19 So he went and preached to the spirits in prison— 20 those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood.21 And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The most faith-challenging conversation I had in college wasn’t with an atheist out on the quad trying to share Jesus. It wasn’t in a science class with a skeptic over evolution. It was a fellow believer from a different on-campus “discipleship” group over the purpose of baptism.
A lot of groups like to go around and be forward with their faith. The particular group I was a part of had their own methods of approaching people about faith matters or promoting our evangelistic events. There were at least two or three others that were equally as progressive. It was on one afternoon that a member of one of these groups approached me about my faith. Not wanting to be off-putting, I agreed to answer a few questions over coffee.
We sat down in front of a bible and my new rather eager friend began asking me questions and showing me texts from scripture. To his surprise, I started showing him other texts and asking him questions in return. I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to show off my biblical savvy. We were having quite an interesting competition until he came across this text.
A picture of baptism. Which now saves you. “You have to be baptized to be saved, of course.” He said. My theological brakes slammed on. What? No! Grace is sufficient!
We went to Ephesians 2. I directed us to the myriad of other salvation texts where Paul, and Jesus himself, would have found it very convenient to include the one crucial act to ensure one’s eternal salvation. I thumbed through my index like crazy and wracked my memory for every sermon illustration to back up my point.
One of us inevitably had to go to class and we abruptly ended the conversation. Me a bit frustrated and he disappointed that he had failed to convert…a Christian. We agreed to disagree and circle back at another time.
Looking through my old keyword study bible at this passage, I couldn’t help but notice the two pages of commentary my version has to offer on the subject. It’s glazed with highlighter from that night. In short, it basically chalks up the verbage to a translation error. It’s better read, “Baptism and the act of belief will save you at some point in the future.” In other words, baptism isn’t the final word on your salvation. It’s greatly encouraged to publicly display your faith, but it’s not the act that saves you. It’s the belief. Do both. You will be saved.
Moral of the story, it wasn’t up until I had that rather unexpected conflict that my faith started to sprout roots of their own. Ironically, I was trying to convince someone who believed most of the core things I believed, but just had his categories mixed up. But either way, the situation forced me to assess and apply what I had been taught.
At the core, what I believed about salvation wasn’t just a creed or a personal preference or a pledge of allegiance to some denomination, it was a test of my knowledge of the Holy.
Did I really believe that some single act of obedience outside of simple faith could buy me salvation or was it something more pure, something completely without obligation that saved me?
Or more simply, was the effect of Christ’s sacrifice sufficient for my sins or not?
I believe grace is or isn’t enough.