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Religion Library: Baptist

Afterlife and Salvation

Written by: David Buschart

Baptists do not believe that this saving faith is a saving "work." Salvation is not earned. It is not merited. Rather, salvation is understood as the gracious gift of God. Faith is (simply) the means by which this salvation is received. (For the quintessential statement of this in the Bible, see Ephesians 2:8-9.) This said, Baptists believe that salvation is to be manifest in good "works" (Ephesians 2:10). Because this salvation is nothing other than new life in Christ, this new life will be expressed through personhood and behavior that will begin to be more like the person and life of Christ himself. This process of change toward Christlikeness is often called "sanctification" (literally meaning "to make holy"). According to Baptist theology, sanctification is the result of, not the basis for, salvation.

According to the Baptist tradition, salvation is a present, not just a future, reality. Salvation is not only something that one anticipates in the afterlife (though this also is anticipated); it begins in this life. And, believer's baptism by immersion is the act that testifies to the fact that this salvation process has begun. However, the fact that salvation is described as having "begun" should not be misunderstood as suggesting an uncertainty with respect to salvation. Baptists believe that if a person is united with Jesus Christ through entrusting faith, his or her eternal salvation is assured. Though the process of sanctification is on-going and life-long (however long or short earthly life may be), salvation is assured because it is based not on an individual earning it through good works but on the perfect and finished work of Jesus Christ.

The Baptist view of the afterlife corresponds to that of traditional Protestant Christian belief. People who do not entrust themselves to Jesus Christ will enter into eternal condemnation; people who trust in Christ for salvation, as described above, will enter into the loving presence of God for all eternity. With other Christians, many Baptists believe this based on the teachings of Jesus himself, such as that reported in Matthew 25:46: "Then they [the unrighteous] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." The most common descriptor for the state or destination of eternal condemnation is "Hell" (an English word commonly used to translate the Greek New Testament terms hades and gehenna) while the most common descriptor for the state or destination of eternal salvation is "Heaven" (1 Peter 1:4).

Study Questions:
     1.    Why is Christ directly related to the Baptist view of salvation?
     2.    Why is there diversity among Baptists regarding the process of achieving salvation?
     3.    Why are the sacraments deemphasized in questions of obtaining salvation?
     4.    Describe the Baptist correlation of faith and works.
     5.    What does the Baptist tradition believe will happen to individuals who do not trust Christ for salvation?


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