Abstract: Should the dictionary define the definition and usage of words? Our debate of theology centers around the definitions of baptism and works. Does God really want us to understand that salvation and sanctification by works, by baptism in water, or is it by faith? Are we to believe that a good work is necessary to sanctify?

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Salvation by faith or by water baptism?

by Aramus Crane

Part 1: Salvation is by faith or works?

Based on a dialog with a missionary friend (claims to be formerly fundamentalist, now evangelical) who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).  To make the dialog more understandable to the reader, I reordered some of it, corrected some English mistakes, and eliminated redundencies.  

The views of my brother in the Lord should not be taken to reflect those of all fundamentals, evangelicals, or DTS.  In fact, you'll find that his views differ explicitly from those expressed on the DTS website:  "no baptism or other ordinance however administered, can help the sinner to take even one step toward heaven." 

I consider myself a simple Christian.  My views largely allign with Protestant thought but the reader should not assume they reflect the ideas of all Protestants, my foundation, my church, my supporters, my alma mater, or any other creature on the planet.

Bible quotations are from the King James Version (KJV) because most people of my brother's persuasion prefer that version. 

His statements are in blue.  Mine are in black.
"By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.  Not of works, lest anyone should boast."  ---the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians 2:8-9 King James Version (KJV)

"For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord." --- Saint Paul to the Romans 6:23 (KJV)

"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord."  The Apostle Peter Acts 3:19 (KJV)

"Jesus answered [the thief on the cross], "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."  --- Luke 23:43

That  plus the whole letter to the Galatians should be enough to demonstrate to you that no work, including baptism by water is necessary for salvation.  However, I will take it step by step and then allow you to present any Scripture you can find to refute this Good News.

1. You acknowledged that baptism is a work.  

It can easily become one, yes.

Genesis 1 says that God worked six days by just uttering words.  Yet you can change into a baptismal robe, go to a baptismal pool, get in the water, give a testimony and still avoid work.  Amazing.  That would imply that you are more powerful than God.  Let's take it a step at a time.  If you get into a baptismal pool, have you done something?  Yes, you got into the pool and accomplished getting wet.  (-;  Is there any time it accomplishes nothing?  No!
You have to consider the theological context of a given term.  We define the word differently. 

Since I speak English, I use the English definitions of words as much as possible.  We conservatives call it deconstruction when we see liberals changing definitions to fit their goals.  

There is a distinction between saying something is necessary than it is a work.  You would say faith is necessary for salvation correct?  you would say an acknowledgement of the lordship of Christ is necessary for salvation right?  Does that make either of them a "work"???  

Dear brother, let us look at the definition of the word.  Work:  /wȗrk/ Something that has been done, made, or performed as a result of one's occupation, effort, or activity.   Work=force*distance.  What is your definition?  If we stick with speaking English, how much force does it take to "have faith" or "believe"?  Does your head move a distance when you think?  By the dictionary definition, I  would not classify thoughts as works, because for most people it takes more effort not to have them than to have them.  It would be completely impossible to rest on the sabbath.  On the Seventh Day did God not have a thought?!?!  I doubt it.  
OK, anytime I count on an act I perform, regardless of what it is,  to earn my salvation it is a work. And that is wrong.  Agree?  

It is wrong to rely on anything other than Christ's sacrifice.  

2. You said that some churches state that you are not saved until you are baptized.  
I agree with what you are driving at and I understand where you are coming from. Salvation can be described as a crisis point in time event and as a process.   From Eph 2 etc it is clear that good works have nothing to do with salvation (point in time decision).  

I think you are stretching the context to say that Ephesians 2 is only refering to the point in time decision, what theologians call "justification".  Ephesians 2:8-9 says "saved" not "justified".  Anything you lump into "salvation" should be included.  But for the sake of the argument, we will let you go for now.

I think one difficulty you are having is stepping out of your world view and thinking out of the box.   The Bible was not written from a western worldview (nor from a necessarily eastern one either).  Rather it is supra cultural.  We tend to interpret it from our cultural perspective and from what we have heard most often (and that sounds the most logical to us).   But because the Bible is above any given human culture (because all are insufficient in themselves because of the fall and our finitude) it is best approached from multiple perspectives to understand and appreciate the fullness of its message.  

I don't know if I like the word "supra-cultural".  I believe what Jon Stott writes about hermeneutics.  How do you reconcile your statement with proper hermeneutics which requires the reader to consider the history and culture addressed?  I agree that it is unfortunate that people tend to interpret the Bible from their own culture.  

