Afterlife and Salvation

The basic contours of the predominant Baptist view of salvation and the afterlife are consistent with that of many Protestant Christian traditions, particularly non-sacramental traditions. In sum, Baptists believe that because of their sinful state, all human beings stand in need of salvation, and God's gracious provision for this consists in the life and work of Jesus Christ. People who do not trust in Christ will enter into eternal condemnation; people who trust in Christ for salvation will enter into the loving presence of God for all eternity.

There is some diversity of views among Baptists regarding the details of the "fallen" state of human beings and its implications for the precise process of salvation. All agree that humanity was originally created good, but that the human race has fallen into a state of sinful corruption. Some (Arminian-oriented) Baptists believe more strongly in freedom of will in choosing to believe in Jesus; others (Calvinist-oriented) believe that the fall corrupted the human capacity to choose faith and must receive faith as a gift of God. Baptists agree and emphasize, however, that, whatever the details of the process, individual persons must place trusting faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved.

This is one of the points at which the non-sacramental character of the Baptist tradition is highlighted, and that locates Baptists within a cluster of Christian traditions sometimes referred to as the "Believers' Church" traditions. (Other Believers' Church traditions include, for example, Mennonites, Brethren, and denominations like the Evangelical Free Church of America.) As this "Believers'" label suggests, these are traditions that emphasize the importance--indeed, the necessity--of conscious personal belief and faith on the part of individual persons.

According to this view, salvation is not received via (supposed) sacraments (most notably, baptism), but rather is the result of individual persons knowingly, intentionally entrusting themselves to Jesus Christ for salvation. This comes about as a result of reading or hearing the biblical message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (referred to in sum as "the Gospel" or "the Good News"), combined with the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the truth of this message to bear upon the mind, heart, and will of the individual. (For some oft-cited passages on this process, see Romans 3:22-26; 10:9-15; and 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.)

The response that leads to salvation is a response of repentance and faith (thus, sometimes referred to as "saving faith"). Repentance entails recognizing that one is a sinner, and thereby in need of the salvation that only God in Christ can provide. Faith entails entrusting one's salvation to the person and work of Jesus Christ, hence, synonymous with phrases such as "personal faith in Jesus" or "believing in Jesus." Again, Arminian Baptists and Calvinist Baptists differ in their understandings of the precise process and sequence by which this takes place, but they share the belief that this repentant faith is necessary for salvation.

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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