7-Minute Parish Catechesis – Lesson 17 (Baptism Is Not a Human Work)

In the previous bulletin article, I explained why baptism is necessary for salvation.  In this article, I will explain why it is not a human work. Some Protestant churches teach that man cannot do anything to earn salvation. On the surface this is true. Unfortunately, their misunderstanding of good works has led to erroneous teachings on baptism’s role in the salvific scheme. Accordingly, this article will demonstrate why baptism is not a human work but a request for forgiveness.

What the Bible Has To Say

In St. Paul’s Letter to Titus, Paul explains, “…he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration…” (Titus 3:5-7). Regeneration means to be recreated or born again. And how is being born again accomplished? By washing. Through baptism, we are washed with water while simultaneously being renewed in the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3.

Aside from being the pithiest bible passage on the process of justification, Titus 3:5-7 indisputably shows that baptism is not a human work. Before saying that we are saved by the “washing of regeneration,” Paul says, “not because of deeds done by us in righteousness….”  Thus, baptism is not a deed done by us in righteousness. It is not a work of self-justification.

Baptism and the Flood

Just so there is no confusion as to how baptism washes away sins, let us turn to 1 Peter 3:20-21. Here, St. Peter discusses the connections between baptism and Noah/Noah’s family being saved by water that washed away evil people from the earth. He says, “Baptism, which corresponds to this (the flood), now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The flood was not a human work; it was an act of God. Similarly, baptism is not a human work. It is God’s work! Although water signifies what grace accomplishes, God is the one who washes away sins through baptism. To reject this dogma is to deny the flood and the saving of Noah and his family by it.

Similarly, given Peter’s above explanation, rejecting the effects of baptism is to refuse God’s forgiveness through it. Thus, to reject baptism’s efficacy is to deny Him who commanded baptism.

Confession’s Connection To Baptism

Finally, since baptism, which forgives sins at the beginning of the Christian journey, is not a human work, confession to a priest, which forgives sins during the Christian journey, is not a human work either. Auricular confession simply continues what baptism begins if/when a Christian lapses into mortal sin (CCC 1425-26).