Biblical terminology and ideas are complex.  Theology and salvation in particular are not as simplistic as you like to make it out to be.  I Cor 1:18 is a present periphrastic participle.  "Who are being saved" a clear reference to salvation as a process not an point in time event.   Both perspectives are true.

(For those of you who would like more on this idea, see the inset to the right.)  

Personally, I can accept either one.  I don't see the relevance to our discussion.

If someone says that the act of baptism earns salvation then that is a problem and wrong.  If they were to say "baptism is a necessary part of salvation" then I would agree (using their understanding of the term salvation).  Just like we would say good works are a necessary part of sanctification.  Good works don't "earn" sanctification but Christian growth and maturity is impossible without good works. Good works are a necessary part of sanctification.  Do you agree?  

What I see supported by the Bible is that salvation cannot be achieved or earned by works (0.000000...%) and, by the English definition of "works", baptism is a work so not necessary for salvation.  I believe that sanctification is achieved by works with probably upwards of 99.9999....% of the achievement God's purifying work at the moment of glorification, at life's end.  (I feel comfortable with "work" here because something is "performed" by "effort".) 

Good works can help us in our sanctification if they one performs them with the right motives.  If one has selfish motives for performing good works, then they are a hindrance to sanctification.    As Chuck Colson wrote, "Worldly power--whether measured by buildings, budgets, baptisms, or access to the White House [3 of 4 of these are good works]--is more often the enemy than the ally of godliness."  (A Dangerous Grace, Dallas: Word Publishing 1994. p. 133.)  If there is love and grace behind the good works, then the person grows and matures.  If there is selfishness behind them, then the person grows farther away from God.  Thus, works are neutral.

This is why Lordship Salvation people have such problems with legalistic churches.  Once again from A Dangerous Grace:  "Seeing holiness only as rule-keeping breeds serious problems.

  • "First, it limits the scope of true biblical holiness, which must affect every aspect of our lives.
  • "Second, even though the rules may be biblically based, we often end up obeying the rules rather than obeying God; concern for the letter of the law can cause us to lose its spirit.
  • "Third, emphasis on rule-keeping deludes us into thinking we can be holy through our efforts.  But there can be no holiness appart from the work of the Holy Spirit--in quickening us through the conviction of sin and bringing us by grace to Christ, and in sanctifying us--for it is grace that causes us to even want to be holy.
  • "And finally, our pious efforts can become ego-gratifying, as if holy living were some kind of spiritual beauty contest. Such self-centered spirituality in turn leads to self-righteousness--the very opposite of the selflessness of true holiness."  (p. 53)
One perspective

Salvation =

  1.  justification,

  2.  sanctification,

  3.  glorification.

In my first theology class in college dealing with salvation the professor put it this way.
Salvation = justification, sanctification, glorification.  
When justified we are saved from the penalty of sin
Through sanctification we saved from the power of sin
once glorified we are saved from the presence of sin.
The colliery concept is the fact that was are said to have eternal life now (most references) but it is also something we will receive in the future (something we both have now but will not receive in fullness till later).
Verses referring to eternal life still being something future. (some clearer than others)
Jude 21 "as you wait...for Jesus to bring you eternal life"  (still a future event)
Rom 2:7
John 6:27
Daniel 12:2
Perhaps the clearest is 1 Peter 1:3-12. 
3  "us"  clearly speaking to believers
3  "has given us new birth"  past tense -- they were saved in the past when they believed
5  "...until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be (future tense) revealed in the last time."  
Here is a clear example of the concept of salvation (even uses the term)  being encompassing not only the point in time new birth (vs.. 3 past to the reader) but also referring to the future event of the reception of our inheritance in heaven.  (vs.. 5 still future)
in verse 9 it also includes the concept of salvation as a process "you are receiving (present tense) the goal of of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
So in one passage you have salvation as a point in time -- here the time of their new birth (vs.. 3).  A continuing process for the believer (vs. 9). and yet at the same time something we look forward to that we will (future tense) receive in heaven.  (vs.. 5).   All three in one nice little package for you.  

Flexibility or Deconstruction?

We must use canonized dictionary definitions, not definitions we contrive 2000 years later.

