In the 19th century, the denominational preacher John Henry Newman once wrote of the necessity of works in his discourse on fasting. He said, “St. Paul gave up all things ‘to be found in Christ not having his own righteousness which is of the law but the righteousnesses which is from God upon faith.'(Phil. iii.9) Then only are our righteousnesses acceptable when they are done, not in a legal way, but in Christ through faith.” It is understood that while Newman is speaking of the necessity of works, which he refers to as “righteousnesses”, that he does not mean salvation by works or merit. When one man does righteousnesses “in a legal way”, he does not have faith in Christ. But when a man does the same righteousnesses “through faith”, he is pleasing to the Lord.
We in the church of Christ couldn’t have said it better when explaining why Baptism is essential to salvation. When it is effective, when God’s saving grace is received, is when the one being Baptized has given up all attempts to merit or work for his salvation and chooses to submit to this simple act of righteousness. It is not the work which saves, but it is instead the faith toward God that is in the work which saves: without the works, faith is dead. We are truly saved by grace through faith. It is as the Apostle Paul said in Colossians 2:12:
“having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
This passage very clearly speaks of the Baptism which Jesus commanded. And Paul tells the meaning of the Baptism is for burial with Christ. Then he says “in which also you were raised.” This is as Paul says to the Romans (6:3-5) that “just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we too might walk in newness of life.” When a person of faith rises from the watery grave of Baptism, He is raised, not by his own power, but by the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead: and he begins his new life.
The old Gospel preacher, Ben Franklin, in his monumental study on Baptism, said that Baptism is a symbol with power. In Baptism, the sinner is participating in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. But all of the New Testament asserts that in Baptism is the place one is first introduced to the saving blood of Christ. This is why Baptism, as much as seeking, praying, and repenting, is a necessary work for salvation. Without this understanding of Baptism, Ananias’ words to Saul make little sense: “And now why do you delay, arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on His name.” (Acts 22:16).
Does this principle apply only to Baptism? Of course not. The Apostle Paul said to the Romans that “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” (Romans 1:17) First to last, we must be people who are of faith. We cannot start the walk in faith and end it by works. And we cannot start the journey with Christ by works and end it by faith. Everything we do must be by faith. Anything “righteousnesses”, to use Newman’s word, which we do must be done by faith, and not just the act of Baptism. When you give, pray, fast, serve, or whatever, be sure that it is done in faith. This means that you do it more with trust and thanks to the Lord without a hint of thought that you have somehow made yourself more righteous. No, God loves and rewards the faith that is exhibited. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord.”