Baptism: “Work of Man or of God?”

By Earl E. Robertson

This has been, and is, a much argued subject. It has not been so argued because God did not plainly reveal His will in this matter. The Bible says, “baptism saves” (1 Pet. 3:21). Any explanation of this statement, which denies that baptism saves, is not an explanation at all, but a contradiction of what God says. So, the question herein to be answered is: since one must be baptized to be saved, is that person’s salvation the result of man’s work in the absence of God’s grace? Baptists teach baptism is essential for one to become a Baptist; yet, they teach baptism for the remission of sins would nullify the grace of God. The “grace of God that bringeth salvation” instructs the sinner to believe the gospel and be baptized to be saved (Mk. 16:15, 16). It is apparent that the grace of God uses means through which the sinner is saved, one part of which is baptism.

Baptism In The Name Of Christ

Salvation is in the name of Christ (Acts 4:12). It can be in no other name. Since Peter says baptism saves and further affirms that salvation is in the name of Christ, it follows, therefore, that baptism must be in the name of Christ. The commission of Jesus states it this way, too (Matt. 28:19). The apostles were told they would preach salvation (remission of sins) in his name (Lk. 24:47). Luke testifies they did so (Acts 2:38).

The expression “in the name of Christ” means in or upon the authority of Christ. Our English word “name” comes from the same word “law” or “authority” comes from. The word is negated in the form “lawlessness” or “iniquity” (Matt. 7:23). The revealed words of Christ and his apostles, being a manifestation of God’s grace to man, constitute the law, authority, or name of Christ. Every case of conversion shows the same law was appealed to and the same obedience performed. The result was salvation “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8, 9)

Joel 2:32 is used by both Peter (Acts 2:21) and Paul (Rom. 10:13) in affirming salvation by the right name, law, or authority. Peter says, “.`And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” So, salvation is predicated upon calling on the name of the Lord. This statement is God’s grace instructing; but what does it mean to “call on the name of the Lord?” Thankfully, we have an example of this in the New Testament. In Acts 22:16, Saul is told by Ananias to “arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts 9:18 says he “arose and was baptized.” When he did this he was calling on the name of the Lord! “Calling on the name of the Lord,” in Acts 22:16, is in apposition to “arise and be baptized.” It explains what is meant by the command of the Lord to be baptized. It tells the sinner that in his being baptized he is calling on the name of the Lord for salvation. Now, is this salvation, given in baptism, a result of man’s work apart from the grace of God? No!

This is further argued in 1 Corinthians 1:12-17. Division existed in the church at Corinth. Some were saying, “I am of Paul;” others, “I of Apollos;” while others were claiming, “I of Cephas.” Opposed to these were some saying, “I of Christ.” “Of” is possessive, meaning they were saying they belonged to these various ones. By two questions Paul either proves or disproves their contentions: 1) Was Paul crucified for you? 2) Were you baptized in the name of Paul? If Paul had not been crucified for them and they had not been baptized in his name then they were not “of” Paul. The same holds true for Apollos and Peter. Yet, the same is true for Christ! To be owned by or be “of” Christ equals salvation. This salvation from sin demanded the crucifixion of Christ and baptism of the sinner in the name of Christ. This is Paul’s argument-crucifixion and baptism in the name of the Lord-for anyone to belong to Christ, or have salvation! Jesus died for all (Heb. 2:9), and all whom he saves by grace are the ones baptized in his name for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). “By the grace of God” Jesus tasted death for every man (Heb. 2:9), because all have sinned (Rom. 3:23). The gospel which tells men of God’s provisions, through Jesus’ crucifixion to save, is called the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). This gospel must be believed (Rom. 1:16) and obeyed (2 Thess. 1:8) to save sinners. Jesus says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:15, 16). For one, therefore, to call on the name of the Lord is to make an appeal to the Lord upon his word. The same word in Acts 22:16, “calling on the name,” is used six times of Paul appealing unto Caesar. Acts 25:11, 12, 21, 25; 26:32; 28:19 use this word, and it is the same used by Ananias. Paul had to use legal procedures; he had to recognize Roman law. When he “arose and was baptized” he was recognizing scriptural means; he was appealing to the Lord for salvation (II Pet. 3:21).

God Operates In Baptism

“Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). We all agree that God must operate, act, or work for a sinner to be saved. If God acts or works for our salvation we must recognize this as his grace; we contend salvation is the result of his favor. The question portending is: Is this salvation wholly his work without our submission to his name in baptism? Paul here says that God operates or works! But he tells us that God operates on the sinner “in baptism.” If God’s operation on sinners is necessary for salvation so is baptism! The passage says this work takes place in baptism! One cannot eliminate baptism and still have the operation of God. And if baptism is necessary for God to operate in the salvation of sinners, so is baptism essential for the sinner to become a receiver of God’s grace. Salvation is offered by grace; but salvation offered by grace is given in the working of God in baptism; therefore, the grace of God is not invalidated by baptism but accomplishes its design therein.

God Saves By Washing

Titus 3:5-7 tells us how justification by grace is accomplished. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). Paul says he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Spirit. What is this “washing of regeneration?” I know of no recognized denominational scholar but what admits this to be water baptism. If you have doubt, what else could it possibly be? For this teaching to harmonize with the other scriptures showing salvation is given in baptism in the name of Christ, it must mean baptism. God does not save one man one way and another man another way! There is unity in God’s plan and action. God saves, says the apostle. He saves by his grace (Titus 3:7). He saves by washing. Thus, salvation by grace through washing is salvation by grace in water baptism in the name of Christ.


When one submits to God in the divine requirement of baptism for the remission of sins, one does so with complete trust that God will respond! In the name of Jesus he appeals unto God in the act of baptism for salvation, because in baptism God operates upon the sinner in cutting off the old body of sins to make him a new man in Christ (1 Pet. 3:21; Col. 2:12). It is in baptism, too, says Paul, that God saves us by washing (Titus 3:5). This implicit confidence that God will do what he has promised is man’s part-it is trustful submission to the authority of the resurrected and reigning Lord. This is salvation by faith that it might be by grace. (Cf. Rom. 4:16:)

The Lord makes baptism essential for salvation (Mk. 16:15, 16; Acts 2:38). If this is the way he wills for justification by grace to be, who can deny him this right? Remember that he works all things after the counsel of his own will (Eph. 1:11). And it is his expressed will to save in baptism in the name of Christ; to operate in baptism; and to save by washing!

Truth Magazine XIX: 27, pp. 424-425
May 15, 1975