4:1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.  (John 4:1-6 (ESV)
“The Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John, (Although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples).” John is just trying to explain a few things, like why Jesus left Judea. He wanted to get out from the eye of the Pharisees for now. His time had not yet come. But in doing so he says Jesus was baptizing. Well not Jesus himself, but his disciples. I know we went over that last week, but it bears repeating. When we baptize, it is not us who are baptizing but Jesus. This is why the Christian can say that we are not saved by works, and in the same breath say that we are saved by Baptism.
To say we are not saved by works is a little misleading. What is meant is we are not saved by “our” works. Of course we are saved by works, at least according to the Bible, just not our works, or your works. This isn’t true say in Calvinism. There you are saved by the whim of a tyrannical god, apart from anything that was ever done on earth. But in scripture you are saved by the work of Jesus Christ. You are saved by his active and passive righteousness. You are saved by his circumcision. You are saved by his perfect synagogue attendance. You are saved by his visit to the temple. You are saved by his teaching. Finally, and most importantly, apart from which none of these other things would save you, you are saved by Christ’s death on the cross. You are given new life in his resurrection. And this salvation is applied to you in the sanctifying waters of baptism, and sustained in you by the Body and Blood of Christ given and shed for you and received in Holy Communion. These things are salvific because they aren’t our works, they are Christ’s works.
There is even a sense in which people are saved by the works of others. That is you can’t save yourself with your works, only Christ can save you. But you can save others with your works, when those works bring Christ to others. Of course, then it isn’t you but Christ in you who does this. Or shall we say, when those who are disciples do the work of God, well, they are members of the body of Christ. So yeah, when you share the gospel with others and tell them about Christ’s death and resurrection, and they come to believe, well then your works have saved someone. When you donate your hard earned money to the church, and you see a child being baptized at a font that otherwise would not be there, your works have saved another soul. And don’t be hard on the church for building a beautiful building. Our society can use more beautiful buildings, that in itself is an act of grace. Remember the temple was a beautiful building. People are attracted to beauty. And those buildings are no less an act of charity than giving to the poor, the building of buildings supports families. It gives people a job. But I digress. The saving of souls, it is something that Jesus does through the church, he uses his disciples to make disciples. So the disciples are baptizing but Jesus is getting the credit. It is no different today.
This is problematic today. There is an insidious idea in Christianity today that you can be a Christian without going to church. It’s awful. It is satanic. It is like an arm saying it doesn’t need a shoulder. “The Church” gets slandered left and right, and not by heathens, but by Christians! They stop going. They get fed up with other Christians. I can see that. Thing is when sinners get together, sin happens, things go badly, some sinners don’t get their way. Other sinners lord power and authority over other sinners. Everything becomes a mess. And Christians are sinners,no two ways about that. This is why the church has to live on forgiveness. This is why Jesus feeds us on forgiveness Sunday after Sunday. He would do it daily if you would let him. But when these sinners can no longer forgive each other in so much as to receive forgiveness with each other at the rail, one has to ask if they are even Christian any longer? Is this a disciple of Christ, when they are no longer willing to forgive even fellow believers in Christ. At the very least, their faith is being sorely tempted and tested. These people need the prayers of the church more than anything. But we need to stop with this notion that the bride of Christ should be the object of scorn, and can be done away with in the Christian life.
Sure, an individual Christian can find meager sustenance for his faith reading scripture alone by himself in a closet for years. At times this is all a Christian may have. And God will see him through with that. It is another thing altogether when you reserve Sunday morning for the hardening of the heart. You know, as a day to go commune with God in nature, or for family breakfast, or anything but church, for sleeping in. This is vile sinful behavior. Vile. I don’t think we comprehend the vileness of it. If we did we would not do it. When we fail to support the church, the body of Christ to which we belong, it is awful, sin and unthankfulness to God that is ruling in our hearts, despite all our pious talk when the pastor visits about how we read our bibles at home, and have even talked to our neighbors about Christ. I can’t help but to think of Christ’s words to the Pharisees when I contemplate proselytes made in this manner: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15(ESV) For Christians do not forsake the gifts of God which he gives through the church. It is through the church and the work of the church that God has willed his sanctifying work to be done in this world. Think of Luther’s explanation to the third article of the creed, “In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.”
Yes, because on the cross, Jesus justified us. On the cross, he reconciled the world to God. On the cross, his work saved us. But it is in the church that he sanctifies us, that is applies the justification to us. There is a real sense in which that which we call “subjective justification” in our dogmatics books, is what Luther called sanctification. Just saying. But if we believed that, well then we would believe our works don’t save us. We would no longer think of believing as something we do, but as a gift from the Holy Spirit. We would no longer debate about objective justification verses subjective. We wouldn’t worry if we were sanctifying ourselves enough, and we wouldn’t think of sanctification as our ability to stop cussing, or swearing, to quit smoking or some other nonsense. We would know where our sanctification is to be found, at the font, in the word, and in, with and under the bread and wine, where Christ feeds us forgiveness. Because, when it is the church doing it, it is the body of Christ doing it. When the disciples of Christ baptize, it is Christ who is baptizing. And when Christ baptizes, well then you are baptized not only with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire, a fire that purifies.