Can you explain why Romans 4:9-12 does not indicate that we are saved prior to baptism? I am not sure how to put the answer into words for an acquaintance that insists that he was saved prior to baptism regardless of clear passages of Scripture. Thank you!
When a person argues against what the Scriptures clearly state, there is basically nothing that you can offer that will convince him. After all if God can't touch his soul, what can mere men do?
"Is this blessing then pronounced on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it counted? When he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they be in uncircumcision, that righteousness might also be accounted to them. The father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had in uncircumcision" (Romans 4:9-12).
First, let us agree on what Paul is discussing. Paul is talking to Jews to convince them that the Gentiles can be saved just as they. He points to Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, whom all Jews looked up to. Paul pointed out that in Genesis 15:6 we can find "And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness." But this statement came years before Abraham was circumcised, which is recorded in Genesis 17. Since Jews count uncircumcised people as Gentiles and they wanted to argue that Gentiles could not be saved, Paul countered the argument that God considered Abraham righteous before he was circumcised. Therefore the conclusion is that circumcision in itself was not necessary for salvation. What was key was Abraham's faith -- faith that is accessible to everyone.
But consider the fact that when God commanded Abraham to be circumcised, Abraham did it that very day. If Abraham had not, we realize that it would mean he didn't believe God. A refusal to be circumcised would have lead to his being lost. "And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant" (Genesis 17:14). So could an Israelite argue that he did not need to be circumcised because Abraham was counted righteous prior to circumcision? Then why would a person under Christ's covenant argue that he doesn't need to be baptized because Abraham was counted righteous thousands of years prior to baptism being commanded by Jesus? "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen" (Matthew 28:18-20).
But what your friend is purposely ignoring is that no one can claim that Abraham only believed and never obeyed God. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:21-24). Paul didn't talk about obedience to God because that wasn't central to his argument proving that Gentiles could be saved without becoming Jews. But it would be a falsehood to say Paul claimed salvation by faith alone. After all, two chapters later, Paul states:
"Or don't you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:3-7).
And not long after that Paul also said:
"But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart;" that is, the word of faith, which we preach: that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:8-10).
Just in these two passages Paul also connects baptism, hearing the word, and confession as all elements of salvation. Obviously Paul did not believe or preach faith alone. In order to make it appear that Paul did so, people have been taking only a portion of what Paul, which he wrote for a different purpose than their application, and then argue because Paul didn't mention everything in this one small quote therefore the rest isn't necessary.
We understand that Abraham demonstrated his faith because each time God commanded him, Abraham obeyed because he believed God. Yet today people see the command of God to be baptized and then have the audacity to tell others that God didn't really mean what He said. So where is their faith?
"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16).