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Things Essential to Salvation

24 November 2008

Our Sunday evening Bible study group grappled with baptism last evening from a starting piont in Luke 3.  Predictably, the question came around to baptism’s essentiality to salvation; is it, or isn’t it?  One fellow maintained that he couldn’t conceive of any “work” that could be thought “essential,” or else the idea of salvation by grace would fall.  qb thought that piont of view gives short shrift to the whole book of Acts, to Jesus’ own testimony about his baptism “fulfilling all righteousness,” to the sin-expunging claims of Romans 6.

Reflecting on it this morning, qb went in his mind’s eye to the story of leprous Naaman, whom Elisha told to go wash seven times in the Jordan River.  Naaman objected angrily, saying, “if God is able to cure me, why can’t he cure me without making me go through that?  Aren’t there purer waters he could have chosen?”  His servants replied, “if the Man of God had asked you to do some difficult thing, wouldn’t you have done it?  What purpose is being served by refusing to do this little thing?”  So Naaman reluctantly goes to the Jordan, washes seven times, and is healed.

Was Naaman’s obedient “work” essential to his healing?  qb would argue:  yes.

Was it Naaman’s obedience that accomplished his healing?  No.  But the healing would not have occurred without that obedience.

Could YHWH have healed Naaman without Naaman’s obedience?  Emphatically yes, but our question is not about YHWH’s capabilities; our question has to do with what YHWH wants from us.


This brother went further to say that discipleship to Jesus is not a matter of doing good works in response to commandments; it is a matter, he said, of simply loving Jesus and loving people.  To him, if you love Jesus, you’ll do good works as a matter of course, but those works are not “essential” in any meaningful sense of that word.  And he used himself as an example, saying that he wants to help the poor because that’s what Jesus did, and that it’s not a matter of being commanded to do things that are “essential.”

All well and good, orthodox, Baptist-sounding doctrine.  But what are we to say of people whose love has not grown to that piont?  Are they exempt from simply obeying Jesus’ commandments until their love is complete?


qb came to the conclusion this morning that commandments are the form that God’s will takes when our love for Jesus and others is weak.  Sometimes our own, grace-fueled resources are not enough to supply the material for doing the will of God; we have to do what he asks out of simple obedience.


Or maybe this is much ado about nothing.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    25 November 2008 12:18 pm

    qb, one of the greatest challenges ministering to evangelicals lies in the overwhelming and heretical belief that grace absolves the sinner of the defining call of virtuous living; this is something the NT writers would never endorse. Furthermore, Matthew 5 would suggest that authenticity as a Christian is only evidence by the *ways* in which the believer expresses his faith. Intellectual acquiescence, then, is a given. What counts is how it is lived. Later in Matthew 25, the parable from our Lord would suggest that those who did not share with neighbor considered themselves Christ followers. Baptism, then, should be considered just as essential to the vitality and authenticity of ones faith as the acts of charity are to those who are honored at the right hand of God in Matthew 25.

  2. queueball permalink*
    25 November 2008 12:40 pm

    Ben, that’s super helpful. Trying to anticipate this brother’s follow-up objection, though, I think he would question the validity of conflating a ceremonial act with “virtuous living” and trying to draw answers to questions about ceremonial obedience from passages about moral virtue. But there may be a line of inquiry there that’s fruitful.


  3. Andrea permalink
    26 November 2008 1:02 pm

    qb, it’s not much ado about nothing to me. This is a hugely important topic I am dealing with right now. I loved going on the mission trip to India last year and I like working with newcomers at church but I am not sure I can continue to participate in those activities. I have tried to develop an understanding of what is generally believed by the leadership at my church but my conscience won’t let me feel like I can stop a discussion after an “acceptance prayer” and then possibly take up the discussion of baptism at a later date if the person happens to run across the word and ask a question.

    I’m going to e-mail you a document and then maybe we can talk when you guys are here. Your blog and Ben’s response are exactly the discussion I need to see/have but I haven’t found anyone at church who is willing to talk about it in this way. Is it because of Certainty? Sometimes I feel like it’s a “don’t ask don’t tell” situation to ensure that there’s no controversy. Just bringing up the topic of baptism in my small group gets some people nervous. AAB

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