Churches of Christ are wrongly viewed by most people. They are often accused of believing or practicing something that they reject and rejecting that which they accept. We suppose this may be true of most religious movements to one degree or another.
One area where members of the Church of Christ are maligned is salvation, that is, they are accused of believing in “works salvation.” It is believed since members of the Church of Christ advocate action on the part of man that we are trying to earn our way into heaven. The assertion seems to be, if you say you must do anything, you believe in works salvation.
Here is the truth.
Members of churches of Christ believe obedience to the Lord’s commands is necessary. Jesus is “the Author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9). No one can possibly be saved in disobedience to the Lord. God does not accept the rebellious, even if they are well intentioned.
Consider Uzzah (2 Sam. 6:6, 7). He tried to steady the ark when the oxen stumbled. In spite of the fact that his reaction was understandable, even natural instinct, God struck Uzzah dead for touching the ark. When God gave the command that no man was to touch it, He meant it. Recall, the command was given about 400 years before Uzzah violated it; it had not changed.
Also think about King Saul (1 Sam. 15). He was commanded to kill all the Amalekites and their livestock. However, he spared the best of the animals and King Agag. His excuse was that the animals were spared to offer a sacrifice to God. In Saul’s mind it was “good” to offer sacrifices to God. Many people still think like Saul. Samuel pointed out that God would rather have obedience than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22, 23).
Peter understood the need to obey God (Acts 5:29). Those who heard him and accepted the gospel were said to be “obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). As the historical record shows, those who obeyed Peter’s teaching were required to take action (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Those who heard Philip preach were required to submit (Acts 8:12, 13, 36-38). The same is expected of us today.
Here is the rub.
Most people will agree that men must obey the command to believe in Jesus as the Christ. They may even say we must repent and confess. However, many, many people strenuously object to the idea that baptism is a like command that must be obeyed to be saved. Why? For most folks they have believed a lie. Others simply do not want to accept this truth because of what it would require them to admit—most of their family is lost. Yet, the command to be baptized for the remission of sins is clearly taught in the New Testament (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3, 4; Gal. 3:26, 27; Col. 2:11, 12; 1 Pet. 3:21).
When members of the Church of Christ tell a friend that he or she must be baptized to be a Christian and have the hope of heaven, the reply may be “you believe in working your way to heaven.” The truth is, we believe in obeying our way into heaven. We firmly believe what Hebrews 5:9 teaches, that Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, including His command to be baptized to be saved (Mk. 16:16).
Let’s illustrate it with an Old Testament story.
When Naaman the leper traveled to Israel for a cure, Elisha commanded him to dip seven times in the Jordan (2 Kgs. 5:1-10). This made Naaman angry, but his servants talked some sense into him and he dipped (2 Kgs. 5:11-14). His leprosy was gone. He was completely healed. Did he earn his healing from God? Was God in Naaman’s debt because Naaman dipped in the river Jordan? You know the answer; Naaman was healed because he obeyed God’s command. If he refused and returned to Syria, he would not have been healed.
The same is true regarding baptism.
The Lord and His ambassadors command baptism for salvation (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16). When men obey this command they are healed of their sins; they are completely clean. His obedience does not earn him anything. God is not in his debt. Rather, God offers the gift of salvation with conditions; believe, repent, confess, be baptized. He offered the gift of healing to Naaman with conditions; dip seven times in the Jordan. His gift and our gift are not earned no matter what we do to comply with God’s conditions. And, any refusal to submit leaves a man in his sins.
Do members of the churches of Christ believe in works salvation? No. We believe in salvation by faith through grace, which includes humble submission to the commands of God. If this is objectionable to some, then we ask, what command of God can be disobeyed and we still get to go to heaven?