by Paul Masters
Objectors to immersion for the remission of sins as found in Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, and I Peter 3:21 will often insist that immersion is a work, and therefore cannot be for salvation. They might cite Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Far be it from me to deny this verse. As a matter of fact, it does not contradict immersion for remission of sins, but rather compliments it.
Firstly, in order to prove that immersion is a work, one must find a place in Scripture that defines immersion as a work. We cannot. There is not one place in the Holy Writ that identifies immersion as a work, and certainly not as a work of our own.
“Works” are simply deeds. Paul contends in Ephesians that our salvation is not a result of anything we’ve done, and he’s absolutely right. Even our most righteous deeds are nothing more than filth in light of God’s perfection (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore there is no possible way for us to do anything in order to merit or achieve salvation from sin.
The only one who can do any work to save us is God, through Christ.
The immense irony of those who reject immersion on the grounds that it’s a “work” is that they usually will also promote belief, repentance, and calling on the name of the Lord. Most will tell a convert to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” (something nowhere found in the Bible). If we are to reject baptism as a work, as something one does to be saved, then to be consistent should we not reject belief, repentance, and calling on the name of the Lord? Logically, we absolutely must! But since we see plenty of Scriptural evidence that believing (Romans 10:9), repentance (II Corinthians 10:7), and calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16) are directly linked to salvation, and they are indeed something we do, then perhaps we need to understand the nature of works.
As we know our own works are inadequate, the fact that we are required to believe, repent, call upon His name, and be immersed does not make them works performed to EARN salvation. Obedience is required of anyone who seeks God’s face, but even our best obedience will be flawed, thus making us guilty of all (James 2:10). Therefore, that we are commanded to do these things (believe, repent, call on His name, and be immersed) means they are conditions which must be met in order for Almighty God to graciously bestow his salvation on us. Again, this is not a matter of meriting salvation. It is simply meeting the established requirements in order to receive a gift.
Furthermore, while belief, repentance, and calling on His name are distinctly things that we DO, immersion does NOT fall into that category at all. Let me draw your attention to the wording:
Mark 16:16 – whoever believes and IS immersed
Acts 2:38 – repent and BE immersed
Acts 22:16 – arise and BE immersed
Romans 6:3 – we WERE immersed
Grammatically, immersion is a passive event. While belief, repentance, and calling on His name are active, something we ourselves do, immersion is passive, something done TO us. We do not immerse ourselves. Someone else performs the immersion, and we simply submit to it. God Himself, through the hands of the one performing the immersion, does the work of immersion. Therefore, to reject immersion for the remission of sins as a work is to reject the work of God Himself and to place emphasis on our own works of belief, repentance, and calling on His name.
The irony of this matter, once one truly stops to consider it, is quite profound.
Paul says immersion is being buried with him by baptism into death, and just as the dead can’t bury themselves or raise themselves from the dead, neither do we bury ourselves in the water of immersion and raise ourselves up to walk in newness of life. That is entirely the work of God.
Our works cannot and never will save us. However, when we submit to his will and obey Him, His own work will deliver us from condemnation.