What It Means To Obey God

By Jimmy Tuten

Through the years we have correctly taught that in order for an alien sinner to be saved he must obey God and that obedience involves three basic requirements:

1. The doing of what the Lord said do (Mk. 16:16).

2. The doing of what the Lord said do, in the way the Lord said do it (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12).

3. The doing of what the Lord said do, in the way the Lord said do it, for the reason(s) the Lord said do it (Acts 2:38; 22:16).

We have continually dealt with the problem of “salvation at the point of faith” (faith only) by showing that the New Testament teaches that one must believe and be baptized (Mk. 16:16; Gal. 3:26-27). Baptists have tried to counteract this by charging that as to its purpose we attribute a false sense to baptism. They say we should not teach baptism “in order to obtain” (i.e., “baptism for. . . ” – Acts 2:38) because this leads one to believe that real remission of past sins comes through baptism (this is biblically correct). They continue to argue that baptism is essential for obedience, but not for salvation. One proponent of this false doctrine says, “Abraham obeyed God in circumcision; the believer obeys God in baptism. But righteousness was imputed to Abraham at the point of faith, just as it is to the believer” (Baptism And The Restoration Movement, Bob Ross, p. 27). The Baptist Church Manual by Pendleton says: “2. The ceremonial qualification for church membership. This qualification is baptism. There can, according to the Scriptures, be no visible church without baptism. An observance of this ordinance is the believer’s first public act of obedience to Christ” (italics mine, jt). The Manual then argues that baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace, or “an external manifestation made in baptism” (p. 12). From this it is reasoned that baptism is obedience without knowing and understanding its connection with remission of sins.

We have demonstrated repeatedly that obedience involves more than simply believing, that this is displayed in the nature and purpose of truth (Jn. 8:31-32), that any instruction found in God’s Word that carries design bears with it the necessity of understanding the purpose and that freedom from sin is totally dependent upon knowledge of and obedience to truth. We have shown that one cannot have proper faith without proper understanding of the truth (one can’t be taught wrong and obey correctly). “Obedience from the heart” signifies obedience with understanding (Rom. 6:17). So the fact that one has been “baptized to obey God” does not mean that the act was acceptable obedience. One has to be taught right in order to obey right. One cannot deny that baptism is for the remission of sins and claim at the same time that in being baptized he is obeying God (Acts 2:38). Obedience involves knowing what God wants us to do, the way God wants us to do it and the purpose for the action.

Similar charts to the one below (examples of obedience in the book of Acts) are continually used to show the necessity of understanding what obedience constitutes. Each example carries with it the fact of the necessity of understanding the nature of faith and baptism. Is there any other reason for the tying together the purpose and design with the mentioning of what was done? Not a single person in either of the examples of obedience was ever baptized without knowing that baptism was for salvation.



Acts 2:14-47









38, 48



Acts 8:38-39



36, 37










1. Immersion in Water


Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12



Acts 9:17, 18




sins washed away



2. To A Penitent Believer


Acts 2:38; Mk. 16:16



Acts 10:1-48













3. Upon A Confession Of Faith In Christ


Acts 8:37; Rom. 10:10



Acts 16:27-34



31, 34







4. For (Unto) Remission Of Sins


Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16



Acts 16:13-15







5. In Name Of Father, Son & Holy Spirit


Mt. 28:19



Rom. 10:14



Heb. 11:6



Luke 13:3



Rom. 10:10



Gal. 3:27



2 Tim. 2:10

For as long as I can remember, gospel preachers generally opposed the idea that one could scripturally be baptized while at the same time not knowing the design of baptism. It was insisted that denominational people wishing to do the “will of the father” be baptized for salvation (Matt. 7:21-23; Acts 2:38). Even Christian Church people wishing to abandon false worship (where the instrument was used) were not fellowshipped without determining the extent of their understanding at baptism. We sincerely grappled with whether one could be a member of the Lord’s church and not know it. The issue was: is a member of the Christian Church who has been immersed in water for the remission of sins a Christian regardless of the denomination he belonged to? I still believe that you cannot teach a person wrong and baptize him right, nor can he become a member of the Lord’s body and not know it. If a person has been taught part of truth, i.e., baptism for the remission of sins and has not been taught that this baptism makes him a member of the body of Christ, the church, is he a member of the church (a Christian)? This needs careful consideration.

