by Steven Chan
15 March 2009
In recent times, there is a growing debate as to whether it is more important to be baptized for salvation, or to lead a transformed life like the famed “Mother Teresa” who served the poor in India for most of her life. The preponderance of writers seem to lean on to the side of advocating living a so-called transformed life – and arguing that surely God is not going to let these transformed people suffer damnation just because they failed to understand their need for baptism in order to be saved! Many brethren have been led by our well-credentialed academic scholars onto this path of thinking. But what does the Bible have to say on this subject? Surely we must speak as the oracles of God (I Pet. 4:11) because the Bible is our sole and exclusive authority for all that we do and teach (2 Tim 3:15-17). As the prophet said in Isa 8:20: “to the law and to the testimony! if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them.”
The Bible provides ample guidance on this matter – both in direct statements as well as by examples. According to Mark 16:15-15, Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Noticed what Jesus said as regards those who would be saved: They need to believe in Him as the Son of God (Acts 8:37; Rom 10:9, 10) and be baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), in order to be saved. Notice also that Jesus did not say that those who led transformed lives will be saved. Does this mean that one does not need to lead transformed lives? The apostle Paul answered thus in Rom 12:1,2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Surely, those who have believed in Jesus and have been baptized into Him, must continue to walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:15-26) and be transformed in their lives according to the Word of God. Otherwise, their failure to exhibit the attributes of the transformed life of service to God and his fellow men, would result in them missing heaven (Matt. 25:41-46). Some believers failed to allow their lives to be transformed by the Word of God and the Bible warned such brethren in Jas 1:19-22: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” It is only when we obey the Word of God and lead lives that are transformed by God’s Word that we would be saved – because those who hear but fail to do or act according to the Word of God have deceived themselves.
The Bible provides examples of those who led godly or so-called transformed lives but were still in need of obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. One such instance was that of Cornelius as recorded in Acts 10:1-2: “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” This was certainly a good man, and one who evidenced a transformed life as described by those who are proponents of the paramount importance of transformed lives over the need for baptism in order to be saved. Yet, the Bible tells us that “he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ (Acts 11:13,14). “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Act 10:34, 35). Doing what is right in order to be acceptable to God certainly include more than just doing good; it includes obedience to the terms of salvation as enunciated in the Great Commission (Mark 16:15,16). Then Peter declared in Act 10:47-48: “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Yea, even the transformed man was commanded to be baptized. Yet, many of our enlightened brethren think very lightly of the need for baptism. It should be pointed out that God had to make special arrangement for Cornelius so that he could hear the gospel and obey the terms of salvation so that he could be saved. God did not dispense with the need for baptism just because Cornelius was ignorant of it. We need to be wary of the smooth speech of some of our brethren and test it against the Scriptures.