By Connie W. Adams
Last Sunday morning I caught the last part of a sermon by Charles Stanley on television. He is a well known Baptist preacher from Atlanta, Georgia and is often seen and heard on television and heard widely on radio stations across the nation. He was preaching on the plan of salvation. It was classic Baptist doctrine.
You may wonder why I would think it useful to deal with this matter. The answer is simple. Baptist doctrine has not changed on this subject. Over the years I have met people who have been taught by Baptist preachers and whose baptism followed such teaching. Some of them have argued at length that they had received scriptural baptism. I have always told them, “Not if you acted according to Baptist teaching.”
Mr. Stanley said that there is a defining moment in one’s life when he “accepts Jesus Christ as his personal savior.” At that moment of faith and acceptance one is saved and forgiven by the Lord. He is saved by faith and not by works. That is, no obedience is required for salvation. Somehow it is overlooked that faith is something to be developed in man and expressed by him. “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29).
It was then pointed out that this person thus saved should be baptized as a public declaration of faith and salvation. There is that “outward sign” of the “inward grace.” He said baptism declares you stand for the Lord before the world. Then he told of a woman who came forward at a service who said she had been saved forty years before but that she had never been baptized. She felt that something was missing and that she ought to publicly declare herself. Now, get the sequence here. She was saved forty years before and now felt compelled to be baptized. Don’t you see, folks, the order of things in the Baptist plan of salvation? It is salvation first, and then baptism. Baptist preachers through the years have contested in public debate with gospel preachers that one is saved at the point of faith, before and without water baptism. That is exactly what Charles Stanley preached last Sunday morning on television. What does the Bible teach about this?
Grace, Faith and Works
Is it true that we are saved by the grace of God? Of course it is. We did not earn or deserve the salvation God offers through Christ. It is by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). Now, are we saved by grace conditionally or unconditionally? If unconditionally, then either all will be saved or else God is to be blamed for those who are lost. Yet Jesus taught that many are in the broad way that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13, 14). Is grace nullified be-cause there are conditions imposed by God, who offers his favor? Of course not. Grace may be accepted or rejected. Upon no other basis could we account for the free moral agency of the sinner. God is the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him (Heb. 5:8-9).
Are we saved by faith? Absolutely! Numerous pas-sages show that we are saved by faith (John 3:16; Mark 16:16; Rom. 5:1-2). Faith is a conviction resting upon evidence (Heb. 11:6). “These things are written that ye might believe”(John 20:30-31). This grows into confident trust. Now, are we saved by a dead faith or an obedient faith? James said “faith without works is dead also” (Jas. 2:26). Hebrews 11 gives us a list of worthies who were justified by faith, but always when their faith expressed itself in obedience. For example, “By faith, Abel offered unto God” (v. 4); “by faith Noah … pre-pared an ark” (v. 7); “by faith Abraham … obeyed, and he went out” (v.8). The faith that saves is the faith that obeys.
Are we saved by works? What is meant by works? We are not saved by the works of the law of Moses (Rom. 3:28). We are not saved by works of human merit (Eph. 2:9; Tit. 3:5). These are works devised and carried out by man. But there are the works of God to consider. Remember John 6:29? “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” God devised it but the sinner must believe. “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6). Paul lamented that his Jewish brethren went about to “establish their own righteousness” and had not “submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:1-2). Whom did God declare righteous? Those who believe “unto righteousness,” “confess unto salvation,” and “obey the gospel” (Rom. 10:10, 16). God ordained some things for us to do which activate faith. Saul asked, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6).
If our Baptist friends could realize that grace saves us conditionally, that the faith that saves is the faith that obeys and that when God commands us to act and we, in faith, do what God said, that is a work of God’s righteousness, not our own, then much of the problem would be resolved.
Is Salvation Before or After Baptism?
This is the fundamental difference between the truth and Baptist doctrine on salvation. Consider these passages:
Mark 16:16 “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. Now look at it. Where does “saved” appear? Is it before or after baptism?
Acts 2:38 “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.” Now look again. Where does “remission of sins” come in the passage? Before or after baptism?
Acts 22:16 “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins.” Once more, does “wash away thy sins” come be-fore or after baptism?
It does not take a theological degree to answer these questions.
The Danger of Baptist Doctrine
Did I hear someone say, “Don’t you know it is not nice to criticize another religion?” Well, I know some people feel that way about it, but I want you to consider the seriousness of what is at stake. Baptist doctrine is not only contrary to the Scriptures on this subject, it is downright dangerous because it leads people to believe they are saved when they have not obeyed the will of God. It is not enough to be immersed to get into the Baptist Church, it is important to be immersed for the right reason to be saved, to gain remission of sins, to wash away sins. One who is baptized with the conviction that he was saved at that critical moment before and without baptism, could not possibly be baptized to be saved, to gain remission of sins or to wash away sins. Any doctrine which clouds and obscures the gospel plan of salvation is dangerous to the soul. Whatever truth may be taught about God, Christ, the Bible, upright moral behavior (and Baptists do teach much truth along these lines), does not mitigate the fact that souls are deceived when they are led to believe that they are saved at a point where the Bible does not promise it. We need to kindly but firmly press this very point. Saved forty years before being baptized? Not according to the Bible.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 14 p. 3-4
July 17, 1997