I was reading your Bible Q&A section, and was wondering about the question that had to do with being saved by faith alone. I agree that faith has to be acted on, but where is the line drawn as to what saves us. Is it the faith that motivates us to act or the actions that are a result of our faith. In specific reference to baptism, let me know.
Thanks for the question.God is the one who saves us. This may sound like a quibble, but I think it will put the question on a better footing on which to discuss it. It is God who justifies, not faith alone or works in and of themselves. It is He who has set the criteria of salvation. Saying that we are justified by faith is a shortcut to saying that God justifies us because of our faith.
We can take Abraham as an example as several New Testament authors do.
His faith was accounted by God as righteousness. (Gen 15:6)
No question then. This was before he had offered up Isaac in sacrifice. (Gen 22:16-18)
Paul says in Rom.4:1-3, in regards to works, that "Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness". God took what he did have - faith, in exchange for what he did not have - righteousness.
What did God think of Abraham's works? He justified him by faith - that's what he thought of his works.
So bottom line - in regards to justification, God does not regard works in and of themselves. No one can earn a free gift.Then James, while exhorting Christians who have seemingly already been justified by faith but who are not acting like it, (i.e. they have no works) says that when Abraham offered Isaac up on the alter (Gen 22:16-18), the scripture was fulfilled that said, "Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness." (Gen 15:6)
So James is saying that when Abraham's faith worked, his justification by faith was fulfilled i.e. what was said of him by God became a reality. He was not only righteous in God's account book due to his faith, but that same faith led him also to a practical demonstration of that righteousness.
This is still the grace of God at work within us. Because the gift of redemption is more like a salvage job. He not only cleanses us and accounts us as righteous, but he renews our inner selves by his Spirit and makes us righteous indeed (in practice). (The partner to Justification is Sanctification)
Faith takes what God says of us and acts on it as a reality. Then God does the same thing that faith does, He takes a person's faith as the reality of righteousness itself.1. God tells Abraham that he is a father of many nations.
2. Abraham's faith says, "I am a father of many nations".
3. God accounts Abraham's faith as righteousness.
4. Abraham's faith working by love, produces obedience to God and
therefore a righteousness in fact.
5. Jam. 2:22 his faith was made complete.
We may consider that God takes our faith as righteousness and pronounces us justified. But then that justification of life by faith must grow into the reality of a practical righteousness or obedience to God.
How can it be said that God justifies those who are practicing unrighteousness? May it never be. So then how can anyone who has faith not be also actually doing what is right - practicing righteousness?
He does not regard works, because they can be done without faith.
But He does not regard a faith that will not work, which the devils also have. (Jam.2:19)
Faith is always linked to obedience in the scriptures. Take for example Heb. 3:18-19. Those who disobeyed God were those who did not believe.
So then, on what basis does God save a person?
"It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. " (Eph. 2:8-9)
So it is a free gift which we cannot earn or merit given to those who believe and obey him.
So where does Baptism enter into the process?
"He that believes and is immersed shall be saved." (Mk. 16:16)
God requires that we be immersed into Christ by faith. (Gal. 3:26-27)
Immersion is not a work - of any sort.
Ideally, when a person is immersed for the remission of sins, (Acts 2:38) he is having faith in the working of God (Col.2:12-13), not in his own doing. The one doing the work in baptism is God.
The faith involved in the obedience of the gospel is believing that when I am immersed I am dying with Jesus and all my sins are being forgiven and washed away. Then when I am raised out of the water, I am raising from the grave with Jesus to a new spiritual life that God is quickening within me through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Do you see any works in that? Baptism is a passive experience. The only one working here is God in forgiving me all my trespasses and making me alive together with Jesus. That is not earning salvation. That is accepting what God is giving with empty hands.
The only way to be born of the water and the Spirit (Jno.3:5) is to believe and be baptized for the remission of sins and then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38-39) This is the "washing of regeneration" and "the renewing of the Holy Spirit" in Titus 3:5-6. All of this is passive, with no self effort involved. Just a simple trusting in the actual words of Jesus, a humble submission to his will and a confident expectation of a new life with him. Nothing earned, just a free gift according to his word.
So to answer the question in your words and those of Mark 16:16 --
Faith and its actions are one. There is no line.
If you have faith you will act.
"He that believes and is baptized" (will be saved)
If you have no faith you will not act.
"He that believes not" (will be damned)
If you will not act you have no faith.
The condition of most denominations who teach against what Jesus has commanded. (Jno.12:48)
Here is another way of looking at this which may help --
Faith is what we do. Baptism is what God does (when we in obedience allow it). No one immerses themselves. No one forgives his own sins. No one raises himself up to walk in newness of life. These are all things that God does when we are immersed. (Col.2:12-13)
Just as there were many in the first century who believed on him but would not confess him (Jno.12:42) so too today there are millions of people who believe in him but have not allowed God to wash away their sins and give them spiritual life.
There was no person in the first century that we can see on the pages of the Bible who asked Jesus to come into their hearts. That was not commanded by Jesus nor his Apostles and therefore was not commanded by the Father. No one recited a prayer claiming salvation based upon what Jesus had done. No one went forward at a rally and was counseled by anyone to recite a prayer to be saved. These are human doctrines and commands authored by mere men who have no faith in God. They have rejected his word.
"Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them." Acts 2:41
Hope this helps,