The Necessity of Baptism and Faith By Works
When I moved to Jasper, Alabama when I was fourteen years old I had never heard the term “Sinner’s Prayer” before, much less known that it was an entire basis for many’s conversion to Christianity. In the course of day to day life in the Bible Belt it is not too uncommon to have a conversation move in the direction of religion and the Bible. Being a man of faith myself, and having numerous friends who are “in the ministry” with other denominations, such conversations happen very frequently, and often will come to an impasse once the Sinner’s Prayer is brought up. For many of the faithful and believing in the South, the Sinner’s Prayer is the way to salvation, Heaven itself offered carte blanche for the masses. However, it perplexes me that matters of faith and doctrine can be so easily misunderstood by the masses who read the same Bible as I do, which teaches in direct opposition to at least two principles of the Sinner’s Prayer itself. First, the necessity of baptism for a remission of sins, and second, faith by works.
Following are some of my thoughts on the two matters.
Near the beginning of Jesus Christ’s ministry we read a story that is beneficial to understanding the root for the need of baptism. In the Bible we find
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him
Then comes the important part,
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
So, says Jesus, no man can enter into the kingdom of God unless he’s been “born of water and of spirit”. This is a unique moment for many Christians in the sayings of Jesus, because taking the Bible so literally, they often miss out that Jesus Christ Himself set the standard of baptism by water to enter God’s kingdom. It was the only way.
In His final words to His apostles, in an event known as The Great Commission, Jesus says before ascending into the sky,
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
He didn’t say, “Hey guys, I know I’ve asked you to live really differently and do some really radical stuff; so do you want to just go and ask some folks to say a weak-sauce prayers asking Me for forgiveness?”
Baptism was absolutely essential for salvation. The early Christians, before completely abandoning or skewing true principles, knew this.
There is no other way [to obtain God’s promises] than this – to become acquainted with Christ, to be washed in the fountain spoken of by Isaiah for the remission of sins, and for the remainder, to live sinless lives.”
Justin Martyr in Trypho Chap. 44
A few years ago one of my friends went on a mini-mission trip here within our home area of Walker County Alabama. As a devout Baptist, her and her group’s goal for their mission trip was to bring others to Christ in two days over the weekend. In a group of about 150 people they met at their local church, put on their t-shirts made just for the event, divided into groups of twos, and hit the streets ready and rearing to go for Jesus! When I asked my friend on Monday how her mission trip had gone she replied that it had been miserably awful.
Once they got onto a doorstep and someone answered the door their question was: “Would you like to accept Christ as your Savior and gain eternal life?” Many said that they had already been saved and were good to go. However, for the few people that my friend and her companion bumped into who said “Yes”, the answer was too simple. They handed them a pamphlet with the Sinner’s Prayer embossed across the front, they said the prayer with these people on their doorstep, and then they invited them to church. Not a single person said yes. Not a single person wanted a “church representative” to come back for a follow-up visit later. In fact, of the 70 or so groups to have gone out and the hundreds of people who had “gotten saved” that weekend, not a single one made a solid commitment to come my friend’s church in the future! My friend was distraught.
“What do you think we did wrong?” she asked me. I responded by telling her that a doctrine which delivers eternal life without any effort on a doorstep wasn’t what the Savior had taught. I taught of the necessity of baptism, and I shared a few scriptures with her and invited her to come to church with me. Her response?
“Jeez, you Mormons sure do require a lot.”
We don’t require a lot. In fact, the Lord requires so little really for what we’ll gain in return.
In today’s Christian world the necessity for baptism is questioned. However, we as Latter-day Saints know that baptism is necessary to enter back into God’s presence. It is a requirement so important that even Jesus Christ could not bypass its importance. Nephi, a prophet in The Book of Mormon taught
And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfill all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unoly, to be baptized, yea, even by water!
And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfill all righteousness in being baptized by water?
Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according the felsh he humbleth himself before the Father and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.
Jesus, our example in all, humbled Himself enough to be obedient to His father’s commands and be baptized. But just because we are “saved” once and enter into the waters of baptism does not mean that we have gained eternal life.
That we are saved by grace is entirely true. We cannot refute that. Says Paul,
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Not of work, lest any man should boast.
And again Paul says,
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Yet, in today’s society of Christians it is now common place to preach against such doctrine as “necessity of baptism”; many would have the world to believe that “all you have to do is say a prayer, and accept Jesus as your Savior, and you shall be given eternal life”. – Eternal salvation and a seat on the Heavenly Couch for a sinner’s prayer. – Sounds nice doesn’t it? But even the Saints in Jesus’ time knew better, and the the disciple James taught against such silliness when he said,
Faith, if it hath not works, is dead.
