Does Ephesians 2:8-9 Exclude Baptism?

It is written:

Ephesians 2:8-9-For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9  not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Many believe that Paul’s statement that salvation is “not of works” excludes baptism (since it is claimed that baptism is a work).

What shall we make of this?

First, if Ephesians 2:8-9 excludes baptism on the grounds that it is a “work,” then we must also exclude belief in Jesus as part of the plan of salvation since the Bible is clear that this is a work that we do!

John 6:28-29-Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Notice that believing in Jesus is here called by Jesus Himself a “work.” Indeed, the Greek is very clear that this is a work that we do in order to please God and is thus clearly a part of the plan of salvation.

Second, it is true that Ephesians 2:8-9 forbids “works” regarding salvation: yet many other Scriptures make it clear that there are works that we must do in order to be saved

For example:

Matthew 7;21-Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.

John 8:51-Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”

Acts 10:34-35-Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35  But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

Romans 6:17-18-But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18  And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

2 Thessalonians 1:7-8-and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8  in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 5:9-And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,

1 Peter 2:7-8-Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED HAS BECOME THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE,” 8  and “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.

1 John 2:29-If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.

Revelation 22:14-Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.

Clearly, the Word teaches that there are some things which we must do in order to be saved. Each time in the Book of Acts where people inquire what they needed to do in order to be saved, an answer is always given (Acts 2:27-38; 9:6, 22:16; 16:30-33)!

Third, what then does Paul mean when he says that our salvation is not “of works?” Studying the context of his statement makes it clear!

Very simply, if some Scriptures make it clear that works are required to be saved, and other passages of Scripture make it clear that works are not required to be saved, it stands to reason that Scriptures are discussing different types of works!

In Ephesians, the “works” that Paul refers to has reference to the works of the Law of Moses!

Stanley Fowler is a Baptist preacher who has spent years studying the subject of baptism. While discussing the Scriptures and ideas that baptism should be excluded from the plan of salvation because baptism is a work, he notes:

“How, then, does this correlate with Paul’s insistence that we are justified by faith and not by works? Doesn’t this high view of baptism smuggle works into justification? The answer is, of course, resoundingly negative. When Paul talks about works in Romans (and Galatians), what he has in view are works of the Mosaic Law. Paul does not include baptism in the category of works any more than he includes, say, repentance in that category. Baptism is, in fact, something that we allow to be done to us, and in that way it is a fitting way to express faith and grace. For Paul, faith and baptism are like two sides of a coin, distinct but never disconnected, both looking to Christ for the benefits of salvation—the one as attitude and the other as act.” (Stanley K. Fowler, Rethinking Baptism: Some Baptist Reflections, 23 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, OR; Wipf & Stock)

Another student of God’s Word discusses how he came to this truth as well.

Michael Shank, while discussing the Bible with a gentleman named Randal, writes:

“Well,” I was gearing up, “Ephesians 2: 8-9 says that we’re saved by faith, not works, and baptism is a work.” Pulled it off! I had successfully mimicked my Pastor’s level of confidence. “Mr. Mike, you’re absolutely correct about faith and I’m proud of your willingness to study your Bible. Man, you’re doing great! God tells us in 2 Timothy 2: 15 that we’re to study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth! You’re also correct in saying that we’re saved by faith and not by works, but my friend, baptism is not a work. Let me show you with your Bible,” and he asked for my Bible. I thought to myself, “Hang on a second… where’s the fight?” Randall had disarmed me. I went in prepared for a Bible battle and he wasn’t fighting. In reality, his persona magnified something I’d rarely seen in others who wore the Christian label. Love and humility. Randall quickly flipped through the pages of my Bible as we stood over his desk. While waiting on him to find his text, the back door swung open. It was Kirk (the Alpha-male of our office and the one who’d told me to stay away from Randall). I knew as soon as Kirk saw me standing with Randall that I was busted. The look on Kirk’s face said it all. His facial expression said, “Mike, you idiot! I told you to stay away from that guy and there you stand, disobeying my supreme inter-office dictate!” “Mr. Mike,” Randall regained my attention as he landed in the book of Ephesians. “Chapter 2 verse 8 says, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.’ Verse 9 says ‘not of works, lest any man should boast,’ so you’re correct in saying that we’re saved by faith and not of works. But it is you, my friend, who is pulling this out of context.” “Me?” I was heating up. “Yeah,” Randall said softly, “but let me show you why,” and he went on. “Listen man, Paul wrote this letter to the church at Ephesus to a group of Christians who were being heavily influenced by new Jewish converts to Christianity. You see, these Jews, who formerly were under the Law of Moses, were now trying to teach new Gentile Christians that they had to go back to the former works of the Law, the Law of Moses. Those Jews were teaching those new Gentile Christians that they had to be circumsized. That was the work Paul was talking about. It was a former work of the flesh. Now Mike, that old Law of Moses was abolished on the cross along with the Jewish works of the flesh.” Randall moved forward. “Look here in this same chapter at verse 15 (Ephesians chapter 2), ‘having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.’ Paul was correcting the new Christians at Ephesus, telling them here in Ephesians 2: 10-22 that Christians were no longer under the former works of Moses. The new Jewish converts to Christ had been boasting, evidently bragging that they were more righteous and more sinless because they had obeyed the previous law of circumcision, which is the work that Paul refers to here. But Paul corrected them, stating in verse 9 that our faith was not of works. Our faith is not of old Jewish practices. “Mr. Mike, the works Paul speaks of here in Ephesians 2: 8-9 is clearly the works of the Law of Moses. Paul was correcting their erroneous thinking, lest any Jewish-Christian should boast. Do you see that?” “Yeah,” I understood the context. Randall was right and it made a great deal of sense in context. My Pastor had not explained the context of Ephesians chapter 2, nor had he brought any of this up during our meeting. “My friend,” Randall said, “if we try to go back to the Law of Moses, we actually fall from God’s grace, because Galatians 5: 4 says, ‘Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.’ Those Jews who became Christians at Ephesus were trying to incorporate some of the former laws of Moses like physical circumcision. They were fallen from grace and that’s why Paul emphasized not of works. He was talking about the previous works of Jewish Law.” “But Mike,” Randall continued at a fast pace, “Paul isn’t saying that we do nothing to access the grace of God. As a matter of fact, faith only or faith alone is a false doctrine! Do you know that there is only one place in the whole Bible where you find the phrase ‘faith only?’” I nodded in the negative. I didn’t know, nor did I know where it was found. Randall, seeing the nod, moved on, “It’s right here in the book of James, chapter 2, verse 24. ‘Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.’ Look here at verse 17–‘Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.’ And verse 19–‘thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.’”” (Michael Shank, Muscle and a Shovel: 10th Edition: Includes Randall’s Secret, Full Index, Q&A’s, 736-789 (Kindle Edition))

Finally, let’s remember that according to the Bible, baptism is a work that God Himself does!

Colossians 2:12-buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Please observe that Paul teaches when repentant believers are baptized into Christ, they are joined with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Paul then clearly teaches that this is through faith “in the working of God.”

Baptism is God’s work, where He performs surgery on us.

Baptism is the “circumcision” (Colossians 2:11), where our sins are “cut off” by the Lord in and through the act of baptism.

No, Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:8-9 does not exclude baptism from the plan of salvation.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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