A Different Picture Now

Within recent months certain brethren have given evidence .of abandoning the biblical principle of the necessity of understanding the nature and character of commands to which one submits. We are now being told that all one needs to know regarding primary obedience is that baptism “is for obedience to God” and that knowing it is for the remission of sins is unnecessary. Is this motive the only consideration? Let it be noted that this concept is part of a larger movement toward unity with people in denominational churches. It is a trend so obvious that even the Southern Baptist Convention included it in their August 3, 1980 Adult Quarterly: “As with other groups, time brings changes. Various experiences and articles in Church of Christ publications seem to represent a definite softening of formerly rigid positions We do seem more concerned now with whether or not we will offend denominations than we are in presenting truth. It’s all very sad and there are some basic factors that have contributed to the processes of compromise among us. These are: (1) fellowship movements that go bac to the Murch-Witty efforts of the 1940s, the Ketcherside movement of the 1960s and recent efforts such as the Joplin, Missouri meeting between certain Church of Christ an Christian Church members (this latest episode is a combination of the “unity meetings” of the 1940s and the “unit in diversity” concept of Ketcherside).

(2) The advocation of automatic forgiveness of sins c ignorance and weakness by well-meaning, but ill-advised brethren.

(3) A dearth of teaching on doctrinal matters that hi resulted in a growing discipleship of positivism that deplores any negative and/or doctrinal preaching.

This trend toward compromise and abandonment of truth is turning the church of the 1980s into a denomination Whoever it was who said “in years gone by you could not find a sectarian in the body of Christ with a fine-tooth comb but now you can rake them up with a hay baler” is correct. How often do you see the distinctiveness of God’s people today?

Baptism: Essential Doctrinal Import

Since salvation is by grace through faith, the relation between deed and promise is not reward on the basis of merit but grace and faith (Eph. 2:8). Passages such as Titus 3:5 clearly show that the benefit received by grace on the condition of our faith is at the point of baptism for the remission of sins. The only basis of blessings because of faith has been obedient action on the part of the believer (meeting directives required for salvation by faith). Obedience shows precisely that one believes God, since God’s promise is the only connection between blessing and action. Failure to understand this nullifies acting on biblical faith. When comes to baptism three vital things must be taken into account:

(1) There must be a scriptural candidate, one who is a penitent, confessing believer (Mk. 16:16; Rom. 10:9-10; Act 2:38).

(2) Baptism must be administered by the scriptural method of immersion (Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 2:12).

(3) Baptism must be understood to be for the right purpose, i.e., the remission of sins (salvation). Since truth frees from sin, freedom is totally dependent upon believing the knowledge of truth (Jn. 6:44-45; 8:32). If the nature and character of the act to which one is submitting is not understood then the act becomes merely a ritual or formality. To deny this is to join ranks with Catholicism and Mormonism which teach that in some instances their baptism can be administered to those who are not conscious of what is taking place. In fact the whole scheme for redemption would have to be abandoned.

Baptism And Salvation

The Bible teaches many purposes for baptism and it is not necessary to understand each detail before baptism (see the chart below). The reason for this is the fact that things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. (For example the answer 6 may be arrived at whether the problem is stated 4 + 2 = 6, or 3 + 3 = 6.) A person may not have in mind the specifics of what baptism is for but he must know that it is absolutely necessary to be saved (to be a Christian).

Baptism Stands Between The Alien Sinner And All Spiritual Blessings

Salvation (Mk. 16:16)

Remission of Sins (Acts 2:38)

Sins Washed Away (Acts 22:16)

Death of Christ (Rom. 6:3)

Blood of Christ (Rom. 6:3-4)

New Creature (2 Cor. 5:17)

Putting on Christ (Gal. 3:26-27)

Cleansing (Eph. 5:26)

Sanctification (Eph. 5:26)

Putting Off Sins (Col. 2:11-13)

Forgiveness (Col. 2:13)

Kingdom (Jn. 3:5)

Good Conscience (1 Pet. 3:21)

Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)

Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13)

Child of God (Gal. 3:26-27)

Wearing Christ’s Name (1 Cor. 1:12-17)

The most serious error in the present discussion is the singling out of the motive “obedience to God” as if this is different or even a competing design in relation to the other expressed motive. All the expressions of the design and purpose of baptism teach that it is essential to salvation. They are not separate, distinct and unrelated. All of the scriptural expressions are different statements of the same design! One must know this design of baptism and if this is not understood (understanding faith) then baptism becomes no more than a mechanical act without comprehension of the significance of it.


It is necessary that one being baptized know that it is for the remission of sins (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38). Baptism for the purpose of obeying God is a proper motive, but it is not the exclusive reason. Obedience coupled with other motives shows that one must know the act in which God forgives sin (Rom. 6:17,1-6). Examples of at what point blessings are received by grace through faith clearly demonstrate this fact, i.e., the children of Israel and Jericho, Naaman and the Jordan River, etc. When you were baptized, what did you believe? That it was for salvation, or an outward expression of salvation already received?

Guardian of Truth XXX: 17, pp. 515-516, 536
September 4, 1986