The Lord Himself declared His hatred (yes, you read correctly, hatred) about a “Once saved always saved mentality” when He mentions a sect known as the Nicolaitans by name in the New Testament (Revelation 2:6). This group, known for their “saved by grace alone” attitudes and their debauchery all at the same time, were so backwards in their thinking (yet so much like many of today’s Christians) that more than a hundred years after the Lord said he hated their doctrines an early Church Father and historian said,
They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence.”
St. Irenaeus in “Adversus Haereses”
It is a doctrine from the devil himself which teaches that once we confess the good name of Jesus we are saved forevermore.
After initially teaching of the Lord Himself being baptized as an example for us, The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi continued to teach by saying,
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
And then are ye in this straight and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
And here’s the kicker,
And now my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this straight and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfasteness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
This is the Doctrine of Christ. He said so Himself when first appearing to the Nephites,
This is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
… And whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost. …
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them”
As Latter-day Saints we understand that the quest for eternal life is more than just a flippant wish for salvation. However, we often overburden ourselves with undoctrinal necessities and confusion. The scripture cited above mentions the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life”. In all of the beautiful things that we have been taught in our dispensation we often get mucked up over petty things like the exact geographical location of the Garden of Eden, but I declare that the doctrines of the Church and the fulness of the Gospel is entirely plain and simple, both in understanding and in application.
I’ve always loved Doctrine & Covenants Section 76. After all, it is the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon’s vision of the three degrees of glory, and so much more. Within its verses we read a detailed account of who will spend eternity where. That’s pretty nifty stuff. But I’ve always focused on the few verses that describe celestial glory, and what it takes to gain that kingdom. I’ll let you find the particular verses by yourself (it’s well worth the study), but I love the description that is given of the people who shall attain to celestial realms. In those sacred verses it says that they are those “who overcome by faith”. – I confess that for many years I pondered over that verse. I read it, I reread it, I pondered upon it and prayed about it. “What does it mean to overcome by faith?” I would often think to myself. Then, one day, after literal years of pondering upon that one verse, I looked at the footnote to the word “overcome” and was shocked to find “TG Self-Mastery“.
I was both thankful to the Lord for this revelation (which had been there the whole time), and shocked over the thought of what all that entails. – No wonder the Lord has asked us to follow Him and His Father in the path to perfection (See Matthew 5:48 & 3 Nephi 12:48).
But how is it to be done? How are we supposed to strive for Self Mastery and perfection when we’re just mortal and weak beings? Once again Nephi knew the answer when speaking about the records he was keeping.
For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”
Do we as Latter-day Saints believe in the necessity of baptism? Yes, because it is taught so plainly and commanded so forcefully by the Lord Himself in holy writ. Do we believe that we are saved entirely and wholly upon the grace of Jesus Christ? Yes. Without a doubt. Without the grace, love, mercy, and the atoning blood of Jesus Christ we would all be entirely hopeless and damned forever. But do we believe that works are necessary to gain eternal life? Yes, but only in realizing that our works mean entirely nothing without the grace of Jesus Christ. They are simply the deeds which enable the grace of Christ to be fulfilled.
Am I theologian? No. Am I perfect Christian? Even a bigger “NO”. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist and a saint to figure out that the Sinner’s Prayer is bad doctrine, and even worse theology for Christians.
Perhaps to summarize my personal beliefs most fully it would be of benefit to end by quoting the Lectures on Faith:
Let us here observe that a religion that does not
require the sacrifice of all things never has power
sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life
and salvation. For from the first existence of man,
the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and
salvation never could be obtained without the
sacrifice of all earthly things. It is through this
sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that
men should enjoy eternal life. And it is through the
medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that
men do actually know that they are doing the
things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.
When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has
for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life,
and believing before God that he has been called to
make this sacrifice because he seeks to do His will,
he does know, most assuredly, that God does and
will accept his sacrifice and offering and that he has
not sought nor will he seek His face in vain. Under
these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith
necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.
Lectures on Faith 6:7
If my friends and associates wish to partake of salvation carte blanche via the Sinner’s Prayer, so be it. But as for me and my house, I am thankful for a religion that requires sacrifice, and that through such sacrifice my faith might be increased. I pray that we may always be found humble enough to accept and live by the fulness of the Lord’s doctrines as found in His holy Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
– Stan Way
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