Faith vs. works [efforts, rituals, ceremonies] - which one?
Faith, of course!
Someone once said there are only two religions in the world: Works and Faith. Some may say that there is only one religion in the world: works. Faith is the end of religion. 'for by grace are ye saved through faith and that is not of yourselves, it is a gift of God'.[Ephesians 2:8.9]. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. [Hebrews 11;1]. A man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law' [Romans 3:28; 4:5-8; Galatians 2:16; 3:10-13, 5:2-4]. God freely justifies those who do not rely on their works and efforts, but wholly trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the above biblical verses in Romans and Galatians, Paul is asking: How can a guilty sinner be justified by God? Essentially Paul answers that a sinner is justified by faith in Christ, and not by the merit of his works.
Now, some claim that the book of James brings out a different concept. James 2:24: 'Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only'. Is this a contradiction? Not so: James is making a distinction between two kinds of faith. One that is real, and one that is a counterfeit. How do we know the difference, how do we distinguish one from the other 'Show me your faith without your works; and I will show you my faith by my works.' [James 2:18]
However, it is by faith in Christ alone (and not by the merits of our works) [Titus 3:5] that we are saved (justified before God); yet the faith that justifies is never alone, (unfruitful, barren) if it is genuine.
Mere mental assent to the gospel truths is not enough. One must have living faith, and that is always manifest by good works. Good works prove that he and his faith are genuine.
Real faith is alive, manifests itself in good works; counterfeit faith is dead, barren, the mere assent to doctrine. Good works [love, charity] are the fruit of faith and not a replacement for faith.
However, many religious works are performed as a substitution, a replacement for faith: rituals, like lighting candles, prayers for the dead, ceremonies, traditions of all kinds, which are a manifestation of religious fervor. That is where faith and works clash. Works of that kind are like trying to build a ladder to reach up to God... while faith is to believe that God has descended to us, to save us, in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Baptism is like a wedding ceremony?
Now-a-days it is quite common to hear preachers say that water baptism is only a testimony, a manifestation of salvation - sort of like what a wedding ceremony is to marriage. That is fine except that it does bring a lot of questioning and doubt concerning the deeper and long lasting meaning of Salvation. It is worthy to remember that many expensive and extravagant wedding ceremonies end up being a waste and a misrepresentation of marriage, as statistics prove that a great percentage of marriages end up in short term unions and divorce. By the same token, many baptism ceremonies end up being a very ephemeral testimony of the person's salvation. A greater and lasting testimony would be the person's lifestyle and fruitfulness, living the sacrificial, loving life of a Christian - that is what most people (outside the church) will look for and appreciate. In other words, there are many more, and much more effective ways of being a Christian testimony, with a much broader and long-lasting impact, than merely taking water baptism, with some church, in the presence of handful of like minded church goers...
Not least, many religious denominations manipulate (water) baptism, requiring that people be baptized into their denomination even if they have already done so in other denomination. That includes Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons, the Orthodox and Baptists. This is membership initiation not the kind of Baptism Christ instituted!
How can I be saved [redeemed, liberated from my sins]? Read HERE