All the world's religions are based upon works to please what they believe is God. The idea that we must live up to a certain standard of works to be in right standing or saved is the foundation of false religion that began with Cain in the garden.
Nowhere does the Bible teach that man is not saved until he is baptized nor does it teach man is not saved without baptism. Nowhere does the Bible teach that one must have good works or certain works to be saved. It instead says we cannot be saved by ANY work. No teaching is more clear than this in the Scripture. In fact, Paul argues that "a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28) which were kept by works, and he reminds us that "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5).
The new man is produced by the work of the Holy Spirit who is God, not by water nor by works.
As Paul taught, "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). It is therefore clear no one can be saved by good works, by keeping the law. Even if we had the ability to keep the law perfectly, it could not make up for our having broken it in the past. No matter what your angle is, you are going to have to face the facts: you have sinned and God punishes sin just as we punish crime in our law of justice. With God no one escapes His justice. Yet he says
James 2:13: “Mercy triumphs over judgment”.Prov 16:6 In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity”
Even atheists justify their rejection of Christianity on the basis of believing. Famed atheist Robert Ingersoll sarcastically remarked against the gospel of God's grace:
“They [Christians] say a certain belief is necessary to salvation. They do not say, if you behave yourself you will get there; they do not say, if you pay your debts and love your wife and love your children, and are good to your friends and your neighbors and your country (like we atheists are], you will get there. That will do you no good; you have got to believe a certain thing.”
The Bible proclaims “It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:21) What was that message? A few verses before He tells us, v. 18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” SAVED (past tense). How? Through faith! The cross is sufficient because it is Christ’s work for us, the Savior is a person, the God/man saves us.
This is why Paul said “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
Again the gospel is preached and belief (faith) is the response. The greater context in scripture always teaches salvation occurs before baptism. No one followed Jesus to be saved without believing first, nor were they baptized to be saved. They were pronounced saved by their faith before baptism showing that baptism is clearly not part of the gospel. There are hundreds of Scriptures to prove this is so. Belief (full dependence, reliance) is not the gospel, but it is what is needed to accept the gospel. Baptism is not the gospel because the gospel is something you believe in, not something you do. Baptism follows ones belief, which is where salvation is initiated.
Acts 15:7-11 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: "Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. "So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, "and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. "Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they."
The consistent teaching in the book of Acts and the rest of Scripture is that salvation is by God’s grace through faith. Peter makes the explicit point that we got saved the SAME WAY they did. He did not use the Jews at Pentecost as the prime example, but the Gentiles. Making certain the church understood that God gave them the Holy Spirit because He saw the faith that was in their heart. The Holy Spirit was given to them in response to hearing the gospel and having faith, not by water baptism or anything else. God gave then the Holy Spirit because He saw faith in their heart. Peter made the explicit point that they all got saved the SAME WAY; the Jews at Pentecost were saved the same way as the Gentiles. In fact, Peter began his speech to the Jerusalem church by saying in Acts 15:7: “…that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.” This makes it absolutely clear that they were saved and were given the Holy Spirit in response to hearing the gospel, not by their baptism which came after. We need to keep in mind Acts 2 was written by the same author as Acts 10:43; 13:38-39, he is not contradictory by explaining all are saved by grace through faith; all are saved the same way.
We can trained ourselves in religious behavior while lacking a relationship. This becomes a matter of righteousness, where does it come from. Christ's finished work on the cross. Which means we can do NOTHING to add merit to this. Therefore, no one's works can earn him salvation. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes” (Rom. 10:4). By trusting in Christ’s work, the requirements of the law are fulfilled perfectly.
Our new spiritual life starts at the point of faith, needing no further acts such as baptism, the Lord's Supper or other requirements. These are all acts of obedience after one is saved. No baptism, no commandments to keep, only grace for one to turn to God to exercise faith in the crucified one who rose again.
In Eph. 2:8-9 Paul explains that salvation is “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, NOT OF WORKS, lest anyone should boast.”
Rom. 4:4-6: “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.” In the New Testament Christ did all the work for us as our high priest and sacrifice. Work is something we do physically; faith in salvation is invisible and is toward God and involves no physical work.
Certainly if there is one teaching that is consistent in the Bible it is that “we are NOT saved by WORKS” (Eph. 2:8), even those we are commanded to do. Any physical activity we participate in; a ceremony; a ritual; a commandment is considered a work.
The gospel that saves does not teach any work of man is involved in our salvation, not even baptism of which people want to add to the gospel of grace through faith in Christ’s work by the crucifixion. 1 Cor.15:1-4;
When one understands grace and the gospel message he ceases working for it and is able to rest in Christ because he understands the meaning of the gospel and has experienced its power unto salvation (Heb. 4).
It is who saves, not what saves- the person- Jesus, His blood shed ONLY, not by any work, be it any command but by faith in him.
Excerpts from the book “The Gospel - What is the way of salvation”