Larry Ray Hafley


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Contending for the Faith

Salvation, Baptism, and the Finished Work of Christ


    Dear Larry,

    Due to the fact that you believe that you are saved in part or wholly by baptism, I must mark you as one still in darkness and as one who has not seen that we are complete in Jesus Christ and his finished work. Ephesians 2:8-9 says that we are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves. What is it about that that you don't understand? Paul said if it be works it is something that God owes us but grace is the gift of God which is faith. Larry, due to the fact that the Bible says that we are saved by grace through faith, and you say that it is by some work that we do like baptism, or any other thing, I would bid you to repent and trust in the finished work of Christ and nothing else but Christ and God will save you. I hope you will take this as a letter of love and may God have mercy on you.

          By his grace, Frank L. McClanahan


Dear Frank,

Thank you for your letter and for your clarity of expression. I appreciate your willingness to state boldly what you believe. I trust that you will grant me the same right to respond with equal directness to your arguments.

(1) Baptism And The Finished Work Of Christ: Frank, suppose I were to say, "Due to the fact that you believe that you are saved in part or wholly by faith, I must mark you as one still in darkness and as one who has not seen that we are complete in Jesus Christ and his finished work," how would you answer me? Primitive (Hardshell) Baptists make the same argument against you as you have made against me. They do not believe that faith is essential to salvation. Thus, when you say that one must believe in Jesus, they will accuse you of not trusting "in the finished work of Jesus Christ." Tell me, Frank, how you would answer their charge?

When you answer it, you will have answered your own protest against baptism. Faith, like baptism, is simply one of the conditions Jesus set forth and with which one must comply before he can be saved. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). Neither faith nor baptism undermines the completed work of Christ. Both are terms which one must meet before the benefits of the finished work of Christ are applied (Matthew 7:21; Hebrews 5:9).

Your objection against baptism could also be used against repentance. One must repent or perish (Luke 13:3, 5; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 11:18; 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9). Surely, you believe that one must repent before he is saved by the finished work of Christ, for Jesus said, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." Now, Frank, if you believe that one must repent, as well as believe, are you not trusting "in part or wholly" in those things and not in the completed work of Jesus? If not, why not? If the command to be baptized nullifies the "finished work" of the Savior, why do not faith and repentance do the same?

Remember, now, Primitive Baptists say that none of those conditions are necessary. They disavow faith, repentance, and baptism. They say that if one has to meet any condition, then salvation is by works and not by grace. You want to include faith and repentance while excluding baptism. So, please explain how you would answer the Calvinist, the Primitive Baptist. How can you accept some of the conditions set forth by the Lord (repentance and faith), but not baptism, when all of them are clearly required (Mark 16:16; Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38)?

(2) Salvation By Grace Through Faith: Yes, Frank, you are correct. The Ephesians were saved "by grace through faith" (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Neither they nor we can be saved by our own works of righteousness (Titus 3:5). However, the Ephesians were "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 19:5; Cf. Ephesians 5:26). The Ephesians were in Christ (Ephesians 1:7). They were in his body, the church (Ephesians 2:16; 3:6; 5:23-26). Hence, we know they had been baptized, for one cannot be in Christ, in his body, until he is "baptized into Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:41, 47; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3, 4; Galatians 3:26, 27). Their baptism, as noted, was "in the name of the Lord Jesus." Frank, what is the purpose of baptism "in the name of the Lord Jesus," i.e., what is it "for"? The Holy Spirit says it is "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Thus, the Ephesians who were saved by grace through faith, had been baptized "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38; Cf. Matthew 26:28). All today who have been saved by grace through faith have also been baptized "in the name of the Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38; 19:5).

You are right when you say that salvation is not by works. However, you will note that faith itself is a work. Jesus said it was (John 6:28, 29). Baptism is not a work of men, nor a work of the law of Moses, nor a work of the devil, nor a work of which we may boast, but it, like faith, is a work "of God." Thus, if all works are excluded, then out goes faith as a condition of salvation, along with repentance and baptism (James 2:14-26).

Salvation is indeed a gift. "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). However, that gift of salvation is not unconditional. If it were, all would be saved; none would be lost, for "the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men" (Titus 2:11, 12). Now, if the gift of grace is universal and unconditional, all will be saved. No one will go to hell. That will suit me fine, but it is not what Scripture teaches. Since the grace of God is universal, since Jesus tasted death "for the sins of the whole world," "for every man," and yet some men will be lost, it follows that salvation by grace is conditional (Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2; Romans 2:6-9; 6:16-18). That is, it contains terms or conditions of pardon with which men must comply in order to be saved (Cf. Jeremiah 18:7-10; Ezekiel 3:17-21; Matthew 7:13, 14, 21-27).

One of those conditions is faith in Christ (John 8:24). Another condition is repentance (Luke 13:3, 5). Another is baptism, or so said the Savior, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16;16; Acts 2:38; 22:16).

(3) "Repent And Trust In The Finished Work of Christ:" In your closing appeal to me, you said, "Larry, due to the fact that the Bible says that we are saved by grace through faith, and you say that it is by some work that we do like baptism, or any other thing, I would bid you to repent and trust in the finished work of Christ and nothing else but Christ and God will save you."

Frank, if, as you say, "we are saved by grace through faith," why do you also bid me to "repent and trust in the finished work of Christ"? If I have faith, why must I also "repent and trust"? Are you not adding to Ephesians 2:8, 9, when you say I must "repent and trust," as well as believe?

See the point, Frank? You believe that one must not only believe, but that he must also "repent and trust in the finished work of Christ" before God will save him. You believe one must do all those things to be saved, and when he does them, God will save him. He will not save himself, but God will save him. Well, can you not see that the same thing is true with respect to baptism? Yes, one must "repent and trust" in the death of Jesus (Acts 13:38, 39; Romans 2:4; 4:25; 5:9; 10:9, 10; Ephesians 1:7, 13). When he does so, he is not saving himself; he is not impugning the finished work of Christ. Neither does he do those things when he obeys the Lord in baptism. "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).

Frank, if you can add "repent and trust" to the finished work of Christ without discrediting it, why can I not also add what the Lord said about baptism without diminishing it (Mark 16;16; 1 Peter 3:21)? If you can add "repent and trust" to salvation by grace through faith in Ephesians 2:8, 9, why can I not also add the baptism of the Ephesians "in the name of the Lord Jesus" to salvation by grace through faith?

(4) "We Are Complete In Jesus Christ:" You are correct when you say that "we are complete in Jesus Christ and his finished work." How, though, does one get "into Christ"? Note that you have said that we are "complete in Christ," not "out of," but "in" Christ. How does one get "into Christ"? Only "in Christ" can one be "complete," so how do we get "into Christ"? "Know ye not that so many of you as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death" (Romans 6:3)? "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27).

The only way to be complete and to be saved by the finished work of Christ is to be "in Christ." Scripture says we are "baptized into Jesus Christ." If one is not baptized, he is not "in Christ," for we are "baptized into Christ." Thus, one must be baptized to be complete in Christ and to have the benefits of the finished work of Christ.

Conclusion: Frank, I would be happy to hear your reply to the points and questions I have raised. I trust that you, likewise, will take this as a letter of love and that you will weigh carefully the arguments I have made in light of the word of God (2 Tim. 2:15).

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