Published: 25 October 2021

Is Baptism A Work?

baptism a work

Is baptism a work which results in salvation? The answer is an emphatic “YES!” Some of you are no doubt about to die of apoplexy after reading the last sentence. Please read on to see why I’d say this. 

Most Protestants denounce the idea of a works based salvation and they are right to take this position. In fact, there are no works or tasks that we can perform that will put God in debt to us. Simply put, there is nothing we can do on our own (including baptism) which will fix our sin problem. God had to fix this problem for us and it is the reason Jesus had to die (1 Tim 1:15, Heb 9:28). 

Ideas inherited from the Reformers

Much modern Protestant thought has been inherited from the 16th century reformers. These men were reacting to the doctrinal positions of the Catholic Church and in their zeal to distance themselves from anything that might resemble “earned salvation,” they lumped baptism into the works category. 

The thinking was that if salvation was achieved by doing something (e.g. baptism), then this made the thing a work which amounted to earning salvation. Therefore, they concluded that baptism belonged in a different category and had nothing to do with becoming a Christian.

Doing is not the same as earning 

We must not make the mistake of confusing “doing” with “earning.” God’s people have always had things they had to do to obtain God’s promises. For example, Noah had things to do to prepare for the flood. However, Noah’s tasks did not earn him salvation.    

God saved Noah because God extended grace to him in the form of warning and instruction (Gen 6:8). Noah believed God, heeded His warnings, and followed His instructions. The things Noah had to do to obtain God’s promise (i.e. not drowning) were told to him as an act of favor from God. Without God’s warning and instruction, Noah and his family would have perished. Noah didn’t earn (or deserve) salvation because he built the ark.   

Likewise, the Israelites had to do something in order to conquer Jericho. They marched around the walls just as God commanded, but this did not earn them the military victory. God gave them the city after they did the things He told them to do (Josh 6:2, 24:11). Without God’s instructions and involvement, Israel would not have taken the city. Israel didn’t earn (or deserve) the victory. The overthrow of Jericho was a gift from God. 

Such examples are numerous, but the point is always the same. God’s people have always had to do something to obtain God’s promises. This is not the same as saying they earned the promisesScripture never implies that people earned God’s promises when they did what He told them to do.

Who is working during baptism?

A more accurate way to word the question that began this post is, “Is there a work happening during baptism which results in salvation?” The question is not whether baptism is a work, the question is who is doing work when a baptism is taking place. It is God who is doing the work in baptism! This is clearly stated in Ephesians.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25–27 ESV)

Who was washed with water? The bride of Christ which is the church. As we know, the church is composed of all Christians. Who does the washing? It is none other than Jesus. The Bible is clear that it is Jesus who washes away our sins. He is the One who is working. The person being baptized is not doing this work, nor is it the person performing the baptism. Jesus is doing the work because only Jesus can take away sins (John 1:29, Rom 11:27, 1 John 3:5).

Of course, baptism is only valid when performed in faith. To be immersed in water without putting trust in Jesus results in nothing more than getting wet. It is not the water that does something to cleanse us, it is the work Jesus is performing while we are being immersed in water that matters. Jesus is the agent who takes away our sins, not the water.

If we have to “do” something, isn’t this the same as the Galatian Heresy?

False teachers fooled the Galatians saying the gospel wasn’t enough to save people. They taught that in addition to the gospel, Christians had to also undergo circumcision and keep the law of Moses (Gal 5:2, Act 15:1, 5). Paul said this teaching perverts the gospel and is in fact no gospel at all (Gal 1:7 NIV)    

Some might argue that if baptism has anything to do with salvation, then this is the Galatian heresy all over again. After all, baptism is not, strictly speaking, part of the gospel. Therefore if we say that we must be baptized to be saved, how is this not adding a requirement to the gospel? 

This is a fair question. In the next post, we’ll consider how baptism fits into the picture without being something that is an addition to the gospel.


Baptism is a work, but the work that is performed is done completely by God. Immersion is not something we do to earn salvation. It is during immersion (normally) that God cleanses us of our sins (Act 22:16) and the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us (Act 2:38).