A long-time friend who preaches for a Church of Christ responds to my expressed convictions that gospel baptism is by immersion and for believers, but that I accept as brothers and sisters those who trust Christ for salvation and follow him as Lord, although their conclusions and consciences concerning baptism differ from mine. He calls the popular “sinner’s prayer” a “false take,” asking whether I “so desperately want more to be saved” that I “water down” gospel teaching. “We won’t save souls by diluting the obedience that saves us,” he cautions, but “will only make matters worse.”
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The Apostle Peter proclaimed that “whoever believes in Jesus has remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Because baptism is the initial way Jesus gave for new believers to express and declare their faith, we may also say that baptism is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Faith and baptism belong together. But they are not the same, and the Bible says that we are saved “by grace through faith,” not “by grace through baptism” (Eph. 2:8-9).
The Bible twice refers to a sinner’s prayer in the process of conversion — both times in connection with baptism (Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). I therefore encourage Church of Christ and Christian Church brethren to include prayer along with baptism, and I encourage other evangelical brethren to include baptism along with a sinner’s prayer. In light of the Bible, we all have room to improve.
Please be careful how you talk about “the obedience which saves.” The only obedience which saves us is the perfect obedience of our representative Jesus Christ, not the feeble and always-imperfect obedience we are able to cobble together for ourselves (Rom. 5:19; 9:31–10:3; Phil. 3:8-9). Supposing otherwise was an error which Jesus confronted in the Pharisees, and it led to the kind of Judaism which Paul denounced in Romans and Galatians. I have no desire to water down anything — only to be faithful to the gospel and to rightly proclaim the Bible’s teaching.
The sad fact is that, over the past 125 years, we in the Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches have developed a reactionary theology of salvation which sometimes has denied the gospel truth of justification by grace through faith, has sometimes replaced Jesus Christ with a “plan of salvation,” and has looked sometimes to our own performance for right standing with God, rather than trusting solely in the substitutionary doing and dying of the Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. That was wrong. By God’s grace, we are learning better now, and I am committed, with God’s help, to do all I can to further this restoration of New Testament truth.