for their
sincere inquiry. He did not say, "Do? Beloved, you
cannot do anything pertaining to your salvation."
On the contrary, Jesus said, "This is the WORK of
[from] God/2 THAT YOU BELIEVE." If all works are
excluded from the plan of salvation as some
allege, then faith itself is eliminated because
Jesus clearly identified it as a work. Circle the
word "work" in your New Testament and then make an
arrow to the phrase "that you believe." Then in
the margin write, "Faith is a work" (cf. Romans
1:5; 16:26).

Repentance is a work. Jesus said, "The men of
Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this
generation and condemn it, because they repented
at the preaching of Jonah ..." (Matthew 12:41).
Circle the phrase "they repented" in your New
Testament and then cross-reference it to Jonah
3:10. There the Bible states, "Then God saw their
WORKS, that they turned from their evil way ..."
Watch it --the men of Nineveh engaged in works
when they repented. In the margin of your Bible
beside Matthew 12:41 write, "Repentance is a
work." Are works of repentance necessary for
salvation?/3 Jesus thought so. He taught, "I tell
you, no; but unless you repent you will all
likewise perish" (Luke 13:3; cf. Acts 3:19;

Baptism is a work. While some will reluctantly
agree that faith and repentance are works (and
that both are necessary), they will deny that
baptism is likewise essential to salvation,
because to do so would somehow imply that
remission of sins was earned. This is simply not
true. Granted, baptism requires that something be
done, but that does not mean it is a meritorious
endeavor. In point of fact, Scripture explicitly
teaches that baptism is not a work that entitles
us to the forgiveness of sins. In his letter to
Titus, the apostle Paul taught that we are "not
[saved] by works of righteousness which we have
done, but according to His mercy He saved us,
through the washing of regeneration and renewing
of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 2:5; cf. John 3:5).
Note the contrast -- we are not saved by works of
righteousness which we have done (e.g., works of
human merit), but we are saved through the washing
of regeneration. The washing of regeneration is an
obvious allusion to baptism. Even Martin Luther,
who coined the phrase "salvation by faith only"
understood this passage to refer to baptism and
taught it was necessary for salvation./4 In the
margin of your Bible beside Titus 2:5 write,
"Baptism is not a meritorious work." In Acts 22:16
Ananias told Saul, "And now why are you waiting?
Arise and BE BAPTIZED, and WASH AWAY your sins
..." When we compare these two passages, it's
clear as to how an individual is saved. He's saved
through the washing of regeneration -- through
baptism (cf. Mark 16:16)/5 at which point he
washes away his sins./6 That's why the apostle
Peter could say "baptism doth also now save us" (1
Peter 3:21).  

Now we're not saved through water baptism alone
any more than we are saved through faith alone
(James 2:17,24,26), or repentance alone. ALL are
necessary (Psalm 139:17; Matthew 28:20) even
though all are works of a sort (cf. 2 John 8;
Philippians 2:12). No, they are not works of the
Law of Moses -- which require sinless perfection
(Galatians 3:10b). No, they are not works of merit
-- which entitle us to salvation (Ephesians 2:9).
Careful Bible students recognize that there are
different kinds of works mentioned in the divine
record and that faith (Hebrews 11:6), repentance
(Acts 2:38), and baptism (Matthew 28:19; Romans
6:4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27) are
works of God (cf. John 6:27,29) in the sense that
he has ordained them for us to obey (Acts 10:35;
Matthew 7:21; Hebrews 5:9) in order that we might
receive the free gift of divine grace.

1/ "Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only
is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of
comfort" (Discipline of the Methodist Church, New
York: Methodist Publishing House,1939, p. 40).

2/ Obviously faith is not a "work of God" in the
sense that he believes for man. The New English
Translation removes the ambiguity and says, "Jesus
replied, 'This is the deed God requires -- to
believe in the one whom he sent.'"

3/ "That's the danger of even beginning to think
that I have to do something OTHER THAN BELIEVE in
Jesus in order to be saved" (Mrs. Ken Berggren,
"Salvation's cause is grace through faith," McLean
County News, Aug. 24, 2006, p. 3A --emphasis mine,

4/ "What gifts or benefits does Baptism bestow? It
effects forgiveness of sins? ... Through baptism
he is bathed in the blood of Christ and is
cleansed from sins. ... To put it most simply, the
power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of
Baptism is to save" (Luther's Small Catechism).
See also Luther's Large Catechism, pp. 98-102.

5/ Note what Jesus did not teach about this
passage: 1) He who does not believe and is not
baptized will be saved; 2) He who does not believe
and is baptized will be saved; or 3) He who
believes will be saved and may optionally submit
to baptism. Jesus plainly taught that both faith
AND baptism are necessary in order to receive
salvation (cf. Acts 8:36,37).

6/ "We obey, and go down into the water because we
believe. We arise from the waters of baptism and
say we are saved by faith, but not faith only"
(Jerry Moffitt, "The Nature of Saving Faith,"
Denominational Doctrines, 1996, p. 76).

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