Exactly my point.  You are using "canonized dictionary definitions" (Webster's if I remember right).   To discuss theology you should be using (ideally, Hebrew BDB for instance and Greek BAGD is a good one, dictionaries.  Or at least English theological dictionaries (there are many good ones).   But our discussion is not simply about "English" definitions.  It is about the cross-cultural understanding of a term in two different languages.  Thus the term must be defined in both language to find out the exact correspondence of meaning.  When an East Indian says "salvation" is there an exact 1 to 1 correspondence in meaning with what Aunt Mildred in Ohio means??   Of course not.  Nor would there be an exact 1 to 1 if both were Christians.  That is my point. 

Friend, one of my chief complaints is that you seem to arbitrarily change definitions from their Greek and English origins to conform the Bible to your preconceived notions.  Proper hermeneutics requires that we use the definition intended by the author.  We must not revise definitions according to what we desire the Bible to mean.  

I am not changing definitions.  I am saying the term is defined different ways in different cultures.  And even more that that it is defined different ways in different contexts even within the bible itself.  That is normal for language.   Meaning is not determined by a dictionary, but by authorial usage in context. 
How do you reconcile your first and second sentences?  When any decent author wants to explain something, they choose a word that the audience will understand. If there is a subtle difference in meaning, he should explain it and not leave it to the audience especially if he is an omniscient God explaining to human beings.  

The Bible itself can use terms with slightly different connotations in different contexts. A fundamental thesis of linguistics / language is that any given word derives its meaning form (sic?) the context in which it is used.

I agree.  Context tells which one of those definitions is being used.  But (and this is an important but) among educated people, a word's range is limited to the range defined in the dictionary. You would get nowhere in a court of law if you try to use the argument, "In that contract, in its context, that word meant..." if that is not a definition recognized by society by its being included in the dictionary.

If the dictionary is good enough.  Webster's is not for theological discussions.  Nor for Romanian of course. 

Then, communication is deconstructed.  If the English represented by Webster is insufficient, then it is very dangerous to translate into the language.  The Bible translators were very highly educated, respected men of many persuasions, but the words they used were straight out of the contemporary dictionaries, not ones found in the dusty corners of theological institutions.  It was common practice long ago to coin new words if no appropriate ones are available.  (You may know enough about history of the KJV translation to know that it created many new words.) 

True, theological terms are still being coined if you read the scholarly literature. 
That's just my point, brother.  New words should be used instead of old words misused. Also, keep in mind that the writers and intended audience of the Bible were common fishermen and shepherds of the 2nd Century, not Princeton grads in the 20th Century.  Those reading any text must realize that to understand what the person is saying, they must read within the bounds of accepted definitions.  You can't be absolutely sure that the person writing has the education to use the right word, but that is what editors check.  Have you ever seen the SNL skit Anna Roxannadana?  That is what happens when you practice what you are advocating.  

A dictionary can help give the range of meanings but the specific contextual usage determines the specific meaning of the term in that context.

I must respectfully disagree.  Omit "help" and I can agree.  The dictionary gives the full range of meanings.  Context determines which one is in use at the time.  We must not deconstruct English to serve our desired ends but must practice correct hermeneutics.

Likewise, if you are going to produce an educated written essay that you want to communicate effectively with others, you had better use definitions that are accepted or else you will not be effective in communication.  

Or you simply define the term as you intend to use it.  that is often the case in scholarly journals. 

Exactly.  However, if this word is used subsequently, this special definition must be clearly referenced in future works until it becomes accepted into dictionaries.  Case in point: the DTS website which clearly states "water baptism" or "spirit baptism" as appropriate.  Do they write more powerfully and clearly than the living GOD?  I doubt it.

However, we have reached a classical conservative-liberal impasse.  We won't get past that one.

So if you define Salvation as the entire process past, present, and future (as 1 Peter 1:3-12 clearly does) and if baptism is necessary for sanctification (as an act or sign of obedience) then defined as some people define the term, baptism is "necessary" for salvation (taking the broadest yet biblical definition of the term). 

If one believes that any action (including water baptism) is God's desire for him, yet he doesn't do it, I agree that he doesn't have saving faith.  So, you can use any work to demonstrate your saving love for God or for others, but absolutely no work is necessary nor eliminatory when it comes to salvation, especially if it is just some human that believes that you should do it.  

 Your teachers at Dallas are many times more knowledgeable than you and I together, and they write, "no baptism or other ordinance however administered, can help the sinner to take even one step toward heaven."  (Emphasis mine.)  Do you consider yourself smarter than all your teachers combined? 

