Someone writes: “I believe that salvation is totally God’s gift of grace, and that we do not merit or earn any of it. However, I think we may truly say that baptism is the condition on which a person receives salvation as a free gift.”
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When the New Testament writers wish to express the result of God’s favor to us in Jesus Christ, they borrow metaphors and figures from “all over town” — the courthouse and the cemetery, the baths and the birthing-place, the slave market and the orphanage and the homestead. God pronounces us “not guilty” and we are acquitted (Rom. 5:18). God resurrects us and we are no longer dead (Eph. 2:1-6). God washes us and we are clean (1 Cor. 6:9-11). God begets us and we are born (John 1:13). God redeems us and we are freed from slavery (Eph. 1:7). God adopts us and we are his children (Eph. 1:5-6). God reconciles us to himself and we are no longer estranged (2 Cor. 5:18). These New Testament pictures of salvation all portray our helpless condition. They all present God’s one-sided intervention on our behalf. They all declare a radically wonderful result. But not one of them involves someone saying to another, “If you will do thus-and-so, I will bring about this result which you still will not deserve.” The New Testament never once uses the metaphor of someone giving another person a present which involves conditions for receiving it. Such language is common today, but it does not come from the Bible. God performed all these mighty deeds nearly 2,000 years ago, in the person and through the work of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus did not live and die for his own sake, but for the benefit of all those who finally will be saved (Isaiah 53:10-12; John 6:38-40). All that Jesus did, he did for sinners, whom God treats as if they had done it all themselves. The gospel does not tell us how to bring about our own salvation; it announces a salvation which God has accomplished already. God “saved us and called us with a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9). Christ reconciled sinners to God (Col. 1:20-22). He made purification for sins (Heb. 1:3). The gospel is “the good news of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13). It is not a do-it-yourself salvation kit.