One objection that will certainly need to be addressed when discussing the doctrine of justification by faith with those in the Churches of Christ is the subject of water baptism.
For if the Word of God does teach that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone and our obedience to the commands of God are only the result of our salvation and devine grace (which they contest), how is it then that baptism saves us?
And to be sure, evangelical Christianity does believe we are identified and baptized into Christ when we are saved. However, let us be clear that what we are talking about is true, actual, or Holy Spirit Baptism, rather than rite, ritual or “water” baptism, which is the believer’s outward sign or symbol of that event.
This will be discussed in greater detail in a moment. However, may I first say that much can be written comparing the different views of water baptism held by the Churches of Christ and those beliefs held by evangelical Christianity.
Here those in the Churches of Christ are convinced that the only way an individual can ever receive the forgiveness of sins is through obedience to the command of water baptism. And the salvation of the believer who has done everything as written in the New Testament except have their sins "washed away" through water baptism is uncertain at best.
However, water baptism is viewed by evangelical Christianity in the same light as Communion and the Lord’s Supper in that it is an ordnance practiced by those who are already saved.
Therefore to say that we have been saved through baptism, is referring to regeneration or the baptism of the Holy Spirit which occurs when the individual places their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
As Titus 3:5 says, we were saved “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
Perhaps then the best way to explain baptism is that “water” baptism is the outward sign or symbol of the believer’s true or actual baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Those in the Church of Christ think of baptism as being first and only with water, as though the definition of baptism (to dip, plunge, or immerse) implies being dipped, plunged or immersed in the medium of water.
Yet in all four gospels and twice in the book of Acts the Word of God tells us that while John baptized with water, that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ (See Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:4-5 and Acts 11:16)
Now viewing baptism in its proper context we can now begin to understand the passages often misused by the Stone/ Campbell Churches of Christ to defend their gospel of "water" baptism for salvation.
For when we consider passages like 1 Peter 3:21, a verse often cited by the Churches of Christ- “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you”, we begin to understand that the baptism the writer had in mind is the real or actual baptism of the Holy Spirit:
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preach to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype (the superior, true, or actual) which now saves us- baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..."
Scripture often refers to the Holy Spirit as “the living water” that God provides, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.
In John 4 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water (h2o) will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them (the Holy Spirit) will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Also in John 7 Jesus said, ”Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.”
Thus, it seems apparent “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you” is talking about the anti-type “water” baptism- that is, the superior, real, or actual baptism of the Holy Spirit baptism that now saves you.
May I also point out that if the writer were simply referring to h2o baptism here, then the wrong people in this passage were “water” baptized. For just as the example of Pharaoh and his army in 1 Cor. 10:1-4, the only ones who had h2o baptism applied to them were those who perished in the flood!
So while it is true that water baptism points us to the spiritual reality of the believer’s Holy Spirit baptism, we dare not be trusting in it (the symbol) to save us. For just as there are those within the body of the church who administer the rite of water baptism to new believers (Matt. 28:18-19), it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that actually places us into the body of Christ:
“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free- and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” 1 Cor. 12:13
Other Related Scriptures
Isaiah 44:3, Ezekiel 36:24-27, Joel 2:28-29