It is the faith that saves you, whether that faith is applied in times of justification, sanctification, or glorification.  Let me put it another way.  If a person believes that any work is unnecessary and shows Scripture to support her view, then it is no longer "an act or sign of obedience" and hence not necessary for sanctification.  This is root of the Gospel message and the focus of the Christian Campaign of Grace that we are trying to introduce on Liv-n-Letliv.net.  You might want to pick up a good book on grace.  Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace is pretty good.

However, legalistic cults require a work with no basis in Scripture.  Is there any Scriptural support for baptism being required for sanctification?  I think you said it, "no".  I have a problem, (and the missionary sitting next to me here says "so does Paul") with sanctification requiring works.  You must understand that God looks on the heart.  Works can be used as a tool to develop our heart but in no way do any of our works amount to anything more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) since our motives are usually selfish.

As we learned in Perspectives, most professional Christian workers don't accept people movements.  It is western individualistic thought that each must come to God alone, be baptized alone.  However, the Bible, having been mostly targeted at and written by people in the Eastern culture, is much more oriented to societies.  Thus, the Bible has much more talk about whole cities repenting and whole families getting baptized, including youngsters about whom we never hear they feel a necessity to get rebaptized.  Thus, although you may never understand it, and I may have had a preliminary bias against it because I was also reared in the West, anyone's baptism as an infant is well within Biblical guidelines.  

3. So, how can you tap-dance around salvation depending on a work?  

I'm not tap dancing.  My beliefs are perfectly clear.  Ephesians 2:8-10 says nothing can earn salvation.  But you don't seem to be able to see outside of your theological box.  You seem to have a naive understanding of language that all words mean the same exact thing in any context, culture, language, etc.   You have defined terms from your context (which is normal and fine) but can't seem to acknowledge that someone else coming from a radically different worldview could define a word differently.

  (For a brief side discussion on hermeneutics, see inset to the left.)

In no way is salvation due to works, regardless of definition.  If it were, then we could go back to boasting like the legalists do.  Ephesians 2:8-9 doesn't say "for grace you have been justified through faith."

Is justification due to works?

Justification is not due to our works but due to Jesus' work on the cross and the Holy Spirit's work of conviction (John 16:5-11).

Is sanctification due to works?

Sanctification is not due to our works but due to the Holy Spirit's work (John 16:13) and the Father's work in seating Jesus to His right hand (Ephesians 1-2).  Works can help us express our salvation or help us develop our faith.  However, if we were tied up for the rest of our lives post-salvation we would be no less saved or sanctified.  One could argue that it may be possible to be more sanctified, due to the suffering of being tied up. (James 1:2-4) Works can help God sanctify our hearts but they are not required for so doing.  Good works can help us in our sanctification IF they are done with the right motives.  If good works are done with the wrong motives then they are a hindrance to sanctification.  Thus, works are neutral.  

Now what do we say about the accusations from the Orthodox that for us "good works make no sense" and are "useless". (http://www.ortho-logia.com/Romanian/doua_conceptii.htm)   That idea, in itself, makes no sense.  If one has faith, he will have works, for as James says "faith is completed by works" and "faith without works is barren".  Much as some people would like it to say, the letter of James does not say that works save.

History and historians demonstrate that it is exactly the liberation of the soul that comes from an understanding of saving faith which motivates a person to good works.  Ephesians 2:8-9 is followed by 10.  Which countries are more industrious?  Which send more messengers of the Gospel?  Which are more generous?  The answers to all these are the Protestant countries.

"According to Calvinism, goodness was a plausible sign of election.  Anyone could be chosen, but it was only reasonable to suppose that most of those chosen would show by their character and ways the quality of their souls and the nature of their destiny.  This implicit reassurance was a powerful incentive to proper thoughts and behavior.  ...Predestination... was eventually converted into a secular code of behavior:  hard work, honesty, seriousness, the thrifty use of money and time (both lent us by God)."  (Landes DS.  The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.  New York:  WW Norton & Co., 1998, p. 175)

Max "Weber's point is that Protestantism produced a new kind of businessman, a different kind of person, one who aimed to live and work a certain way.  It was the way that mattered, and riches were at best a by-product."(ibid)

Is glorification due to works?

It goes without saying that glorification is not due to our works but to God's work.  We are dead!  

Still hold your opinion?  

OK, now let's hear your Scriptural references for water baptism's necessity in our salvation.

(Click here.)

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