I am re-posting this comment I left over at Jay Guin’s blog. He was discussing the necessity of baptism and I thought this might be helpful to mention here as well. See his post here as it is excellent and followed up by insightful comments. Here is my comment:
We have to understand what Paul meant by a “work.” A work is something we do in order to try and achieve righteousness. Paul rejected the possibility of that happening and said in Romans 1:17-18 that righteousness comes by faith. He says it does not come by works so that no man can boast. So what is belief? What is repentance? What is baptism? They are responses to the unmerited favor of God. Here is the crunch. We have then concluded wrongly that if the acts don’t save us (which is clearly what Paul teaches) then they must not be important. Wrong. In Paul’s theology, as best I can tell, he believes that God is looking for a response of faith to the saving actions he has already completed on mankind’s behalf (the D,B,R of Jesus). When he sees faith in our life he brings righteousness to us. We didn’t earn it. He did it. But faith was a necessary response (and therefore somewhat of a condition) of faith that had to be present.
It is possible for God to require the saved to have faith for him to save them but that faith not merit or earn God’s salvation. Our logic has gotten us all messed up because we have rejected true principles (that faith and baptism don’t save us – because God saves us) because we came to faulty conclusions of where that would lead (that they would no longer be important or necessary, while the NT clearly teaches they are). So we have to accept that baptism is not a work that we do that saves us (because only God can save us). It is a submissive act that we allow to be done to us in faith because God has told us that is what he desires. That act does not force the hand of God. That act does not warrant Jesus dying on the cross. Baptism does not accomplish so much in us that we earned Jesus’ and our own resurrections.
Here is the hard part…but God still requires that we have faith and that we respond in that faith through repentance, baptism, etc because it shows that we have responded to what he has already done in a transformative and submissive way. I could go on and on here but I hope you get my point by now. Baptism is important but not because it earns anything. Only God can save. And we can say that and at the same time say – and baptism is still important because it is the kind of response to God’s gracious acts he has already done on our behalf that he is looking for.
In no way am I saying baptism is not important. I am just attempting to show why it is i mportant.